VOA Science & Tech
Updated: 37 min 15 sec ago
Thailand's legislature has passed a cybersecurity bill that would allow authorities access to people's personal information without a court order. The Cybersecurity Act addresses computer hacking crimes, but activists fear it will allow the government sweeping access to people's personal information. The National Legislative Assembly, which passed the bill in its final reading Thursday by a vote of 133-0, was appointed by the junta that came to power after a 2014 coup. It becomes law when published in the Royal Gazette. The cybersecurity bill allows state officials to seize, search, infiltrate, and make copies of computers, computer systems and information in computers without a court warrant if an appointed committee sees it as a high-level security threat, and relevant courts can later be informed of such actions.
The top U.S. trade official said Wednesday that a new trade agreement with China is not yet close to being completed. State Department correspondent Nike Ching reports from Washington on the latest in the talks and how U.S. concerns over high-tech issues remain a key point of friction. VOA Mandarin reporter Yihua Lee contributes.
The fast-growing, Chinese-owned video sharing network TikTok agreed to pay a $5.7 million fine to U.S. authorities to settle charges that it illegally collected personal information from children, officials said Wednesday. The Federal Trade Commission said the penalty for the social network, which had been known as Musical.ly, was the largest ever in a children's privacy investigation. The social network, which has been surging in popularity with young smartphone users and taking over from rivals like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, failed to obtain parental consent from its underage users as required by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, FTC officials said. The operators of TikTok "knew many children were using the app, but they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13," said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. No tolerance for lawbreakers "This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children: We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law." TikTok claimed 500 million users worldwide last year, making it one of the most popular worldwide apps. Owned by China's ByteDance, it expanded its reach in the U.S. with the merger with Musical.ly. Teens have been flocking to the service, which allows them to create and share videos of 15 seconds. According to the FTC, the company required users to provide an email address, phone number, username, first and last name, a short biography, and a profile picture. The consumer protection regulator said 65 million accounts have been registered in the United States. Officials said the company knew that many of its users were under 13 and should have taken greater precautions. "In our view, these practices reflected the company's willingness to pursue growth even at the expense of endangering children," said a statement from FTC Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter. "The agency secured a record-setting civil penalty and deletion of ill-gotten data, as well as other remedies to stop this egregious conduct." Suggestive content TikTok has faced criticism around the world for featuring sexually suggestive content inappropriate for children. TikTok said in a statement it would create a "separate app experience" for younger users with additional privacy protections as part of its agreement with regulators. "It's our priority to create a safe and welcoming experience for all of our users, and as we developed the global TikTok platform, we've been committed to creating measures to further protect our user community — including tools for parents to protect their teens and for users to enable additional privacy settings," the statement said.
Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk changed his Twitter display name to “Elon Tusk” in another late-night flurry of tweets on Wednesday, which also promised news from his electric carmaker Tesla Inc later this week. In a series of tweets to his 25 million followers following charges from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this week, Musk accused the regulator of failing to read Tesla’s annual reports and said its oversight was “broken”. On Wednesday, he changed his display name and added an elephant tag. Social media platforms have featured a number of memes involving wordplay around Musk’s name this week. He also promised Tesla would have “news” at 2 p.m. California time on Thursday. The company, deep in debt as it ramps up production of its popular Model 3 sedan, is due to repay a $920 million convertible bond a day later. Musk had promised last year to have his public statements vetted by the company’s board, as part of a settlement with the SEC that headed off demands for him to resign as Tesla CEO. Tesla did not immediately respond to request for comment.
When it comes to dining out, the noisiness of a restaurant can ruin an otherwise good meal. But a crowdsourcing app is helping diners choose where to eat based on noise levels. Tina Trinh reports.
