Uber’s Harassment Reality Check; Slack Bug Puts User Accounts at Risk

Posted March 1st, 2017 at 12:56 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick poses fpr a picture at the 89th Academy Awards - Oscars Vanity Fair Party in Beverly Hills, California, Feb 26, 2017. (Reuters)

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick poses for a picture at the 89th Academy Awards – Oscars Vanity Fair Party in Beverly Hills, California, Feb 26, 2017. (Reuters)

Uber Case Could Be Watershed for Women in Tech

The recent allegations of Uber’s culture of sexism and sexual harassment have put the tech sector and its diversity problems in the spotlight – again. But writer Farhad Manjoo argues the Uber case feels like a watershed that could trigger innovation and new momentum toward finding ways to remake a tech culture that has long sidelined women.

China’s Mobile Search Engine Baidu Goes Dark for Nearly 20 Minutes

Baidu, China’s Google equivalent, went dark for 18 minutes last night, according to media accounts and the search engine’s official account. Baidu, which boasts more than 665 million users, apologized for the mishap.

Slack Bug Grants Hackers Full Access to Your Account and Messages

Researchers with cybersecurity firm Detectify have uncovered a bug in the popular chat client Slack that lets hackers manipulate communications and hijack user accounts. With this vulnerability, hackers who trick users into opening a malicious page can steal their Slack tokens. The researcher who first discovered this was able to hang up other people’s calls, intercept messages, and several other alarming actions.

More:

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.

Digital Assistants Explored to Aid the Elderly; Hacking for Dementia

Posted February 28th, 2017 at 12:25 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

Amazon's Echo, an Internet-connected digital assistant that can be set up in a home or office to listen for various requests, such as songs, sports scores or the weather, is shown in New York, July 29, 2015. (AP)

Amazon’s Echo, an Internet-connected digital assistant that can be set up in a home or office to listen for various requests, such as songs, sports scores or the weather, is shown in New York, July 29, 2015. (AP)

Home Digital Assistants Could Be Boon for Assisted Living

Voice-activated devices and digital assistants are quickly spreading and Elliptic Labs, which uses ultrasound technology to detect motion, wants to use the technology to help the elderly. The company is launching new software that can be added to digital assistants like Amazon’s Echo. The motion-detection program can send an alert from an elderly person’s home, for example, if it does not sense any movement for a prolonged period of time.

Nonprofit tech movement HackerNest is holding a coding session called DementiaHack in Toronto on March 4. The event is intended to raise awareness about dementia and encourage the development of products to help people with dementia and their caregivers.

This Tiny Chip Could Revolutionize Smartphone, IOT Security

A new chip unveiled at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, could significantly improve mobile security. The chip, developed by South Korean engineers at SK Telecom, can generate secure random numbers, which are then used to create encryption keys. These numbers have not been generated before with anything as small as this chip, a 5 millimeter square the size of a fingernail.

More:

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.

With Blockchain, Sub-Saharan Women Move Forward Without Bias

Posted February 24th, 2017 at 11:30 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

FILE - Women from a local cocoa farmers association lift a sack in a cocoa warehouse in Djangobo, Ivory Coast, Nov. 17, 2014. (Reuters)

FILE – Women from a local cocoa farmers association lift a sack in a cocoa warehouse in Djangobo, Ivory Coast, Nov. 17, 2014. (Reuters)

Blockchain, the technology underlying digital currency Bitcoin, is making it easier for Sub-Saharan African women farmers to establish their economic credentials and negotiate gender bias.

If you are a woman farmer in Sub-Saharan Africa and you go to a bank to borrow, you have to bring like seven pieces of paper, you might have to bring your uncle or brother or husband, and you still don’t get treated equally because they’re not trusting your data directly – Ashish Gadnis

When Ashish Gadnis, CEO of the financial tech company BanQu (pronounced “bank you”), was in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014, one of the women farmers he worked with made a little money on her harvest and wanted to open a bank account. She couldn’t because of what Gadnis described as “dinosaur laws that [require] a male co-signing” for her.

