VOA Science & Tech

Subscribe to VOA Science & Tech feed VOA Science & Tech
science-technology
Updated: 30 min 3 sec ago

FBI: Foreign Hackers Have Compromised Home Router Devices

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 23:28
The FBI warned on Friday that foreign cybercriminals had compromised "hundreds of thousands" of home and small-office router devices around the world which direct traffic on the internet by forwarding data packets between computer networks. In a public service announcement, the FBI has discovered that the foreign cybercriminals used a VPNFilter malware that can collect peoples' information, exploit their devices and block network traffic. The announcement did not provide any details about where the criminals might be based, or what their motivations could be. "The size and scope of the infrastructure by VPNFilter malware is significant," the FBI said, adding that it is capable of rendering people's routers "inoperable." It said the malware is hard to detect, due to encryption and other tactics. The FBI urged people to reboot their devices to temporarily disrupt the malware and help identify infected devices. People should also consider disabling remote management settings, changing passwords to replace them with more secure ones, and upgrading to the latest firmware.

Amazon's Alexa Accidentally Tapes, Shares Family Chat With Contact

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 20:48
A Portland, Oregon, family has learned what happens when Amazon.com Inc's popular voice assistant Alexa is lost in translation. Amazon on Thursday described an "unlikely ... string of events" that made Alexa send an audio recording of the family to one of their contacts randomly. The episode underscored how Alexa can misinterpret conversation as a wake-up call and command. A local news outlet, KIRO 7, reported that a woman with Amazon devices across her home received a call two weeks ago from her husband's employee, who said Alexa had recorded the family's conversation about hardwood floors and sent it to him. "I felt invaded," the woman, only identified as Danielle, said in the report. "A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, 'I'm never plugging that device in again, because I can't trust it.'" Alexa, which comes with Echo speakers and other gadgets, starts recording after it hears its name or another "wake word" selected by users. This means that an utterance quite like Alexa, even from a TV commercial, can activate a device. That's what happened in the incident, Amazon said. "Subsequent conversation was heard as a 'send message' request," the company said in a statement. "At which point, Alexa said out loud 'To whom?' At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer's contact list." Amazon added, "We are evaluating options to make this case even less likely." Assuring customers of Alexa's security is crucial to Amazon, which has ambitions for Alexa to be ubiquitous — whether dimming the lights for customers or placing orders for them with the world's largest online retailer. University researchers from Berkeley and Georgetown found in a 2016 paper that sounds unintelligible to humans can set off voice assistants in general, which raised concerns of exploitation by attackers. Amazon did not immediately comment on the matter, but it previously told The New York Times that it has taken steps to keep its devices secure. Millions of Amazon customers have shopped with Alexa. Customers bought tens of millions of Alexa devices last holiday season alone, the company has said. That makes the incident reported Thursday a rare one. But faulty hearing is not. "Background noise from our television is making it think we said Alexa," Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said of his personal experience. "It happens all the time."

Jury: Samsung Owes Apple $539M for Copying iPhone

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 07:43
A jury has decided Samsung must pay Apple $539 million in damages for illegally copying some of the iPhone’s features to lure people into buying its competing products. The verdict reached Thursday is the latest twist in a legal battle that began in 2011. Apple contends Samsung wouldn’t have emerged as the world’s leading seller of smartphones if it hadn’t ripped off the technology powering the pioneering iPhone in developing a line of similar devices running on Google’s Android software. Patents infringed Previous rulings had determined that Samsung infringed on some of Apple’s patents, but the amount of damages owed has been in legal limbo. Another jury convened for a 2012 trial had determined Samsung should pay Apple $1.05 billion, but U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh reduced that amount to $548 million. The issue escalated to the U.S. Supreme Court , which determined in 2016 that a lower court needed to re-examine $399 million of the $548 million. That ruling was based on the concept that the damages shouldn’t be based on all the profits that the South Korean electronics giant rung up from products that copied the iPhone because its infringement may only have violated a few patents. $1 billion or $28 million? Apple had argued it was owed more than $1 billon while Samsung contended the $399 million should be slashed to $28 million. The revised damages figure represents a victory for Apple, even though it isn’t as much as the Cupertino, California, company had sought. “Today’s decision flies in the face of a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in favor of Samsung on the scope of design patent damages,” Samsung said in a statement. “We will consider all options to obtain an outcome that does not hinder creativity and fair competition for all companies and consumers.” An eight-person jury came up with the new amount following a one-week trial and four days of deliberation in a San Jose, California, federal courthouse. Apple expressed gratitude to the jury for agreeing “that Samsung should pay for copying our products.” “This case has always been about more than money,” a company statement said. “Apple ignited the smartphone revolution with iPhone and it is a fact that Samsung blatantly copied our design.”

