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Scientists Devise New Earthquake Warning System

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 04:41
Californians are bracing for what could be the next big earthquake. Scientists have developed a new early warning system relying on sensors and an algorithm to help prepare. Deana Mitchell reports.

When the Earthquake Strikes, a New Way to Alert People in the US

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 09:59
Californians are bracing for what could be the next big earthquake. Scientists have developed a new early warning system relying on sensors and an algorithm to help prepare. Deana Mitchell reports.

From Dorm to Dominance: Growing Pains as Facebook Turns 15

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 07:05
Facebook, trudging through its awkward teenage years, is turning 15 on Monday.   Launched in 2004 as "TheFacebook," the service was originally intended only for Harvard students. It's now a massive global business that connects some 2.3 billion users. It was born in an era of desktop computers, years before the iPhone, and ran no ads.   At the time it was impossible to imagine that someday countries like Russia and Iran would try to use it for sophisticated information operations in order to influence elections around the world. In 2004, CEO Mark Zuckerberg's biggest problem may have been almost getting kicked out of Harvard. Zuckerberg's 2019 worries include the threat of government regulation of the empire he has built and the gnawing possibility that despite its stated lofty goals around connecting people and building community, Facebook may not be good for the world.   Today, it's hard to take a subway in New York or a tram in Budapest, Hungary without overhearing the word "Facebook" or "Instagram" in conversation or seeing their apps open on passenger phones. The social network has transformed the world, for better and for worse, and its effect will be debated for years.   Here are some numbers that give an idea of Facebook's past, present and future: Number of monthly users as of Dec. 31, 2018: 2.32 billion Number of daily users as of this date: 1.5 billion Number of people in the world with internet access: 3.9 billion Year Facebook reached 1 billion users: 2012 Number of users affected by the Cambridge Analytica data-mining scandal: up to 87 million 2018 revenue: $55 billion 2018 profit: $22 billion Number of employees in 2018: 35,587 Number of employees in 2004: About 7 Year the iPhone launched: 2007 Year Facebook launched its iPhone app: 2008 Year Facebook bought Instagram: 2012 Money it paid to buy it: $1 billion Money it paid to buy WhatsApp a year later: $19 billion Amount Facebook spent lobbying the U.S. government in 2018: $12.6 million Amount it spent lobbying the U.S. government in 2010: $259,507 Initial public offering stock price on May 18, 2012: $38 Lowest stock price, reached on Sept. 4, 2012: $17.55 Highest stock price, reached on July 25, 2018: $218.62 Market value Facebook lost the next day , a stock market record: $119 billion Kuwait's GDP: $120 billion Mark Zuckerberg's net worth as of Friday: $62.4 billion Date he said the idea that fake news on Facebook influenced elections was "pretty crazy": Nov. 10, 2016 Date he wrote on Facebook he regrets saying that: Sept. 27, 2017 Number of hours Zuckerberg testified before Congress in April 2018 on election interference, privacy and other issues: 10 Number of followers he has on Facebook: 119 million Number of kids he has: 2  Sources: Facebook, International Telecommunications Union, Forbes, FactSet, lobbying disclosure forms

