Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Trump Administration Calls for Government IT to Adopt Cloud Services

The White House said Wednesday the U.S. government needs a major overhaul of information technology systems and should take steps to better protect data and accelerate efforts to use cloud-based technology.

“Difficulties in agency prioritization of resources in support of IT modernization, ability to procure services quickly, and technical issues have resulted in an unwieldy and out-of-date federal IT infrastructure,” the White House said in a report.

The report outlined a timeline over the next year for IT reforms and a detailed implementation plan. The report said one unnamed cloud-based email provider has agreed to assist in keeping track of government spending on cloud-based email migration.

President Donald Trump in April signed an executive order creating a new technology council to overhaul the U.S. government’s information technology systems.

The report said the federal government must eliminate barriers to using commercial cloud-based technology. “Federal agencies must consolidate their IT investments and place more trust in services and infrastructure operated by others,” the report found. Government agencies often pay dramatically different prices for the same IT item, the report said, sometimes three or four times as much.

Amazon.com Inc, Microsoft Corp, Alphabet Corp’s Google and Intel Corp are making big investments in the fast-growing cloud computing business.

A 2016 U.S. Government Accountability Office report estimated the U.S. government spends more than $80 billion on IT annually but said spending has fallen by $7.3 billion since 2010.

In 2015, there were at least 7,000 separate IT investments by the U.S. government. The $80 billion figure does not include Defense Department classified IT systems and 58 independent executive branch agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency.

The GAO report said U.S. government IT investments “are becoming increasingly obsolete: many use outdated software languages and hardware parts that are unsupported.”

The GAO report found some agencies are using systems that have components that are at least 50 years old.

Agencies typically buy their own IT systems independently, the White House said Wednesday. A “lack of common standards and lack of coordination drives costly redundancies and inefficiencies.”

The White House said in June that most of the government’s 6,100 data centers can be consolidated and moved to a cloud-based storage system.

Various U.S. government systems have been the target of hacking and data breaches in recent years. In September, the Securities and Exchange Commission, America’s chief stock market regulator, said cybercriminals may have used data stolen last year.

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Growing Levels of E-Waste Bad for Environment, Health and Economy

A new report finds growing levels of E-waste pose significant risks to the environment and human health and result in huge economic losses for countries around the world.  Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the launch of the International Telecommunication Union report in Geneva.

The global information society is racing ahead at top speed.  The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reports nearly half of the world uses the internet and most people have access to mobile phones, laptops, televisions, refrigerators and other electronic devices.

But ITU E-waste Technical Expert, Vanessa Gray, said the ever-increasing expansion of technology is creating staggering amounts of electronic waste.

“In 2016, the world generated a total of 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste—that is, electronic and electrical equipment that is discarded,” Gray said. “So, that basically everything that runs on a plug or on a battery.  This is equivalent to about 4,500 Eiffel Towers for the year.” 

The report found Asia generates the greatest amounts of E-waste, followed by Europe and the Americas.  Africa and Oceania produce the least.

Gray warned improper and unsafe treatment and disposal of e-waste pose significant risks to the environment and human health.  She noted that low recycling rates also result in important economic losses, because high value materials – including gold, silver, copper – are not recovered. 

“We estimate that the value of recoverable material contained in the 2016 e-waste is no less than $55 billion US, which is actually more than the Gross Domestic Product in many of the world’s countries,” Gray said.

The report calls for the development of proper legislation to manage e-waste.  It says a growing number of countries are moving in that direction.  Currently, it says 66 percent of the world population, living in 67 countries, is covered by national e-waste management laws.

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Italian Laser Device Detects Potentially Dangerous Food Fraud

‘Food Fraud’ costs the food and beverage industry an estimated $30 billion every year. Food fraud is the deliberate substitution or misrepresentation of food products for economic gain. It can be as harmless as selling watered down olive oil, or as dangerous as substituting starch or plastic for rice. But a new laser test developed in Italy can spot the fakes with incredible accuracy. VOAs’ Kevin Enochs reports.

