‘Let Girls Learn’ Brings Education Tech to Rural Ghana

Posted April 14th, 2017 at 11:35 am (UTC-4)
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More than 62 million girls around the world are not attending school. But through the U.S. government’s ‘Let Girls Learn’ initiative, a multilateral effort is putting education technology and a future at their fingertips.

In parts of the developing world, girls are expected to do house chores, care for siblings, and fetch water. But they are last in line after their brothers to get an education, if at all. And if they are lucky enough to go to school, they sometimes are shut out.

“In many countries, such as India … it just becomes completely socially unacceptable for a girl to be attending school” when she begins to menstruate, said Gina Tesla, Chief of IBM’s Corporate Service Corps in an interview with Techtonics. And sometimes, “there just simply may not be any sort of bathroom facilities” for girls in these situations. And so they can’t go to school.

FILE - A girl fetches water from a well at Mewat district in the northern Indian state of Haryana, June 25, 2014. (Reuters)

FILE – A girl fetches water from a well at Mewat district in the northern Indian state of Haryana, June 25, 2014. (Reuters)

There are so many girls who are so desperate for education that they will get up at 3:00 in the morning. They will go and fetch water. They will go and feed their brothers and sisters and their family. And they will study. And they will walk miles and miles to go to school – Gina Tesla

To tackle some of these issues, the U.S. Peace Corps, IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, and local tech firm TechAide came together under the Let Girls Learn initiative to “provide more access to education for girls who are not receiving it.” The initiative was launched by U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2015, and the Peace Corps has been “at the forefront of implementing” it, according to Tesla.

Her team has been working closely with TechAide, a recipient of IBM’s pro bono consulting services, to develop a server to provide educational content to rural areas of Ghana.

The server, equipped with Wi-Fi capability, is called ASANKA.

Speaking with Techtonics, TechAide’s CEO, Kafui Prebbie, explained that ASANKA means ‘community bowl’ in the Ghanaian language. It’s also short for All Subjects and New Knowledge Access.

Kafui Prebbie, CEO of TechAide, with Ashesi University students and teachers in Ghana, demonstrates ASANKA, a device that acts as a hotspot and server to deliver educational lessons to young women in remote villages, accessed via any Wifi-capable device. (IBM Corporation)

Kafui Prebbie, CEO of TechAide, with Ashesi University students and teachers in Ghana, demonstrates ASANKA, a device that acts as a hotspot and server to deliver educational lessons to young women in remote villages, accessed via any Wi-Fi-capable device. (IBM Corporation)

Internet subscriptions in Ghana are expensive and connectivity is spotty, particularly in rural areas with the greatest educational needs. So TechAide had to come up with a different solution to deliver educational content.

“We started to look at that small device,” he said, “cheap … easy to deploy, one watt of power, and to make it easily available in communities with content either pre-configured onto it or accessible through a mobile network, and put content that people in rural areas can access.”

The device is not free to schools. But TechAide and the Peace Corps just started a pilot program in 20 communities to drum up official support from Ghana’s Ministry of Education. The aim, according to Prebbie, is to “show the ministry that you can have this device in the schools and put the content on it and make it available to the boys and girls who cannot access the content cheaply, easily, interestingly.”

TechAide has also partnered with banks to help set up education labs in schools, where students can access approved educational content, including audio, video, and interactive games. Teachers can use a free wireless hotspot to look up content for education or community development, including textbooks and curricula which have been published over the years but are now damaged or lost.

Half of the teachers in underserved areas don’t even have a syllabus, noted Tesla. But Prebbie said TechAide is trying to “pull together all this content in soft copies – electronic formats – and put all of this on the ASANKA device and [make] it available also in the schools.”

In addition to the curricula, TechAide, IBM, and the Peace Corps visited schools and talked directly to girls to learn more about their needs. They then put together 20 topics “that were interesting to the adolescent girls about the problems that face them and making choices,” he said.

Some of the common issues the girls raised included chores and parents making decisions about boys going to school but not being able to pay for the girls’ education, and how to raise money to pay their own fees through school.

