Six-year-old Skirts Biometric Login; How Hackers Use Stolen Credit Data

Posted December 27th, 2016 at 11:48 am (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A person uses a sensor for biometric identification on a smartphone in Berlin, Germany Oct. 16, 2015.

FILE – A person uses a sensor for biometric identification on a smartphone in Berlin, Germany Oct. 16, 2015.

Child Uses Sleeping Mom’s Fingerprints to Buy Pokémon Gifts

Biometrics are supposed to offer better security for your mobile devices. But no one probably expected that Bethany Howell’s six-year-old daughter, in Arkansas, would borrow her fingerprint while she slept to buy $250 of Pokémon Christmas gifts. The child, Ashlynd, later admitted she had made the purchases. The Federal Trade Commission (FCC) has previously accused Apple, Google and Amazon of making it easy for children to make online purchases.

Dear Tech Companies: Stop Shipping Unfinished Products

As New Year resolutions go, writer Sean Hollister wants tech companies to stop shipping beta or unfinished versions of their products in an effort to make it to market first. Noting 2016’s exploding batteries and drones falling from the sky, among other things, Hollister said companies unfairly expect consumers to buy buggy products, then help them fix them. But he also blamed consumers for lusting after the greatest gadgets, even though manufacturers are unable to deliver all the promised features.

What Identity Thieves Do With Stolen Credit Cards

Cyber identity thieves are getting away with all kinds of personal information these days, not just credit card accounts. But once they get their hands on credit card data, they either use it to siphon money or sell the information to other hackers. Here’s what happens when your credit card information is stolen.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

How NORAD Has Been Tracking Santa for 61 Years

Posted December 23rd, 2016 at 11:30 am (UTC-4)
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Every Christmas, for the past 61 years, NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, looks to the skies, tracking Santa as he distributes gifts and good cheer to children everywhere. Techtonics talked with NORAD volunteers last Christmas to learn how this is done. Here’s an updated rerun of the story.

Volunteers at NORAD's Operations Center take calls from people interested in tracking Santa during his 2014 Christmas travels. (NORAD Public Affairs)

Volunteers at NORAD’s Live Operations Center take calls from people interested in tracking Santa during his 2014 Christmas travels. (NORAD Public Affairs)

Millions of people are tracking Santa’s travels around the globe this Christmas, thanks to NORAD Tracks Santa, a non-profit program that provides updates on his whereabouts with a bit of imagination, some tech wizardry, and a lot of heart.

It all starts in early April, when NORAD – the North American Aerospace Defense Command – assembles its volunteers and partners to start charting Santa’s journey.

“We start out pulling together sort of where we would think that Santa traveling at the speed of starlight would … have to go to actually make it around the world to reach the billions and billions of kids,” said NORAD’s Chief of Integrated Communications, Michael Kucharek.

NORAD Tracks Santa 2015

  • 22 million unique website visits
  • 1,500 volunteers manning Live Operations Center for 23 hours received 140,883 calls
  • 2,841 emails answered
  • Countdown clock, games, Santa Tracking downloaded over 4 million times on mobile

Moving from the most eastern part of the globe westward, the tracking team picks various places on the map that Santa will visit before his journey ends in Honolulu, Hawaii. They determine how often they want Santa tracked on December 24 and add his arrival and departure times to the map.

“We plotted in the times and then we lined up those times and locations,” said Kucharek. “So we do the front-end work and then we push that to Microsoft who renders that so that it is automatic to people on [December] 24, so that they see as Santa goes along how that’s actually done.”

Microsoft, NORAD’s prime partner, uses the data to render the tracking map. Santa and his sleigh, led by the famous Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, are then placed in their proper location on the map.

As many as 70 other partners provide assistance on everything from the 2-D and 3-D website and SantaCams, to mobile apps and social media.

NORAD and its partners meet on a regular basis through the end of November and intensify their collaboration to determine how to take the project to the next level.

“They are the people that actually make all this technology tick and tock and making sure that Santa is represented on the globe according to his location, using what we plot out, starting very early on,” said Kucharek.

All the data – locations, arrival and departure times – are then fed to NORAD’s ground-based radars.

