RSS FeedSubscribe to Technology feed Technology


Updated: 1 hour 33 min ago

VR Provides Unprecedented Look Inside the Great Pyramid

The ScanPyramid team made news last week when they announced the discovery of a ‘void’ inside the Great Pyramid of Giza. And while the void may remain a mystery, the team's detailed map of the pyramid now allows visitors to roam its depths from anywhere in the world. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

Congress, Silicon Valley Look for Common Ground on Social Media Interference

After pledging to do more to combat foreign interference on social media platforms, the heads of Facebook, Google and Twitter will have to work with Congress to find a way forward. VOA's Congressional reporter Katherine Gypson sits down with California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who represents Silicon Valley, to learn where the debate over the role of social media in American politics heads next.

FBI Again Finds Itself Unable to Unlock a Gunman's Cellphone

The Texas church massacre is providing a familiar frustration for law enforcement: FBI agents are unable to unlock the gunman's encrypted cellphone to learn what evidence it might hold.   But while heart-wrenching details of the rampage that left more than two dozen people dead might revive the debate over the balance of digital privacy rights and national security, it's not likely to prompt change anytime soon.   Congress has not shown a strong appetite for legislation that would force technology companies to help the government break into encrypted phones and computers. And the fiery public debate surrounding the FBI's legal fight with Apple Inc. has largely faded since federal authorities announced they were able to access a locked phone in a terror case without the help of the technology giant.   As a candidate, Donald Trump called on Americans to boycott Apple unless it helped the FBI hack into the phone, but he hasn't been as vocal as president.   Still, the issue re-emerged Tuesday, when Christopher Combs, the special agent in charge of the FBI's San Antonio division, said agents had been unable to get into the cellphone belonging to Devin Patrick Kelley, who slaughtered much of the congregation in the middle of a Sunday service.   “It highlights an issue you've all heard about before. With the advance of the technology and the phones and the encryption, law enforcement is increasingly not able to get into these phones,” Combs told reporters, saying the device was being flown to an FBI lab for analysis.   Combs didn't identify the make or model, but a U.S. official briefed by law enforcement told The Associated Press it was an Apple iPhone.   “We're working very hard to get into that phone, and that will continue until we find an answer,” Combs said.   Combs was telegraphing a longstanding frustration of the FBI, which claims encryption has stymied investigations of everything from sex crimes against children to drug cases, even if they obtain a warrant for the information. Agents have been unable to retrieve data from half the mobile devices - more than 6,900 phones, computers and tablets - that they tried to access in less than a year, FBI Director Christopher Wray said last month, wading into an issue that also vexed his predecessor, James Comey. Comey spoke before Congress and elsewhere about the bureau's inability to access digital devices. But the Obama White House never publicly supported legislation that would have forced technology companies to give the FBI a back door to encrypted information, leaving Comey's hands tied to propose a specific legislative fix. Bad idea, some believe   Security experts generally believe such encryption backdoors are a terrible idea that could expose a vast amount of private, business and government data to hackers and spies. That's because those backdoor keys would work for bad guys as well as good guys - and the bad guys would almost immediately target them for theft, and might even be able to recreate them from scratch.   Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took aim at Silicon Valley's methods for protecting privacy during a speech last month, saying Trump's Justice Department would be more aggressive in seeking information from technology companies. He took a harder line than his predecessors but stopped short of saying what specific steps the administration might take.   Washington has proven incapable of solving a problem that an honest conversation could fix, said David Hickton, a former U.S. attorney who now directs a cyber law institute at the University of Pittsburgh.   “We wait for a mass disaster to sharpen the discussion about this, when we should have been talking about it since San Bernardino,” he said. “Reasonable people of good will could resolve this problem. I don't think it's dependent on the political wins or who is the FBI director. It's begging for a solution.”   Even so, the facts of the church shooting may not make it the most powerful case against warrant-proof encryption. When the FBI took Apple to court in February 2016 to force it to unlock the San Bernardino shooter's phone, investigators believed the device held clues about whom the couple communicated with and where they may have traveled.   But Combs didn't say what investigators hoped to retrieve from Kelley's phone, and investigators already have ample information about his motive. Authorities in Texas say the church shooting was motivated by the gunman's family troubles, rather than terrorism, and investigators have not said whether they are seeking possible co-conspirators.   Investigators may have other means to get the information they seek. If the Texas gunman backed up his phone online, they can get a copy of that with a legal order - usually a warrant. They can also get warrants for any accounts he had at server-based internet services such as Facebook, Twitter and Google.   In the California case, the FBI ultimately broke into the phone by paying an unidentified vendor for a hacking tool to access the phone without Apple's help, averting a court battle.   The FBI has not yet asked Apple for help unlocking Kelley's phone as it continues to analyze the device, according to the U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss the case and did so on condition of anonymity. Another person familiar with the matter, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the discussions, said Apple contacted the FBI on its own to offer technical advice after learning from a Texas news conference that the bureau was trying to access the cellphone.   Former federal prosecutor Joseph DeMarco, who filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of groups that supported the Justice Department against Apple, said he was hopeful the case would spur fresh discussion. If not by itself, he said, the shooting could be one of several cases that prompt the Justice Department to take other technology companies to court.   “Eventually, the courts will rule on this or a legislative fix will be imposed,” he said. “Eventually, the pressure will mount.”

