Kids, Screens and Parental Guilt: Time to Relax a Bit?

Parents of small children have long been hearing about the perils of “screen time.” And with more screens, and new technologies such as Amazon’s Echo speaker, the message is getting louder.

And while plenty of parents are feeling guilty about it, some experts say it might be time to relax a little.

Go ahead and hand your kid a gadget now and then to cook dinner or get some work done. Not all kids can entertain themselves quietly, especially when they are young. Try that, and see how long it takes your toddler to start fishing a banana peel out of the overflowing trash can.

“I know I should limit my kid’s screen time a lot, but there is reality,” said Dorothy Jean Chang, who works for a tech company in New York and has a 2-year-old son. When she needs to work or finds her son awake too early, “it’s the best, easiest way to keep him occupied and quiet.”

Screen time, she says, “definitely happens more often than I like to admit.”

She’s not alone. Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group focused on kids’ use of media and technology, said in a report Thursday that kids ages 8 and younger average about 2 hours and 19 minutes with screens every day at home. That’s about the same as in 2011, though it’s up from an hour and a half in 2013, the last time the survey was conducted, when smartphones were not yet ubiquitous but TV watching was on the decline.

While the overall numbers have held steady in recent years, kids are shifting to mobile devices and other new technologies, just as their parents are. The survey found that kids spend an average of 48 minutes a day on mobile devices, up from 15 minutes in 2013. Kids are also getting exposed to voice-activated assistants, virtual reality and internet-connected toys, for which few guidelines exist because they are so new.

​Mixed message

Some parents and experts worry that screens are taking time away from exercise and learning. But studies are inconclusive. 

The economist Emily Oster said studies have found that kids who watch a lot of TV tend to be poorer, belong to minority groups and have parents with less education, all factors that contribute to higher levels of obesity and lower test scores. For that reason, it’s “difficult to draw strong conclusions about the effects of television from this research,” Oster wrote in 2015.

In fact, the Common Sense survey found that kids whose parents have higher incomes and education spend “substantially less time” with screens than other children. The gap was larger in 2017 than in previous years.

Rules relaxed

For more than a quarter century, the American Academy of Pediatrics held that kids under 2 should not be exposed to screens at all, and older kids should have strict limits. The rules have relaxed, such that video calls with grandma are OK, though “entertainment” television still isn’t. Even so, guidelines still feel out of touch for many parents who use screens of various sizes to preserve their sanity and get things done.

Jen Bjorem, a pediatric speech pathologist in Leawood, Kansas, said that while it’s “quite unrealistic” for many families to totally do away with screen time, balance is key.

“Screen time can be a relief for many parents during times of high stress or just needing a break,” she said.

Moderation

Bjorem recommends using “visual schedules” that toddlers can understand to set limits. Instead of words, these schedules have images — dinner, bed time, reading or TV time, for example. 

Another idea for toddlers? “Sensory bins,” or plastic tubs filled with beads, dry pasta and other stuff kids can play around with and, ideally, be just as absorbed as in mobile app or an episode of “Elmo.”

Of course, some kids will play with these carefully crafted, Pinterest-worthy bins for only a few minutes. Then they might start throwing beans and pasta all over your living room. So you clean up, put away the bins and turn on the TV.

In an interview, Oster said that while screen time “is probably not as good for your kid as high-quality engagement” with parents, such engagement is probably not something we can give our kids all the time anyway.

“Sometimes you just need them to watch a little bit of TV because you have to do something, or you need (it) to be a better parent,” Oster said.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/screen-time-kids-parental-guilt/4080294.html

Wearable Air Filter Combats Pollution

Environmental pollution, from filthy air to contaminated water, kills at least 9 million people a year, according to a new study published by the medical journal The Lancet. Two entrepreneurs from Georgia have invented a wearable filter they say can produce clean, fresh air. Faith Lapidus reports.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/wearable-air-filter-combats-pollution/4080219.html

G-7 Backs Internet Industry Effort to Detect, Blunt Extremism

The Group of Seven industrialized nations threw their support behind a new technology industry alliance aimed at detecting and blunting online propaganda, saying Friday it had a “major role” to play in combating extremism on the internet.

G-7 interior ministers meeting in Italy invited representatives from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter to a session Friday dedicated to the fight against terrorism. In a final communique, the ministers pressed the industry as a whole to do more.

“Internet companies will continue to take a proactive role and ensure decisive action in making their platforms more hostile to terrorism, and will support actions aimed at empowering civil society partners in the development of alternative narratives online,” the statement said.

Social media companies have long seen themselves as neutral platforms for other people to share information, and have traditionally been cautious about taking down objectionable material. But as social media platforms have increasingly been used to recruit jihadis, radicalize young people, share fake news and incite extremism, they have come under pressure from governments to take action.

Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube in June created the Global Internet Forum to Combat Terrorism, which got an early boost when British Prime Minister Theresa May used a speech to the U.N. General Assembly to applaud the initiative and demand internet companies develop technology to more quickly identify and remove terrorist content.