How FBI Brought Down Major Cybercrime Clearinghouse

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 05:26
When a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, convicted a Latvian software developer last week of running an underground clearinghouse for computer hackers, U.S. prosecutors highlighted it as an example of their commitment to combating cybercrime. "This verdict demonstrates our commitment to holding such actors accountable," said acting U.S. Attorney Tracey Doherty-McCormick. "I commend the work of the agents and prosecutors both in the United States and in Latvia, who worked together to bring him to justice." Not mentioned was the role played by Trend Micro, a Japanese cybersecurity firm that collaborated with the FBI to hunt down the developer, Ruslans Bondars, and an accomplice, Jurijs Martisevs, who jointly operated Scan4You, a site that helped hackers test their malware. In a report released after the verdict, Trend Micro offered an inside look at how it identified Scan4You in 2012, took a trove of data about the site to the FBI in 2014, and then worked closely with agents as they built a case against the two men. Trend Micro says it has supported nearly 20 law enforcement cases around the world. "In this case, our global threat intelligence network and team of researchers provided an invaluable resource for the FBI as it homed in on this notorious [counter antivirus] service," said Ed Cabrera, chief security officer for Trend Micro. The case highlights how the FBI and private cybersecurity firms, once wary of working together, have in recent years started teaming up to combat cybercrime, a problem that costs the world an estimated $600 billion a year.  "The value that the private sector brings to law enforcement investigations is almost incalculable," said John Boles, a director at consulting firm Navigant who previously worked as an assistant FBI director and led the bureau's global cyberoperations. A decade ago "there was almost hesitation on both sides of the fence to cooperate, but somewhere along the line as the scales have tipped, everybody realized it's a global issue," Boles said. In 2011, the FBI created the Office of the Private Sector within the Cyber Division, making private-sector collaboration a key pillar of its cybercrime-fighting strategy. Since then, the bureau has made more than a dozen major arrests in cybercrime cases, many with help from the private sector, according to Boles. While cybercrime investigations are often initiated by the bureau, some start with a tip from the private sector. Unusual activity That was the case with the Scan4You investigation. In 2012, Trend Micro researchers, while investigating a hacker group, noticed a flurry of unusual activity on their threat radar: Somebody using Latvia IP addresses kept checking the company's web reputation system, a program that blocks malicious websites. That led them to another discovery: regular checks of Scan4You URLs against Trend Micro's web reputation system emanating from Latvia. The goal: to determine whether Scan4You's scanning scripts could detect malware. "By 2014, we had a deeper understanding [of Scan4You] and began that relationship with the FBI," Cabrera said. The collaboration would continue for the next three years as Trend Micro researchers and FBI agents gathered evidence about Scan4You, its operators and its users. Scan4You was an underground service that allowed hackers to upload their malware to see whether it could be detected by more than 35 antivirus engines. At its peak in 2016, Scan4You was the largest service of its kind, boasting more than 30,000 customers. The service allowed cyber scofflaws to test all manner of malicious software, ranging from so-called crypters, a type of software used to conceal malicious files, to remote access trojans, programs that allow a remote operator backdoor access to a computer. 'World's most destructive hackers' Among Scan4You's customers were "some of the world's most destructive hackers," according Doherty-McCormick, the Virginia prosecutor. One customer used Scan4You to test malware that was later used to steal about 40 million credit card and debit card numbers, costing one U.S. retailer $292 million, according to court documents. A Russian hacker used Scan4You to develop Citadel, an infamous botnet used by cybercriminals to steal $500 million from bank accounts. The FBI worked with Microsoft to break up the network. But Scan4You was not a very lucrative operation. As researchers dug deeper, they discovered that Bondars and Martisevs were affiliated with "some of the longest-running cybercriminal businesses" and "involved with one of the largest and oldest pharmaceutical spam gangs known as Eva Pharmacy," according to Trend Micro. Bondars, a longtime Latvian resident of Ukrainian citizenship, designed and maintained the site. Martisevs, a Russian national living in Latvia, provided customer service and promoted the site on cybercriminal forums. The pair's deep involvement in an assortment of criminal activities gave them something that helped with their scanning service: cyber-cred. "These threat actors gained the respect of many other cybercriminals who trusted them and used their malware scanning service," the report says. The end for Scan4You came with the 2017 arrests and extradition of Bondars and Martisevs to the United States. Shortly after their arrest, Scan4You went dark. In March, Martisevs pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Bondars. Last week, Bondars was convicted of three counts related to his role in Scan4You. Scan4You's downfall has taken the biggest service of its kind out of commission, but just how big a blow to cybercrime it represents remains to be seen. Typically, when a site like Scan4You goes offline, its users flee to copycat sites. That has yet to happen, Cabrera said. "This is a big blow to cybercrime, helping to disrupt countless threat actors and prove there are consequences to their actions," he said.