Reaching out to the girls, said Tesla, helped IBM and Peace Corps volunteers understand the gaps in communities that need support, perhaps with more “delicate content” to “help educate girls about some of the more nefarious … ways that they can end up in situations where they are being promised access to education and that’s not really what’s happening.”

Working within local communities, Prebbie is looking for interesting ways to present this type of information and help parents “stay extremely focused on girls’ education and the power of girls’ empowerment within the context of national development.”

All of this material will be loaded on ASANKA to help girls “take decisions by even playing those games and seeing the effect of those things … why they’re not able to go to school and how they can get around it,” he said.

Meanwhile, TechAide is building an ecosystem around the device by bringing women into its IT staff. “We’re creating something … called the ASANKA Girls Network,” he announced.

Girls in the network would know how to use the devices. “They’ve taken decisions based on what they’ve seen in the schools and they’ve used these devices to empower themselves,” he added. “…. We want these girls also in the future to be able to be coders to design the program that we put on the boxes that go into Africa.”

For Tesla, this kind of approach makes “pure business sense.” She believes the more tech companies engage in projects in emerging markets while providing their own employees with “life-changing opportunities,” the more they can innovate “to help make positive contributions to societal issues.”

In one collaboration, IBM and the Peace Corps brought 27 high school girls from rural Ghana to Ashesi University, a nonprofit college in Accra, for two days of empowerment and mentoring and an address by IBM’s Country General Manage for Ghana, Angela Kyerematen-Jimoh.

“She is [IBM’s] first female country general manager for all of Africa,” said Tesla. “And she grew up in the Ghanaian education system. And she was an example to all of the young people there, but particularly to the girls who were there to see that there really are possibilities … for advancement.”

“Implanting those seeds of inspiration” is important, she added, because education is a promise children in developed countries grow up with and expect, but in developing parts of the world, it is a promise girls may never hear.

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.

Kids Lose Sleep With Touchscreen Use; an Argument for Editing Tweets

Posted April 13th, 2017 at 12:03 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - Children play with their iPads at the Steve Jobs school Sneek, the Netherlands. (Reuters)

FILE – Children play with their iPads at the Steve Jobs School Sneek, the Netherlands. (Reuters)

Study: Kids Who Use Touchscreen Devices Sleep Less at Night

Earlier research has linked television and video games to sleep problems, but for the first time, a new study appearing in the Scientific Advances journal, looked at the use of mobile touchscreen devices among children. The study found that infants and toddlers who spend more time with smartphones and tablets sleep less at night, although the reasons for that are unclear. University of London researchers found that children between the ages of six months and three years sleep 15 minutes less for every additional hour they spend with a tablet or smartphone.

The Case for Editing Tweets

When you make a mistake, as humans often do, Facebook lets you edit your post even after you publish it. Twitter, on the other hand, leaves you to suffer the consequences of a typo or an error. Once you send a tweet, you can’t fix it. You can delete it, but that is not recommended. Writer Casey Newton argues in favor of enabling the editing of tweets and proposes adding the option to the drop-down menu.

Amazon Gets Approval From India’s Federal Bank to Operate Digital Wallet

Competition is heating up in India’s mobile digital payments market, currently dominated by Paytm, which is backed by Amazon’s Southeast Asia main rival, Alibaba. The license allows Amazon to introduce an e-wallet for online and offline transactions in an already-crowded e-payments market.

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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.

Brexit Vote Site May Have Been Hacked; Net Neutrality Fight Begins

Posted April 12th, 2017 at 1:44 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - An illustration picture of postal ballot papers ahead of the June 23 Brexit referendum to decide whether Britain will remain in the European Union, London, June 1, 2016. (Reuters)

FILE – An illustration picture shows postal ballot papers ahead of the June 23 Brexit referendum to decide whether Britain will remain in the European Union, London, June 1, 2016. (Reuters)

UK Lawmakers: Brexit Referendum Website Might Have Been Hacked

Rumors of possible manipulations swirled early on in last year’s Brexit referendum saga. But now, a UK legislative committee says the website that allowed more than a million potential voters to register for the referendum might have been hacked. Last June, the British government extended the registration deadline after the website crashed, an issue blamed on a late rush by young voters. But the committee’s report says it does not rule out the possibility that the crash was the result of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on the site.