The alliance says it is committed to developing new content detection technology, to helping smaller companies combat extremism and to promoting “counter-speech,” content meant to blunt the impact of extremist material.

The G-7 endorsed the aims and pledged to work collaboratively across the industry to counter the “misuse of technology” by terrorist organizations.

Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said “a great alliance” had been formed between world governments and major internet providers. While stressing the internet has been an important tool for promoting freedom, “at the same time we all together have agreed that al-Qaida and Islamic State are enemies of our freedoms.”

Several ministers said that while the industry had made progress to quickly remove extremist content, more needed to be done, and faster.

“Our enemies are moving at the speed of a tweet, so we have to counter them just as quickly,” said acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/group-of-seven-internet-industry-detect-blunt-extremism/4079722.html

Snapchat Tops Facebook as Teens’ No. 1 Choice for Social Media

American teens have crowned a new king of social media. According to a recent poll, Snapchat is the most popular app for teens, toppling even Facebook for their neck-bending attention. Arash Arabasadi reports from Washington.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/snapchat-tops-facebook-teens-no-1-choce-for-social-media/4078218.html

Mini Aquatic Robot Dives Into Nuclear Disaster Areas

An aquatic robot, small and nimble enough to fit inside the smallest of openings, is being tested in Japan ahead of being deployed into the damaged core of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Faith Lapidus reports.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/mini-aquatic-robot-dives-into-nuclear-disaster-areas/4078215.html

At G-7, Social Media Firms Pushed to Do More to Fight Terror

Technology firms have improved cooperation with the authorities in tackling online militant material but must act quicker to remove propaganda fueling a rise in homegrown extremism, acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said Wednesday.

The United States and Britain will push social media firms at a meeting of G7 interior ministers this week to do more on the issue, Duke told reporters in London where she had been meeting British Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

Duke said there has been a change in the attitude of tech companies since a rally organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August turned deadly when a counter-protester was killed by a car driven into a crowd.

“There has been a shift and for us somewhat with the Charlottesville incident,” she said. “There are a lot of social pressures and they want do business so they really have to balance between keeping their user agreements and giving law enforcement what they need.

“The fact they are meeting with us at G7 is a positive sign. I think they’re seeing the evidence of it being real and not just hyperbole.”

Series of attacks

After a series of Islamist militant attacks this year, British Prime Minister Theresa May and her ministers such as Rudd have been demanding action from tech leaders such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to do more about extremist material on their sites.

British politicians have also called for access to encrypted messaging services like Facebook’s WhatsApp, a campaign that U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave his backing to after meeting Rudd and the head of the UK domestic spy agency MI5 last week.

Internet companies say they want to help governments remove extremist or criminal material but say they have to balance the demands of state security with civil liberties.

“We would like to have the ability to get encrypted data with the right legal processes,” Duke said.

Propaganda’s role

Asked what action governments might take if social media firms failed to act to improve their removal of extremist material, she said: “We will continue to push as far as we can go. I think that we have the cooperation of those companies and we just need to work on that.”

Authorities say propaganda from Islamic State has played a major part in radicalizing people in the West but despite its defeat in its capital Raqqa in Syria, Duke said the group’s online presence was likely to increase.

“I would surmise being able to put terrorist propaganda on the internet might become more imperative,” said Duke, who described the terrorist threat to the United States as being as high as it had been since pre-9/11.

She also warned that those who turned to violence by being radicalized by such material posed a bigger problem than the comparatively small number of fighters who had joined the militant group returning to United States.

“The number of foreign fighters we have returning is declining,” she said. “The number of home-grown violent extremists, most of them inspired by terrorist organizations, is increasing.”

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/g-7-social-media-fight-terror/4078789.html

Women Share Harassment Stories With #MeToo

Two weeks ago Carla Rountree of Washington, D.C., was enjoying an autumn afternoon with friends at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, gaily dressed in a tutu with a goofy unicorn horn tied to her head. While ordering a drink at a beverage stall, a man standing next to her said, “You know, I could grab that horn like you’re an ice cream cone, flip you over, and just lick you.”

She retorted, “I don’t think you’d like the results of that.” He smirked and replied, “YOU might.”

“No one within earshot, including the female bartender, said anything about it,” Rountree says. “It was just accepted, which infuriated me just as much as the god-awful comment.”

That incident occurred as women all over the United States are tweeting and posting #MeToo, sharing their experiences with sexual harassment.

The movement followed the fall from grace of movie producer Harvey Weinstein, the latest rich, famous and powerful man to be brought down by a series of allegations of sexual harassment dating as far back as 30 years and involving more than 20 women. Weinstein’s attorneys say he did not participate in any nonconsensual sex.

If the number of women harassed by Weinstein looks dramatic, the number who have spoken up via #MeToo to reveal their own sexual harassment experiences is more startling.

