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Musk Tweets New Video of LA-area Transportation Test Tunnel

Tue, 11/06/2018 - 00:40
Elon Musk has tweeted a new video of a tunnel constructed under a Los Angeles suburb to test a new type of transportation system.   Musk tweeted Saturday that he walked the length of the tunnel and commented that it is "disturbingly long."   The tunnel runs about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) under the streets of Hawthorne, where Musk's SpaceX headquarters is located.   Musk envisions a transportation system in which vehicles or people pods are moved through tunnels on electrically powered platforms called skates.   He plans to show off the test tunnel with an opening party on Dec. 10 and offer free rides the next day.   Musk has proposed a tunnel across western Los Angeles and another between a subway line and Dodger Stadium.    

As Americans Vote, Facebook Struggles With Misinformation

Sat, 11/03/2018 - 17:00
As U.S. voters prepare to head to the polls Tuesday, the election will also be a referendum on Facebook. In recent months, the social networking giant has beefed up scrutiny of what is posted on its site, looking for fake accounts, misinformation and hate speech, while encouraging people to go on Facebook to express their views. “A lot of the work of content moderation for us begins with our company mission, which is to build community and bring the world closer together,” Peter Stern, who works on product policy stakeholder engagement at Facebook, said at a recent event at St. John’s University in New York City. Facebook wants people to feel safe when they visit the site, Stern said. To that end, it is on track to hire 20,000 people to tackle safety and security on the platform. As part of its stepped-up effort, Facebook works with third-party fact-checkers and takes down misinformation that contributes to violence, according to a blog post by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO. But most popular content, often dubbed “viral,” is frequently the most extreme. Facebook devalues posts it deems are incorrect, reducing their viralness, or future views, by 80 percent, Zuckerberg said. Disinformation campaigns Recently Facebook removed accounts followed by more than 1 million people that it said were linked to Iran but pretended to look like they were created by people in the U.S. Some were about the upcoming midterm elections. The firm also removed hundreds of American accounts that it said were spamming political misinformation. Still, Facebook is criticized for what at times appears to be flaws in its processes. Vice News recently posed as all 100 U.S. senators and bought fake political ads on the site. After approving them all, Facebook said it made a mistake. Politicians in Britain and Canada have asked Zuckerberg to testify on Facebook’s role on spreading disinformation. “I think they are really struggling and that’s not surprising, because it’s a very hard problem,” said Daphne Keller, who used to be on Google’s legal team and is now with Stanford University. “If you think about it, they get millions, billions of new posts a day, most of them some factual claim or sentiment that nobody has ever posted before, so to go through these and figure out which are misinformation, which are false, which are intending to affect an electoral outcome, that is a huge challenge,” Keller said. “There isn’t a human team that can do that in the world, there isn’t a machine that can do that in the world.” ​Transparency While it has been purging its site of accounts that violate its policies, the company has also revealed more about how decisions are made in removing posts. In a 27-page document, Facebook described in detail what content it removes and why, and updated its appeals process.  Stern, of Facebook, supports the company’s efforts at transparency. “Having a system that people view as legitimate and basically fair even when they don’t agree with any individual decision that we’ve made is extremely important,” he said. The stepped-up efforts to give users more clarity about the rules and the steps to challenge decisions are signs Facebook is moving in the right direction, Stanford’s Keller said. “We need to understand that it is built into the system that there will be a fair amount of failure and there needs to be appeals process and transparency to address that,” she said.

As US Prepares for Elections, Facebook Struggles to Tackle Misinformation

Sat, 11/03/2018 - 17:00
As U.S. voters prepare to head to the polls Nov. 6, all eyes are on how Facebook is grappling with giving people a platform to speak but also keeping misinformation in check. Michelle Quinn reports from San Francisco.

