Soft Wearable Tech is Helping People Move

Robots with rigid metal frames are being used to help the paralyzed walk and have applications that could one day grant military fighters extra power on the battlefield. The problem is that they’re uncomfortable and heavy. But researchers at Harvard University are working on lighter, flexible devices that move easily and don’t weigh much. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.


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Nigerian Firm Takes Blame for Routing Google Traffic Through China

Nigeria’s Main One Cable took responsibility Tuesday for a glitch that temporarily caused some Google global traffic to be misrouted through China, saying it accidentally caused the problem during a network 

upgrade. 

The issue surfaced Monday afternoon as internet monitoring firms ThousandEyes and BGPmon said some traffic to Alphabet’s Google had been routed through China and Russia, raising concerns that the communications had been intentionally hijacked. 

Main One said in an email that it had caused a 74-minute glitch by misconfiguring a border gateway protocol filter used to route traffic across the internet. That resulted in some Google traffic being sent through Main One partner China Telecom, the West African firm said. 

Google has said little about the matter. It acknowledged the problem Monday in a post on its website that said it was investigating the glitch and that it believed the problem originated outside the company. The company did not say how many users were affected or identify specific customers. 

Google representatives could not be reached Tuesday to comment on Main One’s statement. 

Hacking concerns

Even though Main One said it was to blame, some security experts said the incident highlighted concerns about the potential for hackers to conduct espionage or disrupt communications by exploiting known vulnerabilities in the way traffic is routed over the internet. 

The U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission, a Washington group that advises the U.S. Congress on security issues, plans to investigate the issue, said Commissioner Michael Wessel. 

“We will work to gain more facts about what has happened recently and look at what legal tools or legislation or law enforcement activities can help address this problem,” Wessel said. 

Glitches in border gateway protocol filters have caused multiple outages to date, including cases in which traffic from U.S. internet and financial services firms was routed through Russia, China and Belarus. 

Yuval Shavitt, a network security researcher at Tel Aviv University, said it was possible that Monday’s issue was not an accident. 

“You can always claim that this is some kind of configuration error,” said Shavitt, who last month co-authored a paper alleging that the Chinese government had conducted a series of internet hijacks. 

Main One, which describes itself as a leading provider of telecom and network services for businesses in West Africa, said that it had investigated the matter and implemented new processes to prevent it from happening again. 


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NATO Looks to Startups, Disruptive Tech to Meet Emerging Threats 

NATO is developing new high-tech tools, such as the ability to 3-D-print parts for weapons and deliver them by drone, as it scrambles to retain a competitive edge over Russia, China and other would-be battlefield adversaries. 

Gen. Andre Lanata, who took over as head of the NATO transformation command in September, told a conference in Berlin that his command demonstrated over 21 “disruptive” projects during military exercises in Norway this month. 

He urged startups as well as traditional arms manufacturers to work with the Atlantic alliance to boost innovation, as rapid and easy access to emerging technologies was helping adversaries narrow NATO’s long-standing advantage. 

Lanata’s command hosted its third “innovation challenge” in tandem with the conference this week, where 10 startups and smaller firms presented ideas for defeating swarms of drones on the ground and in the air. 

Winner from Belgium

Belgian firm ALX Systems, which builds civilian surveillance drones, won this year’s challenge.

Its CEO, Geoffrey Mormal, said small companies like his often struggled with cumbersome weapons procurement processes. 

“It’s a very hot topic, so perhaps it will help to enable quicker decisions,” he told Reuters. 

Lanata said NATO was focused on areas such as artificial intelligence, connectivity, quantum computing, big data and hypervelocity, but also wants to learn from DHL and others how to improve the logistics of moving weapons and troops. 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said increasing military spending by NATO members would help tackle some of the challenges, but efforts were also needed to reduce widespread duplication and fragmentation in the European defense sector. 

Participants also met behind closed doors with chief executives from 12 of the 15 biggest arms makers in Europe. 


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Facebook Unable to Identify Who Was Behind Network of Fake Accounts

Facebook said Tuesday it had been unable to determine who was behind dozens of fake accounts it took down shortly before the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.

“Combined with our takedown last Monday, in total we have removed 36 Facebook accounts, 6 Pages, and 99 Instagram accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior,” Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy, wrote on the company’s blog.