Africa in Spotlight at Paris Tech Fair

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 02:26
French President Emmanuel Macron says his country will invest $76 million in African startups, saying innovation on the continent is key to meeting challenges ranging from climate change to terrorism. He spoke Thursday at a technology fair in Paris showcasing African talent this year. It is hard to miss the African section of Viva Tech. There are gigantic signs pointing to stands from South Africa, Morocco and Rwanda. And there are lots of African entrepreneurs. Omar Cisse heads a Senegalese startup called InTouch, which has developed an app making it easier to conduct financial transactions by mobile phone. “Globally, you have more than $1 billion per day of transactions on mobile money, and more than 50 percent are done in sub-Saharan Africa,” he said. Cisse says the challenges for African startups are tremendous, but so are the opportunities. “In Africa, you have very huge potential. Everything needs to be done now, and with local people who know the realities,” he said. Like Cisse, Cameroonian engineer Alain Nteff is breaking new ground. He and a doctor co-founded a startup called Gifted Mom, which provides health information to pregnant and nursing women via text messaging. “I think the biggest problems today in Africa are going to be solved by business, and not by development and nonprofits,” he said. Nteff gets some support from the United Nations and other big donors. But funding is a challenge for many. African startups reportedly raised $560 million last year, compared with more than $22 billion raised by European ventures. Now they are getting a $76 million windfall, announced by President Emmanuel Macron here at the tech fair. “When the startups decide to work together to deploy ad accelerate equipment in Africa, it is good for the whole continent, because that is how to accelerate everything and provide opportunities — which by the way, is the best way to fight against terrorism, jihadism ... to provide another model to these young people,” he said. The funding comes from the Digital Africa Initiative, run by France’s AFD development agency (Agence Francaise de Developpement). “I think the main challenge is access to funding, and the second is the coaching to grow. AFD wants them to find solutions,” said Jean-Marc Kadjo, who heads the project team. There are plenty of exciting projects here. Reine Imanishimwe is a wood innovator from Rwanda. “I try to use my wood in high technology. As you can see, my business card is wood, but I print it using a computer,” said Imanishimwe. Abdou Salam Nizeyimana is also from Rwanda. He works for Zipline, an American startup that uses drones to fly blood to people and hospitals in Rwanda, cutting delivery times from hours to minutes. “Now doctors can plan surgery right away and just say, ‘We need this type of blood,’ " and it can be delivered in about a half hour or less, he said. Rwandan President Paul Kagame toured the tech fair with Macron. Relations between Rwanda and France are warming, after years of tension over Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Entrepreneur Nizeyimana is happy about that. When politics are good, he says, it is good for technology transfer and Africa’s development.

Mapping the Oceans' Floors by 2030

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 12:25
Oceanographers often say we know much more about the surface of the Moon and Mars than we do about nearly 70 percent of our own planet. That is because most of the Earth is covered in water, most of it deeper than 200 meters. There are several initiatives to map the oceans' floors and the latest comes from Japan. VOA's George Putic reports.

Twitter to Add Special Labels to Political Candidates in US

Wed, 05/23/2018 - 23:22
Twitter says it's adding special labels to tweets from some U.S. political candidates ahead of this year's midterm elections. Twitter says the move is to provide users with "authentic information" and prevent spoofed and fake accounts from fooling users. The labels will include what office a person is running for and where. The labels will appear on retweets as well as tweets off of Twitter, such as when they are embedded in a news story. Twitter, along with Facebook and other social media companies, has been under heavy scrutiny for allowing their platforms to be misused by malicious actors trying to influence elections around the world. The labels will start to appear next week for candidates for governor and Congress.

