James Webb Telescope Prepping for Launch

All, News, Technology

Humanity’s efforts to move into and peer into space seem to be experiencing something of a renaissance in the past few weeks. NASA’s pictures of Ultima Thule continue to astound, as do Chinese pictures from their probe on the far side of the moon. Coming soon, the James Webb Telescope will allow NASA to look even farther into the great beyond. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us!

Report: Facebook’s Privacy Lapses May Result in Record Fine

All, News, Technology

Facebook may be facing the biggest fine ever imposed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations involving the personal information of its 2.2 billion users.

The FTC is considering hitting Facebook with a penalty that would top its previous record fine of $22.5 million, which it dealt to Google in 2012 for bypassing the privacy controls in Apple’s Safari browser, according to The Washington Post. The story published Friday cited three unidentified people familiar with the discussions.

In an automated response, the FTC said it was unable to comment, citing its closure due to the U.S. government shutdown. Facebook declined to comment.

The potential fine stems from an FTC investigation opened after revelations that data mining firm Cambridge Analytica had vacuumed up details about as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission.

The FTC has been exploring whether that massive breakdown violated a settlement that Facebook reached in 2011 after government regulators had concluded the Menlo Park, California, company had repeatedly broken its privacy promises .

The FTC decree, which runs through 2031, requires Facebook to get its users’ consent to share their personal information in ways that aren’t allowed by their privacy settings.

Since the Cambridge Analytica erupted 10 months ago, Facebook has vowed to do a better job corralling its users’ data. Nevertheless, its controls have remained leaky. Just last month, the company acknowledged a software flaw had exposed the photos of about 7 million users to a wider audience than they had intended.

The FTC’s five commissioners have discussed fining Facebook but haven’t settled on the amount yet, according to the Post.

Facebook’s privacy problems are also under investigation in other countries and the target of a lawsuit filed last month by Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us!

Technology Near for Real-Time TV Political Fact Checks

All, News, Technology

A Duke University team expects to have a product available for election year that will allow television networks to offer real-time fact checks onscreen when a politician makes a questionable claim during a speech or debate.

The mystery is whether any network will choose to use it.

The response to President Donald Trump’s Jan. 8 speech on border security illustrated how fact-checking is likely to be an issue over the next two years. Networks briefly considered not airing Trump live and several analysts contested some of his statements afterward, but nobody questioned him while he was speaking.

Duke already offers an app, developed by professor and Politifact founder Bill Adair, that directs users to online fact checks during political events. A similar product has been tested for television, but is still not complete.

The TV product would call on a database of research from Politifact, Factcheck.org and The Washington Post to point out false or misleading statements onscreen. For instance, Trump’s statement that 90 percent of the heroin that kills 300 Americans each week comes through the southern border would likely trigger an onscreen explanation that much of the drugs were smuggled through legal points of entry and wouldn’t be affected by a wall.

The Duke Tech & Check Cooperative conducted a focus group test in October, showing viewers portions of State of the Union speeches by Trump and predecessor Barack Obama with fact checks inserted. It was a big hit, Adair said.

“People really want onscreen fact checks,” he said. “There is a strong market for this and I think the TV networks will realize there’s a brand advantage to it.”

Networks mum

If that’s the case, the networks aren’t letting on. None of the broadcast or cable news divisions would discuss Duke’s product when contacted by The Associated Press, or their own philosophies on fact checking.

Network executives are likely to tread very carefully, both because of technical concerns about how it would work, the risk of getting something wrong or the suspicion that some viewers might consider the messages a political attack.

“It’s an incredibly difficult challenge,” said Mark Lukasiewicz, longtime NBC News executive who recently became dean of Hofstra University’s communications school.

Adair said the system will be automated. Mindful that many politicians repeat similar claims, the database will be triggered when code phrases that have been fact-checked before come up. An onscreen note would either explain that a claim is false or misleading and direct viewers to a website where they can find more information, or provide a succinct explanation of why it is being challenged. He envisions an average of one fact check popping up every two minutes. A network using the service would likely air the speech or debate on a delayed basis of about a minute.

Lukasiewicz said network executives would likely be wary of letting an outside vendor decide what goes on their screen. Adair said anyone who uses the system would be given veto power over what information is being displayed.

CNN and MSNBC have been most aggressive in using onscreen notes, called chyrons, to counter misleading statements by Trump, although neither did during the border speech. Among the post-speech analyses, Shepard Smith’s rapid-fire reality check on Fox broadcast during the three-minute pause before Democrats spoke was particularly effective. But critics like the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America said anyone who turned the coverage off when Trump stopped speaking was exposed to no questioning of his words.

Complicated, cumbersome

“There is a responsibility to not just be a blind portal and just let things go unchallenged,” said David Bohrman, a former CNN Washington bureau chief who consulted on MSNBC’s 2016 election coverage. “The goal is a good one. The execution is a challenge.”