“They were willing to help me open a bank account,” he said in an interview. “That’s where the name [of his company] comes from because the guys kept saying ‘we can’t bank her, but we can bank you’ … because she was a woman. And she had a piece of land, … she had microfinance, but she “was not recognized as a valid person to have an economic profile.”

That is one of the biggest problems for women in Sub-Sahara, said Gadnis. According to a 2014 report by the World Bank and the ONE Campaign, women account for nearly half of the agricultural workforce in the region, but “they tend to be locked out of land ownership, access to credit and productive farm inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and farming tools, support from extension services, and access to markets and other factors essential to their productivity.”

They are left behind, stressed Gadnis, because “they don’t have an identity … at an economic level that establishes their land rights, their harvest information, their microfinance loans, their mobile phone usage and things like that.”

To address the problem, BanQu uses blockchain to establish economic identities and proofs of record for people in extreme poverty zones.

Blockchain is a decentralized, trust-based ledger that lets all concerned parties verify their transactions by consensus. Instead of keeping multiple, separate balance sheets, all parties to a transaction can enter the record into a “block.” Once it is verified by consensus, it’s added to the “chain” and cannot be altered.

“The value of it is that you don’t have to rely on a central authority to validate anything that is stored on the blockchain,” said Joshua Forman of Colorado-based Forman Consulting, which focuses on the adoption and expansion of technology products in organizations

According to Gadnis, women farmers, migrant workers, and refugees who get aid from the United Nations or international non-governmental organizations, such as training and microfinancing, often don’t have access to that information.

“When the programs of these INGOs or social enterprises end, the woman farmer or the refugee does not have anything that they can basically collect in terms of their work history, their economic profile,” he said. “…That mother farmer – her data today is sitting in the microfinancing institutions database, the UN database, some INGO’s database, and she doesn’t have anything.”

With a blockchain profile that establishes ownership, business assets, and production values, the farmer can access her records using a mobile phone to present “proof of identity” or ask her bank to do so. That “is extremely empowering in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Gadnis, because it opens up access to finance, gender equality and various other opportunities for women and minorities.

“I saw this many, many times last year in Sub-Saharan Africa – women get a lower price on their grain because [they] are not visible on the supply chain,” he said. “Because the blockchain is a distributed trust network, the woman farmer now has equal rights because nobody can say that she doesn’t exist.”

The approach could also improve microfinancing terms for women, once they are more visible on the supply chain.

“Microfinance, while [it] has been good, it continues to be expensive,” Gadnis said. “… If I am a coffee buyer and I exactly knew who the farmers were in the trust network and what was their land, what was the rainfall, I can easily reduce the cost of borrowing. In fact, I can also use crop insurance at a lower cost because in a trust consensus network, I know that this is your land.”

While acknowledging that blockchain can peel away a layer of gender bias as it removes intermediaries from the equation, Forman said implementing it can be tricky and time-consuming because all parties to a transaction have to agree that the blockchain ledger is the source of record.

These records, such as land ownership deeds, typically are controlled by governments. “You’ll have to get through the bureaucracy to be able to make that the way that it’s done,” he said.

“The government first has to acknowledge that that will be the source and everybody who is going to buy, sell, lease land, is also going to have to agree that this is where the information will be stored,” he explained. “… So that’s a public policy and just a general social consensus that needs to occur.”

But once these challenges are met, Forman said the blockchain ledger, which cannot be falsified, will benefit landowners by cutting back on corruption and bureaucracy, and improving production and economic input.

For Gadnis, there is also a humanitarian value to blockchain that should be acknowledged. He said while only a handful of companies, including BanQu, are applying blockchain to developing countries, the technology can empower people in poverty and refugee zones by putting key parts of their information in their hands.

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.

Inside Uber’s Workplace Culture; Google Renews Fight for Racial Justice

Posted February 23rd, 2017 at 12:16 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

A man arrives at the Uber offices in Queens, New York, U.S., Feb. 2, 2017. (Reuters)

A man arrives at the Uber offices in Queens, New York, U.S., Feb. 2, 2017. (Reuters)

Inside Uber’s Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture

Ride-hailing app Uber, one of Silicon Valley’s most successful ventures, is in full damage control after engineer Susan Fowler, who left Uber in December, recently described a long-standing culture of gender discrimination and harassment. In an in-depth look, the New York Times says that includes groping, slurs and even threats of violence.