For 60 years, NORAD fighter jets have intercepted Santa many times. When the jets intercept Santa, they tip their wings to say, "Hello Santa! – NORAD is tracking you again this year!" (NORAD Public Affairs)

For 61 years, NORAD fighter jets have intercepted Santa many times. When the jets intercept Santa, they tip their wings to say, “Hello Santa! – NORAD is tracking you again this year!” (NORAD Public Affairs)

Once Santa leaves the North Pole, the radars are then able to identify the shape of his sleigh, its harnesses and reindeer.

“All those are things that a ground-based radar can see,” said Kucharek. “And then obviously we got Rudolph’s nose that provides an infrared signature that certain military satellites are able to pick up … But also those satellites on a day-to-day basis are used for a real world mission of spotting launches that may occur anywhere around the globe.”

When all the maps, trackers, cameras and countdown clocks are in place, NORAD Tracks Santa goes live on December 1, following a tradition started in 1958 by Colonel Harry Shoup, when a little girl misdialed NORAD’s number asking to speak with Santa.

NORAD still holds true to that tradition as way of “paying the goodwill forward” and putting smiles on people’s faces, as Kucharek put it.

“You’ve got second and third generations … of people that are now tracking Santa,” he said. “They get together during the December 24 evening and throughout the day just checking to see where Santa is. They do it as a family. It’s become a holiday tradition for a lot of people.”

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Closing in on a Cyborg Future; Social Media Use Makes You Miserable?

Posted December 22nd, 2016 at 12:18 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

In this undated picture taken from video, a patient uses a robotic hand to drink from a cup, in Badalona, Spain. Scientists have developed a mind-controlled robotic hand that allows people with certain types of spinal injuries to perform everyday tasks. (AP)

In this undated picture taken from video, a patient uses a robotic hand to drink from a cup, in Badalona, Spain. Scientists have developed a mind-controlled robotic hand that allows people with certain types of spinal injuries to perform everyday tasks. (AP)

How We Got Closer to Our Cyberhuman Future in 2016

There is no escaping the growing symbiosis between man and machine. Writer Kristen V. Brown says we have already become cyborgs in the sense that we are tethered to electronic devices. And she argues that the breakthroughs seen in 2016 have brought people closer to a future where technology and biology could be regularly integrated.

Study: Facebook ‘Lurking’ Could Make You Miserable This Christmas

New research from the California and Virtual Reality Medical Institute found that “regular use of social networking such as Facebook can negatively affect your emotional well-being and satisfaction with life.” Facebook ‘lurkers,’ as the study calls them, miss out on the Christmas family atmosphere and could significantly improve their well-being by taking a break from social media.

RMIT University: Convenience Beats Security With Australian Public Wi-Fi Habits

A study from RMIT University found that up to two million Australians risk being targeted by hackers every time they tap into a public Wi-Fi network to access financial services. In the past three months, at least 10 million people accessed public Wi-Fi networks in Australia, ranked sixth on the international scale of cybersecurity attacks. Up to 60 percent of users knew the public networks were somewhat insecure, but the study found that those who did financial transactions were under the impression that public Wi-Fi networks are relatively secure.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

E-taxi GPS Data Tapped to Improve Roads; 2016’s Worst Cyberbreaches

Posted December 21st, 2016 at 12:31 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - An Uber driver's smartphone app is shown in this Uber vehicle en route to Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia Sept. 8, 2015. (Reuters)

FILE – An Uber driver’s smartphone app is shown in this Uber vehicle en route to Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, Sept. 8, 2015. (Reuters)

GPS Data From E-taxi Platforms Could Improve Roads in Developing Countries

The World Bank is partnering with tech companies, nonprofits, and cab-hailing services in Asia and Latin America in an effort to improve transportation services and ease congestion in different parts of the world. Under an open data license, the Open Transport Partnership will give access to GPS data taken from taxis to transportation agencies in several countries to help them devise better traffic and safety solutions

Kaspersky: Data Leaks From Social Networks Threat in 2017

Potential leaks of user data collected by online services will be one of the major threats in 2017, according to Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. A survey conducted by Kaspersky last month showed up to 78 percent of users considering quitting social networks, partly because of concerns over spying.