On Oct. 15, actress Alyssa Milano called for sexual harassment victims to post or tweet the two-word phrase. By the next day, Time magazine reported, more than 27,000 people had responded. By mid-week, women from around the globe were tweeting their stories.

By the numbers

Meanwhile, a poll released Tuesday by ABC/The Washington Post, indicated 54 percent of female respondents said they have been the victim of sexual assault.

A third of female respondents said they have experienced sexual advances from a male coworker or a man who had influence over their career. Fifty-eight percent of the women who said they had been harassed on the job said they didn’t report it. And 94 percent of women who were harassed at work believe men usually don’t face consequences for those actions.

An all-too-common thread among #MeToo stories: When the behavior was reported, no one did anything.

Kellie Dickson Johnson of Chattanooga, Tennessee, says she was frustrated by just such an experience while working at a restaurant. A patron pursued her relentlessly with flowers, poems and invitations to go out. She began to dread going to work.

“When I finally told the managers, their response was that it was ‘cute’ and ‘sweet.’ They absolutely did not see the problem. The next week, they were down one employee.” In other words, she quit.

In The Washington Post poll, 64 percent of women who had been harassed said they felt intimidated, 52 percent said they felt humiliated, 31 percent said they felt ashamed.

Many of the stories happened when the victims were children.

Deirdre Launt says she was 14 and working at a hometown grocery store in Portage, Michigan, when it happened to her.

“It was my first job,” she says in an email. “There were two guys a bit older than me who worked there, too … They used to poke me really hard, all over, and laugh and be like, ‘What are you gonna do, go tell?”‘  

When she reported the incident, Launt says, “I got something like a ‘boys will be boys’ brush off and nothing was done. They didn’t see the guy’s behavior as a problem, they saw me as a problem.” Launt quit the job and 29 years later, she rarely enters the store.

Many women have wondered if their experience counts as sexual harassment if it wasn’t considered too bad, if they didn’t feel psychological damage, or if they were drinking or dressed provocatively when it happened.

Biggest question

But the biggest question is this: What do we do about it?

Cheryl Colbert of Arlington, Virginia, recalls an incident in the early 1990s when a man accosted her in the courtyard of her apartment building. She is now raising a teenage son and daughter, and says she feels guilty the rules she sets for her daughter are different than those she sets for her son, such as coming straight home after a practice at school so she won’t be walking alone at night.

Colbert says she takes heart that men and women are responding to #MeToo with support.  

“While my story isn’t public, those that need to know are aware. But speaking up wasn’t easy so please listen, acknowledge & accept.,” actor Alex Winter tweeted this week.

The hashtag #HowIWillChange has also cropped up, posted by men who detail what they will do differently in future to help protect women. Some of the methods mentioned are teaching children respect, proactively learning about women’s issues, and calling out predatory behavior.

“Men, keep in mind women don’t owe us their stories for us to become advocates for them in public/private spaces,” Phillip Lewis wrote.

Other men and women are tweeting #WithYou.

“I’m raising my son to treat all women with respect and compassion. I am speaking out against misogyny. I am listening,” U.S. military veteran Dave Harrell said.

Colbert has a pretty straightforward plan, which she describes in an email.  “The only thing I feel we can do is each one do the right thing. And say something when it happens. SAY SOMETHING WHEN IT HAPPENS.”

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/women-share-harassment-stories-with-hashtag-me-too/4078070.html

US Senators Seek to Block Foreign Online Ads Targeting American Voters

With U.S. midterm elections barely a year away, lawmakers on Thursday unveiled a bipartisan proposal to regulate online political advertising in the United States, an effort prompted by revelations that Russian elements spent large sums on internet ads targeting Americans ahead of the 2016 U.S. election.

“Our entire democracy was founded on the simple idea that the people in our country should be self-governing,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal elections, at a news conference.

“Our democracy is at risk,” Klobuchar added. “We recently learned that $100,000 was spent in [Russian] rubles on Facebook political ads during the 2016 election. We know that [Russian-funded] ads were purchased in other venues, as well.”

To prevent a repeat, Klobuchar, along with Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, unveiled the Honest Ads Act, which would require Facebook, Twitter, Google and other technology giants to post information about the source of political ads, just as U.S. television and radio broadcasters are required to do.

The bill has the backing of Republican John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Unfortunately, U.S. laws regulating transparency in political campaigns have not kept pace with rapid advances in technology, allowing our adversaries to take advantage of these loopholes to influence millions of American voters with impunity,” McCain said in a statement.

The bill also would require tech companies to make “reasonable efforts” to ensure that foreign entities are not using social media platforms for political purposes. Earlier this year, Facebook shut down a multitude of suspicious accounts that targeted elections in France.

Since its creation, the internet has been more free-wheeling and less regulated than other media forms, a feature that technology firms and others have argued is critical to its success.

Warner, a former cellphone executive, insisted he has no desire to alter cyberspace’s fundamental nature.