Twitter, Snapchat Tweak Products to Lure More Users

Struggling social media platforms Twitter and Snapchat are taking on new looks as the services seek wider audiences in the shadow of Facebook. Twitter is rolling out a 280-character limit for nearly all its users, abandoning its iconic 140-character limit for tweets. And Snapchat, long popular with young people, will undergo a revamp in hopes of becoming easier to use for everyone else. Both services announced the moves Tuesday as they look for ways to expand beyond their passionate but slow-growing fan bases. Twitter has said that 9 percent of tweets written in English hit the 140-character limit. People ended up spending more time editing tweets or didn't send them out at all. By removing that hurdle, Twitter is hoping people will tweet more, drawing more users in. Waking up to the news Wednesday, Germany's justice ministry wrote that it can now tweet about legislation concerning the transfer of oversight responsibilities for beef labeling. The law is known in German as the Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz. Munich police, meanwhile, said that "at last'' they won't need abbreviations to tweet about accidents involving forklift drivers, or Niederflurfoerderfahrzeugfuehrer. In Rome, student Marina Verdicchio said the change "will give us the possibility to express ourselves in a totally different way and to avoid canceling important words when we use Twitter.'' Shakespearean skepticism Others were not impressed, including at least one who quoted Shakespeare: "Brevity is the soul of wit.'' And, as Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel noted, change does not come without risk. "We don't yet know how the behavior of our community will change when they begin to use our updated application,'' he said. "We're willing to take that risk for what we believe are substantial long-term benefits to our business.'' Snap, Snapchat's parent company, did not provide details on the upcoming changes. During the third quarter, Twitter averaged 330 million monthly users, up just 1 percent from the previous quarter. Snapchat added 4.5 million daily users in the quarter to 178 million, which amounts to a 3 percent growth. The company does not report monthly user figures. Those numbers pale next to social media behemoth Facebook, which reported that its monthly users rose 16 percent to 2.07 billion. "The one thing that we have heard over the years is that Snapchat is difficult to understand or hard to use, and our team has been working on responding to this feedback,'' Spiegel said. "As a result, we are currently redesigning our application to make it easier to use.'' His comments came on a conference call with industry analysts after the company posted the lackluster user-growth numbers and revenue that fell well short of Wall Street expectations. Snap's stock was bludgeoned Wednesday, falling 16 percent to $12.70 in early-morning trading. The Venice, California, company went public in March at $17 a share. Expanding the base Snapchat needs to grow its user base beyond 13-to-34-year-olds in the U.S., France, the U.K. and Australia, Spiegel said. This, he said, includes Android users, people older than 34 and what he called "rest of world'' markets. Meanwhile, Snap said Wednesday that Chinese internet company Tencent had acquired a 10 percent stake in the company. Tencent runs the WeChat messaging app, as well as online payment platforms and games. Earlier this year, Tencent bought a 5 percent stake in Tesla Inc. As for Twitter, the move to 280 characters was begun as a test in September. "People in the experiment told us that a higher character limit made them feel more satisfied with how they expressed themselves on Twitter, their ability to find good content, and Twitter overall,'' said project manager Aliza Rosen in a blog post. The expansion to 280-character tweets will be extended to all users except those tweeting in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, who will still have the original limit. That's because writing in those languages uses fewer characters. The company has been slowly easing restrictions to let people cram more characters into a tweet. It stopped counting polls, photos, videos and other things toward the limit. Even before it did so, users found creative ways to get around the limit. These include multipart tweets and screenshots of blocks of text. Twitter's character limit was created so that tweets could fit into a single text message, back when many people were using texts to receive tweets. But now, most people use Twitter through its mobile app; the 140-character limit is no longer a technical constraint but nostalgia.

