Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Row Over Data Mining Firm Cambridge Analytica Reverberates in India

The controversy over the British-based data mining company, Cambridge Analytica, which faces allegations of using the personal data of millions of Facebook followers to influence the U.S. election, is reverberating in India, which is due to hold national elections next year.

The website of the Indian affiliate of Cambridge Analytica, Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI), has been taken down amid a dispute between the country’s two major political parties over using its services.

Both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main opposition Congress Party have denied doing so. However Ovleno’s site had listed the BJP, the Congress and a regional party known as the Janata Dal (United) among its clients.

India’s Information Technology Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, last week warned of tough action against social media giants if the data of Indians was misused.

He said India supports freedom of speech, expression and exchange of ideas on social media, “but any attempt, covert or overt, by the social media, including Facebook, of trying to influence India’s electoral process through undesirable means will neither be appreciated nor be tolerated.”

He said that in the wake of recent data theft from Facebook, the stern warning should be heard “across the Atlantic, far away in California.”

Minister Prasad asked Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi, to “explain” the role of Cambridge Analytica in his social media outreach and whether the party had engaged in data trade with the firm.

Congress Party spokesman Randeep Sujrewala called the accusation a “fake agenda and a white lie.” He said it was the BJP that had used the company’s services.

Gandhi is expected to be the main opponent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019. Although Modi’s BJP won a sweeping victory in 2014, many analysts expect next year’s elections to be a much tighter race.

Domestic media reports have said that Cambridge Analytica and its India partner have been in talks with both the Congress and the BJP for a possible collaboration for their 2019 Lok Sabha election campaigns.

On its website, the Indian affiliate of Cambridge Analytica had said it offered services such as “political campaign management,” which includes social media strategy, election campaign management and mobile media management.

Internet experts say India is extremely vulnerable to the misuse of personal data during elections.  

“It’s become a source of micro-targeting. At scale when you can dissect this data and customize messages to individual people to prey on their fears, that kind of campaign is always possible,” said Nikhil Pahwa, a digital rights activist and founder of digital news portal MediaNama.

“The problem is not with one entity [such as Cambridge Analytica] but a system which allows it,” Pahwa said, pointing out that there is too much data floating around.

In an interview with CNN, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said Facebook was committed to stopping interference in the U.S. midterm election in November and elections in India and Brazil.

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Unlocking Secrets of Extinct Canine-Looking Tiger

The exotic Tasmanian tiger once roamed Australia and New Guinea. It looked like a cross between a tiger and a dog, and is believed to have become extinct in the wild in the 20th century. The last one died in a zoo in the 1930’s. Using preserved Tasmanian tigers, Australian scientists did 3D scans of the animal, which they hope will explain why it evolved to look so much like a canine. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.

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Facebook Questioned About Pulling Android Call, Text Data

On the same day Facebook bought ads in U.S. and British newspapers to apologize for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media site faced new questions about collecting phone numbers and text messages from Android devices.

The website Ars Technica reported that users who checked data gathered by Facebook on them found that it had years of contact names, telephone numbers, call lengths and text messages.

Facebook said Sunday the information is uploaded to secure servers and comes only from Android users who opt-in to allow it. Spokeswomen say the data is not sold or shared with users’ friends or outside apps. They say the data is used “to improve people’s experience across Facebook” by helping to connect with others.

The company also says in a website posting that it does not collect the content of text messages or calls. A spokeswoman told the Associated Press that Facebook uses the information to rank contacts in Messenger so they are easier to find, and to suggest people to call.

Users get the option to allow data collection when they sign up for Messenger or Facebook Lite, the Facebook posting said. “If you chose to turn this feature on, we will begin to continuously log this information,” the posting said.

The data collection can be turned off in a user’s settings, and all previously collected call and text history shared on the app will be deleted, Facebook said.

The feature was first introduced on Facebook Messenger in 2015 and added later on Facebook Lite.

Messages were left Sunday seeking comment about security from Google officials, who make the Android operating system.

Reports of the data collection came as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took out ads in multiple U.S. and British Sunday newspapers to apologize for the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The ads say the social media platform doesn’t deserve to hold personal information if it can’t protect it.

According to the ads, a quiz app built by a Cambridge University researcher leaked Facebook data of millions of people four years ago. Zuckerberg said this was a “breach of trust” and that Facebook is taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Facebook’s privacy practices have come under fire after Cambridge Analytica, a Trump-affiliated political consulting firm, got data inappropriately. The social media platform’s stock value has dropped over $70 billion since the revelations were first published.