Robots, cars, drones and virtual-reality gaming sets connected by cutting-edge 5G networks are among the thousands of futuristic gadgets on display at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. While there is much excitement over how 5G will transform our everyday lives, the conference is overshadowed by the standoff between the United States and Beijing over the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, which the U.S. says could be used by the Chinese government for espionage. Some U.S. cities and parts of Asia are already operating 5G mobile networks. They offer speeds of over a gigabyte per second and low latency — in other words, practically instant connections with no delay. Experts say that opens up whole new fields of connectivity, from new generations of virtual reality gaming and communication, to remote robotic surgery. The technology promises to transform not only the mobile phone in your pocket — but also the world around us, says Paul Triolo of the Eurasia Group, who spoke to VOA from the conference. “The really key aspects of 5G, like some of the low latency communications and massive sensor, massive machine-to-machine communications, that’s more about industry and industrial uses. And that gets into thing like critical infrastructure so you’re going to have a lot more non-personal or industrial data flying around and that really has people concerned. For example, military forces in countries like the U.S. will also leverage large parts of the commercial network,” said Triolo.Chinese firm Huawei is a big presence at the Mobile World Congress and a big player in 5G network technology. Washington has banned the company from 5G rollout in the United States, citing Chinese legislation requiring companies to cooperate with the state — raising fears Huawei 5G networks overseas could be used as a ‘Trojan horse’ to spy on rivals. Attending the Mobile World Congress Tuesday, the U.S. State Department’s Deputy Secretary for Cyber Policy Robert L. Strayer urged allies to do the same. “We will continue to engage with these governments and the regulators in these countries to educate them about what we know and keep sharing the best practices for how we can all successfully move to next generation of technology. I´ll just say there are plenty of options in the West,” Strayer told reporters. Huawei’s management has said the company would never use ‘back doors’ for espionage — and the Chinese government has dismissed the accusations. Australia, New Zealand and Japan have followed Washington’s lead and restricted Huawei’s involvement in 5G. Europe remains undecided — but the industry needs clarity, said analyst Paul Triolo. “The European community in particular and also the U.S. have to clarify what these policies mean, what a ban would mean or what some kind of a partial ban would mean, if there’s really a middle ground that can be found here.” Vodafone’s CEO Nick Read told the Barcelona conference that banning Huawei could set Europe's 5G rollout back another two years. The eye-catching gadgets show the potential that 5G networks are about to unleash. But the question of who controls those networks, and the data they carry, looms large over this futuristic world.
5G-connected robots, cars, drones and virtual-reality gaming sets are among the thousands of futuristic gadgets on display at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. While there is much excitement over how 5G networks will transform our everyday lives, the conference is overshadowed by the standoff between the United States and Beijing over the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei – which the U.S. says could be used by the Chinese government for espionage. Henry Ridgwell has more.
Flexible and folding formats framed the future of smartphones this week as manufacturers focused on new forms in an effort to jolt the market out of uniformity and re-invigorate sales. But anyone hoping to tap or swipe Huawei's Mate X, a smartphone that wraps the screen around the front and back, was soon disappointed at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress. Initial cheers were quickly followed by gasps when the Chinese firm revealed its eye-watering 2,299 euros ($2,600) price tag, although that includes a 5G connection. This is even more than Samsung's Galaxy Fold, which was unveiled last week and will be priced from $1,980 when it goes on sale in some markets in April. It was on display in Barcelona in a glass case like a museum artefact. While the hands-off stance indicates neither firm has a consumer-ready device, 2019 would be remembered as the year of the foldable Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, said, adding that the new format was still in its infancy. "But we are at the stone age of devices with flexible displays; it's a whole new phase of experimentation after the sea of smartphone sameness we have seen for the last decade." Samsung took the opposite approach to Huawei by putting its folding screen on the inside of its device, with another smaller screen on the front panel for use when its is closed. "That was the solution we felt was best for longevity," Samsung's European Director of Mobile Portfolio & Commercial Strategy Mark Notton told Reuters. Smartphone makers have been trying to innovate to persuade consumers to upgrade from devices which already meet most of their needs, in an effort to reverse falling sales. And although more vendors will soon follow with their own takes on foldable displays, 2019 will not be the year they go mainstream, market analysts Canalys said. They will remain exclusively ultra-luxury devices with fewer than 2 million expected to be shipped worldwide this year, Canalys added. The mobile market slipped 1.2 percent in 2018, research company Gartner says, although it expects growth of 1.6 percent in 2019, driven by replacement cycles in the largest and most saturated markets China, the United States and Western Europe. Gearing up for 5G With 5G next generation mobile networks not becoming widely available until 2023 in the United States and China and 2026 in Europe, analysts say, the vast majority of customers will be buying the latest 4G devices like Samsung new Galaxy S10. Nonetheless, manufacturers such as LG were keen to show they could squeeze 5G technology into 4G smartphone form, although most lacked launch or pricing information. Chinese maker OnePlus had a 5G device running a video game using a 5G connection on show, but visitors were teased with only a glimpse of the phone's screen in a display cabinet. "For us, launching means commercial availability, it doesn't mean PowerPoint," OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei told Reuters. "We are confident we are going to be one of the first with a commercially available smartphone in Europe," he said, adding that this would be within the first half of 2019. Xiaomi Corp, which ranked fifth in smartphone shipments in the last quarter according to IDC, did reveal pricing information along with its first 5G device. "Xiaomi has fired the starting gun with a $599 price. That will bring tears to the eyes of many other mobile phone makers," Wood said, adding that many sub-scale makers such as Sony, LG and others could find it tough to make any kind of margin on 5G. Sony did not show a 5G device, relying instead on its ownership of a major Hollywood studio to release a new line of Xperia phones with a 21:9 display ratio optimized to watch movies and Netflix content.
