Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Amazon Is Warned About Government Use of Facial Recognition

U.S. civil liberties groups on Tuesday called on Amazon.com Inc. to stop offering facial recognition services to governments, warning that the software

could be used to target immigrants and people of color unfairly.

More than 40 groups sent a letter to Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos saying technology from the company’s cloud computing unit was ripe for abuse. The letter underscores how new tools for identifying and tracking people could be used to empower surveillance states.

Amazon has marketed a range of uses for its Rekognition service, unveiled in late 2016. These include detecting offensive content, identifying celebrities and securing public safety.

In a blog post last year, Amazon said a new feature let customers “identify people of interest against a collection of millions of faces in near real-time, enabling use cases such as timely and accurate crime prevention.”

Customers provide the data for Amazon’s tool to search.

“Seconds saved in the field can make the difference in saving a life,” Chris Adzima, an analyst in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, said in the blog post.

Freedom from being watched

But rights groups say the powerful tool raises concerns.

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” said the letter to Bezos. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it.”

Amazon has helped various U.S. jurisdictions use Rekognition, said the letter, citing public records obtained by affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In Oregon, law enforcement uploaded 300,000 mug shots dating to 2001 into Amazon’s cloud and indexed them in Rekognition, according to another Amazon blog post.

Rekognition identified four faces with more than 80 percent similarity to an image of an unidentified hardware store thief; a Facebook search subsequently helped with the case, the post said.

The City of Orlando Police Department has also used Rekognition, according to Amazon’s website.

In a statement, Amazon Web Services said, “Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology.”

Amazon requires customers to abide by the law and be responsible when using Rekognition, it added.

The world’s largest online retailer is not alone: Microsoft Corp and Alphabet Inc.’s Google offer recognition services as well.

Identifying faces has become a common feature in consumer products from Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc.

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Amazon Is Warned About Government Use of Facial Recognition

U.S. civil liberties groups on Tuesday called on Amazon.com Inc. to stop offering facial recognition services to governments, warning that the software

could be used to target immigrants and people of color unfairly.

More than 40 groups sent a letter to Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos saying technology from the company’s cloud computing unit was ripe for abuse. The letter underscores how new tools for identifying and tracking people could be used to empower surveillance states.

Amazon has marketed a range of uses for its Rekognition service, unveiled in late 2016. These include detecting offensive content, identifying celebrities and securing public safety.

In a blog post last year, Amazon said a new feature let customers “identify people of interest against a collection of millions of faces in near real-time, enabling use cases such as timely and accurate crime prevention.”

Customers provide the data for Amazon’s tool to search.

“Seconds saved in the field can make the difference in saving a life,” Chris Adzima, an analyst in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, said in the blog post.

Freedom from being watched

But rights groups say the powerful tool raises concerns.

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” said the letter to Bezos. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it.”

Amazon has helped various U.S. jurisdictions use Rekognition, said the letter, citing public records obtained by affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In Oregon, law enforcement uploaded 300,000 mug shots dating to 2001 into Amazon’s cloud and indexed them in Rekognition, according to another Amazon blog post.

Rekognition identified four faces with more than 80 percent similarity to an image of an unidentified hardware store thief; a Facebook search subsequently helped with the case, the post said.

The City of Orlando Police Department has also used Rekognition, according to Amazon’s website.

In a statement, Amazon Web Services said, “Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology.”

Amazon requires customers to abide by the law and be responsible when using Rekognition, it added.

The world’s largest online retailer is not alone: Microsoft Corp and Alphabet Inc.’s Google offer recognition services as well.

Identifying faces has become a common feature in consumer products from Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc.

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg Apologizes to EU Lawmakers

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized to EU lawmakers on Tuesday, saying the company had not done enough to prevent misuse of the social network and that regulation is “important and inevitable.”

Meeting the leaders of the European Parliament, Zuckerberg stressed the importance of Europeans to Facebook and said he was sorry for not doing enough to prevent abuse of the platform.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility. That was a mistake and I am sorry for it,” Zuckerberg said in his opening remarks.

In response to questions about whether Facebook ought to be broken up, Zuckerberg said the question was not whether there should be regulation but what kind of regulation there should be.

“Some sort of regulation is important and inevitable,” he said.

He declined to answer when leading lawmakers asked him again as the session concluded whether there was any cross use of data between Facebook and subsidiaries like WhatsApp or on whether he would give an undertaking to let users block targeting adverts.

Facebook has been embroiled in a data scandal after it emerged that the personal data of 87 million users were improperly accessed by a political consultancy.

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg Apologizes to EU Lawmakers

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized to EU lawmakers on Tuesday, saying the company had not done enough to prevent misuse of the social network and that regulation is “important and inevitable.”

Meeting the leaders of the European Parliament, Zuckerberg stressed the importance of Europeans to Facebook and said he was sorry for not doing enough to prevent abuse of the platform.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility. That was a mistake and I am sorry for it,” Zuckerberg said in his opening remarks.