Camera-Equipped Dogs Are Sniffing and Scoping out Crime Scenes

Sat, 11/03/2018 - 13:58
We've all heard about how surveillance robots can scope out an area before police or rescue personnel head into a potentially dangerous situation. But some K-9 officers in the U.S. states of Oregon and Wisconsin are getting great help from camera equipped dogs. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Twitter Deletes 10K Accounts That Sought to Discourage US Voting 

Sat, 11/03/2018 - 08:21
Twitter Inc. deleted more than 10,000 automated accounts posting messages that discouraged people from voting in Tuesday's U.S. election and wrongly appeared to be from Democrats, after the party flagged the misleading tweets to the social media company.  "We took action on relevant accounts and activity on Twitter," a Twitter spokesman said in an email. The removals took place in late September and early October.  Twitter removed more than 10,000 accounts, according to three sources familiar with the Democrats' effort. The number is modest, considering that Twitter has previously deleted millions of accounts it determined were responsible for spreading misinformation in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  Yet the removals represent an early win for a fledgling effort by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, a party group that supports Democrats running for the U.S. House of Representatives.  2016 experience The DCCC launched the effort this year in response to the party's inability to respond to millions of accounts on Twitter and other social media platforms that spread negative and false information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and other party candidates in 2016, three people familiar with the operation told Reuters.  While the prevalence of misinformation campaigns has so far been modest in the run-up to the congressional elections on Nov. 6, Democrats are hoping the flagging operation will help them react quickly if there is a flurry of such messages in the coming days.  The tweets included ones that discouraged Democratic men from voting, saying that would drown out the voice of women, according to two of the sources familiar with the flagging operation.  The DCCC developed its own system for identifying and reporting malicious automated accounts on social media, according to the three party sources.  The system was built in part from publicly available tools known as "Hoaxley" and "Botometer" developed by University of Indiana computer researchers. They allow a user to identify automated accounts, also known as bots, and analyze how they spread information on specific topics.   Free tools "We made Hoaxley and Botometer free for anyone to use because people deserve to know what's a bot and what's not," said Filippo Menczer, professor of informatics and computer science at the University of Indiana.  The Democratic National Committee works with a group of contractors and partners to rapidly identify misinformation campaigns.  They include RoBhat Labs, a firm whose website says it has developed technology capable of detecting bots and identifying political bias in messages.  The collaboration with RoBhat has already led to the discovery of malicious accounts and posts, which were referred to social media companies and other campaign officials, DNC Chief Technology Officer Raffi Krikorian said in email.  Krikorian did not say whether the flagged posts were ultimately removed by Twitter.  "We provide the DNC with reports about what we're seeing in terms of bot activity and where it's being amplified," said Ash Bhat, co-founder of RoBhat Labs.  "We can't tell you who's behind these different operations — Twitter hides that from us — but with the technology you know when and how it's happening," Bhat said. 

Google Silicon Valley Employees Join a Worldwide Protest

Fri, 11/02/2018 - 12:46
San Francisco Google employees joined a worldwide company walkout Thursday in protest of what they are calling the mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations. Deana Mitchell reports.