The 10 Biggest Hacks, Breaches, and Security Stories of 2016

Hands down, the award for the biggest security breach revelation in 2016 goes to Yahoo, which sustained two major hack attacks in recent years, one of them the largest ever, with more than one billion accounts compromised. But 2016 was also the year of ransomware, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and a few other disturbing intrusions.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Apple Eyes Production in India; Thieving Russian Botnet Exposed

Posted December 20th, 2016 at 1:21 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A salesman checks a customer's iPhone at a mobile phone store in New Delhi, India, July 27, 2016. (Reuters)

FILE – A salesman checks a customer’s iPhone at a mobile phone store in New Delhi, India, July 27, 2016. (Reuters)

WSJ: Apple in Talks With India to Manufacture Locally

Apple has been in communication with the Indian government to explore manufacturing its products locally in India. According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple sent a letter to New Delhi to lay out manufacturing plans and request financial incentives. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modihas, has been pushing to encourage technology manufacturing in the country with his ‘Make in India’ initiative.

Methbot: Russian Botnet Steals Millions From US Companies Every Day

Cybersecurity company WhiteOps has uncovered a large Russian botnet operation, called Methbot, that steals an estimated $3 million to 5 million every day from U.S. businesses. Methbot watches about 300 million video-based advertisements on popular U.S. media and business sites and manipulates expensive ads to create false views. The hackers also put up fake websites that advertisers mistakenly believe are legitimate, so ad revenue ends up in the hackers’ pockets.

Facebook Accused of Misleading Europe on WhatsApp Deal

European officials filed charges Tuesday, accusing Facebook of misleading them to get approval for its $19-billion WhatsApp purchase. Facebook could potentially end up paying a fine of up to $200 million. The social media giant has been running into trouble in Europe with its hate speech and fake news problems. And the European Union has been investigating WhatsApp for suddenly abandoning its privacy promises and deciding to share all of its user data with Facebook.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Taking Your Data to the Cloud? Read the Fine Print First.

Posted December 16th, 2016 at 1:00 am (UTC-4)
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FILE - Hewlett-Packard ProLiant commercial data servers for cloud computing are assembled by workers at a company manufacturing facility in Houston Nov. 19, 2013. (Reuters)

FILE – Hewlett-Packard ProLiant commercial data servers for cloud computing are assembled by workers at a company manufacturing facility in Houston Nov. 19, 2013. (Reuters)

Every time you reach for your smartphone to access your social media feed or dig up a contact, you are tapping into remote servers that house your data, also known as the cloud. And while most people probably don’t give this a second thought, they should – if they want to keep their information private and secure.

When a company moves its data to the cloud, consumers only know they can access their email or finances – or even their digital assistant – whenever and wherever they need them. In that, they are at the forefront of cloud migration. But when it comes to security and privacy, “the vast majority of consumers” don’t necessarily know “whether it’s in the cloud or … sitting in their house or on the server,” said Cisco’s Chief Technology Officer for Cloud Security, Dan Hubbard, in an interview.

But that knowledge is crucial in the age of cloud-driven mobility. Connected wearable devices, digital assistants and other gadgets that are listening, collecting vast amounts of information about users and sending them back to remote servers for storage, who knows for how long, for what purpose, and whether the companies in question are doing enough to protect that information or are transparent about the way it is being handled.

This is particularly true when using ‘free’ cloud services, which, in truth, are not so free.

Whether they know it or not, consumers actually ‘pay’ for these services in the same way that they cede a piece of themselves and their life to a search engine when looking up free information. Sometimes, cautioned Hubbard, consumers “underestimate what that means,” thinking they can get a free service and keep their privacy at the same time.

“You need to understand the price of you using a free service is that potentially they’ll do something like deliver ads to you,” he said.

Ads collect huge amounts of data about users’ habits and profiles in order to target them with personalized products, with or without their consent. So before you hand over your data to a free cloud service, you need to understand how the company works and how it intends to protect your privacy. And you should probably look out for sudden changes that give away your personal information wholesale.