A technical junkie, Bohrman said he explored different approaches for real-time TV fact-checking while at CNN, but they ultimately proved too complicated and cumbersome.

For networks, an incorrect onscreen fact-check would be a public relations disaster. Politicians also make many statements that a critic might question but isn’t necessarily factually incorrect. For example, Trump’s contention that there is a “crisis” at the southern border: Is that a fact or matter of interpretation?

Rest assured, people will be watching. Very carefully.

Even Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center, concedes that “we all understand that President Trump has a casual approach to factivity.”

But conservatives are deeply suspicious that Trump’s words are being watched more carefully than those of Democrats. They will notice and take offense if Trump is corrected on the air much more than his rivals, he said, no matter if Trump actually makes more false or misleading statements.

“People aren’t going to trust you,” he said, “because they know what the objective is. The objective is to ruin the president.”

Adair stressed that his product is nonpartisan. He believes television networks will catch on at some point because they will realize that their viewers want quick fact-checking.

“Anyone who criticizes will get criticized for criticizing,” Bohrman said. “But the reality is we may be able to help the viewers.”

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us!

Tesla Plans 7 Percent Staff Cut, Says Bumpy Road Ahead

All, News, Technology

Electric car and solar panel maker Tesla said Friday it plans to cut its staff by about 7 percent.

“The road ahead is very difficult,” the company’s founder and CEO Elon Musk said in an email to employees posted on the company’s website.

He said Tesla Inc. hopes to post a “tiny profit” in the current quarter but that after expanding its workforce by 30 percent last year, it cannot support that size of staff.

Musk said in a tweet in October that Tesla had 45,000 employees. A 7 percent cut would involve laying off about 3,150 people.

Tesla’s shares tumbled earlier this month after it cut vehicle prices by $2,000 and announced fourth-quarter sales figures that fell short of Wall Street estimates.

“Our products are too expensive for most people,” Musk said in the memo to Tesla staff saying the company has to “work harder.”

“Tesla has only been producing cars for about a decade and we’re up against massive, entrenched competitors,” he said.

The company says it delivered over 245,000 electric cars and SUVs last year, nearly as many as all previous years combined. But its 2018 production fell far short of a goal set nearly three years ago of manufacturing 500,000 vehicles for the year. That goal was announced in May of 2016 based on advance orders for its mid-range Model 3, which sells for $44,000.

Musk said Tesla plans to ramp up production of the Model 3, “as we need to reach more customers who can afford our vehicles.”

“Attempting to build affordable clean energy products at scale necessarily requires extreme effort and relentless creativity,” he said in the memo, “but succeeding in our mission is essential to ensure that the future is good, so we must do everything we can to advance the cause.”

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us!

US Appeals Court Will Not Delay Net Neutrality Case

All, News, Technology

A federal appeals court said Thursday it would not delay oral arguments set for Feb. 1 on the Trump administration’s decision to repeal the 2015 landmark net neutrality rules governing internet providers.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday asked the court to delay the arguments over its December 2017 repeal, citing the partial government shutdown. Without comment, the court denied the request.

The FCC had no immediate comment on the decision.

A group of 22 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia have asked the court to reinstate the Obama-era internet rules and block the FCC’s effort to pre-empt states from imposing their own rules guaranteeing an open internet.

Several internet companies are also part of the legal challenge, including Mozilla Corp, Vimeo Inc and Etsy Inc, as well as numerous media and technology advocacy groups and major cities, including New York and San Francisco.

The FCC voted to reverse the rules that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization.

The FCC said providers must disclose any changes in users’ internet access.

‘Misguided’ repeal

The net neutrality repeal was a win for providers like Comcast Corp, AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc, but was opposed by internet companies like Facebook Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc.

Major providers have not made any changes in how Americans access the internet since the repeal.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said on Thursday that the lawsuits are aimed at overturning the agency’s “misguided” repeal of the Obama rules. “The fight for an open internet continues,” she wrote on Twitter.

The panel hearing the case is made up of Judges Robert Wilkins and Patricia Millett, two appointees of Barack Obama, and Stephen Williams, an appointee of Republican Ronald Reagan.

In October, California agreed not to enforce its own state net neutrality law until the appeals court’s decision on the 2017 repeal and any potential review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us!

Want to Buy Ethical Food? Scan with Your Phone for Fast Facts

All, News, Technology

Whether buying a fish fillet at a supermarket or ordering steak in a restaurant, consumers will soon be able to use their phones to check instantly whether their food is green and ethical. Launched by environmental group WWF and investment firm BCG Digital Ventures, OpenSC is a website that harnesses blockchain technology to allow users to scan a QR code on a product or menu that reveals the full history and supply chain before they buy.

“For those catching and producing things in a very unsustainable way, it’s quite easy for them to hide behind the complexity of supply chains,” said Paul Hunyor, Asia region head at BCG Digital Ventures in Sydney.