Google, Facebook, Netflix Lobbyist Tells FCC Not to Destroy Net Neutrality

Lobbyists representing more than three dozen Web giants are urging FCC Chairman Ajit Pai not to kill the 2015 net neutrality order. In meetings with Pai, the Internet Association lobby insisted existing net neutrality rules should remain intact, though it did not demand strong regulations for internet service providers and seemed to favor the move to strike down internet privacy rules.

Japan Automakers Look to Robots to Keep Elderly Moving

Japan, which has the world’s fastest aging population, has been a leader in robotics. But now its automakers are shifting strategies to find ways to help the country’s ageing citizens retain mobility. Toyota, the world’s second largest automaker, just launched a rental service for its walk assist system, which helps patients walk again after suffering strokes and other conditions.

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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.

Social Media Use Skyrocketing; Google Denies Bias Against Women

Posted April 11th, 2017 at 12:57 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A man walks in front of social media logos in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Reuters)

FILE – A man walks in front of social media logos in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Reuters)

Social Media Gains 14 New Users Every Second

Internet users around the world have increased by one percent since January of 2017, accounting for more than 3.8 billion people. The percentage represents an increase of 28 million people. And in the past three months alone, nearly 110 million people started using social media. That takes the global population using social media services past 2.9 billion users. And according to writer Simon Kemp, that’s an increase of more than one million users per day or 14 new social media users every second.

Google: We’re Not Biased Against Women and These Details on Pay Prove It

Responding to a U.S. Department of Labor claim that it underpays its female workers, Google said it is blind to gender when paying employees. Going the extra mile to disprove the claim, the company released details about its methodology for calculating pay. The Labor Department claimed in court on Friday that it found “systematic disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce” at Google.

Windows 10 Creators Update Rollout Begins With Privacy Dialogue

Windows 10 users are getting a major new update Tuesday, also known as Windows 10 Creators Update. You could wait for all the bugs to be ironed out or, if you can’t wait and want to go ahead and try it out, you probably should revisit your privacy settings to see what has changed and where they should be.

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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.

Few Women in IT, Cloud Computing, but It’s Complicated

Posted April 7th, 2017 at 11:35 am (UTC-4)
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FILE - A woman uses her smartphone near a booth promoting cloud services during the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing, China, April 29, 2016. (AP)

FILE – A woman uses her smartphone near a booth promoting cloud services during the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing, China, April 29, 2016. (AP)

Women comprise only about 11 percent of the information security workforce and are equally underrepresented in cloud technologies in some regions, according to two new studies. But as some experts point out, this is only one part of a much bigger picture.

Despite growing demand for IT talent, the percentage has remained unchanged since 2013. And while the gender gap in the highly-specialized security field is smaller than in other tech sectors, it is still considerable even in North America and Europe.

Women in information security account for eight percent of the workforce in Latin America, nine percent in Africa, and 10 percent in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a new report from the Center for Cyber Safety and Education and the Executive Women’s Forum.

Men and women in the global information security workforce, according to the 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study:Women in Cybersecurity, (Frost and Sullivan)

Men and women in the global information security workforce, according to the 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study:Women in Cybersecurity, (Frost and Sullivan)

The 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study: Women in Cybersecurity – the largest for the information security sector – found women coming into the field with higher educational levels and more diverse backgrounds and skills.

“There’s a disparity between the education levels and representation within the workforce,” said Jason Reed, Lead Statistician for Digital Transformation at Frost and Sullivan, which conducted the research.

“Women tend to hold higher levels of education on the whole than men,” said Reed, “with 51 percent holding a Master’s degree or higher – meaning more than half” – compared to 45 percent of men.  Yet on average, they earn “$5,000 or so less than their male counterparts who are doing the same work.”