France's Macron Takes on Facebook's Zuckerberg in Tech Push

Wed, 05/23/2018 - 21:29
French President Emmanuel Macron is taking on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other internet giants at a Paris meeting to discuss tax and data protection and how they could use their global influence for the public good. Macron on Wednesday welcomed Zuckerberg and the leaders of dozens of other tech companies, including Microsoft, Uber, and IBM, at a conference named "Tech for Good" meant to address things like workers' rights, data privacy and tech literacy.   The meeting comes as Facebook, Google and other online giants are increasingly seen by the public as predators that abuse personal data, avoid taxes and stifle competition.   "There is no free lunch!" Macron joked to express his expectations of "frank and direct" discussions.   He said tech giants could not just be "free riding" without taking into account the common good. He called on them to help improve "social situations, inequalities, climate change." Zuckerberg came to Paris after facing tough questions Tuesday from European Union lawmakers in Brussels, where he apologized for the way the social network has been used to produce fake news and interfere in elections. But the Facebook founder also frustrated the lawmakers as the testimony's setup allowed him to respond to a list of questions as he sought fit.   Macron sees himself as uniquely placed to both understand and influence the tech world. France's youngest president, Macron has championed startups and aggressively wooed technology investors.   But Macron is also one of Europe's most vocal critics of tax schemes used by companies like Facebook that deprive governments of billions of euros a year in potential revenue. And Macron has defended an aggressive new European data protection law that comes into effect this week. The so-called GDPR regulation will give Europeans more control over what companies can do with what they post, search and click.   Several companies took advantage of the meeting to announce new initiatives.   Microsoft said it would extend the EU principles to its clients worldwide. Google committed $100 million over the next five years to support nonprofit projects, like training in digital technologies. Uber said it will finance insurance to better protect its European drivers in case of accidents at work, serious illness, hospitalization and maternity leave. And IBM announced the creation of 1,400 new jobs by 2020 in France.   Aides to Macron acknowledged companies like Facebook have become more influential than governments. The aides insisted that Macron isn't trying to kiss up to such companies or let them whitewash their reputations through philanthropic gifts.   The aides spoke only on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to be publicly named.    Privacy and taxes are among issues Macron was raising with Zuckerberg and the other tech executives in one-on-one meetings and a mass lunch Wednesday in the presidential palace with philanthropists and politicians.   Macron, Zuckerberg and others are then expected to attend the Vivatech gadget show in Paris on Thursday.   At Tuesday's hearing in the European Parliament in Brussels, Zuckerberg said Facebook "didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibilities," adding: "That was a mistake, and I'm sorry for it."   But lawmakers left frustrated. Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt asked whether Zuckerberg wanted to be remembered as "a genius who created a digital monster that is destroying our democracies and our societies."    

Africa at Special Risk From Cyber Attacks, Warn Experts

Wed, 05/23/2018 - 20:15
The dangers posed by cybercrime are on the rise across the globe – with high profile incidents like the recent ‘Wannacry’ ransomware attack an example of the growing threat. As the adoption of Internet and mobile technology grows, cyber experts say Africa is particularly at risk, as the continent's cyber security lags behind. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Experts: Cyberattacks Put Africa at Special Risk

Wed, 05/23/2018 - 20:02
Across the globe, the dangers posed by cybercrime are on the rise – with high-profile incidents like the recent ‘Wannacry’ ransomware attack an example of the growing threat. Cyber experts say Africa is particularly at risk as the use of internet and mobile technology increases rapidly, but cyber security on the continent is failing to keep pace. The adoption of technology across Africa is growing exponentially. Online commerce is predicted to be worth $75 billion by the year 2025. But with the opportunity comes risk, says London-based cybersecurity consultant William Kapuku-Bwabwa. “The cybersecurity infrastructure, most of the [African] countries don’t have it. And those who’ve got it, it’s in a very infancy level,” he said. A report by security firm Norton says close to 9 million South Africans say they experienced cybercrime in 2016. Across Africa the cost is huge, says Stephanie Itimi, an adviser to the Africa Business Portal. “Africa as a continent loses over 2.5 billion U.S. dollars a year to cybercrime. And over $500 million is from Nigeria,” she said. Like the internet, cybercrime easily crosses borders, and Africa has been hit by recent global attacks. Ransomware — where criminals demand money in return for unfreezing affected devices – plus other viruses and social media scams all have affected the continent. But experts warn the lack of preparedness in Africa poses additional dangers.  “Most of the African states do not have a cybersecurity crisis management plan in place. And they don’t have any kind of education, and the legislation is very weak because they do focus on traditional crime,” said William Kapuku-Bwabwa. Nigeria is one of the few African states to have passed specific cybercrime legislation. But there have been very few prosecutions, says Stephanie Itimi. “With the act in place, it’s not been enforced properly. And the reason why there’s implementation problems is because we don’t have lawyers who are well educated on cybercrimes to be able to put a case to a judge,” she said. Africa is a global leader in the adoption of mobile technology for money transfers, with more than 1 in 10 people using the technology. Experts warn cyber criminals see that as a vulnerability — and are increasingly targeting mobile devices for identity theft and scams.          