“There is a lack of carrots for those doing good at the production end because it is very hard for them to make the end consumer aware of all the good work they’re doing,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Globally, consumers and retailers are demanding more information about what they procure, buy and eat, to ascertain that its production and transportation does not damage the environment, or use illegal and unethical business practices. In response, large consumer goods companies, restaurants and other businesses are looking at ways to attract more customers by offering sustainable products that are guaranteed as free of deforestation or slave labor, for example.

The OpenSC platform, conceived in 2017 when WWF was piloting a tuna fisheries traceability project in the Pacific Ocean, will initially focus on fish and beef. It plans to expand in the next two years to cover other commodities like palm oil and timber. OpenSC allows consumers to cut through the complexity and lack of transparency in supply chains, said Hunyor. The digital tool will cover environmental, social and human rights, and hopes to attract sustainability bodies and schemes, as well as corporations and major commodities producers, said Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia.

“There is … growing momentum around the world with corporates who are doing and want to do the right thing because their customers are increasing demand,” he said. Austral Fisheries, which is part of the Maruha Nichiro Group, has committed to implement OpenSC this year across its fleet which catches Patagonian toothfish. Customers and staff of supermarkets and restaurants, as well as wholesalers, can use the tool to access instant information.

For fish, that would include where it was caught, if the area is a verified sustainable fishing zone, and conditions along the supply chain. Fish tracked by OpenSC, set up as a social enterprise, will be served at a dinner for world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us!

"Pulse" Turns Heartbeats into Interactive Art

All, News, Technology

Take a minute and think about your heart. Can you hear it beating? Probably not, but you know it is. Now imagine your heartbeat “in color,” with rhythmic lighting to match. You can now see your unique beat pattern at a new interactive exhibit called “Pulse” at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. In this Log-on segment, VOA’s Carolyn Presutti shows us how your heartbeat joins others and becomes art.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us!

Facebook to Invest $300 Million in Local News Initiatives

All, News, Technology

Facebook says it is investing $300 million over the next three years in local news programs, partnerships and other initiatives.

The money will go toward reporting grants for local newsrooms, expanding Facebook’s program to help local newsrooms with subscription business models and investing in nonprofits aimed at supporting local news.

The move comes at a difficult time for the news industry, which is facing falling profits and print readership. Facebook, like Google, has also been partly blamed for the ongoing decline in newspapers’ share of advertising dollars as people and advertisers have moved online.

Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships, acknowledges the company “can’t uninvent the internet,” but says it wants to work with publishers to help them succeed on and off the social network.

“The industry is going through a massive transition that has been underway for a long time,” she said. “None of us have quite figured out ultimately what the future of journalism is going to look like but we want to be part of helping find a solution.”

Facebook has increased its focus on local news in the past year after starting off 2018 with the announcement that it was generally de-emphasizing news stories and videos in people’s feeds on the social network in favor of posts from their friends.

At the same time, though, the company has been cautiously testing out ways to boost local news stories users are interested in and initiatives to support the broader industry. It launched a feature called “Today In” that shows people local news and information , including missing-person alerts, road closures, crime reports and school announcements, expanding it to hundreds of cities around the U.S. and a few in Australia.

The push to support local news comes as Facebook, which is based in Menlo Park, California, tries to shake off its reputation as a hotbed for misinformation and elections-meddling. The company says users have been asking to see more local content that is relevant to them, including news stories as well as community information such as road closings during a snowstorm.

The $300 million investment includes a $5 million grant to the nonprofit Pulitzer Center to launch “Bringing Stories Home,” a fund that will provide local U.S. newsrooms with reporting grants to support coverage of local issues. There’s also a $2 million investment in Report for America as part of a partnership aiming to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms across the country over the next five years.

The idea behind the investments, Brown said, is to look “holistically at how a given publisher can define a business model. Facebook can’t be the only answer, the only solution — we don’t want the publisher to be dependent on Facebook.”

Fran Wills, CEO of the Local Media Consortium, which is receiving $1 million together with the Local Media Association to help their member newsrooms develop new revenue streams, said she is optimistic the investment will help.

“I think they are recognizing that trusted, credible content is of benefit not only to local publishers but to them,” she said.

 

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us!

Huawei Founder Says Company Would Not Share User Secrets

All, News, Technology

The founder of network gear and smart phone supplier Huawei Technologies says the tech giant would reject requests from the Chinese government to disclose confidential information about its customers. 

Meeting with foreign reporters at Huawei’s headquarters, Ren Zhengfei sought Tuesday to allay Western concerns the company is a security risk. Those fears have hampered Huawei’s access to global markets for next-generation telecom technology. 

Asked how Huawei would respond if Chinese authorities ask for confidential information about foreign customers or their networks, Ren said, “we would definitely say no to such a request.”

The United States, Australia, Japan and some other governments have imposed curbs on use of Huawei technology over concerns the company is a security risk.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us!