Days After Synagogue Massacre, Online Hate Is Thriving

Fri, 11/02/2018 - 08:01
A website popular with racists that was used by the man charged in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre was shut down within hours of the slaughter, but it hardly mattered: Anti-Semites and racists who hang out in such havens just moved to other online forums. On Wednesday, four days after 11 people were fatally shot in the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, anonymous posters on another website popular with white supremacists, Stormfront, claimed the bloodshed at Tree of Life synagogue was an elaborate fake staged by actors. The site's operator, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, said traffic has increased about 45 percent since the shooting. The anti-Semitic rhetoric was just as bad on another site popular with white supremacists, The Daily Stormer, where a headline said: "Just go, Jews. You're not welcome." Trying to stop the online vitriol that opponents say fuels real-world bloodshed is a constant battle for groups that monitor hate, and victories are hard to come by. Shut down one platform like Gab, where the shooting suspect posted a message shortly before the attack, and another one remains or a new one opens. The problem dates back to the dawn of the internet, when users connected their computers to each other by dialing telephone numbers. A report issued by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League in 1985 found there were two online "networks of hate" in the United States, both run by neo-Nazis who spread anti-Semitic, racist propaganda. Today, the vastness of the online world is a big part of the problem, said Oren Segal, director of the ADL's Center for Extremism. Determining how many hate sites exist is nearly impossible, he said. "It's really difficult to put an actual number on it, but I would say this: There are thousands of hate sites and there are dozens and dozens of platforms in which hate exists," Segal said. A new study by the VOX-Pol Network of Excellence, composed of academic researchers who study online extremism, said the exact number of far-right adherents on just one platform, Twitter, is impossible to determine. But at least 100,000 people and automated accounts are aligned with radicals commonly referred to as the "alt-right," the study found, and the true number is probably more than twice that. An ADL report released a day before the shooting said extremists had increased anti-Semitic harassment against Jewish journalists, political candidates and others ahead of the midterm elections. Researchers who analyzed more than 7.5 million Twitter messages from Aug. 31 to Sept. 17 found almost 30 percent of the accounts repeatedly tweeting derogatory terms about Jews appeared to be automated "bots" that spread the message further and faster than if only people were involved. The New York-based ADL said that before the 2016 election of President Donald Trump anti-Semitic harassment was rare, but afterward it became a daily occurrence. It commissioned a report in May that estimated about 3 million Twitter users posted or re-posted at least 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets in English over a 12-month period ending Jan. 28. Gab shutdown The story of Gab, the platform where Robert Gregory Bowers allegedly wrote an ominous message early Saturday before the shooting, shows how new sites spring up in a hate-filled environment. Created in 2016 to counter what founder Andrew Torba viewed as liberal censorship on social networks, Gab gained popularity among white supremacists and other right-wing radicals after tech companies clamped down on racist sites following the deadly clash at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Daily Stormer was offline briefly after the violence but re-emerged on a new host. With Gab now shut down after the synagogue shooting, Torba is portraying the platform not as a hate-filled corner of the internet, but as a bastion of free speech that's working with federal authorities "to bring justice to an alleged terrorist." A message posted by Torba said Gab was trying to get back online, and Segal has few doubts it will succeed. Don Black, the former Klan leader who runs Stormfront, said traffic is up partly because of the Gab shutdown and partly because of increased interest among users. His site, which has been in operation since 1995 and has about 330,000 registered users, has only had one "prolonged" shutdown — a month following the Charlottesville melee, he said. "I expect all sorts of more trouble now because of the Pittsburgh shooting," Black said. Free speech Purging hateful content from the internet is a challenge. The Constitution's guarantee of free-speech provides a roadblock to banning hate speech in the United States, according to the First Amendment Center, a project of the Washington-based Freedom Forum Institute. "Political speech receives the greatest protection under the First Amendment, and discrimination against viewpoints runs counter to free-speech principles. Much hate speech qualifies as political, even if misguided," said an essay by center scholar David L. Hudson Jr. and Mahad Ghani, a fellow with the center. Some advocate other tactics for curbing hate. Three days before the synagogue attack, a coalition that includes the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal advocacy organization that monitors hate groups, released a proposed framework aimed at social media companies. The plan is geared around a model terms-of-service policy that states that platform users "may not use these services to engage in hateful activities or use these services to facilitate hateful activities engaged in elsewhere." Next year, sponsors plan to begin posting report cards showing how sites are doing at quelling hate speech. No company has publicly announced plans to adopt the coalition's guidelines, but Segal said the ADL separately has talked with several social media companies about limiting hate speech. Companies have been welcoming but solutions remain elusive, he said. Segal added: "The commitment to eradicating hate from platforms is not always matched by the ability to do so because there is just so much content out there."