Scrambling to Track Islamic State Terrorists, Coalition Turns to Biometrics

As U.S.-backed forces made their final push into the city of Raqqa to liberate what had once been the Syrian capital of the Islamic State's self-declared caliphate, they faced a problem. Not only were the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) holding IS fighters — some captured and some who had surrendered — they were also encountering many Syrians who, for various reasons, had collaborated with or worked for the terror group. In the end, against their initial instincts, the U.S.-backed forces let many of them go. "[The SDF] was pressured and convinced by the civil council, the civil leadership, in that part of Syria, who listened to the tribal leaders," said Major General James Jarrard, commander of the special operations joint task force for Operation Inherent Resolve. Just how many IS followers or collaborators from the areas in and around Raqqa were ultimately freed is unclear — officials with Operation Inherent Resolve have not been able to provide any numbers. As worrisome as the prospect of their release might sound, coalition officials are not concerned, assuring anyone who asks that the local IS fighters and supporters are not likely to cause trouble. "A lot of those that were captured that were local Syrians have been turned over to their tribal leadership," according to Jarrard, who briefed reporters last week. "The SDF leadership feels comfortable that the tribal leadership and the tribal code in northeast Syria will make sure that they maintain control of those individuals." Tracking IS fighters, collaborators But perhaps more critically, other protections have been put in place. "What we did do with the SDF, is we did take all of those members and we enrolled them biometricaly, so that we are able to track them into the future," Jarrard said. The collection of biometric information from those who fought for or worked with Islamic State in Raqqa is just a small part of a much wider effort encompassing other areas once under the terror group's control. The goal is to make sure those affiliated with IS are not able to go undetected and find ways to unleash terror and havoc, whether in Iraq and Syria or the West. The collected information commonly includes fingerprints, photos, DNA samples and even retinal scans, and not just from Syria. Iraqi forces and U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Iraq have also been gathering biometric data. Some of the biometric information is already available to forces on the ground, who can use hand-held scanners, slightly larger than a big mobile phone, to take readings from suspects to see if they are already in the IS database. But officials and observers in the United States, Europe and the Middle East acknowledge it is a massive undertaking, and that gaps remain. "IDPs [internally displaced persons] who end up in camps on the Kurdish side and suspects held by Kurdish authorities are all getting put onto a biometric database," according to Belkis Wille, a senior Human Rights Watch researcher who has spent time in the region. "On the Iraqi side, I have not seen it happening to the broader population and have not heard about it with regard to ISIS suspect detainees yet, but have heard it talked about many times as in the plans," she added, using an acronym for the terror group. Iraqi officials told VOA in July that they were "working on the mechanism" for sharing biometric data with their coalition partners, admitting there was no timeline for when a solution might be found. Overcoming obstacles The coalition, too, admitted there were obstacles. "We are working to enable them [Iraqi officials] to better manage biometric information, to re-establish some capability that was here before that no longer is," Canadian Armed Forces Brigadier General D.J. Anderson, then director of the coalition's partner force development liaison team, said at the time. There are also concerns about ensuring that everyone who might need access to the biometric data can get it, with European officials especially keen on speeding up the process. "In a world where we see more people traveling with false documents, counterfeit documents, we need to inject much more biometrics," European Union Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove said during a visit to the U.S. in June. "I would like to see if fingerprints are collected in Mosul or in Raqqa that it be shared in real time with the border guard at the external border of the European Union," he added. Interpol, the international police organization with more than 190 member countries, has been trying to help. Interpol officials say it has shared information on more than 18,000 foreign fighters through its I-24/7 global communications network, some of which includes biometric information. And it is working to increase the amount of biometric data currently available. Watching for returning foreign fighters That additional biometric information cannot come soon enough for some European officials, worried about the steady tide of refugees from Syria and Iraq, even though there are no indications that the long-feared wave of returning foreign fighters will ever materialize. "We have, however, identified an increase in the number of wives and children who are willing to return," said Friedrich Grommes, head of the international terrorism directorate at Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND), during a recent visit to Washington. "This upward trend will probably increase in the months to come," he added. German officials say they have already used whatever biometric information is available to confirm the identities of family members of foreign fighters who may be seeking entry into Germany. There are also growing fears some foreign fighters, terrorist operatives and their family members may be getting some sophisticated help. "We see a lot of relationships between organized crime and terrorism, not ideologically but from old friendships sometimes," said Dutch National Counterterrorism Coordinator Dick Schoof. "Organized crime is a facilitator for weapons, for transport, for fraud documents, for identity theft." And while most of the more than 5,000 would-be jihadists who left Europe are not expected to attempt a return — a feat made more difficult with a tightening of the Turkish-Syrian border — counterterror officials believe there are plenty of reasons to remain concerned. "Quantity may not be the story," U.S. National Counterterrorism Director Nicholas Rasmussen said this past July at the Aspen Security Summit. "If I'm sitting in western Europe in a security service or a law enforcement organization, I'm very, very concerned about even a small number of foreign fighters from my country who come back from the conflict zone with a whole new set of skills, a whole new set of contacts, perhaps even specialized skills that go into areas of mass destruction."