Tech Women in Silicon Valley Likely to Be Foreign-Born

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 06:55
Pushpa Ithal may not fit the stereotype of the typical Silicon Valley CEO — she's female, foreign-born, and a mother. Nevertheless, Ithal is an entrepreneur, living the Silicon Valley dream of running her own startup. Like her, many foreign-born tech women are finding a place in the Valley — as tech companies have become more and more dependent on foreign-born workers to create their products and services. Silicon Valley, the global center for high-tech innovation, could be renamed "Immigrant Valley." When it comes to technical talent, the engine of Silicon Valley is fueled by foreign-born workers, many of whom are from humble roots. And having worked hard to get here, many have ambitions beyond their day jobs. One of them is Ithal. On Sundays, she and her two children, ages 5 and 10, pick out the clothes the kids will wear the coming week. Each outfit is placed on a labeled hanger. Then she does the same with the week's snacks. "So there are no surprises for the kids," Ithal said. Being organized is one of Ithal's strategies for juggling parenting and running her own startup. And while that juggle is commonplace in Silicon Valley, Ithal is part of a distinct club — foreign-born women in tech.  Hailing from countries such as India and China, these women make up the majority of all women in certain Silicon Valley fields and are often the only females on male-dominated teams in tech companies.  Their uniqueness does not stop there. Foreign-born women in tech are more likely to be married and have children than their U.S.-born female coworkers. ​Immigrant Valley Born in Bangalore, India, Ithal has worked for big tech companies and startups. Her husband, also from India, has built successful startups. Starting her own firm, however, was a leap. "I came here all the way, let's risk it," recalled Ithal, founder and CEO of a company called MarketBeam, which is an AI-driven social marketing company. More than 60 percent of tech workers in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, home to Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and other U.S. tech firms, are immigrants, according to the Silicon Valley Institute of Regional Studies. Immigrants work at all levels of the industry. Many are executives, company founders and venture capitalists. But foreign-born women stand out. In an industry where women make up about 20 percent of the technical workforce, many of these jobs are filled by foreign-born women. Technical roles Nearly three-quarters of all women in their prime working year and in technical occupations in Silicon Valley are foreign-born, according to the institute. In computers and mathematics, foreign-born women make up nearly 80 percent of the female workforce. The numbers surprised Rachel Massaro, vice president of Joint Venture Silicon Valley and senior researcher at the institute. It's her job to contribute to an annual index of Silicon Valley that looks at housing, transportation and population. "I double-checked, triple-checked the number just to make sure it was even real," Massaro said. Many things contribute to foreign-born women dominating tech — the dearth of women seeking a technical education in the United States, and an emphasis on tech education for girls in other countries, with many seeing technical skills as a path to financial independence and possibly a work visa in the U.S. There are also stereotypes of what women can and should do with their lives both in the U.S. and overseas. ​Working and raising children Looking more closely at these women, Massaro found a few other surprises — 71 percent of foreign-born female tech workers ages 25-44 are married, compared to 39 percent of native-born female tech workers. And they are more likely to be mothers — 44 percent have children, compared to 27 percent of U.S.-born female workers. One of those women is Lingling Shi, who was born in China. She saw studying computer science as her ticket. "Computer science, for most of us, it's easier to apply for a green card," she said. "It's not my main interest, I'll be honest." But Shi has succeeded in each of her jobs — she brushes up on any new technical areas online in the evenings — and is now vice president of digital banking technology at East West Bank. With her husband, who is also from China and in tech, she is raising her son. "I guess for Chinese, the family building is most important thing," she said. No amount of career success would fulfill her parents' desire for grandchildren. The message from family is clear, Shi said — "Oh, you are VP of Engineering now, but you don't have a kid?" Many women from India and China are "under a set of cultural expectations and norms that they will have a family right away — and they will excel in their careers," said AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Information, who has written about immigrants in tech. "These women are really kind of super women in the tasks that they take on," she added. As Silicon Valley looks to bring more women into the technical workforce, these women provide a model of how to thrive.

Social Media Giants Blamed for British Teenage Suicides

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 00:48
“She had so much to offer." Ian Russell is speaking of his 14-year-old daughter Molly, the youngest of three sisters, who committed suicide in 2017, leaving a note that read, “I am sorry. I did this because of me.” After Molly’s suicide, her parents examined the teenager’s social media use and discovered she was interacting with other teenage users caught in the grip of depression and who were suicidal and self-harming. The users were almost grooming themselves and goading each other to take drastic action. “I have no doubt that Instagram helped kill my daughter,” Molly’s father told the BBC in an explosive interview that drew a public apology from U.S. social media giant Facebook, owner of the photo sharing site Instagram, as well as a promise to do more to tackle suicide and self-harming posts. “We're going to look at this from top to bottom and change everything we're doing, if necessary, to get this right,” Nick Clegg, a former British deputy prime minister and now Facebook's head of global affairs, said in a statement. The promise, though, has done little to tamp down criticism. In the past eight years, the suicide rate among British teenagers has nearly doubled. Last year around 200 schoolchildren killed themselves. Tech giants do not bear all of the responsibility for the deaths, their critics say, but they are abetting them by not doing enough to help stop them. Amid growing public uproar, the British government has said next month, it will unveil groundbreaking legislation designed to enforce a legal duty of care on such firms. “Social media companies clearly need to do more to ensure they are not promoting harmful content to vulnerable people,” said a government official. The British plan to order social media providers to protect users against material that promotes suicide methods and self-harm will be watched closely by policymakers in other European countries, who are also grappling with how to cope with malign consequences of social media use. Germany is cracking down on what Facebook does with users’ personal data. In France, the government is “embedding” regulators inside social media companies to investigate how they combat online hate speech. Since January, Facebook, in particular, has been targeted for criticism in the United States. The company operates a unique suite of apps, but U.S. critics say the social media giant is too casual about social responsibilities. U.S. lawmakers accuse Facebook of doing too little to stop Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race, and along with YouTube and Twitter, it has been attacked for being slow in taking down jihadist posts and videos. Laying the groundwork for the British measure, the country’s chief medical officer will announce this week that Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp figure as important links in a dangerous chain leading from self-harm to suicide. Sally Davies will urge parents to be more alert and to limit, as well as monitor, their children’s screen time. The legislation is likely to be based on recommendations from a British parliamentary committee which wrapped up an inquiry last week and concluded social media use is disrupting young users’ sleep patterns, distorting their body image and leaving them exposed to bullying, grooming and sexting. The panel said that self-regulation will no longer suffice. “We must see an independent, statutory regulator established as soon as possible, one which has the full support of the government to take strong and effective actions against companies who do not comply,” the committee said. Clegg said some of the criticism is over-wrought. In a television interview last week, he said the company had “saved the lives” of thousands of potentially suicidal users by flagging them to authorities. Recent academic studies, including one by psychologists at Oxford University, suggest that social media use has no major adverse impact on mental health. The Oxford University study concluded that “wearing glasses has more negative effect on adolescent mental health.” But the academic studies are not assuaging critics, and some lawmakers cast doubt on their overall accuracy, saying they do not look closely enough on teenage girls, who seem the most vulnerable. “Worryingly, social media companies — who have a clear responsibility toward particularly young users — seem to be in no rush to share vital data with academics that could help tackle the very real harms our young people face in the virtual world,”  said lawmaker Norman Lamb. More than 30 British families have complained that social media giants have blocked or hindered their access to social media data after their children’s suicides. A requirement on firms to share data which can help identify and protect teenagers at risk will likely be among the new legal requirements the government unveils, officials said.    