Now there is one more place where cameras could be watching you — from 30,000 feet. Newer seat-back entertainment systems on some airplanes operated by American Airlines and Singapore Airlines have cameras, and it's likely they are also on planes used by other carriers. American and Singapore both said Friday that they have never activated the cameras and have no plans to use them. However, companies that make the entertainment systems are installing cameras to offer future options such as seat-to-seat video conferencing, according to an American Airlines spokesman. A passenger on a Singapore flight posted a photo of the seat-back display last week, and the tweet was shared several hundred times and drew media notice. Buzzfeed first reported that the cameras are also on some American planes. Cameras standard features The airlines stressed that they didn't add the cameras — manufacturers embedded them in the entertainment systems. American's systems are made by Panasonic, while Singapore uses Panasonic and Thales, according to airline representatives. Neither Panasonic nor Thales responded immediately for comment. As they shrink, cameras are being built into more devices, including laptops and smartphones. The presence of cameras in aircraft entertainment systems was known in aviation circles at least two years ago, although not among the traveling public. Seth Miller, a journalist who wrote about the issue in 2017, thinks that equipment makers didn't consider the privacy implications. There were already cameras on planes, although not so intrusive, and the companies assumed that passengers would trade their images for convenience, as they do with facial-recognition technology at immigration checkpoints, he said. “Now they're facing blowback from a small but vocal group questioning the value of the system that isn't even active,” Miller said. American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said cameras are in “premium economy” seats on 82 Boeing 777 and Airbus A330-200 jets. American has nearly 1,000 planes. “Cameras are a standard feature on many in-flight entertainment systems used by multiple airlines,” he said. Singapore spokesman James Boyd said cameras are on 84 Airbus A350s, Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s and 787s. The carrier has 117 planes. Cameras not turned on While the airlines say they have no plans to use the cameras, a Twitter user named Vitaly Kamluk, who snapped the photo of the camera on his Singapore flight, suggested that just to be sure the carriers should slap stickers over the lenses. “The cameras are probably not used now,” he tweeted. “But if they are wired, operational, bundled with mic, it's a matter of one smart hack to use them on 84+ aircrafts and spy on passengers.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday ordered two state agencies to investigate a media report that Facebook Inc may be accessing far more personal information from smartphone users, including health and other sensitive data, than had previously been known. The directive to New York's Department of State and Department of Financial Services came after The Wall Street Journal said testing showed that Facebook collected personal information from other apps on users' smartphones within seconds of them entering it. The WSJ reported that several apps share sensitive user data including weight, blood pressure and ovulation status with Facebook. The report said that the company can access data in some cases even when the user is not signed into Facebook or does not have a Facebook account. In a statement Cuomo called the practice an "outrageous abuse of privacy." He also called on the relevant federal regulators to become involved. Facebook did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. Shares in Facebook took a short-lived hit after the Wall Street Journal report was published, but closed up 1.2 percent. In late January Cuomo along with New York Attorney General Letitia James announced an investigation into Apple Inc's failure to warn consumers about a FaceTime bug that had let iPhones users listen to conversations of others who have not yet accepted a video call. Facebook is facing a slew of lawsuits and regulatory inquiries over privacy issues, including a U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigation into disclosures that Facebook inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million users with British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. New York's financial services department does not traditionally supervise social media companies directly, but has waded into digital privacy in the financial sector and could have oversight of some app providers that send user data to Facebook. In March, it is slated to implement the country's first cybersecurity rules governing state-regulated financial institutions such as banks, insurers and credit monitors. Last month, DFS said life insurers could use social media posts in underwriting policies, so long as they did not discriminate based on race, color, national origin, sexual orientation or other protected classes.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says Amazon's backing out of a deal to put one of its second headquarters in New York City is the ``greatest tragedy'' he has seen since he's been in government. Cuomo said Friday on public radio station WAMC that losing the Amazon deal makes him sick to his stomach. Cuomo's public comments were his first on the topic since his office issued a statement February 14, the day the Seattle-based internet retailer announced it was backing out of an agreement to redevelop a site in Queens. Cuomo again blamed fellow Democrats who control the state Senate. They include Sen. Michael Gianaris, who represents the Long Island City neighborhood where Amazon wanted to base 25,000 jobs. Emails requesting comment were sent to the offices of Gianaris and the Senate majority.