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Facebook to Book Advertising Revenue Locally Amid Political Pressure

Social media giant Facebook said on Tuesday it would start booking advertising revenue locally instead of re-routing it via its international headquarters in Dublin although the move is unlikely to result in it paying much more tax.

Corporate taxation has become a hot-button topic in the wake of revelations of tax avoidance schemes by multinationals which have led to calls for companies to pay more tax while Europe has begun exploring options for taxing digital giants.

Facebook Chief Financial Officer Dave Wehner said the company had decided to move to a local selling structure in countries where it has an office to support sales to local advertisers.

“In simple terms, this means that advertising revenue supported by our local teams will no longer be recorded by our international headquarters in Dublin, but will instead be recorded by our local company in that country,” Wehner said in a blog post.

Tuesday’s announcement follows Facebook’s April 2016 shift to recording revenues from its large UK sales customers in Britain which resulted in an increase in the tax it paid.

“We believe that moving to a local selling structure will provide more transparency to governments and policy makers around the world who have called for greater visibility over the revenue associated with locally-supported sales in their countries,” Wehner said.

The European Commission is working on legislative proposals, expected in March, to increase taxes on multinational digital companies, who are accused of paying too little in the EU by booking profits in low-tax countries where they have their EU headquarters, like Ireland and Luxembourg.

Among the options the EU executive is considering to raise taxes quickly on tech giants is a levy on revenues from advertising, according to an EU document published in September.

Other short-term options are a tax on turnovers of digital firms and a withholding tax on electronic transactions. Wehner said Facebook would implement the change throughout 2018 and aim to complete it by the first half of 2019.

Facebook’s recent experience in Britain suggests that the move will not lead to the company paying significantly more in tax.

Facebook reported a dramatic rise in revenues and profits reported in the UK for 2016 and had a 2.5 million pound ($3.34 million) tax bill against racking up tax credits in previous years.

However, while the change did lead to an increase in the tax it paid, Facebook still enjoyed a low effective tax rate.

That’s because, even with this measure, Facebook declares relatively little profit in Britain. It reported a profit margin of under 7 percent for 2016 in Britain, compared to a group wide margin of around 45 percent for the year.

Much of the profit linked to UK sales is reported elsewhere are a result of inter-group transactions worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

($1 = 0.7491 pounds)

Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio and Tom Bergin in London; Editing by Adrian Croft.

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Cryptocurrency Exchanges Coinbase, Bitfinex Down

Digital currency exchange operators Coinbase and Bitfinex reported problems with service through their websites on Tuesday, frustrating traders seeking to cash in on the latest surge in the value of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Wallet-provider Coinbase’s website showed “service unavailable” early on Tuesday U.S. time, flashing a message that said it was down for maintenance. Its exchange gdax.com was still quoting prices, although it also said it was experiencing a “minor service outage.”

Bitfinex, another cryptocurrency exchange, tweeted it was under heavy distributed denial of service (DDoS) and its application programming interface was down.

DDoS attacks have been common on the internet, using hijacked and virus-infected computers to target websites until they can no longer cope with the scale of data requested. It was not immediately clear if the two incidents were related to any cyberattacks.

Bitfinex last Thursday tweeted that it had been under significant denial of service attack for several days, and that the attack had recently worsened.

Bitcoin exchanges and wallets have a history of being hacked, and security experts say they become more vulnerable to cyber-crime as valuations rise.

There have been at least three dozen heists on exchanges that buy and sell digital currencies since 2011, including one that led to the 2014 collapse of Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest bitcoin market.

The latest attack came last Thursday, when a Slovenian cryptocurrency mining marketplace, NiceHash, said it lost about $64 million worth of bitcoin in a hack of its payment system.

Bitfinex did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reuters was unable to contact Coinbase since the website was down.

Reporting By Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Martina. D’Couto and Patrick Graham.