Google Workers Worldwide Protest Company's Handling of Sex Harassment Cases 

Fri, 11/02/2018 - 06:33
It was a protest that went around the globe.  From Singapore to Dublin, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Pryor, Oklahoma, Google employees walked out of their offices to protest the internet search giant's handling of sexual discrimination cases, and express their frustration with its workplace culture.  In San Francisco, where Google has several offices, hundreds of workers congregated at a plaza where they gave speeches and held signs. One read: "I reported and he got promoted." The unusual protest — tech companies are not unionized and typically keep strife about personnel matters behind closed doors — riveted Silicon Valley, which has struggled in recent years over the treatment of women in the industry. Resignation, severance The Google protest was spurred by a New York Times story that outlined allegations against high-profile leaders at the firm, including Andy Rubin, known as "the father of Android," who was reportedly paid $90 million in severance. Rubin has denied the allegations in the article, as well as reports of his severance amount.  Richard DeVaul, a director at X, a unit of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, resigned from the company on Tuesday. He was accused of making unwanted advances to a woman who was a job applicant at the firm.  List of demands "We are a small part of a massive movement that has been growing for a long time," protest organizers said in an article published in the online magazine The Cut. "We are inspired by everyone — from the women in fast food who led an action against sexual harassment to the thousands of women in the #metoo movement who have been the beginning of the end for this type of abuse." Leaders of the protest issued a list of demands, including that Alphabet add a worker-representative to its board of directors and that the firm internally disclose pay equity information.  They also asked the company to revise its human resources practices to make the harassment claims filing process more equitable, and to create a "publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report."  Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in an email to employees that "as CEO, it's been personally important to me that we take a much harder line on inappropriate behavior. ... We have taken many steps to do so, and know our work is still not done." Social media protest The global protest unfolded on Twitter and Facebook as employees from offices around the world posted photos of themselves walking out at the appointed time of 11:10 a.m.  The greatest concentration of Google workers is in the San Francisco area. In San Bruno, 12 miles south of San Francisco, employees at YouTube, which is part of Google, walked out, as did those in Mountain View, company headquarters.  "As a woman, I feel personally unsafe, because if something were to happen, what accountability measures will be in place to make sure that justice is sought?" said Google employee Rana Abdelhamid at the San Francisco protest.  Christian Boyd, another Google employee, was angry about what she said was protecting the powerful, even in the face of credible allegations.  "It's sad to see that what we consider the best companies are not immune to this, as well," Boyd said. After 30 minutes of speeches, the workers went back to their offices but vowed to continue pressuring Google to change. 

Report: China Exporting Knowledge of Restricting Internet Worldwide

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 21:13
China is exporting its methods of strict internet controls to governments around the world that are employing them to stifle dissent and free flow of information, and tighten their grip on power, according to U.S.-based Freedom House. In an annual report issued Wednesday, the rights watchdog said global internet freedom had declined for the eighth consecutive year in 2018, with democratic governance under threat from what it called "digital authoritarianism."   Freedom House says Beijing has held sessions on managing online content with 36 of the 65 countries tracked in the report, and provided internet monitoring equipment to governments of many of those nations.  The group also says many governments have passed or proposed new laws restricting internet information and access in the name of fighting "fake news." The report also expressed dismay over efforts in the United States to reverse "net neutrality" rules that ensure internet service providers treat all data equally, and not manipulate them into "faster" or "slower" speeds.      

Google Workers Set to Launch Worldwide Protests

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 19:48
Hundreds of Google employees in Asia walked off the job briefly Thursday as part of a worldwide protest of the company's handling of sexual harassment cases and its workplace culture. Hundreds of other Google workers and contractors, most of them women, are also expected Thursday to walk out of nearly two dozen company offices around the world. The walkouts are the latest indications of employee dissatisfaction that escalated last week after the New York Times reported the internet giant paid millions of dollars in severance pay to male executives accused of harassment without disclosing their wrongful acts. The Times report said, for example, that Google paid $90 million in 2014 to then-senior vice president Andy Rubin after he was accused of sexual harassment. Rubin denied the allegations in the article, which Google did not dispute. The report energized a months-long employee movement to improve treatment of women and minorities and increase diversity. The movement earlier this year included petition drives, meetings with senior executives and training from the workers' rights group Coworker.org. Organizers demanded late Wednesday that Google parent Alphabet Inc. add a worker representative to its board of directors and internally disclose pay equity information. Employees also asked the company to revise their human resources practices to make the harassment claims filing process more equitable. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said "employees have raised constructive ideas" which the company will turn "into action." Dissatisfaction among Alphabet's 94,000 workers and tens of thousands of contractors has not adversely affected the company's share price. But employees have said they expect Alphabet to have recruiting and retention problems if the problems are not adequately addressed.

Report: Freedom of Internet Declines for 7th Consecutive Year

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 12:57
Governments around the world are increasing control over use of the internet and social media, according to the latest report by the Freedom House organization. In 2017, officials in many countries accused dissidents of spreading fake news as a pretext to silence them. Online propaganda and uncontrolled harvesting of personal data have permeated the internet in the past year. A Freedom House expert told VOA these trends are a major threat to democracy. Zlatica Hoke has this story.