At least one of the Instagram accounts had well over a million followers, according to Facebook.

A website that said it represented the Russian state-sponsored Internet Research Agency claimed responsibility for the accounts last week, but Facebook said it did not have enough information to connect the agency that has been called a troll farm.

“As multiple independent experts have pointed out, trolls have an incentive to claim that their activities are more widespread and influential than may be the case,” Gleicher wrote.

Sample images provided by Facebook showed posts on a wide range of issues. Some advocated on behalf of social issues such as women’s rights and LGBT pride, while others appeared to be conservative users voicing support for President Donald Trump.

The viewpoints on display potentially fall in line with a Russian tactic identified in other cases of falsified accounts. A recent analysis of millions of tweets by the Atlantic Council found that Russian trolls often pose as members on either side of contentious issues in order to maximize division in the United States.


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5G is Coming, Get Ready

If you’re really lucky and live in the U.S. cities of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles or Sacramento, you now have access to a 5G network. If you live anywhere else, just be patient… a 5G mobile network is coming your way, and it’s already arriving in some countries. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.


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Media: German States Want Social Media Law Tightened

German states have drafted a list of demands aimed at tightening a law that requires social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to remove hate speech from their sites, the Handelblatt newspaper reported Monday.

Justice ministers from the states will submit their proposed revisions to the German law called NetzDG at a meeting with Justice Minister Katarina Barley on Thursday, the newspaper said, saying it had obtained a draft of the document.

The law, which came into full force on Jan. 1, is a highly ambitious effort to control what appears on social media and it has drawn a range of criticism.

While the German states are focused on concerns about how complaints are processed, other officials have called for changes following criticism that too much content was being blocked.

The states’ justice ministers are calling for changes that would make it easier for people who want to complain about banned content such as pro-Nazi ideology to find the required forms on social media platforms.

They also want to fine social media companies up to 500,000 euros ($560,950) for providing “meaningless replies” to queries from law enforcement authorities, the newspaper said.

Till Steffen, the top justice official in Hamburg and a member of the Greens party, told the newspaper that the law had in some cases proven to be “a paper tiger.”

“If we want to effectively limit hate and incitement on the internet, we have to give the law more bite and close the loopholes,” he told the paper. “For instance, it cannot be the case that some platforms hide their complaint forms so that no one can find them.”

Facebook in July said it had deleted hundreds of offensive posts since implementation of the law, which foresees fines of up to 50 million euros ($56.10 million) for failure to comply.


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France to ‘Embed’ Regulators at Facebook to Combat Hate Speech

Facebook will allow French regulators to “embed” inside the company to examine how it combats online hate speech, the first time the wary tech giant has opened its doors in such a way, President Emmanuel Macron said Monday.

From January, Macron’s administration will send a small team of senior civil servants to the company for six months to verify Facebook’s goodwill and determine whether its checks on racist, sexist or hate-fueled speech could be improved.

“It’s a first,” Macron told the annual Internet Governance Forum in Paris. “I’m delighted by this very innovative experimental approach,” he said. “It’s an experiment, but a very important first step in my view.”

The trial project is an example of what Macron has called “smart regulation,” something he wants to extend to other tech leaders such as Google, Apple and Amazon.

The move follows a meeting with Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg in May, when Macron invited the CEOs of some of the biggest tech firms to Paris, telling them they should work for the common good.

The officials may be seconded from the telecoms regulator and the interior and justice ministries, a government source said. Facebook said the selection was up to the French presidency.

It is unclear whether the group will have access to highly-sensitive material such as Facebook’s algorithms or codes to remove hate speech. It could travel to Facebook’s European headquarters in Dublin and global base in Menlo Park, California, if necessary, the company said.

“The best way to ensure that any regulation is smart and works for people is by governments, regulators and businesses working together to learn from each other and explore ideas,” Nick Clegg, the former British deputy prime minister who is now head of Facebook’s global affairs, said in a statement.

France’s approach to hate speech has contrasted sharply with Germany, Europe’s leading advocate of privacy.

Since January, Berlin has required sites to remove banned content within 24 hours or face fines of up to 50 million euros ($56 million). That has led to accusations of censorship.

France’s use of embedded regulators is modeled on what happens in its banking and nuclear industries.