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China Displays Clout at Internet Conference But Some Doubts Remain

China made an impressive display of its clout in the digital economy during a three-day internet conference in Beijing last week by pulling together the participation of U.N. agencies, the World Telecom Union and CEOs of major US based IT companies like Google, Apple and Cisco System.

The conference started with a message from Chinese president Xi Jinping who said, “China would never close its doors. They will only be open wider and wider going forward.”

But at the same time, Xi and Wang Huning, one of the ruling Communist Party’s seven most powerful men, emphasized the need for “cyber sovereignty,” which allows individual countries to establish cyber boundaries to protect their respective sovereign interests.

Xi said that besides benefits, “the internet has also brought many new challenges to the sovereignty, security and development interests of nations across the world.”

The Cyber Administration of China, which organized the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen city, was trying to obtain public confirmation about its Internet policies. This was also the first time the annual conference, which started in 2014, had attracted a high-profile attendance from heads of major international companies and agencies.

Analysts are skeptical the conference helped to boost China’s quest to influence rulemaking in the digital world. Many have noted that none of the foreign speakers specifically referred to Internet controls in China, which include bans on U.S. based services like Google, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

“I certainly don’t see (this) as China’s role as a rule setting has expanded. The regulatory bodies and standards actually usually doesn’t apply to China,” Jacob Cooke, CEO of consulting firm, Web Presence in China told VOA. “There is actually a noticeable lack of Chinese presence… And, likewise here there is no international presence in terms of regulatory body or rules and regulations.”

 Apple’s challenge

Apple recently removed hundreds of apps from its app store in China to adhere to the Chinese great firewall of censorship. Apple CEO Tim Cook did not mention that at the conference but said Apple shared the same vision with China on open Internet.

“The theme of this conference—developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits—is a vision we at Apple share,” Cook said adding, “We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace.”

But in the wake of Apple’s decisions to remove APPS and similar moves, questions have surfaced about whether American CEOs are indirectly endorsing China’s censorship methods in their eagerness to obtain a larger slice of the country’s lucrative market.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy specifically targeted the Apple chief for failing to promote freedom of expression. “Apple is clearly a force for good in China, but I also believe it and other tech companies must continue to push back on Chinese suppression of free expression,” Leahy said.

Cook responded with a statement saying, “Each country in the world decides their laws and their regulations, and so your choice is do you participate or stand on the sideline and yell at how things should be…. And my own view, very strongly, is that you show up and you participate, you go in the arena. Because nothing changes from sideline.”

Cooke of Web Presence in China agrees, adding that such questions are not Apple’s responsibility.

“If you want do to business in a country you got to obey rules and laws of that country. That’s with any business. I mean it is not up to you to criticize or change the laws that serve the politicians,” Cooke said.

Robert Elliot Kahn, regarded by many as father of the Internet for co-inventing Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) views the controversy over China’s internet restrictions in a somewhat different light.

“Governments are going to impose their own rules and regulations; that’s the way the world works,” he told VOA on the sidelines of the conference. “But if we can make it easier for people to build better products and services, to get more services to the public and is supported by people and governments around the world, I think that’s progress for humanity.”

Seeking business

It was apparent from the meeting that western businessmen, including Cook and Google CEO Sudar Pichai, were doing what they can to expand in the Chinese market. Although Google’s browser and Gmail is banned in China and the company left China more than seven years ago, Bloomberg recently reported that the company was making a comeback investing artificial intelligence. 

“A lot of work Google does is to help Chinese companies. Many small and medium-sized businesses in China take advantage of Google to get their products to many other countries outside of China,” Pichai said.

Cook pointed out that Apple’s app store has helped give China’s 1.8 million developers total earnings worth $16.9 billion, which is the highest earned by developers in any country.

In a quote widely used in state media Cook said, “many people see China as a big market, but for us the main attraction is the quality of the people.”