Africa's Growing Economies, Youth Create E-Waste Challenge

Mon, 02/04/2019 - 16:07
The growing use of mobile phones, computers, and televisions in Africa has left the continent with huge amounts of electronic waste. According to the United Nations Environment Program, 40 percent of the world's electronic dumpsites are found in Africa. To reduce the growing problem, a group in Kenya is helping manage E-waste through local and exported recycling. Mohammed Yusuf reports from Nairobi.

Africa's Growing Economies, Youth Create E-Waste Challenge

Mon, 02/04/2019 - 14:01
A new report says the world produces at least 50 million tons of electronic waste each year, and that number is expected to double 30 years from now. The impact of all that electronic junk is especially felt in Africa. Mobile phones are increasingly common gadgets across Africa. You can get a phone for as little as $10 in the streets of Nairobi. Most Kenyans, however, don't know how to safely dispose of their old phones when they get a new one.  "I have a spoiled phone. I have kept at home maybe for future use or dispose it one day…mostly if it's not working, I can decide to throw it away. It depends on how it has spoiled. I throw it away,” Winnie says. It's this kind of behavior that has environmentalists concerned, as many phones, once thrown away, end up in rivers and oceans. The U.N. Environmental Program estimates that 50 million tons of electronic waste was produced in 2018. It says that number could climb to 120 million tons by the year 2050. One half of so-called e-waste comprises personal devices like computers, smartphones and tablets.  Simon Omengo uses unorthodox means to dispose of his electronic gadgets. “Since its motherboard failed then automatically I disposed it. I threw it in the toilet. I burn it, I break into pieces because it’s useless to me now,” Omengo says. Winnie says the government needs to come up with ways to safely dispose of old devices. “Our government (needs) to come up with a place where we can take all the gadgets, especially the phones which are spoiled. We go and dispose them there and they will know how they will dispose them, rather than just scattering around because some of the people they just throw them in the dust pin and its hazard to the environment,” Winnie says. Experts say electronic devices are becoming complicated to repair and some don’t last long. With more devices being thrown away, one Kenya-based group, Enviroserve, is trying to change how Africa’s e-waste is managed by stripping down re-useable metals and plastics from phones. Some materials remain in Kenya, while other parts like batteries are shipped abroad.  Shaun Mumford, the head of the company, says old phones have been simply dumped in Kenya for years.  "It wasn’t done in a way that is useful, and also it was staying here. So what we are able to do instead of Africa being the dumping ground, which historically been the case, we are able to deal with what makes sense here and send back out of the country things that need to be dealt with properly,” Mumford says. More than half the population is under the age of 30 and the demand for the latest electronics – and dumping the old ones – is only growing. 

Robots Dance, Tell Jokes, Serve Dinner, Give Us a Glimpse of the Future

Sun, 02/03/2019 - 13:20
Owners of a new café in the Hungarian capital Budapest are using robotics as a way of giving their customers a new experience. VOA’s Mariama Diallo reports.

Start a Start-up: University in Texas Helps Students Become Entrepreneurs

Sun, 02/03/2019 - 13:05
In December 2018, Apple announced its plans to build a new campus in Austin. Texas is rapidly becoming more and more attractive for tech companies and is often called a second Silicon Valley, thanks to affordable housing, highly qualified workers and the abundance of universities that train IT professionals. Mariia Prus traveled to Dallas to see how universities help their students become entrepreneurs. Joy Wagner has her report.

Scientists Enlist Incredibly Tiny Allies in Cancer Fight

Sun, 02/03/2019 - 12:56
Researchers and doctors are using incredibly tiny particles — fluorescent nanoparticles — in a quest for new ways to fight cancer. Some nanoparticles, just billionths of a meter across, are engineered to carry special dye that glows when it hits cancer cells. Oregon State University scientists say this makes it easier for surgeons to find and remove tumors. Iryna Matviichuk visited Portland and learned the new procedure is closer to testing in human patients. Anna Rice narrates her report.