Advocacy Groups Want Facebook 'Monopoly' to End

Wed, 05/23/2018 - 08:14
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told EU lawmakers Tuesday that the social media network will always be in "an arms race" with those who want to spread fake news, but that the company will be working to stay ahead and protect the network's users. The social media giant has been under scrutiny since April when it became known that the Cambridge Analytica company harvested information on Facebook users to help Donald Trump during his 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.

Amazon Is Warned About Government Use of Facial Recognition

Wed, 05/23/2018 - 04:35
U.S. civil liberties groups on Tuesday called on Amazon.com Inc. to stop offering facial recognition services to governments, warning that the software could be used to target immigrants and people of color unfairly. More than 40 groups sent a letter to Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos saying technology from the company's cloud computing unit was ripe for abuse. The letter underscores how new tools for identifying and tracking people could be used to empower surveillance states. Amazon has marketed a range of uses for its Rekognition service, unveiled in late 2016. These include detecting offensive content, identifying celebrities and securing public safety. In a blog post last year, Amazon said a new feature let customers "identify people of interest against a collection of millions of faces in near real-time, enabling use cases such as timely and accurate crime prevention." Customers provide the data for Amazon's tool to search. "Seconds saved in the field can make the difference in saving a life," Chris Adzima, an analyst in the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Oregon, said in the blog post. Freedom from being watched But rights groups say the powerful tool raises concerns. "People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government," said the letter to Bezos. "Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it." Amazon has helped various U.S. jurisdictions use Rekognition, said the letter, citing public records obtained by affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union. In Oregon, law enforcement uploaded 300,000 mug shots dating to 2001 into Amazon's cloud and indexed them in Rekognition, according to another Amazon blog post. Rekognition identified four faces with more than 80 percent similarity to an image of an unidentified hardware store thief; a Facebook search subsequently helped with the case, the post said. The City of Orlando Police Department has also used Rekognition, according to Amazon's website. In a statement, Amazon Web Services said, "Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology." Amazon requires customers to abide by the law and be responsible when using Rekognition, it added. The world's largest online retailer is not alone: Microsoft Corp and Alphabet Inc.'s Google offer recognition services as well. Identifying faces has become a common feature in consumer products from Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc.

Facebook's Zuckerberg Apologizes to EU Lawmakers

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 23:47
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized to EU lawmakers on Tuesday and said the company had not done enough to prevent misuse of the social network. Meeting the leaders of the European Parliament, Zuckerberg stressed the importance of Europeans to Facebook and said he was sorry for not doing enough to prevent abuse of the platform. "We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility. That was a mistake and I am sorry for it," Zuckerberg said in his opening remarks. Facebook has been embroiled in a data scandal after it emerged that the personal data of 87 million users were improperly accessed by a political consultancy.  

Indian Innovators Convert Diesel Exhaust Into Ink To Battle Air Pollution

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 13:34
Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.  In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest.  While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye.  “Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up.  The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using.  It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi. A new business As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality. According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems.  After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies. The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink.  Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon.  Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air. “This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says.  At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere.  There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms.  Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. 