German Officials Celebrate Doubled Twitter Character Limit

German bureaucrats — notorious for their ability to create lengthy tongue twisters consisting of one single word — are celebrating the doubling of Twitter's character limit. Twitter announced Tuesday it's increasing the limit for almost all users of the messaging service from 140 to 280 characters, prompting a mix of delighted and despairing reactions. Waking up to the news Wednesday, Germany's justice ministry wrote that it can now tweet about legislation concerning the transfer of oversight responsibilities for beef labeling. The law is known in German as the Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz. Munich police, meanwhile, said that "at last" they won't need abbreviations to tweet about accidents involving forklift drivers, or Niederflurfoerderfahrzeugfuehrer. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert made clear he'll keep it short, quoting Anton Chekhov: "Brevity is the sister of talent."

Looking at Stars from a Jumbo-Jet

To learn more about how stars are formed, astronomers look at light coming from deep space that illuminate events that happened billions of years ago. Cosmic dust, vapor in the earth’s atmosphere and light pollution can obscure that vision, but scientists at NASA found a way around all this by placing a sophisticated infrared telescope aboard a high-flying aircraft. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Tech Training Brings Hope to Young Refugees in Malawi

Microsoft and the U.N. Refugee Agency have partnered to teach about two dozen young refugees from around East Africa how to code and develop software. For VOA, Lameck Masina has the story from the Dzaleka refugee camp in central Malawi.

Exploring Egypt's Great Pyramid From the Inside, Virtually

A team of scientists who last week announced the discovery of a large void inside the Great Pyramid of Giza have created a virtual reality tour that allows users to "teleport" themselves inside the structure and explore its architecture. Using 3-D technology, the Scan Pyramids Project allows visitors wearing headsets to take a guided tour inside the Grand Gallery, the Queen's Chamber and other ancient rooms not normally accessible to the public, without leaving Paris. "Thanks to this technique, we make it possible to teleport ourselves to Egypt, inside the pyramid, as a group and with a guide," said Mehdi Tayoubi, co-director of Scan Pyramids, which on November 2 announced the discovery of a mysterious space inside the depths of the Pyramid. The void itself is visible on the tour, appearing like a dotted cloud. "What is new in the world of virtual reality is that from now on, you are not isolated," Tayoubi said. "You're in a group — you can take a tour with your family. And you can access places which you usually can't in the real pyramid." While partly designed as a fun experience, the "collaborative immersion" project allows researchers to improve the technologies they used to detect the pyramid void and think about what purpose it may have served. Ancient wonder The pyramid, built around 2,500 B.C. and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was a monumental tomb soaring to a height of 479 feet (146 meters). Until the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889, the Great Pyramid stood as the tallest man-made structure for more than 4,000 years. While there are passageways into it and chambers in various parts, much of the internal structure had remained a mystery until a team from France's HIP Institute used an imaging method based on cosmic rays to gain a view inside. So-called muon particles, which originate from interactions with rays from space and atoms in Earth's upper atmosphere, are able to penetrate hundreds of meters through stone before being absorbed. That allows for mapping inside stone structures. "Muon tomography has really improved a lot due to its use on the pyramid, and we think that muography will have other applications in other fields," said Tayoubi. "But we also wanted to innovate and imagine devices to allow the wider public to understand what this pyramid is, understand it from within." When looking through their 3-D goggles, visitors can see the enormous stones of the pyramid as if they were real, and walk virtually along its corridors, chambers and hidden spaces. As they approach the pyramid from the outside, the tour even includes audio of Cairo's deafening and ever-present traffic.