The gender deficit goes beyond cybersecurity. A new report from Microsoft – The Cloud Skills Report: Closing the Cloud Skills Chasm – found a similar gap in cloud skills in the UK, in particular, although the percentages for that field are probably lower in developing parts of the world as well.

According to the report, only 20 percent of UK women are working in that space. And a significant number of IT companies surveyed have no plans to change the gender makeup of their workforce. That is cause for concern for Glenn Woolaghan, Partner Business & Development Lead and Practice Development Unit Lead at Microsoft UK.

“A fifth of firms that employ between 250 and 999 staff have no female IT workers,” he said in an email. “And more than half of respondents said they have no policy or plans in place to address this issue [35 percent] or simply don’t know what actions are being put in place [23 percent].”

The bigger picture

The skills needed for the IT sector tend to come “from infrastructure that traditionally was dominated by men,” said Claire Marrero, President of the nonprofit ITWomen.The result is a “gap where girls to date have not had a lot of role models that are security engineers or cloud architects, for example.”

And there are other “subtle things” at play.

FILE - Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of "Matahara net," a support group calling for legislation outlining more support for working women in Japan, Kawasaki, south of Tokyo Sept.11, 2014. When Osakabe, 37, returned to work after a second miscarriage, one of the first questions her boss asked was whether she was having sex again.

FILE – Sayaka Osakabe, founder of “Matahara net,” a support group calling for legislation outlining more support for working women in Japan, is pictured at her home in Kawasaki, Sept.11, 2014. When Osakabe returned to work after a second miscarriage, one of the first questions her boss asked was whether she was having sex again. (Reuters)

The careers of women who drop out of the workforce to raise a family often take a hit. Once they return, they sometimes face workplace discrimination and lack of support. Marrero herself started her own business to find the right balance between her career and family needs.

If a  woman “doesn’t put her hand up to do the project that is going to see her working overseas for six months straight,” then “she’s not going to have the same experience as the guy who did go over there and do it,” she said. “So when it comes around to promotion time, it’s not that she’s not capable of doing it, it’s just she didn’t put her hand up.”

When women who take maternity leave rejoin the workforce, they are “often criticized for leaving work to raise a family,” said Iffat Gill, founder and CEO of ChunriChoupaal, an international nonprofit working to enable women leaders.

“Women encounter systemic discrimination or ‘motherhood penalty,’ she said in an email. “The problem is not that some women choose to leave work to raise a family. The problem is the unwelcoming environment they face when they return.”

That environment, she noted, is also a legacy of a time when men were the sole breadwinners. “Those practices were designed to fit those pre-determined roles,” but as more women join the workforce, the policies to accommodate them “remain slow to change.”

“To ensure diversity and inclusion, these practices need to change,” she stressed.

That also means changing mindsets that nudge girls toward traditional career roles such as nursing or teaching, said Marrero, and educating parents about the value of the technology arena and the wide range of skills it offers, from the creative to the technical. But sparking the interest of young girls in this pursuit has to be done when the time is right.

A recent Microsoft report – Why Europe’s girls aren’t studying STEM – found that European girls between the ages of 11 and 12 are interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) only until they are 15 and 16. After that, they lose interest.

“Governments, teachers and parents have a four or five-year window to get girls engaged and excited about careers in STEM and foster a lifelong love of these subjects; paramount to future successful businesses and a robust global economy,” Woolaghan said.

Both Microsoft and ITWomen have programs in place to teach young girls about technology careers. Reaching out to underserved communities, ITWomen introduces girls to women engineers and other role models, while Microsoft’s DigiGirlz program gives schoolgirls insights into the life-changing benefits of technology careers.