Robots Taking Over Grocery Warehouses

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 08:17
Grocery stores in the U.S. are locked in a fierce battle for customers who often demand the convenience of home deliveries. Automation is increasingly becoming part of the competitive equation. When U.S. mail-order retail giant Amazon shook up the supermarket industry with its purchase of Whole Foods, America's second biggest food retailer, Kroger, responded by partnering with a British online supermarket known for its advanced warehouse technology. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Man Dies After Tesla Crashes into San Francisco-Area Pond

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 05:00
A man was killed when the Tesla automobile he was driving veered off a road, crashed through a fence and plunged into a pond, authorities said Monday. California Highway Patrol spokesman Daniel Jacowitz said rescuers pulled the Tesla Model S from the pond early Monday and found the man's body inside. The driver was identified as Keith Leung, 34, of Danville, California, said Sgt. Ray Kelly, spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff's office. Kelly said it was too soon to know if the vehicle's semi-autonomous Autopilot mode was engaged when the crash occurred or whether the driver may have been speeding or intoxicated. Photographs of the car show that its backend was destroyed, its hood crumpled and windows shattered. The crash occurred near the cities of San Ramon and Danville on Sunday evening, Jacowitz said. A property owner contacted authorities after hearing a noise and seeing damage to his fence and tire tracks. The car was traveling at a speed "great enough to leave the roadway, hit a fence, keep going down an embankment and into a pond on the property," Jacowitz said. Federal transportation authorities have been investigating if the Tesla's Autopilot mode has played a role in other recent crashes. In March, the driver of a Tesla Model X was killed in California when his SUV hit a barrier while traveling at "freeway speed." The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating that case, in which the Autopilot system was engaged. Autopilot was also engaged in a crash earlier this month in Utah, according to data from the car. Also this month, the NTSB opened a probe into an accident in which a Model S caught fire after crashing into a wall at a high speed in Florida. Two 18-year-olds were trapped in the vehicle and died in the flames. The agency has said it does not expect Autopilot to be a focus in that investigation. Autopilot is the most well-known semi-autonomous system. It uses cameras and sensors on the front, sides and rear of the car to observe lane markings and to "see" other cars that are nearby. It's simple to engage, requiring only two quick taps of a stalk. There are no limitations on where Autopilot can be used. Drivers can enable it on the freeway, side streets, or anywhere with distinct lane markings.

From Airlines to Pizza Parlors, EU Businesses Adopt Data Law

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 20:08
Lisa Meyer's hair salon is a cozy place where her mother serves homemade macaroons, children climb on chairs and customers chat above the whirr of hairdryers. Most of the time Meyer is focused on hairstyles, color trends and keeping up with appointments. But now she's worried about how the European Union's new data protection law will affect her business as she contacts customers to seek permission to store their details. Even though she supports the law, Meyer fears it may cut her mailing list by 90 percent as people choose to withhold their data or simply overlook her emails.   "It will be difficult to market upcoming events," she said at her shop, Lisa Hauck Hair & Beauty in London.   Businesses from pizza parlors to airlines across the EU's 28 countries are bombarding customers with emails seeking consent to use personal data as they rush to comply with the bloc's General Data Protection Regulation, which takes effect May 25. While much of the attention has focused on how technology giants like Facebook and Google will comply with the rules, consumers are learning firsthand that they apply to any firm, large or small, that stores personal data. The new rules , called GDPR for short, are designed to make it easier for EU residents to give and withdraw permission for companies to use personal information, requiring consent forms that are written in simple language and no more than one-page long. Companies that already hold such data have to reach out to customers and ask for permission to retain it. Authorities can fine companies up to 4 percent of annual revenue or 20 million euros ($23.6 million), whichever is higher, for breaching the rules. As a result, email boxes all over the continent are being swamped with messages from opticians, hotels, greeting card companies and even charities that fear stiff penalties for non-compliance.   In an effort to rise above the clutter, some companies are trying to spice up their approach as they try to ensure continued access to information vital to their businesses.   The St. Pancras Hotels Group promises that "only nominated people have access to your details, and they are kept really safe, guarded by our very own British Bulldogs. And a rude punk rocker." Britain's Channel 4 television offered up a video featuring one of the country's best-known comedians explaining GDPR and how it will affect viewers. Many are using animations, like this one from like France's mobile operator Bouygues, to explain the rules.   Regulators say the law applies to anyone who collects, uses or stores personal data. That can be a burden for small businesses that are forced to hire outside lawyers or consultants because they don't have the staff or expertise to deal with the law.   The EU's one-size-fits-all approach is one of the flaws in the law, according to Max Schrems, an Austrian privacy advocate who has formed a non-profit to take action against big companies that deliberately violate the new rules.   When the rules were being discussed, industry lobbyists sought to weaken the law by creating uncertainty, and as a result there are no clear guidelines that exempt small companies, Schrems told the BBC recently.   "GDPR is a prime example of corporate law gone wrong, because it's helpful for big companies," he said. "They have to do all of this anyways and they can use the uncertainty in the law to kind of get around things. But it leaves small companies that don't ... have a law department, or something like that, in a situation with a lot of uncertainty."   Meyer falls under the new rules' jurisdiction because she keeps data. Like many hair colorists, she keeps a card on each of her clients that notes whether they are allergic to any chemicals used in the dyes. That's considered personal medical information that must be protected.   She took a data protection course to learn about her obligations and avoid legal bills.   "I find it actually quite scary how data is being used so carelessly," Meyer said. "It's a good wake-up call. It's made me more aware."   But many others have been caught off guard.   A survey by French consultancy Capgemini says that 85 percent of European firms will not have completed their preparations for GDPR this week. It finds that British businesses are the most advanced and Swedish ones have the most work to do still.   A survey conducted by Britain's Federation of Small Businesses estimates that complying with the rules will cost an average of 1,030 pounds ($1,390) per company. "For a small business, it's hugely onerous," said Mark Elliott, who runs the digital marketing company, Sparks4Growth Ltd. He knows other small business owners who are worried about the extra red tape and costs of complying with the law. "I think, quite simply, they left us open to the lions," he said of regulators.   EU officials say GDPR is necessary to catch up with all the technological advances since 1995, when the last comprehensive European rules on data privacy were put in place.   As technology advances, data becomes more important. The ability to analyze everything from medical records to the weather holds enormous potential, with suggestions it will make us healthier, improve traffic flows and help scientists learn more about the movements of endangered species, to name but a few items.   But with that potential comes concern about privacy. The threat was vividly illustrated earlier this year when allegations surfaced that a little known campaign consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, misused data from millions of Facebook accounts to help Donald Trump win the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That touched off a global debate over internet privacy and triggered speculation other jurisdictions will soon follow the EU in tightening data protection laws.   That is just fine with Meyer, who thinks society needs a new etiquette for dealing with personal data.   "It's like sitting up straight at the table. It's like not talking too loud on the bus," she said. Respect for data "has to get into our culture."  