“We don’t want to slow down innovation in the internet,” the Virginia senator said. “But I think Americans deserve to know if the ads they are seeing are generated by Americans or generated by foreign interests.”

Executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter will have a chance to weigh in on the legislation when they testify in an open hearing the Senate Intelligence Committee has scheduled for next month.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/us-senators-proposal-block-foreign-online-ads-american-voters/4078166.html

Experimental Virtual and Mixed Reality Technologies Can be Applied to Military of the Future

In military training, the body and mind are often pushed to the limit. In some cases, it could prove to be deadly. 

“We are killing more Marines and soldiers in training than in combat. Why does that happen? A lot of times it is fatigue,” Lt. Col. Warren Cook of the U.S. Marine Corps said.

Cook spoke on a panel of military personnel at the University of Southern California’s Global Body Computing Conference in Los Angeles. Commanding officers and scientists discussed the benefits of using technologies such as wearable sensors to help recruits be more aware of their body’s limits so they can train better and safer. 

 

WATCH: Experimental Virtual and Mixed Reality Technologies Can be Applied to Military of the Future

“We are still in test-and-evaluation mode, so we have been testing … most of what we have been testing are commercial products. We do have a suite of sensors that we have integrated into a system for physiological status monitoring to include the Zephyr heart monitor and a variety of other fundamental measures, but we have tested Fitbits,” said chief scientist Charlene Mello with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.

“How can we, through science and technology, generate lethality for the young Marine and sailor in a more efficient manner,” Cook asked.

VR, augmented and mixed reality

Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality projects are being developed that can have military applications. One mixed reality project at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies (USC ICT) involves drones small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. The drones can follow and capture a person’s movements so they can be analyzed under a training simulation. 

“When you combine performance capture that is autonomously driven with a lot of this biodata, it is going to change the way that athletes train. It is going to change the way that the military trains and operates, and it is going to change the way that we interact with the world,” said Todd Richmond, director of Advanced Prototype Development at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies.

Another project at USC ICT is a virtual and augmented reality application called Monticello, where the user can interact with a virtual expert.

“If you are in a hostile environment and you have been trained to spot dangerous areas versus safe areas, you could use this augmented reality to perhaps take a picture of a corridor or an area that you are currently occupying, and a virtual expert could mark on the application dangerous areas vs. safe areas where you could place yourself,” Adam Reilly, USC ICT’s research programmer said.

Another USC ICT project is called Bystander, a virtual reality prototype that helps people prevent sexual harassment and assault.

“The military is very interested in this area of research because they have programs already to try and mitigate sexual assaults, sexual harassment. It’s a big problem in the military,” said David Nelson, project manager of USC’s Mixed Reality Lab and creative director of the Mixed Reality Studio.

Nelson said taking an online course on mitigating sexual harassment and assault is different than a fully immersive experience where the student user can see something happening and try to physically stop it.

“We believe that’s a really different experience if you immerse somebody in a situation because you can read a story and say, ‘Well, this is how I would react or this is how I would act in that circumstance’ but until you’re actually in it, you really don’t know how you would behave. So the goal of this project was to really try and foster more active bystander participation,” Nelson said.

Commanding officers and scientists at the University of Southern California’s Global Body Computing Conference agreed that technology can be useful in keeping servicemen and women mentally and physically healthy, which can translate to better performance in combat.

“If you’re trained well, you will behave well in combat,” Col. Jeffrey Holt of the U.S. Marine Corps said. 

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/new-technology-may-help-us-military-better-prepare-for-combat/4077159.html

Teens Overwhelmingly Prefer Snapchat to Facebook, Study Finds

Teenagers are turning away from traditional social media like Facebook and increasingly turning to Snapchat to communicate with their friends, according to a new study released Wednesday.

According to Piper Jaffray’s semi-annual “Taking Stock with Teens” research survey, 47 percent of teenagers said Snapchat is their favorite social media platform, compared with just nine percent who said Facebook was their favorite.

The results show a sharp spike in the number of teens who said Snapchat is their favorite platform, up from 24 percent when the survey was given in the spring of last year.

In addition to Snapchat and Facebook, 24 percent of teens said they preferred Instagram – virtually unchanged from 2016 – and seven percent said they prefer Twitter, down from 15 percent last year.

For the report, Piper Jaffray interviewed 6,100 teens in 44 states, with an average age of 16.

While Snapchat is the most popular social medium used by teens, it is also the most harmful for them, according to a study released earlier this year by the British Royal Society for Public Health.

The study, which ranked the psychological impact of various social media on teenagers, showed Snapchat, along with Instagram, to cause the largest number of “health and well-being” issues among those surveyed.

Those issues include anxiety, depression, quality of sleep, body image, loneliness and real-world friendships and connections.

Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of the RSPH, said at the time Snapchat and Instagram likely cause the most mental health issues among teens because “both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”

To combat the negative influence of social media, the researchers recommend adding pop ups that warn users of heavy usage, which was supported by 71 percent of the people surveyed.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/teens-overwhelmingly-prefer-snapchat-to-facebook-/4075878.html

Monitoring Pollution in Cities from Space

The European Space Agency ESA has launched a new satellite that will collect data useful to ordinary people everywhere on earth. For at least seven years, the Sentinel 5 Precursor will monitor air pollution caused by both man-made and natural activities, alerting people about the concentration of pollutants that may affect their health. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/4075458.html

Twitter Vows New Crackdown on Hateful, Abusive Tweets

Twitter vowed to crack down further on hate speech and sexual harassment, days after CEO Jack Dorsey said in a tweet-storm that the company was “still” not doing enough to protect its users.

The policy changes were specifically aimed at protecting women who unknowingly or unwillingly had nude pictures of themselves distributed online or were subject to unwanted sexual advances. They would also aim to shield groups subject to hateful imagery, symbols and threats of violence.

In an email Twitter shared with The Associated Press Tuesday, Twitter’s head of safety policy outlined the new guidelines to the company’s Trust and Safety Council, a group of outside organizations that advises the company on its policies against abuse.

The company said it would enact the changes in the weeks ahead. News of the policy changes was first reported by Wired.

Among the changes, Twitter said it would immediately and permanently suspend any account it identifies as being the original poster of “non-consensual nudity,” including so-called “creep shots” of a sexual nature taken surreptitiously. Previously, the company treated the original poster of the content the same as those who re-tweeted it, and it resulted only in a temporary suspension.

It said it would also develop a system allowing bystanders to report unwanted exchanges of sexually charged content, whereas in the past it relied on one of the parties involved in the conversation to come forward before taking action.

Twitter also said it would take new action on hate symbols and imagery and “take enforcement action against organizations that use/have historically used violence as a means to advance their cause,” though it said more details were to come.

While it already takes action against direct threats of violence, the company said it would also act against tweets that glorify or condone violence.

On Friday, Dorsey foreshadowed the coming policy changes in a series of tweets, saying the company’s efforts over the last two years were inadequate.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/twitter-to-crackdown-on-hateful-tweets/4075465.html

Telegram CEO’s Court Appeal Tests Russia Eavesdropping Laws, Technical Acumen

Telegram founder Pavel Durov has announced plans to appeal a Moscow court’s decision Monday to fine the encrypted messaging service some $14,000 (800 thousand rubles) for failing to provide law enforcement agencies with user information and access to private correspondences.

Providing security services with encryption keys to read users’ messaging data violates Russia’s constitution, he said in a post on Vkontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook, which he co-founded in 2007.

“Everyone has the right to privacy of correspondence, telephone conversations, postal, telegraphic and other communications,” Durov said, quoting constitutional excerpts.

Russian special services need decryption keys to “expand their influence at the expense of the constitutional right of citizens,” he said, building on similar comments Durov made in September, when he announced that FSB officials had requested backdoor access to Telegram.

Russian security officials have said encryption codes are vital to protecting citizens against terror attacks such as those earlier this year in St. Petersburg, in which perpetrators, Kremlin officials says, communicated via Telegram.

According to Pavel Chikov, a prominent Russian human rights lawyer, the FSB state security organization (formerly KGB) is trying to gain technical access by announcing ultimatums and making threats. While fines levied aren’t too burdensome for a company of Telegram’s size, they do indicate an FSB willingness to block Telegram from continuing to operate in the country.

Third-party hackers

The situation, Chikov said, is similar to legal proceedings that resulted from FBI requests for encryption access to Apple iPhones — a request that ultimately was dropped, leaving federal investigators to rely on third-party hackers.

Secrecy, anonymity and “the ability to communicate in such a way that representatives of the state do not hear these conversations,” should also be respected in Russia, Chikov told VOA Russian.

“Generally speaking, if we are talking on [a conventional] telephone, the conversation is protected by constitutional guarantees,” Chikov said. However, Russian police and various state security agencies can obtain court-ordered warrants to tap the phone of specific individuals suspected of a plotting criminal activities — and they have the technical acumen required to do it.

Although privacy laws are generally the same for peer-to-peer text-messaging devices, Russian security agencies lack the technical sophistication to hack Telegram’s encrypted conversations.

Durov ‘most likely right’

Professor Ilya Shablinsky, a constitutional law expert with Moscow’s National Research University, says Durov is “most likely right” that FSB demands represent a constitutional violation, as allowing FSB access to Telegram would allow for users’ correspondence to be read.

“When that constitutional norm was drafted, correspondence was typically drafted on paper,” he said.

“And the Russian Constitution’s authors never envisaged a technological variant [such as Telegram]. In this case, we do not know exactly what kind of information the FSB requested, and what it means for Telegram to provide that information.”

According to Shablinsky, although a Russian court can demand access to correspondences of a specific individual who is suspected of committing a crime, it is not known whether the provision covers access to the decryption devices for an entire network of users.