FILE - design engineering graduate Youma Fall shows pictures of baskets, the inspiration for an app to help women sell local products from her PayDunya office in Dakar, Senegal. Young women in this largely Muslim West African country are pushing cultural and gender boundaries to enter a booming mobile technology market traditionally led by men, Sept. 7, 2016. (AP)

FILE – Design engineering graduate Youma Fall shows pictures of baskets, the inspiration for an app to help women sell local products from her PayDunya office in Dakar, Senegal. Young women in this largely Muslim West African country are pushing cultural and gender boundaries to enter a booming mobile technology market traditionally led by men, Sept. 7, 2016. (AP)

Enter the Millennials

But the picture is beginning to change, at least in some sectors. A new generation of women under 30 is entering the information security profession with engineering degrees and computer science degrees “at unprecedented levels,” said Reed.

“So what you infer is that it’s highly probable that even the educational qualifications are starting to equalize just from generation to generation,” he said.

Reed hopes that employers will then recognize the change and begin to close the pay gap as well. But he still stresses the need for more inclusive workplaces that are more supportive of women.

Both studies agree a diverse workforce is critical as the cybersecurity industry struggles to fill as many as 1.8 million positions by 2022.

Pointing to a recent global study by McKinsey & Company, Woolaghan said narrowing the gender gap could add up as much as $12 trillion to the global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025, equivalent to 11 percent of the world’s GDP.

“But if we are to come even close to realizing such benefits,” he said, “businesses need to implement plans and policies to encourage more women into the technology industry.”

“If you are not hiring and engaging and retaining female talent,” added Reed, “you are essentially alienating 50 percent of the population.”

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 Eyes India Expansion; Facebook Goes After Fake News – Again

Posted April 6th, 2017 at 1:52 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A man watches a video on his mobile phone as he commutes by a suburban train in Mumbai, India, March 31, 2016. (Reuters)

FILE – A man watches a video on his mobile phone as he commutes by a suburban train in Mumbai, India, March 31, 2016. (Reuters)

Twitter Pushes Into Countries With Poor Connectivity

Twitter’s latest “Twitter Lite” mobile service, a faster, more data-efficient version of the microblogging service, will target parts of the world where connectivity is spotty in an effort to add new users. Twitter Lite will be rolled out globally, but is primarily aimed at India, Africa and parts of Latin America.

Facebook Puts Link to 10 Tips for Spotting ‘False News Atop Feed

Facebook continues to look for ways to combat fake news that show up every so often as trending stories. Its latest effort is a link at the top of users’ news feeds with tips to help them spot fake news before they share it. The various tips draw attention to odd characteristics in the URL, story formatting, dates, pictures, and other useful advice.

Australian Regulator Sues Apple for Millions Over iPhone Repair Policies

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is suing Apple for allegedly violating local consumer laws by killing iPhones not repaired at Apple stores. Error 53, according to Apple, was intended as a protection measure for users whose touch ID sensors had been used by third-party repair shops. But then Apple said this was a mistake and showed users ways to avoid it. Nevertheless, consumer advocates take issue with Apple for preventing repairs to its products by third-party vendors.

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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.

Window’s Data-collection Explained; Facebook Expands in Africa

Posted April 5th, 2017 at 11:53 am (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - Terry Myerson, Microsoft Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group speaks about Microsoft's Windows 10 "Creators Update" at a live Microsoft event in the Manhattan borough of New York City, Oct. 26, 2016. (Reuters)

FILE – Terry Myerson, Microsoft Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group speaks about Microsoft’s Windows 10 “Creators Update” at a live Microsoft event in the Manhattan borough of New York City, Oct. 26, 2016. (Reuters)

Microsoft Opens Up on Windows Data Collection

It’s no secret that Windows 10 has been collecting all sorts of “analytics” data and raising privacy concerns in the process in the absence of clarity. Microsoft has now provided more details about the sort of data its Windows 10 Creators Update will be collecting under its “basic” telemetry setting. The update is an effort to tackle the privacy outcry and is more straightforward about getting user consent for privacy settings.

Facebook Adds Wi-Fi Hotspots to Sustain African Growth

Facebook in Africa will roll out Wi-Fi hotspots in Nigeria and lay down fiber optic cables in Uganda in collaboration with international wireless carriers as part of a long-term investment push. Facebook now has around 170 million users in Africa and plans to court more.