Twitter Doubles Character Limit to 280 for (Nearly) Everyone

Twitter says it's ending its iconic 140-character limit — and giving nearly everyone 280 characters.   Users tweeting in Chinese, Japanese and Korean will still have the original limit. That's because writing in those languages uses fewer characters.   The company says 9 percent of tweets written in English hit the 140-character limit. People end up spending more time editing tweets or don't send them out at all. Twitter hopes that the expanded limit will get more people tweeting more, helping its lackluster user growth. Twitter has been testing the new limit for weeks and is starting to roll it out Tuesday.   The company has been slowly easing restrictions to let people cram more characters into a tweet. It stopped counting polls, photos, videos and other things toward the limit. Even before it did so, users found creative ways to get around the limit. This includes multi-part tweets and screenshots of blocks of text.   Twitter's character limit was created so that tweets could fit into a single text message, back when many people were using texts to receive tweets. But now, most people use Twitter through its mobile app; the 140-character limit is no longer a technical constraint but nostalgia.

In Silicon Valley, the Homeless Illustrate a Growing Divide

In the same affluent, suburban city where Google built its headquarters, Tes Saldana lives in a crowded but tidy camper she parks on the street. She concedes it's “not a very nice living situation,” but it also is not unusual. Until authorities told them to move, more than a dozen other RVs filled with people who can't afford rent joined Saldana on a tree-lined street in Mountain View, parked between a Target and a luxury apartment complex. Homeless advocates and city officials say it's outrageous that in the shadow of a booming tech economy - where young millionaires dine on $15 wood-grilled avocado and think nothing of paying $1,000 for an iPhone X - thousands of families can't afford a home. Many of the homeless work regular jobs, in some cases serving the very people whose sky-high net worth is the reason housing has become unaffordable for so many. Across the street from Saldana's camper, for example, two-bedroom units in the apartment complex start at $3,840, including concierge service. That's more than she brings home, even in a good month. Saldana and her three adult sons, who live with her, have looked for less rustic accommodations, but rents are $3,000 a month or more, and most of the available housing is distant. She said it makes more sense to stay in the camper near their jobs and try to save for a brighter future, even if a recent city crackdown chased them from their parking spot. “We still need to eat,” said Saldana, 51. “I still want to bring my kids, once in a while, to a movie, to eat out.” She cooks and serves food at two hotels in nearby Palo Alto, jobs that keep her going most days from 5 in the morning until 10 at night. Two of her sons, all in their 20s, work at a bakery and pay $700 toward the RV each month. They're all very much aware of the economic disparity in Silicon Valley. “How about for us people who are serving these tech people?” Saldana said. “We don't get the same paycheck that they do.” It's all part of a growing crisis along the West Coast, where many cities and counties have seen a surge in the number of people living on the streets over the past two years. Counts taken earlier this year show 168,000 homeless people in California, Oregon and Washington - 20,000 more than were counted just two years ago. The booming economy, fueled by the tech sector, and decades of under-building have led to an historic shortage of affordable housing. It has upended the stereotypical view of people out on the streets as unemployed: They are retail clerks, plumbers, janitors - even teachers - who go to work, sleep where they can and buy gym memberships for a place to shower. The surge in homelessness has prompted at least 10 local governments along the West Coast to declare states of emergency, and cities from San Diego to Seattle are struggling to come up with immediate and long-range solutions. San Francisco is well-known for homeless tent encampments. But the homeless problem has now spread throughout Silicon Valley, where the disparity between the rich and everyone else is glaring. There is no firm estimate on the number of people who live in vehicles in Silicon Valley, but the problem is pervasive and apparent to anyone who sees RVs lining