End of an Era: China-Silicon Valley Relationship Chills

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 12:55
The trade dispute between the U.S. and China is disrupting Silicon Valley. What had been a steady flow of Chinese money into tech firms appears to be slowing. Investors are concerned about the “headline risk” of doing business with Chinese investors. And in some cases, U.S. startups are shunning Chinese investment. These changes come after years of investment and collaboration between China and Silicon Valley. But the trade dispute, coupled with U.S. policymakers’ concerns about Chinese investments in sensitive technologies, such as artificial intelligence, have increased scrutiny of cross border deals on all sides. A drop in investment In 2018, Chinese firms invested more than $2 billion in U.S. technology firms, but that was a drop of nearly 80 percent from the year before, according to a Forbes report citing S&P Global Market Intelligence. While Chinese investors took stakes in roughly the same number of U.S. tech deals — 80 compared to 89 in 2017 — that was off from the peak in 2016 when Chinese investors were part of 107 deals. Among the biggest recipients of Chinese investment in 2018 were Farasis Energy, a battery maker, and Epic Games, a gaming company, according to the Rhodium Group. While deals continue to come together in 2019, the recent indictment of a Huawei executive has added to a new chill between the two regions, according to observers in Silicon Valley. ​A technology war In China, the battle is seen as less about Huawei and its alleged wrongdoing and more as a proxy for a “technology war” between countries over technological supremacy. “The Huawei incident seems like an action against an individual corporation, but it is actually bigger than this,” said Hu Xingdou, a Beijing-based scholar. “This is about one state’s technology war against another state, about which one will occupy the technology high ground in the future.” One recent change in the U.S. has been the expansion of a government program that reviews foreign investment in areas deemed sensitive. Despite the expanded U.S. regulatory reviews, Chinese investments in U.S. tech firms are mostly getting through, said Chuck Comey, a partner at Morrison Foerster, a law firm. As for Chinese companies buying or merging with U.S. tech ones?  “It ain’t happening,” he said. ​Saying ‘no’ to Chinese investment The increased tensions have given investors — and even some potential recipients of investment — some pause. One U.S. company, which had accepted Chinese investment in the past, told Reuters that it declined investment from Chinese investors in its most recent round. “We decided for optical reasons it just wouldn’t make sense to expose ourselves further to investors coming from a country where there is now so much by way of trade tensions and IP tensions,” said Carson Kahn, CEO of Volley, an artificial intelligence training firm. At a recent event in Silicon Valley about China and U.S. investments, speakers on a panel discussed how the geopolitical tensions affected their business. While several predicted that in the long run, the current friction between the two countries will have a minimal effect on cross-border business between China and Silicon Valley, there was a sense that an era has ended. “We’ve kind of taken for granted,” said Kyle Lui, a partner at DCM, a global venture capital firm, “that the prior decade plus there’s been lots of strong collaboration between the U.S. and China.”

Tech Firms, States Spar With US Government Over Net Neutrality

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 09:30
Tech companies and nearly two dozen U.S. states clashed with the government in federal court Friday over the repeal of net neutrality, a set of Obama-era rules aimed at preventing big internet providers from discriminating against certain technology and services.    Judges challenged arguments made by both sides in the face-off in an appeals court in Washington.      Lawyers for the states and the companies tried to persuade the three-judge panel to restore the net neutrality regime, set in 2015 but repealed in December 2017 at the direction of a regulator appointed by President Donald Trump. The companies challenging the FCC action include Mozilla, developer of the Firefox web browser, and Vimeo, a video-sharing site.    The net neutrality rules had banned cable, wireless and other broadband providers from blocking or slowing down websites and apps of their choosing, or charging Netflix and other video services extra to reach viewers faster.    The practice of slowing down transmission is known as "throttling.''    The action by the Federal Communications Commission rolling back the neutrality rules "is a stab in the heart of the Communications Act,'' said attorney Pantelis Michalopoulos, referring to the Depression-era law that established the FCC.  Information vs. telecom service   The FCC wrongly classified the internet as an information service rather than a telecom service, using that as a rationale for not cracking down on misconduct by big internet providers, Michalopoulos said, who represents Mozilla and the other companies in the case.      Government lawyers, as well as big internet providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, argued to keep net neutrality repealed.    Thomas Johnson, the FCC's general counsel, said the agency's "light-touch'' regulatory scheme, requiring the internet providers to disclose their practices and operations, provides adequate safeguards. The internet — used more extensively to transmit information — is different both in nature and function from phone service, Johnson maintained. It therefore should be regulated as an information service and not subject to the utility-style oversight of phone companies, he said.       The politically charged issue has emerged from its origins as an engineering challenge to become an anti-monopoly rallying point and even a focus for "resistance'' to the Trump administration.      Once Trump took office, net neutrality became one of his first targets as part of broader government deregulation. The FCC chairman he appointed, Ajit Pai, made rolling back net neutrality a top priority.    On the other side, support for net neutrality comes from many of the same people who also are critical of the data-vacuuming tech giants that benefit from it. Politicians have glommed on to the cause to appear consumer-friendly.    The Democratic takeover of the House in November's midterm elections could revive efforts to enshrine net neutrality in federal law, though Trump likely would veto any such attempts.    At the hearing in the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Stephen Williams questioned Michalopoulos's assertions that the FCC had wrongly classified the internet as an information service. Telephone services, too, offer an array of customer products, he said. On the question of broadband providers charging premiums for faster service, Williams said a large majority of consumers prefer cheaper, lower-speed options, citing polls.  Judges' views   The judges are weighing whether the FCC had the authority to nix the 2015 rules and get out of the business of enforcing net neutrality. It appeared that Williams was sympathetic to the FCC's arguments, while Judge Patricia Millett raised possible legal avenues for the companies and states suing the agency, and Judge Robert Wilkins was the swing vote, said Doug Brake, director of broadband and spectrum policy for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank.      The judges could decide to can the repeal or send it back to the FCC for a redo if they have specific objections.      "Today we fought for an open and free internet that puts consumers first," Mozilla Chief Operating Officer Denelle Dixon said after the hearing. "We believe the FCC needs to follow the rules like everyone else.''