US Supreme Court Divided Over How Google Settled Privacy Case

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 04:07
U.S. Supreme Court justices, in an internet privacy case involving Google, disagreed on Wednesday over whether to rein in a form of settlement in class action lawsuits that awards money to charities and other third parties instead of to people affected by the alleged wrongdoing. The $8.5 million Google settlement was challenged by an official at a Washington-based conservative think tank, and some of the court's conservative justices during an hour of arguments in the case shared his concerns about potential abuses in these awards, including excessive fees going to plaintiffs' lawyers. Some of the liberal justices emphasized that such settlements can funnel money to good use in instances in which dividing the money among large numbers of plaintiffs would result in negligible per-person payments. Conservatives hold a 5-4 majority on the high court. The case began when a California resident named Paloma Gaos filed a proposed class action lawsuit in 2010 in San Jose federal court claiming Google's search protocols violated federal privacy law by disclosing users' search terms to other websites. Google is part of Alphabet Inc. A lower court upheld the settlement the company agreed to pay in 2013 to resolve the claims. Critics have said the settlements, known as "cy pres" [pronounced "see pray"] awards, are unfair and encourage frivolous lawsuits, conflicts of interest and collusion between both sides to minimize damages for defendants while maximizing fees for plaintiffs' lawyers. Supporters have said these settlements can benefit causes important to victims and support underfunded entities, such as legal aid. During the arguments, several justices, both liberal and conservative, wondered whether the plaintiffs had suffered harm through the disclosure of their internet searches, sufficient to justify suing in federal court, signaling they may dismiss the case rather than deciding the fate of cy pres settlements. Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer seemed doubtful that simple searches, of one's own name for instance, would be enough to sustain a privacy lawsuit. Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh appeared to disagree. "I don't think anyone would want ... everything they searched for disclosed to other people," Kavanaugh said. "That seems a harm." Google agreed in the settlement to disclose on its website how users' search terms are shared but was not required to change its behavior. The three main plaintiffs received $5,000 each for representing the class. Their attorneys received about $2.1 million. Under the settlement, the rest of the money would go to organizations or projects that promote internet privacy, including at Stanford University and AARP, a lobbying group for older Americans, but nothing to the millions of Google users who the plaintiffs were to have represented in the class action. Cy pres awards, which remain rare, give money that cannot feasibly be distributed to participants in a class action suit to unrelated entities as long as it would be in the plaintiffs' interests. 'A sensible system' While wrestling over the privacy aspects of Google searches, the justices also disagreed about the settlement both sides reached. Conservative Justice Samuel Alito raised concerns that the money would go to groups that some plaintiffs might not like but have no say in opposing. "How can such a system be regarded as a sensible system?" Alito asked. Chief Justice John Roberts, another conservative, noted that AARP engages in political activity, an issue that the Google deal's opponents, led by Ted Frank, director of litigation for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, had raised. Google has called Frank a "professional objector." Roberts also said it was "fishy" that settlement money could be directed to institutions to which Google already was a donor. Some beneficiary institutions also were the alma mater of lawyers involved in the case, Kavanaugh noted. Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told Frank, who argued the case on Wednesday, that at least the plaintiffs get an "indirect benefit" from the settlement. "It seems like the system is working," added Justice Sonia Sotomayor, another liberal. In endorsing the Google settlement last year, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said each of the 129 million U.S. Google users who theoretically could have claimed part of it would have received "a paltry 4 cents in recovery."