In response to questions about whether Facebook ought to be broken up, Zuckerberg said the question was not whether there should be regulation but what kind of regulation there should be.

“Some sort of regulation is important and inevitable,” he said.

He declined to answer when leading lawmakers asked him again as the session concluded whether there was any cross use of data between Facebook and subsidiaries like WhatsApp or on whether he would give an undertaking to let users block targeting adverts.

Facebook has been embroiled in a data scandal after it emerged that the personal data of 87 million users were improperly accessed by a political consultancy.

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Indian Innovators Convert Diesel Exhaust Into Ink To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink. 

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest. 

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye. 

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up. 

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using. 

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems. 

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink. 

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon. 

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says. 

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere. 

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms. 

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. 

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Indian Innovators Convert Diesel Exhaust Into Ink To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink. 

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest. 

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye. 

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up. 

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using. 

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems. 

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink. 

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon. 

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says. 

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere. 

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms. 

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. 

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Robots Taking Over Grocery Warehouses

Grocery stores in the U.S. are locked in a fierce battle for customers who often demand the convenience of home deliveries. Automation is increasingly becoming part of the competitive equation. When U.S. mail-order retail giant Amazon shook up the supermarket industry with its purchase of Whole Foods, America’s second biggest food retailer, Kroger, responded by partnering with a British online supermarket known for its advanced warehouse technology. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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Man Dies After Tesla Crashes into San Francisco-Area Pond

A man was killed when the Tesla automobile he was driving veered off a road, crashed through a fence and plunged into a pond, authorities said Monday.

California Highway Patrol spokesman Daniel Jacowitz said rescuers pulled the Tesla Model S from the pond early Monday and found the man’s body inside.

The driver was identified as Keith Leung, 34, of Danville, California, said Sgt. Ray Kelly, spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s office.

Kelly said it was too soon to know if the vehicle’s semi-autonomous Autopilot mode was engaged when the crash occurred or whether the driver may have been speeding or intoxicated.

Photographs of the car show that its backend was destroyed, its hood crumpled and windows shattered.

The crash occurred near the cities of San Ramon and Danville on Sunday evening, Jacowitz said. A property owner contacted authorities after hearing a noise and seeing damage to his fence and tire tracks.

The car was traveling at a speed “great enough to leave the roadway, hit a fence, keep going down an embankment and into a pond on the property,” Jacowitz said.

Federal transportation authorities have been investigating if the Tesla’s Autopilot mode has played a role in other recent crashes.

In March, the driver of a Tesla Model X was killed in California when his SUV hit a barrier while traveling at “freeway speed.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating that case, in which the Autopilot system was engaged.

Autopilot was also engaged in a crash earlier this month in Utah, according to data from the car.

Also this month, the NTSB opened a probe into an accident in which a Model S caught fire after crashing into a wall at a high speed in Florida. Two 18-year-olds were trapped in the vehicle and died in the flames. The agency has said it does not expect Autopilot to be a focus in that investigation.

Autopilot is the most well-known semi-autonomous system. It uses cameras and sensors on the front, sides and rear of the car to observe lane markings and to “see” other cars that are nearby. It’s simple to engage, requiring only two quick taps of a stalk. There are no limitations on where Autopilot can be used. Drivers can enable it on the freeway, side streets, or anywhere with distinct lane markings.

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Man Dies After Tesla Crashes into San Francisco-Area Pond

A man was killed when the Tesla automobile he was driving veered off a road, crashed through a fence and plunged into a pond, authorities said Monday.

California Highway Patrol spokesman Daniel Jacowitz said rescuers pulled the Tesla Model S from the pond early Monday and found the man’s body inside.

The driver was identified as Keith Leung, 34, of Danville, California, said Sgt. Ray Kelly, spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s office.

Kelly said it was too soon to know if the vehicle’s semi-autonomous Autopilot mode was engaged when the crash occurred or whether the driver may have been speeding or intoxicated.

Photographs of the car show that its backend was destroyed, its hood crumpled and windows shattered.

The crash occurred near the cities of San Ramon and Danville on Sunday evening, Jacowitz said. A property owner contacted authorities after hearing a noise and seeing damage to his fence and tire tracks.

The car was traveling at a speed “great enough to leave the roadway, hit a fence, keep going down an embankment and into a pond on the property,” Jacowitz said.

Federal transportation authorities have been investigating if the Tesla’s Autopilot mode has played a role in other recent crashes.

In March, the driver of a Tesla Model X was killed in California when his SUV hit a barrier while traveling at “freeway speed.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating that case, in which the Autopilot system was engaged.

Autopilot was also engaged in a crash earlier this month in Utah, according to data from the car.

Also this month, the NTSB opened a probe into an accident in which a Model S caught fire after crashing into a wall at a high speed in Florida. Two 18-year-olds were trapped in the vehicle and died in the flames. The agency has said it does not expect Autopilot to be a focus in that investigation.