UAE Senior Diplomat Denies Hacking Americans

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 09:15
A United Arab Emirates senior diplomat denied Thursday the country had targeted "friendly countries" or American citizens in a cyberspying program that a Reuters report said involved a hacking team of U.S. mercenaries. The Reuters investigation published Wednesday found that the UAE used a group of American intelligence contractors to help hack rival governments, dissidents and human rights activists. The contractors, former U.S. intelligence operatives, formed a core part of UAE's cyber hacking program called Project Raven. Project Raven also targeted Americans, and the Apple Inc iPhones of embassy staff for France, Australia and the United Kingdom, according to former operatives and program documents reviewed by Reuters. Apple has declined to comment and did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. When asked about Project Raven by reporters at a briefing in New York, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash acknowledged the country has a "cyber capability," but denied targeting U.S. citizens or countries with which it has good relations. "We live in a very difficult part of the world. We have to protect ourselves," Gargash said. "We don't target friendly countries and we don't target American citizens." The French and U.K. embassies in Washington have declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Australian ministry of foreign affairs has declined to comment. The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook Takes Down Vast Iran-Led Manipulation Campaign

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 04:12
Facebook said Thursday it took down hundreds of "inauthentic" accounts from Iran that were part of a vast manipulation campaign operating in more than 20 countries. The world's biggest social network said it removed 783 pages, groups and accounts "for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior tied to Iran." The pages were part of a campaign to promote Iranian interests in various countries by creating fake identities as residents of those nations, according to a statement by Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook. The announcement was the latest by Facebook as it seeks to stamp out efforts by state actors and others to manipulate the social network using fraudulent accounts. "We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don't want our services to be used to manipulate people," Gleicher said. "We're taking down these pages, groups and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post. In this case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action." The operators "typically represented themselves as locals, often using fake accounts, and posted news stories on current events," including "commentary that repurposed Iranian state media's reporting on topics like Israel-Palestine relations and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen," Gleicher said. "Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our manual review linked these accounts to Iran." The operation dating back to as early as 2010 had 262 pages, 356 accounts, and three groups on Facebook, as well as 162 accounts on Instagram and were followed by about two million users. Facebook said the fake accounts were part of an influence campaign that operated in Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, U.S., and Yemen. Facebook began looking into these kinds of activities after revelations of Russian influence campaigns during the 2016 U.S. election, aimed at sowing discord.

Apple Busts Facebook for Distributing Data-Sucking App

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 23:45
Apple says Facebook can no longer distribute an app that paid users, including teenagers, to extensively track their phone and web use. In doing so, Apple closed off Facebook's efforts to sidestep Apple's app store and its tighter rules on privacy. The tech blog TechCrunch reported late Tuesday that Facebook paid people about $20 a month to install and use the Facebook Research app. While Facebook says this was done with permission, the company has a history of defining “permission” loosely and obscuring what data it collects. “I don't think they make it very clear to users precisely what level of access they were granting when they gave permission,” mobile app security researcher Will Strafach said Wednesday. “There is simply no way the users understood this.” He said Facebook's claim that users understood the scope of data collection was “muddying the waters.” Facebook says fewer than 5 percent of the app's users were teens and they had parental permission. Nonetheless, the revelation is yet another blemish on Facebook's track record on privacy and could invite further regulatory scrutiny. And it comes less than a week after court documents revealed that Facebook allowed children to rack up huge bills on digital games and that it had rejected recommendations for addressing it for fear of hurting revenue growth. For now, the app appears to be available for Android phones, though not through Google's main app store. Google had no comment Wednesday. Apple said Facebook was distributing Facebook Research through an internal-distribution mechanism meant for company employees, not outsiders. Apple has revoked that capability. TechCrunch reported separately Wednesday that Google was using the same privileged access to Apple's mobile operating system for a market-research app, Screenwise Meter. Asked about it by The Associated Press, Google said it had disabled the app on Apple devices and apologized for its “mistake.” The company said Google had always been “upfront with users” about how it used data collected by the app, which offered users points that could be accrued for gift cards. In contrast to the Facebook Research app, Google said its Screenwise Meter app never asked users to let the company circumvent network encryption, meaning it is far less intrusive. Facebook is still permitted to distribute apps through Apple's app store, though such apps are reviewed by Apple ahead of time. And Apple's move Wednesday restricts Facebook's ability to test those apps — including core apps such as Facebook and Instagram — before they are released through the app store. Facebook previously pulled an app called Onavo Protect from Apple's app store because of its stricter requirements. But Strafach, who dismantled the Facebook Research app on TechCrunch's behalf, told the AP that it was mostly Onavo repackaged and rebranded, as the two apps shared about 98 percent of their code. As of Wednesday, a disclosure form on Betabound, one of the services that distributed Facebook Research, informed prospective users that by installing Facebook Research, they are letting Facebook collect a range of data. This includes information on apps users have installed, when they use them and what they do on them. Information is also collected on how other people interact with users and their content within those apps, according to the disclosure. Betabound warned that Facebook may collect information even when an app or web browser uses encryption. Strafach said emails, social media activities, private messages and just about anything else could be intercepted. He said the only data absolutely safe from snooping are from services, such as Signal and Apple's iMessages, that fully encrypt messages prior to transmission, a method known as end-to-end encryption. Strafach, who is CEO of Guardian Mobile Firewall, said he was aghast to discover Facebook caught red-handed violating Apple's trust. He said such traffic-capturing tools are only supposed to be for trusted partners to use internally. Instead, he said Facebook was scooping up all incoming and outgoing data traffic from unwitting members of the public — in an app geared toward teenagers. “This is very flagrantly not allowed,” Strafach said. “It's mind-blowing how defiant Facebook was acting.”  