Birthday Blues for Bitcoin as Investors Face Year-on-Year Loss

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 23:52
Bitcoin was heading towards a year-on-year loss on Wednesday, its 10th birthday, the first loss since last year's bull market, when the original and biggest digital coin muscled its way to worldwide attention with months of frenzied buying. By 1300 GMT, bitcoin was trading at $6,263 on the BitStamp exchange, leaving investors who had bought it on Halloween 2017 facing yearly losses of nearly 3 percent. A year ago, bitcoin closed at $6,443.22 as it tore towards a record high of near $20,000, hit in December. That run, fueled by frenzied buying by retail investors from South Korea to the United States, pushed bitcoin to calendar-year gains of over 1,300 percent. Ten years ago, Satoshi Nakamoto, bitcoin's still-unidentified founder, released a white paper detailing the need for an online currency that could be used for payments without the involvement of a third party, such as a bank. Traders and market participants said the Halloween milestone was inevitable, given losses of around 70 percent from bitcoin's peak and the continuing but incomplete shift towards investment by mainstream financial firms. "The value mechanisms of crypto and bitcoin today are based more on underlying tech than hype and FOMO (fear of missing out)," said Josh Bramley, head trader at crypto wealth management firm Blockstars. Growing use of blockchain - the distributed ledger technology that underpins bitcoin - is now powering valuations of the digital currency, he said, cautioning that some expectations for widespread use have not yet materialized. Others said improvements to infrastructure such as custody services may allow mainstream investors who are wary of buying bitcoin to take positions. "We see behind closed doors financial and non-financial institutions beavering away to create the infrastructure," said Ben Sebley, head of brokerage at NKB Group, a blockchain advisory and investment firm. Bitcoin has endured year-on-year losses before, according to data from CryptoCompare, most recently in 2015. Retail investors still account for a strong proportion of trading, market players said. Investors who bet early on bitcoin and have stuck with it have faced a roller-coaster ride in its first decade. Many told Reuters they are optimistic that they are still onto a winner.  

UK-Canadian 'Grand Committee' Seeks to Question Zuckerberg

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 21:53
Parliamentary committees in Britain and Canada on Wednesday urged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before a joint hearing of international lawmakers examining fake news and the internet. Damian Collins, the head of the U.K. parliament's media committee, is joining forces with his Canadian counterpart, Bob Zimmer, to pressure Zuckerberg to personally take part in hearings, as he did before the U.S Congress and the European Parliament. The so-called "international grand committee" session would be held Nov. 27 and could include lawmakers from other countries. "We understand that it is not possible to make yourself available to all parliaments. However, we believe that your users in other countries need a line of accountability to your organization — directly, via yourself," the pair said in a letter to Zuckerberg. "We would have thought that this responsibility is something that you would want to take up." Social media companies have been under scrutiny in Britain following allegations that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica used data from tens of millions of Facebook accounts to profile voters and help U.S. President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign. The committee is also investigating the impact of fake news distributed via social media sites globally. Collins has been irate with Facebook for sending Zuckerberg's underlings to his committee's hearings while the leader of the Silicon Valley company declined invitations to attend. Joining forces with Canada — and perhaps other countries — seems designed to prod Zuckerberg and persuade him to change his mind. "No such joint hearing has ever been held," the pair wrote. "Given your self-declared objective to 'fix' Facebook, and to prevent the platform's malign use in world affairs and democratic process, we would like to give you the chance to appear at this hearing."