The free instant-messaging app, which lets people exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people, has attracted about 100 million users since its launch in 2013.

Telegram threatened

In June, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s state communications watchdog, threatened to ban Telegram for failing to provide user registration documents, which were requested as part of a push to increase surveillance of internet activities.

Although Telegram later registered, it stopped short of agreeing to Roskomnadzor’s data storage demands. Companies on the register must provide the FSB with information on user interactions; starting from 2018, they also must store all of the data of Russian users inside the country, according to controversial anti-terror legislation passed last year, which was decried by internet companies and the opposition.

Telegram has 10 days to appeal Monday’s decision.

‘No planned block’

Asked about a potential block of the service, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday said, “As far as I know … there is no discussion of a block at this time.”

But observers like Chikov say the risk is quite high.

“It is not necessarily going to happen right after the decision on the penalty comes into effect, as I believe that the authorities will still take a pause and try to negotiate with the company’s management,” he said. “However, with its refusal to provide access to correspondence, Telegram entered into direct conflict with the interests of the special services. Consequently, the political weight of people who decide to block is significantly higher than that of the same Roskomnadzor.”

Telegram, one-tenth the size of Facebook-owned rival WhatsApp, has caught on in many corners of the globe, including for a while with Islamic State as an ultra-secure way to quickly upload and share videos, texts and voice messages.

Durov, who has been described as “the Russian Mark Zuckerberg,” spent years fending off intrusions into his users’ communications, forging an uncompromising stance on privacy after founding VKontakte, only to lose control of that social media company for refusing Russian government demands to block dissidents.

Since leaving Russia in 2014 to set up Telegram in self-exile, Durov and his core team of 15 developers have become perpetual migrants, living only a few months at a time in any one location, starting in Berlin, then London, Silicon Valley, Finland, Spain and elsewhere. The company is incorporated in multiple jurisdictions, including Britain.

This story originated in VOA’s Russian Service. Some information for this report provided by AFP.

 

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/court-appeal-by-telegram-ceo-will-test-russia-eavesdropping-laws/4075001.html

Google’s Pixel 2: A Phone Built for Artificial Intelligence

What’s most fascinating about Google’s new Pixel 2 phone is what’s to come.

The phone sets itself apart with promises to bake in Google’s powerful artificial-intelligence technology for quick and easy access to useful, even essential information. But much of the neat stuff will come later. The phone coming out Thursday is more of a teaser.

To be sure, the Pixel 2 is a solid phone. It’s not as elegantly designed as an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy phone. But it delivers a strong tie-in to Google’s services, including those intended to fetch what you need automatically.

Visual search engine

The Pixel 2 comes with Google Lens, a way of searching Google just by pointing your camera at a landmark, object or storefront. This can give you quick access to reviews and store hours. It might help identify that mysterious building you walk by every day. Google Lens will also pull out web addresses and phone numbers from signs so you can browse or call with just at tap.

The feature correctly identified paintings of obscure figures in American history at a museum in New York, and it knew which Starbucks I was standing in front of, out of several in the neighborhood. But it’s not foolproof: The iconic United Nations building came across as a generic tower.

I found Google Lens slightly more reliable than a similar Samsung feature, Bixby Vision. Bixby tended to miss on identifying businesses; a Chinatown bakery serving pork buns was thought to be a CrossFit gym — quite the opposite. On the other hand, Bixby identified a plaque dedicated to a Titanic victim, while Google just said, “Hmm.”

It’s a good start, but both still have work to do. And for now, Google Lens requires you to take a photo first. Seamless, instant analysis is “coming soon.” All you’ll have to do is squeeze the bottom of the phone for the Google Assistant to pop up.

Last year’s Pixel phone will also get Google Lens, though without the squeezing capability. Eventually, other Android phones and iPhones should get it, too, but Google isn’t saying when.

Better camera

Last year’s Pixel had a great camera, but it fell short in some shots because software processing made colors look too strong and clean at times. With the Pixel 2, colors look good without looking fake.

The Pixel 2 also introduces a “portrait” mode, which blurs out backgrounds to focus attention on the subjects. Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 manage this effect via a second camera lens to sense depth. Google does it all with software, so the regular-size model gets the capability as well, not just the larger XL.

Google says the feature works best with people and small objects. I got it to work for flowers and selfies (yes, it works with the front camera, too, something limited elsewhere to Apple’s upcoming iPhone X). But I couldn’t blur out tourists ambling behind statues; Apple and Samsung phones managed that with the depth lens. Not to mention that second lens offers a 2x zoom without a reduction in quality.

More smarts

When locked, the phone continually listens for songs and automatically identifies the name and artist. There have been times songs ended before I could pull up SoundHound to do this. Google says all this is done on the phone itself, so it’s not sending your music tastes to its servers. Google says the battery drain should be minimal.