Survey: 2018 'Worst Year Ever' for Smartphone Market

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 23:07
Global smartphone sales saw their worst contraction ever in 2018, and the outlook for 2019 isn't much better, new surveys show. Worldwide handset volumes declined 4.1 percent in 2018 to a total of 1.4 billion units shipped for the full year, according to research firm IDC, which sees a potential for further declines this year. "Globally the smartphone market is a mess right now," said IDC analyst Ryan Reith. "Outside of a handful of high-growth markets like India, Indonesia, (South) Korea and Vietnam, we did not see a lot of positive activity in 2018." Reith said the market has been hit by consumers waiting longer to replace their phones, frustration around the high cost of premium devices, and political and economic uncertainty. The Chinese market, which accounts for roughly 30 percent of smartphone sales, was especially hard hit with a 10 percent drop, according to IDC's survey, which was released Wednesday. IDC said the top five smartphone makers have become stronger and now account for 69 percent of worldwide sales, up from 63 percent a year ago. Samsung remained the number one handset maker with a 20.8 percent share despite an eight percent sales slump for the year, IDC said. Apple managed to recapture the number two position with a 14.9 percent market share, moving ahead of Huawei at 14.7 percent, the survey found. IDC said fourth-quarter smartphone sales fell 4.9 percent - the fifth consecutive quarter of decline. "The challenging holiday quarter closes out the worst year ever for smartphone shipments," IDC said in its report. A separate report by Counterpoint Research showed similar findings, estimating a seven percent drop in the fourth quarter and four percent drop for the full year. "The collective smartphone shipment growth of emerging markets such as India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Russia and others was not enough to offset the decline in China," said Counterpoint associate director Tarun Pathak.  

A Virtual Human Teaches Negotiating Skills

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 23:59
Whether it’s haggling for a better price or negotiating for a higher salary, there is a skill to getting the most of what you want. Researchers at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies are conducting research on how a virtual negotiator may be able to teach you the art of making a good deal. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details.

Apple Opens New Chapter Amid Weakening iPhone Demand

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 11:15
Apple hoped to offset slowing demand for iPhones by raising the prices of its most important product, but that strategy seems to have backfired after sales sagged during the holiday shopping season. Results released Tuesday revealed the magnitude of the iPhone slump - a 15 percent drop in revenue from the previous year. That decline in Apple's most profitable product caused Apple's total earnings for the October-December quarter to dip slightly to $20 billion. Now, CEO Tim Cook is grappling with his toughest challenge since replacing co-founder Steve Jobs 7 years ago. Even as he tries to boost iPhone sales, Cook also must prove that Apple can still thrive even if demand doesn't rebound.  It figures to be an uphill battle, given Apple's stock has lost one-third of its value in less than four months, erasing about $370 billion in shareholder wealth.  Cook rattled Wall Street in early January by disclosing the company had missed its own revenue projections for the first time in 15 years. The last time that happened, the iPod was just beginning to transform Apple. ​"This is the defining moment for Cook,'' said Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives. "He has lost some credibility on Wall Street, so now he will have to do some hand-holding as the company enters this next chapter.''  The results for the October-December period were slightly above the expectations analysts lowered after Cook's Jan. 2 warning. Besides the profit decline, Apple's revenue fell 5 percent from the prior year to $84 billion. It marked the first time in more than two years that Apple's quarterly revenue has dropped from the past year. The erosion was caused by the decline of the iPhone, whose sales plunged to $52 billion, down by more than $9 billion from the previous year.  The past quarter's letdown intensified the focus on Apple's forecast for the opening three months of the year as investors try to get a better grasp on iPhone sales until the next models are released in autumn. Apple predicted its revenue for the January-March period will range from $55 billion to $59 billion. Analysts surveyed by FactSet had been anticipating revenue of about $59 billion. Investors liked what they read and heard, helping Apple's stock recoup some of their recent losses. The stock gained nearly 6 percent to $163.50 in extended trading after the report came out. "We wouldn't change our position with anyone's,'' Cook reassured analysts during a conference call reviewing the past quarter and the upcoming months. The company didn't forecast how many iPhones it will sell, something Apple has done since the product first hit the market in 2007 and transformed society, as well as technology. Apple is no longer disclosing how many iPhones it shipped after the quarter is completed, a change that Cook announced in November. That unexpected move raised suspicions that Apple was trying to conceal a forthcoming slump in iPhone sales - fears that were realized during the holiday season. Cook traces most of Apple's iPhone problems to a weakening economy in China, the company's second biggest market behind the U.S. The company is also facing tougher competition in China, where homegrown companies such as Huawei and Xiaomi have been winning over consumers in that country with smartphones that have many of the same features as iPhones at lower prices. Although a trade war started by President Donald Trump last year has hurt China and potentially caused some consumers there to boycott U.S. products, many analysts believe the iPhone's malaise stems from other issues too. Among them are higher prices - Apple's most expensive iPhone now costs $1,350 - for models that aren't that much better than the previous generation, giving consumers little incentive to stop using the device they already own until it wears out. Apple also gave old iPhones new life last by offering to replace aging batteries for $29, a 70 percent discount. ​"The upgrade cycle has extended, there is no doubt about that,'' Cook conceded. Apple is banking that investors will realize the company can still reap huge profits by selling various services on the 1.4 billion devices running on its software. That's one reason why Cook has been touting the robust growth of Apple's division that collects commissions from paid apps, processes payments, and sells hardware warranty plans and music streaming subscriptions. Apple Music now has more than 50 million subscribers, second to Spotify's 87 million streaming subscribers through September. Apple is also preparing to launch a video streaming service to compete against Netflix, though Cook said he wasn't ready to provide details Tuesday. The company's services revenue in the past quarter climbed 19 percent from the prior year to $10.9 billion - more than any other category besides the iPhone.