California is earthquake country, and residents of Los Angeles can now get some critical warning, when conditions are right, after a quake has started and seismic waves are heading their way. The long-delayed system, called ShakeAlertLA, is the first of its kind in the United States. Earthquake alert systems like this save lives, said Jeff Gorell, deputy Los Angeles mayor for public safety, as he demonstrated the application on his smartphone. “When an earthquake starts, the first waves that go out are called P-waves,” he said. They serve as a warning and “are not the damaging, destructive waves” that will follow. The alert system, which relies on data from seismic sensors throughout the region, could offer up to 90 seconds of warning for quakes of magnitude 5 or larger. Even a few seconds can make a difference, said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, as he rolled out the ShakeAlertLA smartphone app in January. Alerts let people know to drop, cover and hold on, as they are instructed to do in earthquakes. Mexico City system An alert system is in place in Mexico City that let residents brace for a mild shaker in early February after an earthquake struck Chiapas to the south. The quake was barely felt in the capital, but residents were ready. The system doesn’t always help, however, and it did not with the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on Sept. 19, 2017, that killed hundreds in and around the Mexican capital. The quake’s epicenter was too close to offer warning. Distance to epicenter crucial Alert systems work when there’s enough distance between the earthquake’s epicenter and a center of population, said Thomas Heaton, professor of engineering seismology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). “So, if you can recognize that an earthquake has started ... you can give some area that’s about to be shaken strongly a heads up that says, ‘There’s an ongoing earthquake, and oh, by the way, it’s headed in your direction.’” California is riddled with geological fault lines that periodically rupture. The largest, the San Andreas Fault, can give rise to massive temblors, including the San Francisco quake in 1906, which may have killed 3,000, according to later estimates. A section of the same fault shifted in 1989, causing a magnitude 6.9 earthquake that killed more than 60 in Oakland and nearby communities. Smaller fault lines can also cause large temblors, including a previously unknown fault beneath the Northridge section of Los Angeles, where a magnitude 6.7 quake killed more than 60 people in 1994. The ShakeAlertLA app offers users critical information after a temblor has started, said Deputy Mayor Gorell, “just enough so that they can digest it and then react to it, without overwhelming them with information or frightening them,” he said. Advanced alert systems are also in place in Japan, and while the systems have limitations, authorities there say they have saved lives. Los Angeles officials say preparing for earthquakes requires work on many fronts, including encouraging residents to prepare disaster plans and stock emergency supplies. Preparations also require upgrades to old buildings. Los Angeles now has nearly 13,000 so-called soft-story buildings, with wide windows or doors on lower floors that need bracing. These buildings are vulnerable to damage or collapse if struck by seismic waves of a certain type or intensity. Nearly 1,700 buildings have been upgraded to modern earthquake standards, and another 3,500 have been issued permits for retrofitting. It’s a race against time, officials say, because massive shakers rock the region periodically. The last big quake in Southern California, in 1857, reached magnitude 7.9, and could have killed thousands in a modern city. The alert app can help, said Heaton, who noted that when the ground “starts to shake, you have no idea whether it’s going to get bigger, or whether it will stay small. Usually it stays small,” he said, “but you don’t know.” Heaton said the system will give you an indication of what to expect, and also let emergency workers know where to send help after a quake has struck. ShakeAlertLA is being rolled out in phases in the U.S. West coast states of California, Oregon and Washington, which are all vulnerable to earthquakes.