But in the end, analysts note that China’s influence remains limited to the extent of the market it can offer to foreign companies and this is limited by the fact that several giant Chinese companies are jostling to fill every inch of the space.

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Silicon Valley Job Fair Caters to New Immigrants, Refugees

Khaled Turkmani fled Syria and traveled through five countries before he ended up in San Francisco. He immediately began to look for work in the technology industry.

Despite his degree in computer science, Turkmani spent nine months working at “survival jobs” – selling shoes and assembling furniture. He also worked as a web site developer earning $10 an hour, a job he says typically pays U.S. workers $50 an hour.

 

“It was super painful,” he said. “But for me, work is work.”

 

Turkmani, who has asylum, is lucky. He found a training program called Upwardly Global, a non-profit that teaches skilled immigrants and refugees how to search for their first professional jobs in the United States.

 

At the organization, Turkmani learned about networking, America-style, and is now an IT manager.

 

“The job won’t come to you and say, ‘Take me,’” he said. “You have to search for it.”

 

For new immigrants to the United States, the first few years are often a struggle, even for those who have university degrees and years of experience in professional careers. According to one report, more than a million college-educated immigrants in the United States work in low-skilled jobs.

 

These immigrants are often overlooked in the political debate about immigrants in the United States who lack the proper work authorization, as well as tech companies seeking temporary work visas so that skilled workers can be brought to the United States. These immigrants, who have work authorization, often comprise an untapped talent pool within the community, says Upwardly Global.

Language barriers

 

The need to learn English is part of the problem for many new arrivals, but also, the way people get jobs in the United States is often different than in other countries, a gap that Upwardly Global works to bridge. Founded in 2000, with offices in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Washington, the organization serves immigrants, with college degrees or higher, who have authorization to work in the United States.

The organization says it has placed 4,700 people into their careers. In the San Francisco Bay Area, participants’ salaries jump $52,000 on average after completing the training and finding a professional position.

 

At a recent job fair focused on people with technical skills, immigrants and refugees from countries including Russia, Iran and Eritrea, met with 10 potential employers such as Yelp and TaskRabbit.

 

Ivan Vislov, a Russian immigrant attending the event with his wife, expected tech jobs would be easy to find when they arrived in California’s technology corridor known as Silicon Valley. They were IT professionals coming to a region eager for qualified, talented workers, after all.

 

The reality is he has had to brush up on his English, and he has a mentor, who can give him quick advice on his resumes and how to network.

 

In fact, there are many small things newcomers to the United States have to learn about searching for jobs, said Emmanuel Iman, a graduate of Upwardly Global and now the head of the organization’s alumni network. He came from Nigeria.

 

For one thing, curriculum vitae in other countries tend to have a long list of duties, he said. In the United States a resume is typically no more than two pages long and is a document of a person’s accomplishments.

 

Also, a strong handshake and looking a potential employer in the eye, which in some other cultures may be seen as disrespectful, are key in the United States.

 

“Here in the United States, you are expected to look directly into someone’s eyes,” he said. “And when you meet someone, you have to give them a firm handshake. All those show confidence.”

 

At the end of the job fair, having handed out his resume and shaken many hands, Vislov said he planned to follow up with employers. And in the weeks ahead, he would attend hackathons and job fairs, doing what it takes to find that first U.S. professional job.

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Fusion Reactor Under Construction in France Halfway Complete

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, ITER, now under construction in southern France, is often called the most complicated scientific instrument in the world. The project was launched in 1985 at the US-Soviet summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Its director says it is now 50% complete and on track to produce cheap energy from what will essentially be a tiny sun in its core. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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A Silicon Valley Job Fair Caters to New Immigrants and Refugees

More than a million college-educated immigrants in the U.S. are in low skilled jobs, according to estimates. But they have trouble finding work in their professions, including in the U.S. tech industry, which desperately needs skilled workers. A special technology industry job fair this week in San Francisco brought together refugees and new immigrants with potential employers. VOA’s Michelle Quinn reports.

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