This week, note-taking app Evernote updated its privacy policy to allow some of its employees to access user content, saying this was intended for machine learning research. But there are indications this has been going on for some time, though Evernote users were kept in the dark.

A screenshot from Evernote's websites, showing its mobile app.

A screenshot from Evernote’s websites, showing its mobile app.

And messaging service WhatsApp, for example, which initially claimed it protected its users’ privacy, turned around and decided to share their information with its parent company, Facebook. Users were furious, and Facebook later halted the sharing in response to complaints from the European Union.

“You have to read the fine print,” said Kevin Barnicle, CEO of Controle, a company focused on the governance of electronically stored information.

“I myself as a business owner am very leery of storing content in free applications because they do have access to the information,” he said. “They’ll be able to read it. They’ll be able to mine it for whatever reason they would want to. You need to be careful.”

Before storing or backing up your information in the cloud, make sure the company encrypts your data “even in their own environment so they cannot actually see what the data is,” he added. And read the  convoluted privacy policies, which Hubbard believes should be more straightforward.

Cloud providers should be transparent about “how they secure their information, what their privacy policy is, how they use the data, and making sure it’s not buried somewhere in this crazy, big, long thing that no one’s going to read,” he said. And they need to “make sure the users understand when they store their information there what they’re giving away,” he added.

Providers should understand that consumer data in the cloud “is actually owned by the people that created it,” he stressed. That in turn defines who should or shouldn’t have access to that information.

“The only people that should have access to that information should be the people who are creating it – for example, the company,” he added. “They should have the right and the ability to decrypt and encrypt that information without the hosting provider having access to it. … They need to provide very strong ways that people can authenticate to get access to the data.”

There are many large companies that add multi-factor authentication, which asks for a combination of security safeguards, including passwords, telephone numbers, and personal questions to verify user identities. They also have mechanisms in place to “identify if nefarious stuff is happening to that user’s account or to their data,” said Hubbard, and in many cases, do “a tremendous” job securing their data.

But there are no guarantees and no way of knowing if a company is doing its best to protect your data. A case in point is internet giant Yahoo’s revelation this week that it experienced a second gigantic breach of security that compromised up to one billion accounts in 2013 – the largest ever and the second for the company.

FILE - A visitor uses his mobile phone as he walks past the Microsoft booth with a logo for cloud computing software application in Hanover, Germany. (Reuters)

FILE – A visitor uses his mobile phone as he walks past the Microsoft booth with a logo for cloud computing software application in Hanover, Germany. (Reuters)

An uneven landscape

As more people collaborate and share documents stored in the cloud, securing the data becomes even more daunting. Recent research has uncovered malware in shared folders in the cloud. And in 2014, celebrity pictures stored in Apple’s iCloud were leaked by intruders who bypassed the company’s security safeguards.

Safeguarding cloud data involves a lot of factors, including identifying what it is and who should or should not get access to it, especially if it involves sensitive information like tax returns or health records.

“Is it misconfigured? asked Hubbard. “Do the wrong people have access to it? Am I putting information in the cloud that shouldn’t be in the cloud that should be in the traditional data center? That is definitely an aspect of things you need to start thinking about, especially when it comes to confidential information.”

But the process is more complicated than that. Large companies often have “thousands of different regulations that they’re supposed to abide by” to manage content, said Barnicle. And things becomes so complicated that, in some cases, companies just “keep all of our data forever and they will never delete anything.”

Many companies don’t even abide by their own regulations. And some smaller companies that might offer free services do not abide by the same rules, let alone figure out which regulations need to be enforced.

Nevertheless, migration is projected to continue as companies cut IT costs and find new revenue opportunities in the cloud. But for the time being, consumers might find it cheaper to manage their own data, said Barnicle, given continuing privacy and security concerns.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

One Billion Yahoo Accounts Hacked; Messenger AI Gets Bigger Role

Posted December 15th, 2016 at 12:50 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

Yahoo Mail logo is displayed on a smartphone's screen in front of code in this illustration picture, Oct. 6, 2016. (Reuters)

Yahoo Mail logo is displayed on a smartphone’s screen in front of code in this illustration picture, Oct. 6, 2016. (Reuters)

One More Time:1 billion Yahoo Accounts Stolen in Biggest Hack Ever

Yahoo announced Wednesday that one billion user accounts were hacked and stolen in 2013 – the largest hack ever and the second for the beleaguered company. In September, Yahoo revealed that up to 500 million user accounts were compromised. The breach lasted three years, giving hackers access to passwords and other personal information, including U.S. government employee accounts. Now a U.S. senator is pushing for an investigation into the company’s cybersecurity practices. If you have a Yahoo account, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.