Among the newspapers with the ads were The New York Times and The Washington Post in the U.S., and The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph in the United Kingdom.

The ads said Facebook is limiting the data apps received when users sign in. It’s also investigating every app that had access to large amounts of data. “We expect there are others. And when we find them, we will ban them and tell everyone affected,” the ads stated.

Cambridge Analytica got the data from a researcher who paid 270,000 Facebook users to complete a psychological profile quiz back in 2014. But the quiz gathered information on their friends as well, bringing the total number of people affected to about 50 million.

The Trump campaign paid the firm $6 million during the 2016 election, although it has since distanced itself from Cambridge.

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Facebook Questioned About Pulling Android Call, Text Data

On the same day Facebook bought ads in U.S. and British newspapers to apologize for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media site faced new questions about collecting phone numbers and text messages from Android devices.

The website Ars Technica reported that users who checked data gathered by Facebook on them found that it had years of contact names, telephone numbers, call lengths and text messages.

Facebook said Sunday the information is uploaded to secure servers and comes only from Android users who opt-in to allow it. Spokeswomen say the data is not sold or shared with users’ friends or outside apps. They say the data is used “to improve people’s experience across Facebook” by helping to connect with others.

The company also says in a website posting that it does not collect the content of text messages or calls. A spokeswoman told the Associated Press that Facebook uses the information to rank contacts in Messenger so they are easier to find, and to suggest people to call.

Users get the option to allow data collection when they sign up for Messenger or Facebook Lite, the Facebook posting said. “If you chose to turn this feature on, we will begin to continuously log this information,” the posting said.

The data collection can be turned off in a user’s settings, and all previously collected call and text history shared on the app will be deleted, Facebook said.

The feature was first introduced on Facebook Messenger in 2015 and added later on Facebook Lite.

Messages were left Sunday seeking comment about security from Google officials, who make the Android operating system.

Reports of the data collection came as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took out ads in multiple U.S. and British Sunday newspapers to apologize for the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The ads say the social media platform doesn’t deserve to hold personal information if it can’t protect it.

According to the ads, a quiz app built by a Cambridge University researcher leaked Facebook data of millions of people four years ago. Zuckerberg said this was a “breach of trust” and that Facebook is taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Facebook’s privacy practices have come under fire after Cambridge Analytica, a Trump-affiliated political consulting firm, got data inappropriately. The social media platform’s stock value has dropped over $70 billion since the revelations were first published.

Among the newspapers with the ads were The New York Times and The Washington Post in the U.S., and The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph in the United Kingdom.

The ads said Facebook is limiting the data apps received when users sign in. It’s also investigating every app that had access to large amounts of data. “We expect there are others. And when we find them, we will ban them and tell everyone affected,” the ads stated.

Cambridge Analytica got the data from a researcher who paid 270,000 Facebook users to complete a psychological profile quiz back in 2014. But the quiz gathered information on their friends as well, bringing the total number of people affected to about 50 million.

The Trump campaign paid the firm $6 million during the 2016 election, although it has since distanced itself from Cambridge.

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg Apologizes for ‘Breach of Trust’ in Disclosure of Users’ Data

Facebook co-founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg apologized Sunday in full-page ads in nine major British and U.S. newspapers for the massive “breach of trust” at the social media giant that revealed personal information of millions of Facebook users.

Zuckerberg did not mention the British firm accused of using the data, the voter profiling company Cambridge Analytica that obtained the cache of information from British researcher Alexsandr Kogan, who had been authorized by Facebook to collect the data as part of an academic study.

Cambridge Analytica was paid $6 million by President Donald Trump’s successful 2016 presidential campaign for the White House to develop voter profiles.

Zuckerberg said in the ads, “This was a breach of trust, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time” when Kogan developed an app on which 270,000 Facebook users supplied information about themselves. “We’re now taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

In all, because of extensive links of friends and associates to the 270,000 Facebook users, 50 million Facebook users may have had their personal data compromised.

“We have a responsibility to protect your information,” Zuckerberg said. “If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.”

The ads ran in six British national newspapers, including the best-selling Mail, The Sunday Times and The Observer, along with The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal in the U.S.

Zuckerberg said Facebook, with 2.2 billion users worldwide, is also investigating “every single app that had access to large amounts of data before we fixed this. We expect there are others. And when we find them, we will ban them and tell everyone affected.”