Some Journalists Wonder If Their Profession Is Tweet-Crazy

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 09:15
If Twitter is the town square for journalists, some are ready to step away. That's happening this week at the online news site Insider — by order of the boss. Reporters have been told to take a week off from tweeting at work and to keep TweetDeck off their computer screens. The idea of disengaging is to kick away a crutch for the journalists and escape from the echo chamber, said Julie Zeveloff West, Insider's editor-in-chief for the U.S. Addiction to always-rolling Twitter feeds and the temptation to join in has led to soul-searching in newsrooms. Some of it is inspired by the reaction to the Jan. 19 demonstration in Washington involving students from a Covington, Kentucky, high school, which gained traction as a story primarily because of social media outrage only to become more complicated as different details and perspectives emerged. Planning for Insider's ban predated the Covington story, West said. She often walks through her newsrooms to find reporters staring at TweetDeck. Her goal is to encourage reporters to find news in other ways, by picking up the telephone or meeting sources. An editor will make sure no news is being missed. Twitter "isn't the place where most people find us," she said. "Reporters place this outsized importance on it." The Washington Post's David Von Drehle called Twitter the "crystal meth of newsrooms." He dates his moment of disillusionment to the Republican national convention in 2012. In the section reserved for reporters, he noticed many watching TweetDeck feeds instead of listening to speeches from the podium or stepping away to talk to delegates. "Twitter offers an endless stream of faux events," Von Drehle wrote in a column this past weekend. "Fleeting sensations, momentary outrages, ersatz insights and provocative distortions. 'News' nuggets roll by like the chocolates on Lucy's conveyer belt." Since Twitter is irresistible to journalists who have the smart-aleck gene — probably the majority — a newsroom quip or instant observation is now writ large. Knee-jerk reactions The Covington story uniquely played to Twitter's faults. Early video that depicted Covington student Nick Sandmann staring down Native American activist Nathan Phillips spread rapidly across social media and many people rushed to offer their takes. An event that may have otherwise gone unnoticed instantly became a story by virtue of its existence online. Yet when a wider picture emerged of what happened, in some respects quite literally from the view of a wider camera lens, a story that seemed black and white became gray. Some of the early opinions became embarrassing and were quietly deleted. But since there's no such thing as a quiet deletion when people are watching online, the incident became fodder for another outbreak of partisan warfare. The episode led Farhad Manjoo, a columnist for The New York Times, to declare Twitter "the world's most damaging social network." In a column, he said he plans to stifle the urge to quickly type his opinion on every news event and suggested others follow his lead. Between mistakes and overly provocative opinions, too much can go wrong for journalists on Twitter, he said in an interview. "In order to be good on Twitter, you have to be authentic," he said. "But authenticity is also dangerous. It leads people to make assumptions about you. It can go bad in different ways." 'Overboard on Twitter' Perhaps it's inevitable at a time that Twitter needs to be constantly monitored because it is one of the president of the United States' favorite forms of communications, but Manjoo said too often reporters spend more time in the virtual world than the real one. "The way the media works now, we've just gone overboard on Twitter," he said. Days after Covington, some news outlets proved his point by writing stories about NBC Today show host Savannah Guthrie's interview with Sandmann that were nothing but collections of Twitter comments about how she did. Some tweeters thought Guthrie was too hard on him. Some thought she was too soft. Simply by nature of the forum, few who thought it was just right bothered posting. Media experts wary of Twitter quitters said a distinction between the platform and how people use it should not be lost. "I really don't think it's so hard to avoid commenting on a moving story when the facts are not clear," said Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor. Leaving Twitter means cutting off a valuable news source since many newsmakers use the venue to make announcements, he said. It's also an equalizer in giving access to a virtual town square to people who might otherwise be overlooked, said news consultant Jeff Jarvis. "Journalists should be looking for every possible means to listen better to the public," Jarvis said. "If you cut yourself off, it's ridiculous." New approach Some have done that, or tried. Manjoo's colleague at the Times, White House correspondent Maggie Haberman, wrote last July about how she was stepping back from Twitter after nearly nine years and 187,000 tweets. "The viciousness, toxic partisan anger, intellectual dishonesty, motive-questioning and sexism are at all-time highs, with no end in sight," she wrote. "It is a place where people who are unquestionably upset about any number of things go to feed their anger, where the underbelly of free speech is at its most bilious. Twitter is now an anger video game for many users." Haberman predicted she would eventually re-engage with Twitter but in a different way. She's back; she tweeted five times and retweeted links six times by 10 a.m. Tuesday. She's up to 194,000 tweets and has a following of more than a million people. She declined a request for an interview about how the experience changed her. Kelly Evans was an early Twitter user at The Wall Street Journal and then at CNBC, where she's a news anchor. She found it a valuable place to get ideas, and to connect with readers, viewers and fellow journalists. But she realized in the summer of 2016 that it was taking up too much of her personal time with little contribution to her professional life. She publicly signed off and has kept to her pledge for the most part. She says now she doesn't regret it. Evans admits she may have missed some story tips, but questions the reliability of much that is on Twitter. "I feel more healthy and I feel like I'm able to do my job better," she said.