Google has a new cloud computing boss and big ambitions to someday produce more revenue from that business than from advertising. Now comes the hard part: winning over big-spending customers. Alphabet Inc's cloud computing division remains a distant third behind Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp in terms of global revenue, according to analysts' estimates. A few major companies manage their data on Google's servers. But Google has nowhere near the vast customer base of Amazon, according to a new Reuters analysis of company regulatory filings. Businesses generally are not required to disclose their cloud vendors. Reuters found 311 out of about 5,000 worldwide that did so in 2018. While not comprehensive, the data provide a window into Google's challenge. Thirty five of those companies named Google as a cloud provider. The largest by market capitalization were oil major Total SA and bank HSBC Holdings Plc. Amazon Web Services led with 227 clients, including travel company Expedia Group Inc and industrials giant Siemens AG. Microsoft's Azure cloud had 69 firms, among them weapons maker Axon Enterprise Inc and business data firm Dun & Bradstreet Co. Thirty four of the companies cited multiple clouds. The previously untracked data show the work ahead for Thomas Kurian, who is weeks on the job as chief executive of Google Cloud. Kurian has vowed to double down where Google has seen promising results. Specifically, he plans to target governments and top companies in retail, manufacturing, healthcare, media and finance. "A lot of our focus as we go forward is making sure that our sales organization has the background and the ability to sell to large, more traditional companies," Kurian said at a Goldman Sachs investor conference last week. "There's enormous appetite in those companies to consider Google." Google declined to comment or make Kurian available for an interview. People familiar with his plans said he is looking to reshape his division's culture. A key part is developing or acquiring easy-to-use, industry-specific corporate applications, an area that Amazon and Microsoft do not dominate. "It's about the on-ramp onto their cloud," said Daniel Ives, a New York-based financial analyst following the cloud industry for Wedbush Securities. "The main way to get that is through applications." A 22-year veteran of Oracle Corp, Kurian gave the database company fresh life as the product leader behind its move to selling cloud services. His hire is already making potential customers reconsider Google, said Ray Wang, founder of Constellation Research, a Monta Vista, Calif.-based firm that helps businesses negotiate cloud deals. "They've worked with him," Wang said. "There's a trust factor that wasn't there before." Kurian also must reassure some investors bewildered by Google's cloud ambitions: Diversifying revenue beyond advertising is a plus, but it is not coming cheap. Google, Microsoft and Amazon combined spent nearly $53 billion on capital expenses last year, driven by data center projects to house their clouds. With gross margins of 20 percent or less, selling cloud storage or tools for which customers need specialized staff is less lucrative for a small vendor, industry experts said. But margins on the type of software Kurian likely wants to offer can top even the 60 percent of Google's ad business. "The next wave of growth is going to have to come from the heavy hitting applications," said Kerry Liu, chief executive at Rubikloud, which helps retailers with cloud projects. 'Geeky, Techy platform' Google got serious about the cloud around 2016, five years after Amazon Web Services had become a multibillion-dollar behemoth. But Google's reputation for limited customer support has attracted mostly newer businesses or those with significant tech know-how. Mike Fisher, Etsy Inc's chief technology officer, said Google's superior AI tools helped win over the New York-based crafts marketplace. Fisher expects data-crunching algorithms to account for 25 percent of its server use this year, up from 10 percent last year. "We've been more pleasantly surprised than we thought," Fisher said of the cloud's benefits. Advertising software company OpenX recently agreed to spend at least $110 million on Google Cloud over five years. The Pasadena, Calif. firm bet its clients would benefit from transacting on the same infrastructure as Google's ads system. "Itâ€™s a bit more of a geeky, techy platform, but we're that kind of company," said Chief Technology Officer Paul Ryan. Kurian's plan To attract more traditional corporate clients, Google Cloud will need to do some handholding, executives at its partners and rivals said. Kurian is well-suited to the role. Two of his former colleagues said his follow-up and candid disclosures about product limitations helped seal deals at Oracle. An early riser, Kurian impressed staff with his meticulous preparation for morning meetings as well as his recall of the tiniest details of clients' systems from years before. Kurian also managed billions of dollars in acquisitions at Oracle, including the purchases of software firms BEA Systems and Taleo. Applications could come through similar deals and internally: Google is testing product recommendation software for shopping apps, a person familiar with the project said, to add to its small set of specialized tools. Kurian told the investor conference that "you will see us continue to expand our footprint there."