A new Reuters-Ipsos poll in the U.S. released Sunday showed that 41 percent of Americans trust Facebook to obey laws that protect their personal information, compared to 66 percent of trust in Amazon; 62 percent in Google; 60 percent in Microsoft and 47 percent in Yahoo.

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg Apologizes for ‘Breach of Trust’ in Disclosure of Users’ Data

Facebook co-founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg apologized Sunday in full-page ads in nine major British and U.S. newspapers for the massive “breach of trust” at the social media giant that revealed personal information of millions of Facebook users.

Zuckerberg did not mention the British firm accused of using the data, the voter profiling company Cambridge Analytica that obtained the cache of information from British researcher Alexsandr Kogan, who had been authorized by Facebook to collect the data as part of an academic study.

Cambridge Analytica was paid $6 million by President Donald Trump’s successful 2016 presidential campaign for the White House to develop voter profiles.

Zuckerberg said in the ads, “This was a breach of trust, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time” when Kogan developed an app on which 270,000 Facebook users supplied information about themselves. “We’re now taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

In all, because of extensive links of friends and associates to the 270,000 Facebook users, 50 million Facebook users may have had their personal data compromised.

“We have a responsibility to protect your information,” Zuckerberg said. “If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.”

The ads ran in six British national newspapers, including the best-selling Mail, The Sunday Times and The Observer, along with The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal in the U.S.

Zuckerberg said Facebook, with 2.2 billion users worldwide, is also investigating “every single app that had access to large amounts of data before we fixed this. We expect there are others. And when we find them, we will ban them and tell everyone affected.”

A new Reuters-Ipsos poll in the U.S. released Sunday showed that 41 percent of Americans trust Facebook to obey laws that protect their personal information, compared to 66 percent of trust in Amazon; 62 percent in Google; 60 percent in Microsoft and 47 percent in Yahoo.

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Scientists Track Chinese Space Station as It Falls to Earth

Scientists are monitoring a defunct Chinese space station that is expected to fall to Earth around the end of the month, the largest manmade object to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in a decade.

The head of the European Space Agency’s debris office, Holger Krag, says China’s Tiangong-1 space station will likely fall to Earth between March 30 and April 3.

Krag said it still not yet known where the space station will hit Earth, but said it would be extremely unlikely for anyone to be injured when it does.

Injury unlikely

“Our experience is that for such large objects typically between 20 and 40 percent of the original mass, of 8.5 tons, will survive re-entry and then could be found on the ground, theoretically,” he said.

“However, to be injured by one of these fragments is extremely unlikely. My estimate is that the probability to be injured by one of these fragments is similar to the probability of being hit by lightning twice in the same year,” Krag added.

He said the space station is expected to fall between the areas of 43 degrees south and 43 degrees north, and everything outside that zone is considered safe.

“Northern Europe including France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland are definitely on the safe side. Southern Europe, the southern part of North America, South Asia, Africa, Australia and also South America are still within the zone today,” he said.

Where will it hit?

Scientists say it is hard to predict where Tiangong-1 will hit Earth in part because of its low orbit and high velocity. They say the space station is traveling 17,400 mph and orbits Earth about every 90 minutes.

Tiangong-1 was launched into orbit in 2011 as China’s first space lab. It carried out orbit experiments in preparation for China’s plan to put a permanent space station into orbit by 2023.

 

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What Do Palm Trees and Wind Turbines Have in Common?

Increasingly popular wind turbines are getting bigger and making more power, but there is a limit to their size. At some point they become too big, too difficult to transport and install, and strong winds can bend them out of shape. But researchers led by scientists from the University of Virginia say there’s a way around it. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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Blacks in Silicon Valley Share Lessons on Pursuing Unicorns or Gazelles

What does it take to build a thriving technology company – and an environment in which black techies, their financial backers and their markets can flourish?

That question underpins the new VOA documentary “Beyond the Unicorn.”  Subtitled “Africans Making IT in Silicon Valley,” it explores how some Africans and African-Americans are finding their way in the tech sector’s global capital in California.

The 26-minute documentary profiles several entrepreneurs and venture capitalists and how they overcome hurdles. Its screening Wednesday evening, at a VOA event at the San Francisco campus of the French university INSEEC U., served as a springboard for a panel discussion spanning market potential, funding gaps and hiring disparities.