Facebook Caught in an Election-security Catch-22

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 21:27
When it comes to dealing with hate speech and attempted election manipulation, Facebook just can’t win. If it takes a hands-off attitude, it takes the blame for undermining democracy and letting civil society unravel. If it makes the investment necessary to take the problems seriously, it spooks its growth-hungry investors. That dynamic was on display in Facebook’s earnings report Tuesday, when the social network reported a slight revenue miss but stronger than expected profit for the July-September period. Shares were volatile in after-hours trading — dropping the most, briefly, when executives discussed a decline in expected revenue growth and increasing expenses during the conference call. With the myriad problems Facebook is facing, that passes for good news these days. It was definitely an improvement over three months ago, when Facebook shares suffered their worst one-day drop in history, wiping out $119 billion of its market value after executives predicted rising expenses to deal with security issues along with slowing growth. “Overall, given all the challenges Facebook has faced this year, this is a decent earnings report,” said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson. Facebook had 2.27 billion monthly users at the end of the quarter, below the 2.29 billion analysts were expecting. Facebook says it changed the way it calculates users, which reduced the total slightly. The company’s user base was still up 10 percent from 2.07 billion monthly users a year ago. The company earned $5.14 billion, or $1.76 per share, up 9 percent from $4.71 billion, or $1.59 per share, a year earlier. Revenue was $13.73 billion, an increase of 33 percent, for the July-September period. Analysts had expected earnings of $1.46 per share on revenue of $13.77 billion, according to FactSet. CEO Mark Zuckerberg called 2019 “another year of significant investment” during the earnings call. After that, he said “I know that we need to make sure our costs and revenue are better matched over time.” The company had already warned last quarter that its revenue growth will slow down significantly for at least the rest of this year and that expenses will continue to balloon as it spends on security, hiring more content moderators around the world and on developing its products, be they messaging apps, video or virtual reality headsets. The following day the stock plunged 19 percent. Shares not only haven’t recovered, they’ve since fallen further amid a broader decline in tech stocks . Facebook’s investors, users, employees and executives have been grappling not just with questions over how much money the company makes and how many people use it, but its effects on users’ mental health and worries over what it’s doing to political discourse and elections around the world. Is Facebook killing us? Is it killing democracy? The problems have been relentless for the past two years. Facebook can hardly crawl its way out of one before another comes up. It began with “fake news” and its effects on the 2016 presidential election (a notion Zuckerberg initially dismissed) and continued with claims of bias among conservatives that still haven’t relented. Then there’s hate speech, hacks and a massive privacy scandal in which Facebook exposed the data of up to 87 million users to a data mining firm, along with resulting moves toward government regulation of social media. Amid all this, there have been sophisticated attempts from Russia and Iran to interfere with elections and stir up political discord in the U.S. All this would be more than enough to deal with. But the business challenges are also piling up. There are stricter privacy regulations in Europe that can impede how much data it collects on users. Facebook and other tech companies face a new ”digital tax ” in the UK. On Tuesday, Arjuna Capital and the New York State Common Retirement Fund filed a shareholder proposal asking Facebook to publish a report on its policies for governing what is posted on its platform and explain what it is doing to “address content that threatens democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression.” “Young users are deleting the app and all users are taking breaks from Facebook,” said Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital. “When you start to see users turn away from the platform, that’s when investors get concerned.” A recent Pew Research Center survey found that more than a quarter of U.S. Facebook users have deleted the app from their phones and 42 percent have taken a break for at least a few weeks. Younger users were much more likely to delete the app than their older counterparts. Nonetheless, Facebook is still enjoying healthy user growth outside the U.S. Facebook’s stock climbed $4.07, or 2.8 percent, to $150.29 in after-hours trading. The stock had closed at $146.22, down 17 percent year-to-date.  

S. Korean Voting Machines at Center of DRC Election Dispute

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 18:14
As elections approach in the central African nation the Democratic Republic of Congo, concerns have been raised over the integrity of electronic voting machines being used in the national poll that were made by South Korea’s Miryu Systems. VOA’s Steve Miller reports from Seoul on the risks.

Google Spinoff to Test Truly Driverless Cars in California

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 09:02
The robotic car company created by Google is poised to attempt a major technological leap in California, where its vehicles will hit the roads without a human on hand to take control in emergencies. The regulatory approval announced Tuesday allows Waymo's driverless cars to cruise through California at speeds up to 65 miles per hour.  The self-driving cars have traveled millions of miles on the state's roads since Waymo began as a secretive project within Google nearly a decade ago. But a backup driver had been required to be behind the wheel until new regulations in April set the stage for the transition to true autonomy.  Waymo is the first among dozens of companies testing self-driving cars in California to persuade state regulators its technology is safe enough to permit them on the roads without a safety driver in them. An engineer still must monitor the fully autonomous cars from a remote location and be able to steer and stop the vehicles if something goes wrong. Free rides in Arizona California, however, won’t be the first state to have Waymo's fully autonomous cars on its streets. Waymo has been giving rides to a group of volunteer passengers in Arizona in driverless cars since last year. It has pledged to deploy its fleet of fully autonomous vans in Arizona in a ride-hailing service open to all comers in the Phoenix area by the end of this year. But California has a much larger population and far more congestion than Arizona, making it even more challenging place for robotic cars to get around. Waymo is moving into its next phase in California cautiously. To start, the fully autonomous cars will only give rides to Waymo’s employees and confine their routes to roads in its home town of Mountain View, California, and four neighboring Silicon Valley cities — Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Palo Alto. If all goes well, Waymo will then seek volunteers who want to be transported in fully autonomous vehicles, similar to its early rider program in Arizona . That then could lead to a ride-hailing service like the one Waymo envisions in Arizona. Can Waymo cars be trusted? But Waymo’s critics are not convinced there is enough evidence that the fully autonomous cars can be trusted to be driving through neighborhoods without humans behind the wheel.  “This will allow Waymo to test its robotic cars using people as human guinea pigs,” said John Simpson, privacy and technology project director for Consumer Watchdog, a group that has repeatedly raised doubts about the safety of self-driving cars. Those concerns escalated in March after fatal collision involving a self-driving car being tested by the leading ride-hailing service, Uber. In that incident, an Uber self-driving car with a human safety driver struck and killed a pedestrian crossing a darkened street in a Phoenix suburb. Waymo’s cars with safety drivers have been involved in dozens of accidents in California, but those have mostly been minor fender benders at low speeds.  All told, Waymo says its self-driving cars have collectively logged more than 10 million miles in 25 cities in a handful of states while in autonomous mode, although most of those trips have occurred with safety drivers. Will Waymo save lives? Waymo contends its robotic vehicles will save lives because so many crashes are caused by human motorists who are intoxicated, distracted or just bad drivers. “If a Waymo vehicle comes across a situation it doesn’t understand, it does what any good driver would do: comes to a safe stop until it does understand how to proceed,” the company said Tuesday.