EU Parliament to Broadcast Zuckerberg Hearing

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 19:46
A European Parliament meeting on Tuesday with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be broadcast live, parliamentary officials and the company said on Monday after controversy over plans for a closed-door hearing. Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who was criticized by legislators and some senior EU officials over arrangements for the discussion on public privacy concerns, tweeted that it was "great news" that Zuckerberg had agreed to a live web stream. A Facebook spokeswoman said: "We’re looking forward to the meeting and happy for it to be live streamed." Zuckerberg, who founded the U.S. social media giant, will be in Europe to defend the company after scandal over its sale of personal data to a British political consultancy which worked on U.S. President Donald Trump's election campaign, among others. He will meet Tajani and leaders of parties in the European Parliament in Brussels from 6:15 p.m. (1615 GMT) on Tuesday. He is also due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday.

Xinhau: China Launches Satellite to Explore Dark Side of Moon

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 14:30
China launched a relay satellite early on Monday designed to establish a communication link between earth and a planned lunar probe that will explore the dark side of the moon, the official Xinhua news agency said. Citing the China National Space Administration, Xinhua said the satellite was launched at 5:28 a.m. (2128 GMT Sunday) on a Long March-4C rocket from the Xichang launch center in the southwest of the country. "The launch is a key step for China to realize its goal of being the first country to send a probe to soft-land on and rove the far side of the moon," Xinhua quoted Zhang Lihua, manager of the relay satellite project, as saying. It said the satellite, known as Queqiao, or Magpie Bridge, will settle in an orbit about 455,000 km (282,555 miles) from Earth and will be the world's first communication satellite operating there. China aims to catch up with Russia and the United States to become a major space power by 2030. It is planning to launch construction of its own manned space station next year. However, while China has insisted its ambitions are purely peaceful, the U.S. Defense Department has accused it of pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations from using space-based assets during a crisis. 

New GPS Technology Offers Help For Old School Transportation

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 11:23
Drivers can choose from several GPS apps that can alert them to accidents or slow traffic so they can avoid them. But bike riders – who travel the same roadways as cars - are on their own. So an English university student designed an app to help cyclists report dangerous hot spots to other cyclists, and local governments. Faith Lapidus reports.

Pages