British Facial Recognition Tech Firm Secures US Border Contract

A British technology firm has been awarded a contract by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to use biometric facial verification technology to improve border control, the first foreign firm to win such a contract in the United States.

London-based iProov will develop technology to improve border controls at unmanned ports of entry with a verification system that uses the traveler’s cell phone.

British trade minister Liam Fox said in a statement on Monday that the contract was “one example of our shared economic and security ties” with the United States.

IProov said it was the first non-U.S. firm to be awarded a contract under the Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP), which is run by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate.

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Russia Blocks Popular Telegram Messaging App

 Russia began implementing a ban on popular instant messaging service Telegram after the app refused to provide encrypted messages to Russia’s security services. 

Russia’s state telecommunications regulator Roskomnadzor said Monday that it had sent a notice to telecommunications operators in the country instructing them to block the service following last week’s court ruling that sided with the government to ban the app.

“Roskomnadzor has received the ruling by the Tagansky District Court on restricting access in Russia to the web resources of the online information dissemination organizer, Telegram Messenger Limited Liability Partnership. This information was sent to providers on Monday 16th of April,” the watchdog said in a statement.

In a statement posted on social media, Telegram’s founder and CEO Pavel Durov said, “We consider the decision to block the app to be unconstitutional, and we will continue to defend the right to secret correspondence for Russians.”

Durov is a Russian entrepreneur who left the country in 2014 and is now based in Dubai. He has long said he will reject any attempt by Russia’s security services to gain access to the app, arguing such access would violate users’ privacy.

Roskomnadzor is implementing a decision handed down by a Russian court, which ruled on April 13 that Telegram should be blocked. The court said the app was in violation of Russian regulations to provide information to state security.

Telegram is ranked the world’s ninth most popular messaging app with over 200 million users worldwide. It is widely used in countries across the former Soviet Union and the Middle East and is popular among political activists and journalists. Russian authorities said the app is also used by violent extremists.

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Farmers Go High-Tech to Monitor Their Cows

Farmers in the American South are upgrading their cattle to the 21st Century.  With tech tools like AI (artificial intelligence) and Wi-Fi, they are now able to monitor the herd and keep tabs on the animals that drive their business. Arash Arabasadi reports.

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Power Generator with Only One Moving Part

Rural communities in United States and elsewhere often use portable backup electricity generators in case of power outages. But these machines can be costly to run for longer times and require periodic attendance. A team from West Virginia University is developing a small, natural gas-powered generator that will be able to run for years. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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Philippines Investigating Facebook Over Data-Mining

More trouble may be ahead for Facebook as the Philippine government said it is investigating the social media giant over reports information from more than a million users in the Philippines was breached by British data firm Cambridge Analytica.

The Phliippines’ National Privacy Commission, or NPC, said it sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to let him know the NPC is requiring that the company “submit a number of documents relevant to the case, to establish the scope and impact of the incident to Filipino data subjects.”

The privacy watchdog also said through its website it wants to determine whether there is unauthorized processing of personal data of Filipinos. The letter was dated April 11.

A Facebook spokesperson tells the Reuters news agency the company is committed to protecting people’s privacy and is engaged with the privacy watchdog.

During U.S. congressional hearings this past week, Zuckerberg apologized for how Facebook has handled the uproar over online privacy and revelations the data breach allowed Cambridge Analytica to access the personal information of about 87 million Facebook users.

As Zuckerberg sat through about 10 hours of questioning over two days, nearly 100 members of Congress expressed their anger over Facebook’s data privacy controversy and delved into the social media platform’s practices.

And many legislators made it clear they did not think current U.S. laws were sufficient to protect users.

“As has been noted by many people already, we’ve been relying on self-regulation in your industry for the most part,” said Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado. “We’re trying to explore what we can do to prevent further breaches.”

For Congress, the hearings proved to be an education in how internet companies handle user data and the legal protections for consumers.

While Zuckerberg said many times that Facebook doesn’t sell user data, congressional leaders wanted to know how 87 million people’s data ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica without their knowledge or permission.

“I think what we’re getting to here is, who owns the virtual you? Who owns your presence online?” asked Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican.

“Congresswoman, I believe that everyone owns their own content online,” answered Zuckerberg.

Shadow profiles?

But can Facebook users see all the information that the social media platform has about them, including what it has picked up from outside firms?

That is something congressional leaders probed in questions about “shadow profiles,” information the social network has collected about people who do not have Facebook accounts.

Zuckerberg maintained that Facebook collects this information for security reasons but congressional leaders wanted to know more about what non-Facebook users can do to find out what the company knows about them.

New federal agency?

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission has taken the lead in overseeing internet firms and is investigating Facebook in the Cambridge Analytica case. Congressional leaders, however, pointed out the FTC cannot make new rules. They asked whether the FTC should be given new powers, or whether a new agency focused on privacy in the digital age should be created.

“Would it be helpful if there was an entity clearly tasked with overseeing how consumer data is being collected, shared and used, and which could offer guidelines, at least guidelines for companies like yours to ensure your business practices are not in violation of the law?” Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-California), asked. “Something like a digital consumer protection agency?”