Facebook Messenger Test Hints at Bigger AI Role

Facebook is testing a new feature for its Messenger chat assistant that provides users with recommendations, based on their chat. In other words, the artificial intelligence assistant will keep tabs on what you say. So if a friend asks where you are, the AI might ask if you want to share your location or offer a sticker if you say thanks, for example. Now Messenger also has a built-in camera for Snapchat-style selfies.

Former Apple Retail Workers Win $2M in Class-Action Suit

Former employees who sued Apple claiming they were denied sufficient breaks and owed back wages won $2 million in reparations. Apple must now pay the money into a fund to compensate 21,000 employees who were part of the class-action suit.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Evernote Takes Liberties With User Data; Drone Deliveries Makes History

Posted December 14th, 2016 at 12:00 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

A screenshot from Evernote's websites, showing its mobile app.

A screenshot from Evernote’s websites, showing its mobile app.

Evernote ‘Privacy’ Policy Update Allows Employees to Read Your Notes

If you are using the Evernote app to take notes, you might want to reconsider. Evernote’s latest update to its “privacy” policy lets some of the company’s employees read your notes in the interest of improving machine learning. It bears mentioning that Evernote employees always had the ability to read user content, but neglected to mention that to their customers. And since you can’t opt out of this feature, your only other option is to drop the service. The update has left Evernote users rightly furious and venting on Twitter.

‘Lazy’ Criminals Get Rich off Emailed Ransomware

A new IBM study found that approximately 40 percent of all spam sent to Americans in 2016 included ransomware attachments. September, in particular, saw as much as 62 percent of emailed spam carrying ransomware designed to lock users out of their computers until they pay ransom. The latest ransomware variety – Popcorn Time – conscripts its victims to infect others they know before they can get their hijacked files back.

With Airdrop of Popcorn, Amazon Makes Drone Delivery History

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced on Twitter Wednesday that his retail company made drone delivery history with a flight to England on December 7. The drone made the delivery, which included a bag of popcorn, to a customer in England within 13 minutes of receiving his online order. The delivery was made in a rural area where drone flights have been authorized.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

‘Pokémon GO’ Goes to India; ‘Popcorn Time’ Redefines Ransomware

Posted December 13th, 2016 at 10:17 am (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - Indians play 'Pokémon GO' inside an autorickshaw in Mumbai, July 24, 2016. (AP)

FILE – Indians play ‘Pokémon GO’ inside an auto rickshaw in Mumbai, July 24, 2016. (AP)

Reliance Jio Brings ‘Pokémon GO’ to India Starting Wednesday

India is about to catch the Pokémon GO craze – beginning Wednesday. The country’s 4G-LTE carrier, Reliance Jio, has partnered with Niantic, Pokémon GO’s publisher and developer to bring the game to the Indian masses. Unofficially, however, many Indians have already been busy hunting Pokémon after force-installing the game on their smartphones.

The Latest Ransomware – Popcorn Time – Is Pure Evil Genius

A new type of ransomware, called Popcorn Time, takes hijacking and ransoming your computer files to new levels. Popcorn Time threatens its victims with permanent loss of their data if they don’t pay the Bitcoin ransom. It also claims the files will be unlocked for free if the target becomes an accessory and helps infect two or more people with the malware.