Google.org Is Committing $11.5 Million to Racial Justice

Google.org has renewed its commitment to reducing racial disparity in the U.S. criminal justice system with an additional $11.5 million. That’s on top of $3 million granted last year to 10 racial justice groups. Now Google.org has to identify the recipients of the new grant, half of which is focused on data science and transparency. The other half goes to new models of reform in the criminal justice system.

How to Scrub Your Private Data From ‘People Finder’ Sites

If you are trying to save the remaining vestiges of your privacy in an increasingly-connected world, there are still a few things you can do. Writer Fahmida Y. Rashid offers some useful tips to users who don’t mind the extra work to help them weed out their personal information from people finder sites.

More:

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.

The Biggest Online Threats; Robots Help Sick Kids Attend School

Posted February 22nd, 2017 at 12:00 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

(VOA/Mark Sandeen)

The 15 Biggest Threats Online, Ranked

A new report from the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security puts hacking for profit at the top of a list of leading online threats. The report says the trend will continue, aided by new tools and malware to boost the criminal business. Malware and unsecured Internet of Things (IoT) devices that give hackers an opportunity to control them are also high on the agency’s list.

Child Too Sick for School Long-term? Send a Robot Instead

Children with long-term illness that prevents them from attending school now have a solution from Norwegian company No Isolation. The company’s AV1 robot, a simple contraption that looks like a stylized head, is designed to help sick children stay in touch with their classmates. The robot has a loudspeaker and its eyes light up when a child is connected. An additional light goes on if the child wants to participate and raises his/her hand.

Humans Don’t Want Robots to Help Them Shop

The latest craze these days seems to be chatbots or robot assistants coming to a store near you, at least in the United States and Japan. Some robots now greet customers at the door or offer advice on what gifts and products customers should buy.  But in many cases, shoppers don’t know the technology exists or just want to pick up what they need as quickly as possible and leave. In one instance, a customer service robot asked the shopper for all kinds of personal information just to look up what kind of advice it should give.

More:

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.

The Benefit – or Not – of Health Trackers; Kaspersky Launches New OS

Posted February 21st, 2017 at 1:03 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A man wearing a tracker and calorie counter, wipes his face during a workout at the Center for Fitness and Health in Rostraver, Pennsylvania. (AP)

FILE – A man wearing a tracker and calorie counter, wipes his face during a workout at the Center for Fitness and Health in Rostraver, Pennsylvania. (AP)

Scientists Warn Health Apps Could Be Doing More Harm Than Good

Health apps might encourage better lifestyles, but researchers warn many of the thousands of available apps – ranging from fitness trackers to insulin monitors often are not based in real science. Researchers say there is no way to determine if the apps are causing good or harm without scientific trials. Others are concerned apps that dose medications like insulin could be more harmful than fitness trackers that might or might not be suitable for individual needs.

Technology Is Defining the Office of the Future

According to a new report from Samsung called The Open Economy, the static office is a thing of the past. More people work anywhere and at any time, using a mix of business and personal devices to get things done, essentially taking the office with them. While this shift makes security a major concern, the report suggests biometrics and behavioral analytics could help keep an eye out for uncharacteristic or threatening behavior as machine learning improves.

Russian Security Company to Compete With Microsoft With New OS

After almost 14 years in development, the new operating system from cybersecurity firm Kaspersky is focused on tighter security for Internet of Things devices and industrial systems. The company’s CEO Eugene Kaspersky said the OS is built from scratch, meaning it is not based on the Linux kernel or other earlier foundations.

More:

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.

Tech Goes to Work to Help Europe’s Refugees Assimilate

Posted February 17th, 2017 at 11:29 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

 Students attend an IT class at a Restart bootcamp in the Netherlands. (Restart Network)

Students attend an IT class at a Restart bootcamp in the Netherlands. (Restart Network)

Technology is finding ways to bridge cultural gaps and help refugees from the Middle East and North Africa assimilate in Europe while giving back to their host countries.