“Congressman, I think it’s an idea that deserves a lot of consideration,” Zuckerberg replied. “But I think the details on this really matter.”

During the two days of hearings, congressional leaders repeatedly looked to Europe, where new regulation known as the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, governing people’s digital lives, goes into effect May 25. Zuckerberg said the regulation would apply to people in the U.S.

Zuckerberg said the company already has some of the new regulation’s privacy controls in place; but, the GDPR requires the company to do a few more things, “and we’re going to extend that to the world.”

A website dedicated to GDPR notes that organizations “in non-compliance may face heavy fines.”

Analysts note the controversy may lead to changes in how digital privacy issues are handled.

“We saw during these hearings that many, many members of Congress are ready and willing to get to work on privacy legislation,” said Natasha Duarte, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy & Technology, an advocacy group focused on digital rights. “I think the details of what is the right legislation for the U.S. are very complex and we all need to come together and hammer it out.”

User privacy vs. monetized data

Ideas such as an outside auditor who will be checking on Facebook’s handling of user data will run into the business model of many internet firms that need data about people to offer them targeted ads.

“Monetizing data, for better or worse, is the model free services rely on,” she said.

That tension was on display in questions from Rep. Anna Eshoo, (D-California), who counts Zuckerberg among her Palo Alto constituents.

“Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy,” she asked.

In that instant, Zuckerberg demurred, saying he didn’t understand what the congresswoman meant, but acknowledged that there likely would be more internet regulation.

“The internet is growing in importance around the world and in people’s lives,” he said. “And I think it will be inevitable that there will need to be some regulation. So my position is not that there should be no regulation. But I think you have to be careful about the regulation you put in place.”

In light of the furor involving user data privacy, Facebook announced last month it was suspending Cambridge Analytica after finding such policies had been violated. Cambridge Analytica has counted U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign among its clients.

Separately, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has denied reports in the local media that his own 2016 election campaign worked with Cambridge Analytica. Duterte was quoted as saying, “I might have lost with them.”

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Zuckerberg’s Compensation Jumps to $8.9M as Security Costs Soar

Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg’s compensation rose 53.5 percent to $8.9 million in 2017, a regulatory filing showed Friday, largely because of higher costs related to the 33-year old billionaire’s personal security.

About 83 percent of the compensation represented security-related expenses, while much of the rest was tied to Zuckerberg’s personal usage of private aircraft.

Zuckerberg’s security expenses climbed to $7.3 million in 2017, compared with $4.9 million a year earlier.

His base salary was unchanged at $1, while his total voting power at Facebook rose marginally to 59.9 percent.

Menlo Park, California-based Facebook, which has consistently reported stronger-than-expected earnings over the past two years, has faced public outcry over its role in Russia’s alleged influence over the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Earlier this week, Zuckerberg emerged largely unscathed after facing hours of questioning from U.S. lawmakers on how the personal information of several million Facebook users may have been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

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New Invention Detects Cancer in Seconds

If cancer is suspected in a patient, surgeons, in most cases, would have to cut some of the suspected tissue out and test it. Getting the results could be a long process. A new invention called a MasSpec Pen could cut the wait time to just seconds. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from Austin, Texas, where the pen was created.

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Congress Discusses New Ways to Regulate Facebook

Lawmakers in Washington peppered Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with tough questions this week about his firm’s handling of user data and privacy. They also suggested new ways they or others might regulate internet firms. Michelle Quinn reports.

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CO2-reducing XPRIZE Competition Enters Final Phase

Nonprofit international organization for public competitions XPRIZE has announced 10 finalists in its race to develop new technologies to lower carbon-dioxide emissions. Each team will get an additional incentive of $5 million to scale up their ideas and present them for the top prize of $20 million. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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Facebook to Stop Spending Against California Privacy Effort

Facebook says it will stop spending money to fight a proposed California ballot initiative aimed at giving consumers more control over their data.

The measure, known as the “California Consumer Privacy Act,” would require companies to disclose upon request what types of personal information they collect about someone and whether they’ve sold it. It also would allow customers to opt out of having their data sold.

The company made the announcement Wednesday as chief executive Mark Zuckerberg underwent questioning from Congress about the handling of user data.

Pressure has mounted on Facebook to explain its privacy controls following revelations that a Republican-linked firm conducted widespread data harvesting.

Facebook had donated $200,000 to a committee opposing the initiative in California — part of a $1 million effort by tech giants to keep it off the November ballot.

Facebook said it ended its support “to focus our efforts on supporting reasonable privacy measures in California.”

Proponents of the ballot measure applauded the move.

“We are thrilled,” said Mary Ross, president of Californians for Consumer Privacy.

The California Chamber of Commerce and other groups are fighting to keep the measure off the ballot through the “Committee to Protect California Jobs.” Google, AT&T, Verizon and Comcast also contributed $200,000 each to that effort in February.

Committee spokesman Steve Maviglio said the measure would hurt the California economy.

“It is unworkable and requires the internet in California to operate differently — limiting our choices, hurting our businesses, and cutting our connection to the global economy,” he said.

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