Inside the Plan to Replace Trump’s Border Wall With a High-tech Ecotopia

A group of visionaries, architects and urban planners calling themselves the Made Collective are proposing an alternative to the wall the U.S. administrations has been calling for along the border with Mexico. The group has submitted a plan to both governments to create a new kind of high-tech state in that space called “Otra Nation.” Otra or “other” would be shared by both nations. It would have an independent government and non-voting representatives in the U.S. Congress and the Mexican legislature. And it would produce its own solar energy and be a haven for state-of-the-art technologies

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.

iOS Spyware Pegasus Returns for Android; Apple’s Mac Pro Faux-pas

Posted April 4th, 2017 at 12:43 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - People visit an Android stand at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. (Reuters)

FILE – People visit an Android stand at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. (Reuters)

State-backed Spyware Is Using Android Phones to Eavesdrop, Grab Data

A new incarnation of spyware previously used to snoop on activists on iPhones now targets Android smartphones. Lookout and Google researchers announced the original strain, also known as Pegasus, last year, when it was being used by a state to monitor Middle Eastern activists using iPhones. The Android version – Chrysaor – has targeted users in the Middle East, Europe and South America for keylogging, video and audio capture and app data.

Apple Admits the Mac Pro Was a Mess

For some reason, Apple just realized it had been neglecting its Mac Pro users. More importantly, Apple execs conceded the 2013 Mac Pro redesign was a mistake. They acknowledged they did not pay Mac Pro users enough attention, but announced minor fixes in the short-term. Meanwhile, a new model is in development.

Things were a lot different when Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web more than two decades ago. And he’s not too happy with recent changes affecting the privacy of internet users as he accepts the Turing Award for historic accomplishments in computer science. Lee told The Post people should unite in protest in support of privacy that they should not be forced to use workarounds to protect.

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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.

Congress Repeals Obama-era Data Collection Rules

Posted March 31st, 2017 at 2:37 pm (UTC-4)
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You may have read the news about how the House and Senate just sent a bill to the White House that repeals an Obama-era regulation that would have required internet service providers (ISP’s) to get your permission before collecting and sharing your data.

The rules never went into effect, even though the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved them back in December.

Internet Privacy Outrage

Despite that, the response has been robust, and overwhelmingly negative. Tom Wheeler the former head of the FCC wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times calling the repeal a “gift to the industry.”

But Republican supporters (the bill passed on a party line vote in the House and Senate) pointed out that other internet companies like Google, and Facebook collect and share information aren’t governed by the FCC, but by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

They said that two separate sets of regulations, run by two separate agencies on internet information, was confusing and duplicative.

On Tuesday Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said that “Having two privacy cops on the beat will create confusion within the internet ecosystem and will end up harming consumers.”

And they have a point, though the harm may not be to consumers, but to large internet providers like Verizon, according to internet privacy advocates at TechFreedom.

VOA spoke with Evan Swarztrauber who is group’s communications director. He said the FCC was put in charge of policing big IPS’s in 2010 when “the Open Internet Order, took effect, stripping the FTC of its authority to regulate broadband providers,” and switched that authority to the FCC.

FTC vs. FCC

In the years since the Order came on line the FCC has, according to Swarztrauber successfully “policed privacy on a case-by-case basis.” And they’ve done so with varying degrees of success.

The FTC has been doing this kind of thing far longer, and in fact won a huge 22.5 million dollar settlement from Google in 2012 from when the FTC claimed the search engine giant had violated the “privacy assurances” of users by placing so-called ‘cookies,’ bits of information that allow companies to send targeted ads on computers without users consent.

But the real problem with the new rules is the difference between “opt in” marketing, and “opt out” marketing.

Things got weird in December of 2016, that’s when the FCC approved a new, much more strict set of rules concerning ISP’s and how they collect information. Under these new rules, in order to collect and share information on what online users were doing, ISP’s would have had to get their permission. This is called an “opt-in”policy.

When it passed it was considered a big win for consumers, who given the choice will almost always want more internet privacy. Not less.