“[Tech companies] now have the choice between something that is smart but intrusive and regulation that is wicked and plain stupid,” a French official said.


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Macron, Tech Giants Launch ‘Paris Call’ to Fix Internet Ills

France and U.S. technology giants including Microsoft on Monday urged world governments and companies to sign up to a new initiative to regulate the internet and fight threats such as cyberattacks, online censorship and hate speech.

With the launch of a declaration entitled the ‘Paris call for trust and security in cyberspace’, French President Emmanuel Macron is hoping to revive efforts to regulate cyberspace after the last round of United Nations negotiations failed in 2017.

In the document, which is supported by many European countries but, crucially, not China or Russia, the signatories urge governments to beef up protections against cyber meddling in elections and prevent the theft of trade secrets.

The Paris call was initially pushed for by tech companies but was redrafted by French officials to include work done by U.N. experts in recent years.

“The internet is a space currently managed by a technical community of private players. But it’s not governed. So now that half of humanity is online, we need to find new ways to organize the internet,” an official from Macron’s office said.

“Otherwise, the internet as we know it today – free, open and secure– will be damaged by the new threats.”

By launching the initiative a day after a weekend of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of World War I, Macron hopes to promote his push for stronger global cooperation in the face of rising nationalism.

In another sign of the Trump administration’s reluctance to join international initiatives it sees as a bid to encroach on U.S. sovereignty, French officials said Washington might not become a signatory, though talks are continuing.

However, they said large U.S. tech companies including Facebook and Alphabet’s Google would sign up.

“The American ecosystem is very involved. It doesn’t mean that in the end the U.S. federal government won’t join us, talks are continuing, but the U.S. will be involved under other forms,” another French official said.

 


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Study Links Social Media to Depression, Loneliness

University of Pennsylvania researchers say that for the first time they have linked social media use to increases in depression and loneliness.

The idea that social media is anything but social when it comes to mental health has been talked about for years, but not many studies have managed to actually link the two.

To do that, Penn researchers, led by psychologist Melissa Hunt, designed a study that focused on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.

The results were published in the November issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

How study worked

The study was conducted with 143 participants, who before they began, completed a mood survey and sent along photos of their battery screens, showing how often they were using their phones to access social media.

“We set out to do a much more comprehensive, rigorous study that was also more ecologically valid,” Hunt said. That term, ecologically valid, means that the research attempts to mimic real life.

The study divided the participants into two groups: The first group was allowed to maintain their normal social media habits. The other, the control group, was restricted to 10 minutes per day on each of the three platforms: Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.

The restrictions were put in place for three weeks and then the participants returned and were tested for outcomes such as fear of missing out (FOMO), anxiety, depression and loneliness.

​Results of study

The results showed a very clear link between social media use and increased levels of depression and loneliness.

“Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness,” Hunt said. “These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.”

She calls her findings the “grand irony” of social media.

What is it about social media that’s just so depressing?

Hunt says that it’s two major things. The first is that social media invites what Hunt calls “downward social comparison.” When you’re online, it can sometimes seem that “everyone else is cooler and having more fun and included in more things and you’re left out,” she said. And that’s just generally demoralizing.

The second factor is a bit more nuanced. 

“Time is a zero-sum game,” Hunt told VOA. “Every minute you spend online is a minute you are not doing your work or not meeting a friend for dinner or having a deep conversation with your roommate.”

And these real life activities are the ones that can bolster self-esteem and self worth, Hunt said.

What to learn

So what’s the takeaway?

People are on their devices, and that’s not going to change, she said. But as in life, a bit of moderation goes a long way. 

“In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life,” she added.

Hunt pointed out a few caveats to the study. First, it was done exclusively with 18- to 22-year-olds, and it is unclear if the depressing effects of social media will cross generational lines to older or younger people, Hunt said. But she expects her results should generalize at least for people through the age of 30.

Hunt says she is now beginning a study to gauge the emotional impact of dating apps.


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For Autistic Kids, Robots Can Be Social, Learning Study Buddy

Robots have been put to work assembling cars in factories, answering questions at conventions and hotel lobbies, moving packages in warehouses, and more. Now, a team at the University of Southern California is studying how well robots work with autistic children, to offer personalized support and learning. Faith Lapidus reports.


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