When millions of refugees began to wash ashore in Europe in 2015, so did myriads of challenges – meeting basic needs, education, healthcare, jobs, safety, and mitigating cultural divides. But it’s a two-sided coin. And recognizing this, some of Europe’s innovators found ways to harness the potential of young, skilled immigrants to solve some of the old continent’s problems.

In some cases, those innovators were the refugees themselves.

Take for instance MigrantHire, a website co-founded by Hussein Shaker, a Syrian refugee who arrived in Germany in 2015 with more than a million others like him. Eighty percent of them were under the age of 35, many with much-needed skills. Shaker helped start MigrantHire to connect them with potential employers in the tech sector looking for new talent.

Like Shaker, Teodor Cataniciu, founder and chairman of the Dutch nonprofit, Restart Network, recognized both the opportunity and the need. There were plenty of apps and websites to help refugees with accommodations, local languages, cultures and customs, but to find jobs, they needed training, particularly in countries with older populations like the Netherlands and Germany, where hundreds of thousands of IT positions remain unfulfilled.

The IT skills gap problem is global. But Europe alone is expected to face a shortage of 900,000 IT specialists by 2020, according to Restart.

To improve the refugees’ chances of landing some of these jobs, Restart has partnered with tech players like IBM and Facebook to host coding bootcamps on its campus in Rotterdam.

“We saw … millions of refugees arriving on our continent who want to start again and thought we could create something that is part of the solution,” said Cataniciu in an email. “Our school is surrounded by more than 100 tech companies, and we work closely with industry leaders and experts to really create a different type of school.”

Cataniciu said he believes good education should be available to anyone with “grit and passion,” and that money “shouldn’t be the currency dictating someone’s future opportunities.”

The three-month classes are the world’s first crowdfunded bootcamps. The students, fluent in English, learn Dutch and become junior developers, with a potential for landing jobs in the Netherlands.

*The school has already graduated 100 refugees. And according to Restart, 90 percent of its graduates already have jobs or are continuing their education.

There’s an app for that

Earlier in the migrant crisis, Germany and Austria, both overwhelmed by an influx of refugees, released a mobile app to educate immigrant children and speed up their assimilation. The app, called “hallo App Deutsch,” uses words, sounds, and pictures to teach kids who can’t read roman script.

Other apps include Refugermany, which provides information about asylum procedures, housing, culture, jobs and education, and Denmark’s ligeret.nu, or Equality for All, available in Danish, English, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Turkish.

The Danish government launched the app to help address some of the key challenges countries like Germany and Denmark face as they receive more migrants, particularly with regard to gender equality, sexuality, sexual harassment and assault- themes that ligeret.nu tries to address.

The app’s website cites statistics from Denmark’s Ministry of Justice showing that 43.5 percent of all people convicted of rape between 2013 and 2014 were immigrants or their decedents.

While ligeret.nu includes resources about citizenship, jobs and various aspects of Danish life, it is focused on bridging cultural gaps with information about gender equality, sexuality, and individual rights and responsibilities.

*Editor’s note:

Teodor Cataniciu has added the following correction: “The correct numbers are 40 started, 25 graduated in 2 classes so far. With the next class of 25 people these numbers will increase a bit but still not be at 100 until the end of the year. “

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.

Twitter Restricts Abusive Users; IBM, VISA Team Up for IoT

Posted February 16th, 2017 at 12:56 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - An illustration picture shows a man starting his Twitter App on a mobile device in Hanau near Frankfurt, Germany. (Reuters)

FILE – An illustration picture shows a man starting his Twitter App on a mobile device in Hanau near Frankfurt, Germany. (Reuters)

Twitter Starts Temporarily Restricting Abusive Accounts

Twitter will now temporarily restrict users who engage in abuse and sexual harassment online so that only their followers are able to see their tweets. The move also prevents these tweets from being retweeted to non-followers. This is the latest in a series of measures Twitter has implemented to combat online trolls and harassment.