US Needs Assist from Allies to Curb China’s Theft of Advanced Technology

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 07:00
Senior U.S. officials and experts say the United States needs to rally allies to pressure China stealing advanced technology through cyber espionage. At the same time, key American lawmakers are questioning the readiness and capacity of the U.S. to counter such threats. The renewed push comes after U.S. federal prosecutors pressed criminal charges against the world's largest telecommunications company — China's Huawei Technologies — its chief financial officer and several subsidiaries for alleged financial fraud and theft of U.S. intellectual property. Huawei denies the charges. Beijing denies its government and military engage in cyber-espionage, saying the U.S. allegations are fabricated. "The Huawei incident seems like an action against an individual corporation, but it is actually bigger than this," said Hu Xingdou, a Beijing-based scholar. "This is about one state's technology war against another state, about which one will occupy the technology high ground in the future." The Trump administration, however, said Washington is deeply concerned about the potential of Beijing using Chinese technology firms to spy on the U.S. and its allies.  "China's pursuit of intellectual property, sensitive research and development plans, and the U.S. person data remains a significant threat to the United States government and the private sector," Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told lawmakers at a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Tuesday. Other officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation Christopher Ford, advocate for a global coalition against Chinese technology-transfer threats. At another hearing, experts said threats that Huawei poses to supply chains and critical infrastructure are "absolutely real." "We need defensive measures and we need to invest in our own technologies as well, and we need to be cooperating with allies and partners," said Ely Ratner, who was deputy national security advisor to former Vice President Joe Biden. "We know that the Huawei leadership has members of the Communist Party within it, and the company has a long and deep relationship with both PLA and the Ministry of State Security in China.  And of course is subject to Chinese law and their new National Intelligence law which gives the government the right to use the networks and data as they wish," added Ratner at a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing. Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Elbridge Colby warned that China may gain "economic, informational, and blackmail" leverage over other countries through data collected by companies such as Huawei.  "This dissolves or corrodes the resolve in these countries potentially to stand up to Chinese potential coercion," Colby told senators. "We need to be able to form a network that is sufficient and cohesive to stand up to these Chinese threats," he added. Bipartisan senators have been pushing for the creation of a White House office to fight China's state-sponsored technology theft and defend critical supply chains.  "China and other nations are currently attempting to achieve technological and economic superiority over the United States through the aggressive use of state-directed or state-supported technology transfers," said Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) who introduced a bill to fight China's technology threats earlier this month. "A national response to combat these threats and ensure our national security has, to date, been hampered by insufficient coordination at the federal level," added Warner and Rubio in a statement.  Under the bill, the Office of Critical Technologies & Security would coordinate with federal and state regulators, the private sector, experts and U.S. allies to ensure that every available tool is being utilized to safeguard the supply chain and protect emerging dual-use technologies. The case has provoked strong reactions in China. Lew Mon-hung, a Hong Kong-based businessman and analyst, says China should fight back in U.S. courts. Mon-hung, a former member of the Chinese Political Consultative Conference (China's political advisory legislative body), says that China should trust the U.S.'s rule of law and resort to legal measures to clear Huawei's name. "When the US government filed these charges, China's government, Huawei, or the Chinese public, should use legal means to solve legal problems," he said. "Since Huawei has abundant financial resources, and since the Chinese government has the largest foreign currency reserve in the world, why don't they just hire the best American lawyers? They can build a strong team of lawyers against this case and fight a legal battle."

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