First, a definition for the uninitiated. A unicorn is a private startup technology firm valued at $1 billion or more. Once rare, such companies have proliferated in the last few years, with almost 200 globally as of last May, according to Forbes.

Silicon Valley has spawned herds of unicorns, such as Uber and Airbnb.  

Africa hasn’t. With less readily available investment funding, “a unicorn might be quite unrealistic for an entrepreneur in Africa to build very quickly,” said venture capitalist Mbwana Alliy, who appears in the documentary. He suggested its counterpart might be a “zebracorn.”           

“Does that mean it’s a $100 million startup? Maybe that’s more achievable for an entrepreneur,” said Alliy, founder of the Africa-focused Savannah Fund. “And it’s still a major outcome.”   

Panelist Stephen Ozoigbo proposed another term: gazelle, “something real and indigenous.”

“If it’s a gazelle, then you’re sure it would outrun, it would outhustle” the competition, said Ozoigbo, CEO of the African Technology Foundation.   

​Market potential

The continent has some fast-growing economies – think Ethiopia and Nigeria – and the world’s fastest-growing population. More than half of its countries are expected to double their head counts by 2050, the United Nations reports.

No wonder investment in African tech ventures is surging.

Figures vary: The Disrupt Africa news portal says African tech startups raised more than $195 million last year, up from almost $130 million in 2016.

Partech Ventures reports even stronger growth. The global venture capital firm, which has offices in San Francisco and Dakar, Senegal, reports that 124 tech startups drew $560 million in equity in 2017, up from almost $367 million for 74 startups the previous year.

Still, Africa gets only a very tiny share of global private equity capital, said Andile Ngcaba, a panelist and founder of the African tech investment management fund Convergence Partners.

That’s just one of the challenges for Africans and African-Americans in tech.

Lack of diversity

Blacks account for just 3 percent of the workforce among Silicon Valley’s top 75 tech companies, an underrepresentation so striking that it has drawn public condemnation and scrutiny by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a 2016 report.

The male-dominated tech sector can be even less welcoming to black females.

“Being an African woman in Silicon Valley … has been very difficult. I actually had an easier time in Nigeria,” said Bukola Akinfaderin, a senior developer – and the only black female mobile engineer – for the genealogy website Ancestry.com. She said her homeland’s tech sector has less of a gender imbalance.

Akinfaderin, featured in the documentary, finds support in groups such as dev/color, a nonprofit for black software engineers.

She gets encouragement to revive Jandus Radio, her app enabling the African diaspora to hear live radio from the continent. It had as many as 500,000 users by 2016, when the hosting company’s server malfunctioned and deleted the app’s database. She plans to reboot the app as KinFolk.

Akinfaderin touts the value of being an African woman engineer working in Silicon Valley. “When you’re building a product – especially if it’s a consumer-facing product, one that’s international – you are going to need perspective from everyone.”

Need for helping hands

Mentoring and networking can make all the difference in finding opportunities, said Nate Yohannes, a Microsoft business development director for artificial intelligence – and the evening’s keynote speaker.

“Coming to the United States as a child of [Eritrean] refugees,” he said, he couldn’t always rely on his parents’ guidance because of their unfamiliarity with the new setting. So, he sought out mentors, who helped shape his trajectory from law school to a Wall Street job to the U.S. Small Business Association to Microsoft.

“It’s on us” to help each other and connect the continents, Yohannes told the scores of people, including other Africans, in the screening room.

Other concerns

Africa’s rapid population growth heightens the need to educate African youths so they can compete for work globally, said Convergence Partners’ Ngcaba. He added that those aspiring to the tech sector will need training in, say, data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“That’s the only way we can position ourselves in the global landscape,” Ngcaba said.

Skills, opportunity and capital are vital for entrepreneurs, agreed Yonas Beshawred, founder and CEO of StackShare, an online marketplace for comparing engineering tools and software.

But, he added, “I think the most important thing is that you have something that you’re passionate about and you start working on it … instead of just talking.”

A VOA showcase

The “Unicorn” screening event also served as a showcase for VOA’s commitment to “telling America’s story” along with providing accurate news and information to countries without independent media, VOA director Amanda Bennett said. 

“And what is more American than the American diaspora, the people who come here from places around the world looking for something and looking to give something, looking to be someone? And what is more American than technology?” she asked rhetorically in her introductory remarks, pointing out that VOA opened a Silicon Valley office last spring.

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