In contrast to the consumer-friendly “opt-in” policy, the FTC lets Google and companies like them, (ones that don’t actually provide broadband service) operate under an “opt-out” policy. That’s where information on consumers online habits is automatically collected unless they refuse to allow it.

Rightfully so, the ISP’s said this was unfair. Swarztraber agrees: “Requiring ISP’s,” he said, “to get consumers to opt in to data collection is stricter than the opt-out standard that governs edge services. This would have been an obvious competitive disadvantage for ISPs.”

Congressional Republicans agreed with the AT&T’s and the Verizon’s of the world, and that’s what they were trying to fix by repealing, on a party line vote, the strict Obama era rules, which it’s important to remember never went into effect.

So what’s the upshot of all this?

So now, according to the folks at TechFreedom: “Consumers will still be protected by the same privacy rules that have governed the online ecosystem for over two decades,” Swarztrauber said.

But instead of being protected by the restrictive opt-in policy, ISP’s will be clear to collect your data on the much looser opt-out policy.

The problem for consumers of course, is that the information that your ISP is able to collect is much more detailed than the info that Google can get on you. Also, Google for instance promises to not sell your data to anyone. Instead they use the information they collect to push ads your way you might be interested in.

The repeal of the FCC rules open the door to allow ISP’s to make use of all kinds of information they can get from you whenever you are browsing online, either via your phone or home broadband.

That’s a lot of information and can include your location, shopping history, and any businesses or people that you contact via the web.

Wheeler’s op-ed points out the problem in this way: “When you make a voice call on your smartphone, the information is protected: Your phone company can’t sell the fact that you are calling car dealerships to others who want to sell you a car. But if the same device and the same network are used to contact car dealers through the internet, that information — the same information, in fact — can be captured and sold by the network.”

One final note: the bill that is now on President Trump’s desk also prohibits the FCC from making any new regulations regarding internet privacy. Ant that means that regulation of the industry giant ISP’s will probably revert back to the FTC.

And while buying and selling information can be problematic, another big problem, according to Swarztrauber, is if your ISP is ever hacked. All that information about what you do online could fall into the wrong hands. Swarztrauber said that “would be clear harm to consumers.”

So, the bottom line is the bill is a net loss for consumers who are worried about their online privacy. And the companies that you pay to get you online, can now use all of your online history to get paid again.

India iPhone to Start Production Soon; a Chatbot for India Called ‘Ruuh’

Posted March 30th, 2017 at 11:58 am (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A hoto released by the Press Information Bureau of India, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) as he meets with Apple CEO Tim Cook, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, May 21, 2016. (AP)

FILE – A photo released by the Press Information Bureau of India, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) as he meets with Apple CEO Tim Cook, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, May 21, 2016. (AP)

‘Made in India’ Apple iPhones to Start Production in Bengaluru in April

Until recently, the Indian government was having some issues with the list of demands Apple wanted fulfilled before it starts manufacturing iPhones in India. But according to Indian officials, assembly will begin in April, in partnership with Taiwanese contract manufacturer Wistron Corporation.

Microsoft Releases English-speaking Chatbot for India

Yet another chatbot is born. Microsoft’s latest chatbot, Ruuh, is versed in Bollywood issues, humor, music, travel and internet browsing. For the moment, it will only be available in English. Please note that Redmond’s earlier chatbot efforts did not fare well, with Tay.ai. That particular bot was pulled quickly after internet trolls taught it racial slurs and hate speech. It remains to be seen if Ruuh will fare better.

Foreign Airline Will Offer Business Passengers Laptop Loans

How badly do you need to work on a laptop during your long-distance flight? A recent U.S. ban requires all laptops and gadgets bigger than a cell phone to be stashed in the luggage. To help  business travelers, Qatar Airways is now loaning laptops – for free – on flights to the U.S. A USB memory stick is offered with the laptops to allow users to save their files. Other airlines have come up with different solutions, allowing last-minute laptop use before boarding and providing free Wi-Fi to premium passengers.

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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.