Ten years after launching its Galaxy line of smartphones, Samsung Electronics unveiled a new form of the ubiquitous device — a phone that seamlessly turns into a tablet — to create some new excitement in the sluggish global smartphone market. At an event in San Francisco on Wednesday, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Fold, its long-awaited foldable smartphone. Only FlexPai, by Royale, a U.S.-based Chinese company, has anything like it on the market, but the FlexPai has garnered mixed reviews. Samsung ignored the FlexPai’s existence and unveiled the Galaxy Fold as if it were the first of its kind. “The size of our screens is still fundamentally limited by the size of our devices until now,” said Justin Denison, Samsung senior vice president of product marketing. “With the Galaxy Fold, we are creating a new dimension for your phone and your life. We are giving you a device that doesn’t just define category, it defies category.” WATCH: Samsung Rolls Out New Smartphones Three apps at once for multitasking When closed, the Galaxy Fold is a smartphone. When opened, the Fold turns into an expansive tablet. The device is for the impatient multitaskers because users can run three apps at the same time and continuously use the apps while moving from phone to tablet. The Galaxy Fold is slated to go on sale in late April. It will cost nearly $2,000. That price tag caused sticker shock at the event, eliciting gasps and some grumbling among the audience. But it appears the Galaxy Fold is in keeping with Samsung’s aim to generate buzz for the smartphone market, while also aiming for the market’s high end, where Apple and its iPhone dominate. Slumping smartphone sales The challenge smartphone makers have faced in recent years is that consumers hold on to the devices for longer and longer, seeing few reasons to upgrade. The leader in worldwide smartphone sales, the South Korean electronics firm is hoping to give consumers a few reasons to trade in their older ones, and generate buzz about what smartphones can be in the future. Samsung’s new line of Galaxy smartphone, the S10, comes in three models, S10e, S10 and the S10+. The S10 models have bigger screens, more battery life and more cameras packed in each device than earlier Galaxy lines. Ultrasound fingerprint scanner The S10 has the world’s first “ultrasonic fingerprint scanner,” which uses sound waves that bounce from a user’s fingertip to unlock a device. It’s unclear if the fingerprint scanner will work through screen savers. And the S10 can act as a charger for other devices such as watches. The S10 line, with a price starting at $749, will start shipping March 8. Samsung executives say that with the firm’s foldable phone and new S10 line, it is ushering in the mobile era for the next decade. “For those who say everything possible has already been done,” said DJ Koh, president and CEO of Samsung’s IT and mobile communications division. “I say open your mind and get ready for the dawn of a new mobile era.”
Samsung has unveiled its newest line of smartphones. The top-selling smartphone maker hopes to inject excitement into a sluggish global smartphone market. Michelle Quinn attended the event in San Francisco on Wednesday and gives us a look.
A future of rising oceans and stronger storms awaits the next generation as the climate warms. It will take talented engineers and city planners to tackle those challenges. The annual Future City competition aims to get middle school students excited about learning the skills they'll need. More than 40,000 students from 1,500 schools participated this year. VOA's Steve Baragona was at the finals in Washington.
A security bug is allowing users to bypass new privacy controls introduced by Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp on iPhones this month, the service said Wednesday after users posted about the problem on social media. The disclosure came as messaging and other applications race to improve security and privacy and as Facebook Inc. is addressing criticism for not safeguarding privacy. WhatsApp's new privacy feature allows iPhone users to require Touch ID or Face ID — fingerprint or facial recognition — to open the app, but users were able to bypass those log-in methods by using the iPhone's "share" function to send files over WhatsApp. Users can set verification to be required immediately upon log-in, meaning they would need to supply Touch ID or Face ID each time they open WhatsApp, or at intervals of up to an hour, allowing them to toggle between apps on the iPhone for that time period. The security system fails when users select any interval option other than "immediately." A user named "u/de_X_ter" wrote a Reddit post detailing the problem Tuesday. Reuters verified the bug. "We are aware of the issue and a fix will be available shortly. In the meantime, we recommend that people set the screen lock option to 'immediately,' " a WhatsApp spokesperson said by email. Last month, a user discovered a privacy flaw with Apple's FaceTime group video chat software, which allowed iPhone users to see and hear others before they accept a video call. Apple rolled out an iOS update to fix the issue. Apple did not immediately respond to questions on whether a similar fix would be required for the WhatsApp glitch.