IBM and Visa Want You to Pay From Your Car

IBM’s cognitive computing program Watson and Visa have teamed up to provide a more secure payment environment to Internet of Things devices, including cars. The collaboration was announced in Germany, where BM is opening its Watson Internet of Things headquarters. Hypothetically, a connected car can alert its driver that it needs a certain part. The driver then can push a button to place the order and arrange for its installation. But instead of using a credit card, the payment is made with a unique digital identifier that does not expose account information.

Americans More Concerned About Online Privacy, Security Than a Year Ago

A new study from secure access specialist AnchorFree found that 84 percent of surveyed Americans are worried about their online privacy, security, and government snooping. The survey of about 1,000 users also found that 64 percent of respondents are more concerned about safeguarding private data under the new U.S. administration, while 50 percent are more concerned with privacy due to the proliferation of connected devices containing private data.

More:

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.

Suspected Russian Hackers Target Macs; a Visor for the Legally Blind

Posted February 15th, 2017 at 1:04 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A guest points to a MacBook Pro during an Apple media event in Cupertino, California, U.S. Oct. 27, 2016. (Reuters)

FILE – A guest points to a MacBook Pro during an Apple media event in Cupertino, California, U.S. Oct. 27, 2016. (Reuters)

Russian Cyberspies Blamed for US Election Hacks Now Targeting Macs

Bitdefender cybersecurity researchers have uncovered a Mac OS Trojan that probably was used by the Russian hackers blamed for breaching the U.S. Democratic National Committee last year. The program, called Sofacy or X-Agent, has been around for other operating systems, but researchers believe this is the first Mac version. The malware can probe the system and grab passwords, among other things.

This ‘Star Trek’-like Headset Helps Legally blind See Again

Remember Geordi La Forge in the sci-fi TV series ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, a blind character with a visor that helped him see? Well, there is now a similar device in real life called the eSight 3. The headset relies on a camera, high-resolution displays and optical prisms to render a video image to users with low vision. Liquid lens technology in the visor helps focus the camera very quickly and allows legally blind users on the move to have access to peripheral vision.

Apple Fights Back as Shareholders Demand More Diversity

Lack of diversity is a real problem in the tech industry, and not just in Silicon Valley. But tech giants, including Apple, say they are making progress. Some Apple investors, however, are trying to force the company to speed up its diversity initiatives, but say that Apple is trying to shoot down a proposal to diversify its board and senior management. Apple argues it has “much broader” diversity efforts underway and that it has made “steady progress in attracting more women and underrepresented minorities” in the past three years.

More:

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.

Cameroon Internet Blocked; Hidden Sensors Track Employees

Posted February 14th, 2017 at 12:55 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - An image showing Ethernet cables used for internet connections. (Reuters)

FILE – An image showing Ethernet cables used for internet connections. (Reuters)

Cameroon’s Internet Outage Is Draining Its Economy

Cameroon is under international pressure to restore internet services. Up to 20 percent of Cameroon’s population has been denied internet access since January, and the problem persists. By all accounts, the internet disruptions are thought to be politically motivated, targeting long-marginalized English-speaking populations in the country’s northwest and southwest. Neither the government nor internet providers have released any statements regarding the outage.

Microsoft Calls for ‘Digital Geneva Convention’

Microsoft’s president Brad Smith urged tech companies to declare themselves neutral in cases of cyberwar, while committing to 100 percent defense and zero percent offense. Speaking at the RSA computer security conference in San Francisco, Smith called for the creation of a “digital Geneva Convention” to define the rules for cyberwarfare.

New Office Sensors Know When You Leave Your Desk

The British newspaper Telegraph did this about a year ago. Employees discovered little black boxes installed under their desks that were keeping track to see if they were at their stations or goofing off. After the National Union of Journalists complained, the devices were removed. But the reality is there are more than 350 companies today tracking their employees with hidden sensors planted in lights, ID badges and other inconspicuous spaces, allegedly to maintain efficiency. Legally, the companies are within their right – to a point.

More:

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.