Next month, $159 wireless headphones called Pixel Buds will offer real-time audio translation, so two people can communicate using different languages, while hearing instant translations in a native tongue. A separate Google Translate app offers this now, but having the feature built into Pixel should make it easier to use.

And speaking of translations, I’m hoping Google Lens will one day translate signs instantly when traveling. A camera feature in the Translate app isn’t as automatic as Lens tends to be. Google says more capabilities are coming to Lens, but it didn’t provide details.

Patience, please

The fact that the Pixel is unfinished shouldn’t deter would-be buyers. This is common these days, as more power comes through software updates rather than hardware. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 phones shipped this spring without its much-touted Bixby assistant ready.

What you get in the $650 Pixel 2 is a great workhorse. For elegance, you need the $700 iPhone 8 or the $750 Galaxy S8. The larger Pixel 2 XL starts at $850, more than the iPhone 8 Plus and the S8 Plus. Apple and Samsung include headphones; Google doesn’t. But the Pixel 2 comes with a USB-C adapter so you can plug in ordinary headphones; like the latest iPhones, the Pixel 2 has eliminated the standard headphone jack.

Verizon is again the only U.S. carrier to offer the latest Pixel, although you can buy models that will work with other carriers — and Google’s own Project Fi service — at Google’s online store. The phone is also coming to the U.K., Canada, India, Australia, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/googles-pixel-2-phone-built-artificial-intelligence/4074359.html

Study: Self-driving Cars Could Ease Traffic, but Increase Sprawl

A new study inspired by Boston’s early experiments with self-driving cars finds that the technology could ease congestion, but might also lead to more cars on the road and further encourage urban sprawl.

The report, released Tuesday by the Boston Consulting Group and the World Economic Forum, is a mostly optimistic take on how autonomous vehicles could change cities.

Three companies are now testing self-driving cars in Boston’s Seaport District. One of them, NuTonomy, has also partnered with ride-hailing service Lyft to research how passengers book and route a self-driving car.

The consulting group’s study included a computer simulation of how downtown Boston traffic would change with the advent of self-driving taxis, buses or private cars. It would likely add vehicles to roads while simultaneously reducing traffic time and cutting pollution because of smoother driving patterns, such as steadier speeds and more gradual braking. At the same time, the efficiency and convenience of autonomous technology could encourage more people to live in the suburbs.

“Urban sprawl is definitely one of the biggest challenges,” said Nikolaus Lang, a co-author of the study. “If people don’t really see commutes as a painful exercise, they might tend to live further away.”

The research adds to another study published this month by researchers at the University of California, Davis, who found users of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are less likely to use public transit. The Davis study — which looked at Boston and six other metropolitan regions — says that the trend away from public transit could have broader implications once autonomous vehicle technology becomes commercially viable and a feature of ride-hailing apps.

All of this raises questions for city planners, said Nigel Jacob, co-chair of Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, which has partnered with the consulting group and autonomous car developers as part of a long-term plan to improve to transportation safety and equity.

“All these companies are going to make money off the public infrastructure without actually paying back into it,” Jacob said.

In the meantime, Jacob said the city is working to help companies as they try to understand the future market for self-driving vehicles, as well as the technical challenges of navigating the city’s “old, bizarre roadway system that’s constantly subject to freezing and thawing.”

“If you can pass the Boston test, you can drive anywhere,” Jacob said. “That’s basically been the idea.”

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/study-self-driving-cars-could-ease-traffic-increase-sprawl/4074401.html

Microsoft Rolls Out New Windows 10 Update, Laptops

Microsoft has begun rolling out an update to its Windows 10 operating system, hoping to spark enthusiasm for its virtual- and augmented-reality ambitions.

 

The Windows 10 update became available Tuesday.

 

Several of Microsoft’s partners — Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo — are simultaneously launching their first “Windows Mixed Reality” headsets Tuesday. Samsung is also releasing one early next month.

 

Microsoft is also announcing a new generation of laptops in its Surface line. Two versions of the new Surface Book 2 — one 13.5 inches and the other 15 inches — will go on sale next month.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/microsoft-rolls-out-new-windows-10-update-and-laptop/4073788.html

A New Generation of Weather Tech on Display in Amsterdam

What’s it like outside? In this era of extreme weather events, it’s more than an idle question, because an accurate answer can save lives. A new generation of weather technology is ready to be deployed to provide those answers. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/4073534.html

Cybersecurity Firm: North Korea Likely Behind Taiwan SWIFT Cyber Heist

Cybersecurity firm BAE Systems Plc said on Monday it believes the North Korean Lazarus hacking group is likely responsible for a recent cyber heist in Taiwan, the latest in a string of hacks targeting the global SWIFT messaging system.

“The likely culprit is Lazarus,” BAE cyber-intelligence chief Adrian Nish told Reuters by telephone.

The British firm has previously linked Lazarus to last year’s $81 million cyber heist at Bangladesh’s central bank, as have other cyber firms including Russia’s Kaspersky Lab and California-based Symantec Corp.