Autopilot is the most well-known semi-autonomous system. It uses cameras and sensors on the front, sides and rear of the car to observe lane markings and to “see” other cars that are nearby. It’s simple to engage, requiring only two quick taps of a stalk. There are no limitations on where Autopilot can be used. Drivers can enable it on the freeway, side streets, or anywhere with distinct lane markings.

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From Airlines to Pizza Parlors, EU Businesses Adopt Data Law

Lisa Meyer’s hair salon is a cozy place where her mother serves homemade macaroons, children climb on chairs and customers chat above the whirr of hairdryers.

Most of the time Meyer is focused on hairstyles, color trends and keeping up with appointments. But now she’s worried about how the European Union’s new data protection law will affect her business as she contacts customers to seek permission to store their details. Even though she supports the law, Meyer fears it may cut her mailing list by 90 percent as people choose to withhold their data or simply overlook her emails.

 

“It will be difficult to market upcoming events,” she said at her shop, Lisa Hauck Hair & Beauty in London.

 

Businesses from pizza parlors to airlines across the EU’s 28 countries are bombarding customers with emails seeking consent to use personal data as they rush to comply with the bloc’s General Data Protection Regulation, which takes effect May 25. While much of the attention has focused on how technology giants like Facebook and Google will comply with the rules, consumers are learning firsthand that they apply to any firm, large or small, that stores personal data.

The new rules , called GDPR for short, are designed to make it easier for EU residents to give and withdraw permission for companies to use personal information, requiring consent forms that are written in simple language and no more than one-page long. Companies that already hold such data have to reach out to customers and ask for permission to retain it. Authorities can fine companies up to 4 percent of annual revenue or 20 million euros ($23.6 million), whichever is higher, for breaching the rules.

As a result, email boxes all over the continent are being swamped with messages from opticians, hotels, greeting card companies and even charities that fear stiff penalties for non-compliance.

 

In an effort to rise above the clutter, some companies are trying to spice up their approach as they try to ensure continued access to information vital to their businesses.

 

The St. Pancras Hotels Group promises that “only nominated people have access to your details, and they are kept really safe, guarded by our very own British Bulldogs. And a rude punk rocker.” Britain’s Channel 4 television offered up a video featuring one of the country’s best-known comedians explaining GDPR and how it will affect viewers. Many are using animations, like this one from like France’s mobile operator Bouygues, to explain the rules.

 

Regulators say the law applies to anyone who collects, uses or stores personal data. That can be a burden for small businesses that are forced to hire outside lawyers or consultants because they don’t have the staff or expertise to deal with the law.

 

The EU’s one-size-fits-all approach is one of the flaws in the law, according to Max Schrems, an Austrian privacy advocate who has formed a non-profit to take action against big companies that deliberately violate the new rules.

 

When the rules were being discussed, industry lobbyists sought to weaken the law by creating uncertainty, and as a result there are no clear guidelines that exempt small companies, Schrems told the BBC recently.

 

“GDPR is a prime example of corporate law gone wrong, because it’s helpful for big companies,” he said. “They have to do all of this anyways and they can use the uncertainty in the law to kind of get around things. But it leaves small companies that don’t … have a law department, or something like that, in a situation with a lot of uncertainty.”

 

Meyer falls under the new rules’ jurisdiction because she keeps data. Like many hair colorists, she keeps a card on each of her clients that notes whether they are allergic to any chemicals used in the dyes. That’s considered personal medical information that must be protected.

 

She took a data protection course to learn about her obligations and avoid legal bills.

 

“I find it actually quite scary how data is being used so carelessly,” Meyer said. “It’s a good wake-up call. It’s made me more aware.”

 

But many others have been caught off guard.

 

A survey by French consultancy Capgemini says that 85 percent of European firms will not have completed their preparations for GDPR this week. It finds that British businesses are the most advanced and Swedish ones have the most work to do still.

 

A survey conducted by Britain’s Federation of Small Businesses estimates that complying with the rules will cost an average of 1,030 pounds ($1,390) per company.

“For a small business, it’s hugely onerous,” said Mark Elliott, who runs the digital marketing company, Sparks4Growth Ltd. He knows other small business owners who are worried about the extra red tape and costs of complying with the law. “I think, quite simply, they left us open to the lions,” he said of regulators.

 

EU officials say GDPR is necessary to catch up with all the technological advances since 1995, when the last comprehensive European rules on data privacy were put in place.

 

As technology advances, data becomes more important. The ability to analyze everything from medical records to the weather holds enormous potential, with suggestions it will make us healthier, improve traffic flows and help scientists learn more about the movements of endangered species, to name but a few items.

 

But with that potential comes concern about privacy.

The threat was vividly illustrated earlier this year when allegations surfaced that a little known campaign consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, misused data from millions of Facebook accounts to help Donald Trump win the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That touched off a global debate over internet privacy and triggered speculation other jurisdictions will soon follow the EU in tightening data protection laws.

 

That is just fine with Meyer, who thinks society needs a new etiquette for dealing with personal data.

 

“It’s like sitting up straight at the table. It’s like not talking too loud on the bus,” she said. Respect for data “has to get into our culture.”

 

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