Samsung Electronics Co Ltd on Wednesday said it will release a folding smartphone in April that works with the next-generation 5G networks and will cost almost $2,000, a move to entice consumers to upgrade their phones. The Galaxy Fold will go on sale on April 26, Samsung officials said at an event in San Francisco. The device will have a 4.6-inch (11.7 cm) display while folded and a 7.3-inch (18.5 cm) display when unfolded. The device "breaks new ground because it answers skeptics who said that everything that could be done has been done," DJ Koh, chief executive of Samsung Electronics, said at the event. "We are here to prove them wrong." The device could help Samsung, the world's largest mobile phone maker, compete against rivals such as Apple Inc and China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd. While Huawei gained market share last year, the entire industry saw overall unit sales fall as the Chinese economy struggled toward the end of the year. Samsung also introduced several accessories to compete against Apple, including a pair of wireless headphones called Galaxy Buds. The headphones include wireless charging, a feature that Apple has promised to put into is competing AirPods but has not yet released. Samsung also said that its new Galaxy phones will be able to wirelessly charge its headphones and new smartwatches by setting the accessories on the back of the phone. Samsung said it worked with Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc's Google and Microsoft Corp to create special versions of their popular apps to fit the new display. For example, the Galaxy folding phone has a feature to let users dive into a Facebook post by unfolding the phone. Samsung said it had developed new manufacturing processes for the phone's hinge and flexible display to tolerate opening and closing hundreds of thousands of times. 10 times faster Along with the folding phone, Samsung also added new cameras and a 5G version to its Galaxy series of phones. Verizon Communications Inc will be the first carrier to offer service for Samsung's 5G phones. The networks are expected to be 10 times faster than current ones, improving viewing of live news and sports events. The 5G smartphones, both folding and rigid, aim to beat major rivals Apple and Xiaomi Corp to market with a next-generation device as Samsung defends a narrowing lead in global handset shipments. With the 5G versions of its flagships, the Korean electronics maker looks to have beaten Chinese rivals in the 5G race, although the device will operate only on the small number of networks launching later this year. Apple is not expected to release a 5G smartphone until late 2020. Rival smartphone makers are expected to announce 5G models at next week's Mobile World Congress, the industry's top annual event, in Spain. Samsung said its 5G handset would be available in the early summer. The Galaxy 10 series needs to appeal to consumers who are reluctant to upgrade for only incremental technological improvements in performance. Such reluctance led to the worst-ever year for smartphone sales in 2018. All of the Galaxy series of rigid phones except the 5G will be available from March 8, with the S10+ priced from $1,000, the S10 priced from $900 and the smaller S10e from $750. The mainline S10 compares with $999 for Apple's iPhone XS and $858 for Huawei's premium Mate 20 Pro. Samsung is still the global smartphone market leader with about 19 percent share but it underperformed the market, which was itself down. Huawei and Apple are vying for second place with about 13 and 12 percent respectively.
A hacking group has targeted European democratic institutions including think tanks and non-profit groups ahead of highly anticipated EU parliamentary elections in May, Microsoft said. The company said Tuesday that a group called Strontium targeted email accounts for more than 100 people in six European countries working for the German Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institutes in Europe and the German Marshall Fund. Microsoft said in a blog post that it is continuing to investigate but is confident many of the attacks originated from Strontium, a group that others call Fancy Bear or APT28. U.S. authorities have tied the group to Russia's main intelligence agency, known as the GRU. Microsoft said the attacks occurred from September to December, and that it notified the organizations after discovering they were targeted. Tech companies have been accused of not doing enough to prevent hacking attacks and the spread of fake news, which some say influenced major elections like the U.S. presidential vote and the Brexit referendum. Hundreds of millions of people are set to vote for more than 700 European Union parliamentary lawmakers in May, and the recent rise of populist parties has raised the prospect of euroskeptic politicians gaining more seats and potentially undermining the bloc. The German Marshall Fund has done extensive work researching and documenting Russian attempts at interfering in elections as part of its broader efforts on democracy-building and trans-Atlantic cooperation. In a statement, the German Marshall Fund president, Karen Donfried, said the attacks were unsurprising for an organization "dedicated to advancing and promoting democratic values." The organization said its systems did not appear to be compromised. The German Council on Foreign Relations declined to offer details, citing the ongoing investigation. But a council spokeswoman, Eva-Maria McCormack, called for "strong political and public attention" to the issue of cyberattacks.