Electronics Flexes Into the Future

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 08:17
Advancements in digital printing are leading to more sophisticated, flexible electronics capable of changing the way we live and the way we use technology. Reporter Deana Mitchell takes a look at the latest technological innovations at a research center in San Jose, California.

China Steps Up VPN Blocks Ahead of Major Trade, Internet Shows

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 02:05
Chinese authorities have stepped up efforts to block virtual private networks (VPN), service providers said Tuesday in describing a "cat-and-mouse" game with censors ahead of a major trade expo and internet conference. VPNs allow internet users in China, including foreign companies, to access overseas sites that authorities bar through the so-called Great Firewall, such as Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google. Since Xi Jinping became president in 2013, authorities have sought to curb VPN use, with providers suffering periodic lags in connectivity because of government blocks. "This time, the Chinese government seemed to have staff on the ground monitoring our response in real time and deploying additional blocks," said Sunday Yokubaitis, the chief executive of Golden Frog, the maker of the VyprVPN service. Authorities started blocking some of its services on Sunday, he told Reuters, although VyprVPN's service has since been restored in China. "Our counter measures usually work for a couple of days before the attack profile changes and they block us again," Yokubaitis said. The latest attacks were more aggressive than the "steadily increasing blocks" the firm had experienced in the second half of the year, he added. The Cyberspace Administration of China did not respond immediately to a faxed request from Reuters to seek comment. Another provider, ExpressVPN, also acknowledged connectivity issues on its services in China on Monday that sparked user complaints. "There has long been a cat-and-mouse game with VPNs in China and censors regularly change their blocking techniques," its spokesman told Reuters. Last year, Apple Inc dropped a number of unapproved VPN apps from its app store in China, after Beijing adopted tighter rules. Although fears of a blanket block on services have not materialized, industry experts say VPN connections often face outages around the time of major events in China. Xi will attend a huge trade fair in Shanghai next week designed to promote China as a global importer and calm foreign concern about its trade practices, while the eastern town of Wuzhen hosts the annual World Internet Conference to showcase China's vision for internet governance. Censors may be testing new technology that blocks VPNs more effectively, said Lokman Tsui, who studies freedom of expression and digital rights at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "It could be just a wave of experiments," he said of the latest service disruptions.

Apple's New iPads Embrace Facial Recognition

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 22:55
Apple's new iPads will resemble its latest iPhones as the company ditches a home button and fingerprint sensor to make room for the screen.   As with the iPhone XR and XS models, the new iPad Pro will use facial-recognition technology to unlock the device and authorize app and Apple Pay purchases.   Apple also unveiled new Mac models at an opera house in New York, where the company emphasized artistic uses for its products such as creating music, video and sketches. New Macs include a MacBook Air laptop with a better screen.   Research firm IDC says tablet sales have been declining overall, though Apple saw a 3 percent increase in iPad sales last year to nearly 44 million, commanding a 27 percent market share.  

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