BAE’s claim that Lazarus is likely responsible for the hack on Taiwan’s Far Eastern International Bank demonstrates that North Korea continues to seek to generate cash through hacking.

Nish said he expects the group to continue to target banks.

“They are not just going to go away. They’ve built the tools. They are going to keep going back,” he said.

Still, he noted that the group appears to have had difficulty in pulling funds out of the banking system, after the massive Bangladesh heist, which prompted SWIFT and banks to boost security controls.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported last week that while hackers sought to steal some $60 million from Far Eastern Bank, all but $500,000 had been recovered by the bank.

BAE previously disclosed that Lazarus attempted to steal money from banks in Mexico and Poland, though there is no evidence the effort succeeded.

A security executive with SWIFT, a Belgium-based co-operative owned by banks, last week told Reuters that hackers have continued to target the message system this year, though many attempts have been thwarted by the new security controls.

SWIFT declined comment on the findings, which BAE detailed in a report on its website.

The report provides technical details on malware samples that BAE believes were likely used to target the Taiwan bank.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/north-korea-lazarus-behind-taiwan-swift-cyber-heist/4073435.html

US Top Court to Intervene in Government’s Email Dispute With Microsoft

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear an appeal from the Justice Department on whether U.S. investigators can obtain emails stored overseas if they have a search warrant.

Since 2013, Microsoft has defied U.S. authorities in turning over emails that were stored on a data center in Ireland. While the investigators had a search warrant to obtain private records – in this case, emails – regarding a drug-trafficking case, Microsoft argued the warrant was valid under U. S. law but did not apply to other countries.

Microsoft’s lawyers maintained that the Stored Communications Act of 1986, the federal law that regulates electronic records, does not extend beyond the United States. Under the same logic, the tech company argued foreign governments could cause Microsoft to turn over data stored on U.S. servers.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court in New York overruled the Justice Department in favor of Microsoft. The Microsoft-Ireland decision, as it has come to be known, set a precedent for tech companies on U.S. soil. Essentially, tech companies can withhold digital evidence of crimes in the United States if the data is on a foreign server.

“Hundreds, if not thousands, of investigations of crimes – ranging from terrorism to child pornography to fraud – are being or will be hampered by the government’s inability to obtain electronic evidence,” Jeffrey Wall, Deputy Attorney General, said in the appeal, which was made in June. “The decision protects only criminals whose communications are placed out of reach of law enforcement officials because of the business decisions of private providers.”

The Supreme Court will hear the case early next year. Unlike most cases regarding privacy, the case does not hinge on Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, but the Stored Communications Act of 1986 on electronic records and privacy.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/justices-hear-governments-email-dispute-microsoft/4072225.html

Justices to Hear Government’s Email Dispute With Microsoft

The Supreme Court is intervening in a digital-age privacy dispute between the Trump administration and Microsoft over emails stored abroad.

The justices say Monday they will hear the administration’s appeal of a lower court ruling in favor of Microsoft. The court held the emails sought in a drug trafficking investigation were beyond the reach of a search warrant because they were kept on a Microsoft server in Ireland.

The case is among several legal clashes that Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft and other technology companies have had with the government over questions of digital privacy and authorities’ need for information to combat crime and extremism.

Privacy law experts say the companies have been more willing to push back against the government since the leak of classified information detailing America’s surveillance programs.

The case also highlights the difficulty that judges face in trying to square decades-old laws with new technological developments.

In 2013, federal investigators obtained a warrant under a 1986 law for emails from an account they believe was being used in illegal drug transactions as well as identifying information about the user of the email account.

Microsoft turned over the information, but went to court to defend its decision not to hand over the emails from Ireland.

The federal appeals court in New York agreed with the company. The administration said in its Supreme Court appeal said the decision is damaging “hundreds if not thousands of investigations of crimes — ranging from terrorism, to child pornography, to fraud.”

Wherever the emails reside, Microsoft can retrieve them “domestically with the click of a computer mouse,” Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Wall told the court.

Microsoft had urged the court to stay out of the case and instead allow Congress to make needed changes to bring the 1986 Stored Communications Act up to date. Bipartisan bills have been introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Microsoft said the high court’s intervention would “short-circuit” the congressional effort.

Privacy scholars also have worried that the court may have trouble resolving difficult issues in a nuanced way.

Data companies have built servers around the world to keep up with customers’ demands for speed and access. Among the issues the court may confront is whether the same rules apply to the emails of an American citizen and a foreigner. Another is whether it matters where the person is living.

The Stored Communications Act became law long before the advent of cloud computing. Judge Gerard Lynch, on the New York panel that sided with Microsoft, called for “congressional action to revise a badly outdated statute.”

The case, U.S. v. Microsoft, 17-2, will be argued early next year.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/justices-hear-governments-email-dispute-microsoft/4072225.html