Hundreds of orange robots zoom and whiz back and forth like miniature bumper cars -- but instead of colliding, they're following a carefully plotted path to transport thousands of items ordered from online giant Amazon. A young woman fitted out in a red safety vest, with pouches full of sensors and radio transmitters on her belt and a tablet in hand, moves through their complicated choreography. This robot ballet takes place at the new Amazon order fulfillment center that opened on Staten Island in New York in September. In an 80,000-square-meter (855,000-square-foot) space filled with the whirring sounds of machinery, the Seattle-based e-commerce titan has deployed some of the most advanced instruments in the rapidly growing field of robots capable of collaborating with humans. The high-tech vest, worn at Amazon warehouses since last year, is key to the whole operation -- it allows 21-year-old Deasahni Bernard to safely enter the robot area, to pick up an object that has fallen off its automated host, for example, or check if a battery needs replacing. Bernard only has to press a button and the robots stop or slow or readjust their dance to accommodate her. Human-robot 'symphony' Amazon now counts more than 25 robotic centers, which chief technologist for Amazon Robotics Tye Brady says have changed the way the company operates. "What used to take more than a day now takes less than an hour," he said, explaining they are able to fit about 40 percent more goods inside the same footprint. For some, these fulfillment centers, which have helped cement Amazon's dominant position in global online sales, are a perfect illustration of the looming risk of humans being pushed out of certain business equations in favor of artificial intelligence. But Brady argues that robot-human collaboration at the Staten Island facility, which employs more than 2,000 people, has given them a "beautiful edge" over the competition. Bernard, who was a supermarket cashier before starting at Amazon, agrees. "I like this a lot better than my previous jobs," she told AFP, as Brady looked on approvingly. What role do Amazon employees play in what Brady calls the human-robot "symphony?" In Staten Island, on top of tech-vest wearers like Bernard, there are "stowers," "pickers" and "packers" who respectively load up products, match up products meant for the same customers and build shipping boxes -- all with the help of screens and scanners. At every stage, the goal is to "extend people's capabilities" so the humans can focus on problem-solving and intervene if necessary, according to Brady. At the age of 51, he has worked with robotics for 33 years, previously as a spacecraft engineer for MIT and on lunar landing systems of the Draper Laboratory in Massachusetts. He is convinced the use of "collaborative robots" is the key to future human productivity -- and job growth. Since Amazon went all-in on robotics with the 2012 acquisition of logistics robot-maker Kiva, gains have been indisputable, Brady says. They've created 300,000 new jobs, bringing the total number of worldwide Amazon employees up to 645,000, not counting seasonal jobs. "It's a myth that robotics and automation kills jobs, it's just a myth," according to Brady. "The data really can't be denied on this: the more robots we add to our fulfillment centers, the more jobs we are creating," he said, without mentioning the potential for lost jobs at traditional stores. The 'R2D2' model For Brady, the ideal example of human-robot collaboration is the relationship between "R2D2" and Luke Skywalker from "Star Wars." Their partnership, in which "R2D2" is always ready to use his computing powers to pull people out of desperate situations "is a great example of how humans and robots can work together," he said. But despite Brady's enthusiasm for a robotic future, many are suspicious of the trend -- a wariness that extends to the corporate giant, which this month scrapped high-profile plans for a new New York headquarters in the face of local protests. Attempts by Amazon employees to unionize, at Staten Island and other sites, have so far been successfully fought back by the company, further fuelling criticism. At a press briefing held last month as part of the unionization push, one employee of the facility, Rashad Long, spoke out about what he said were unsustainable work conditions. "We are not robots, we are human beings," Long said. Sharing the benefits Many suspect Amazon's investment in robotics centers aims to eventually automate positions currently held by humans. For Kevin Lynch, an expert in robotics from Northwestern University near Chicago, the development of collaborative robots is "inevitable" and will indeed eventually eliminate certain jobs, such as the final stage of packing at Amazon for instance. "I also think other jobs will be created," he said. "But it's easier to predict the jobs that will be lost than the jobs that will be created." "Robotics and artificial intelligence bring clear benefits to humanity, in terms of our health, welfare, happiness, and quality of life," said Lynch, who believes public policy has a key role to play in ensuring those benefits are shared, and that robotics and AI do not sharpen economic inequality. "The growth of robotics and AI is inevitable," he said. "The real question is, 'how do we prepare for our future with robots?"