Nearly Half of Top 1 Million Websites Deemed Risky

A new report from Menlo Security found that almost half of a million websites or 46 percent put their visitors at risk. According to the report, web exploitation affects vulnerable websites that run advertising without having sufficient security safeguards in place, or those that still run outdated software.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

For Developing World, 2016 Brought Education, Drones, Big Data

Posted December 9th, 2016 at 11:18 am (UTC-4)
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Two students at a school in Gressier, Haiti, who have a five-month library access, use the library in class for a lesson. (Maritza Chateau and Amanda Truxillo)

Two students at a school in Gressier, Haiti use mobile devices to access a digital library in class. (LFA/Maritza Chateau and Amanda Truxillo)

2016 opened new technology frontiers for developing countries in education and healthcare, thanks to mobile devices and a little help from nonprofits and tech giants.

In parts of the developing world, mobile technology has been bridging the gap where there is spotty or no traditional internet connectivity, a lack of teachers, limited school resources, and little or no road of financial infrastructure. School textbooks and libraries are in short supply or non-existent in places like Haiti and Sub-Saharan Africa.

But literacy advocate Worldreader had a solution. Using web-based digital libraries, e-readers, and mobile phones, the group put more than 31,000 digital books at the fingertips of school children and their teachers.

And online hub Design Squad Global made STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) available to school children in South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana. The initiative included after-school engineering projects, online collaboration, and cross-cultural communication designed to build and promote the next generation of makers.

Promise of big data

Using data collection and big data – complex analytical and behavioral databases that allow researchers to extract social and economic trends the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) helped African teachers track the progress of students in remote areas and gain access to financial resources online. The effort also helped local governments come up with better educational policies. But in some countries, the promise of the technology was hampered by the lack of data-collection infrastructure and archaic government regulations.

The challenges kept nonprofit Bayes Impact from pushing its ambitious big data project into developing countries. The initiative helps healthcare providers and social workers pinpoint populations that are most vulnerable to disease or have the least access to social services. But the group intends to expand the program to developing countries to help first responders identify and reach at-risk populations more efficiently.

A Flirtey drones delivers medical supplies in Wise County, Virginia, in the first FAA-approved drone delivery in the U.S. (Flirtey)

A Flirtey drones delivers medical supplies in Wise County, Virginia, in the first FAA-approved drone delivery in the U.S. (Flirtey)

And where data-collection was lacking, drones filled the gap.

Flight of the drones

Guyana, Haiti and the Philippines have been looking at the use of drones to deliver medical supplies to people in need in remote areas. Tennessee-based Remote Area Medical (RAM), which has operated medical flights in Brazil for many years, is exploring the use of drones with the government of Guyana to deliver medicine to remote villages when bad weather prevents their planes from making the trip.

And in Ghana, United Nations health experts took a page right out of Amazon’s manual to use drones to deliver birth control supplies to women in remote or inaccessible areas.

Drones also came to the aid of refugees making the dangerous crossing from the Aegean and Mediterranean seas to the West. Some of the refugees who survived the ordeal came up with drone solutions to enable rescue workers to quickly find refugees who run into trouble as they make the trek.

Tools versus skills

Leveraging new tech tools is useful, but raising a new generation of entrepreneurs can transform lives. To that end, the Youth for Technology Foundation announced that beginning in 2017, it will train 6,000 Nigerian girls who are unable to attend school or are at risk of human trafficking to use 3-D printing. The training will include business and financial know-how, and a host of other skills that should help these girls maintain their independence and establish their own livelihoods.

Students participate in a class at the Youth for Technology Foundation academy in Nairobi, Kenya. (Youth for Technology Foundation)

Students participate in a class at the Youth for Technology Foundation academy in Nairobi, Kenya. (Youth for Technology Foundation)

Google also launched an initiative to equip up to 300,000 South Africans with digital skills. The project targets another 400,000 in Nigeria, 200,000 in Kenya, and 100,000 from other Sub-Saharan countries. Another Google initiative will train two million Indian Android developers.

Only 25 percent of India’s developers work on mobile platforms – a lifeline for many in developing countries. In Mumbai’s slums, Indian teenage coders have been building apps to help solve community problems like getting access to water and education, and fending off sexual harassment.

The new skills will help foster a tech-savvy generation in some of the world’s poorest countries that have missed out on some of the benefits of technology. According to the World Economic Forum, only seven countries benefited from technological innovation in 2016. None of them are developing countries. Those are the United States, Singapore, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Israel.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.