thoroughfares; not as visible are the cars tucked away at night in parking lots. Advocates for the homeless say it will only get worse unless more affordable housing is built. The median rent in the San Jose metro area is $3,500 a month, yet the median wage is $12 an hour in food service and $19 an hour in health care support, an amount that won't even cover housing costs. The minimum annual salary needed to live comfortably in San Jose is $87,000, according to a study by personal finance website GoBankingRates. So dilapidated RVs line the eastern edge of Stanford University in Palo Alto, and officials in neighboring Mountain View have mapped out more than a dozen areas where campers tend to cluster, some of them about a mile from Google headquarters. On a recent evening, Benito Hernandez returned to a crammed RV in Mountain View after laying flagstones for a home in Atherton, where Zillow pegs the median value of a house at $6.5 million. He rents the RV for $1,000 a month and lives there with his pregnant wife and children. The family was evicted two years ago from an apartment where the rent kept going up, nearing $3,000 a month. “After that, I lost everything,” said Hernandez, 33, who works as a landscaper and roofer. He says his wife “is a little bit sad because she says, 'You're working very hard but don't have credit to get an apartment.' I tell her, 'Just wait, maybe a half-year more, and I'll get my credit back.'" The plight of the Hernandez family points out one of the confounding problems of the homeless surge along the West Coast. “This is not a crisis of unemployment that's leading to poverty around here,” said Tom Myers, executive director of Community Services Agency, a nonprofit based in Mountain View. “People are working.” Mountain View, a city of 80,000 which also is home to Mozilla and 23andMe, has committed more than $1 million over two years for homeless services, including money for an outreach case manager and a police officer to help people who live in vehicles. At last count, there were people living in more than 330 vehicles throughout the city. Mayor Ken Rosenberg is proud of the city's response to the crisis - focusing not on penalties but on providing services. Yet he's also worried that the peace won't last as RVs crowd into bike lanes and over-taxed streets. Last week, Mountain View officials posted signs banning vehicles more than 6 feet high on some parts of the street where Saldana, Hernandez and others living in RVs were parked, saying they were creating a traffic hazard. The average RV is well over that height. That follows similar moves over the summer by Palo Alto, which started cracking down on RVs and other vehicles that exceed the 72-hour limit on a busy stretch of El Camino Real. In San Jose, officials recently approved an ordinance pushed by an interfaith group called the Winter Faith Collaborative to allow places of assembly - including gyms and churches - to shelter homeless people year-round. Ellen Tara James-Penney, a 54-year-old lecturer at San Jose State University, parks her old Volvo at one of those safe haven churches, Grace Baptist Church, and eats in its dining hall. She is paid $28,000 a year to teach four English classes and is carrying $143,000 in student debt after earning two degrees. She grades papers and prepares lessons in the Volvo. At night, she leans back the driver's seat and prepares for sleep, one of two dogs, Hank, by her side. Her husband, Jim, who is too tall for the car, sleeps outside in a tent cot with their other dog, Buddy. The Bay Area native remembers the time a class was studying John Steinbeck, when another student said that she was sick of hearing about the homeless. “And I said, 'Watch your mouth. You're looking at one.' Then you could have heard a pin drop,” she said. “It's quite easy to judge when you have a house to live in or you have meds when you're depressed and health care.” In response to growing wealth inequities, unions, civil rights groups and community organizations formed Silicon Valley Rising about three years ago. They demand better pay and benefits for the low-income earners who make the region run. SEIU United Service Workers West, for example, organized roughly 3,000 security guards who work for companies that contract with Facebook, Google and Caltrain, the mass transit system that connects Silicon Valley with San Francisco. One of those workers is Albert Brown III, a 46-year-old security officer who recently signed a lease for half of a $3,400 two-bedroom unit in Half Moon Bay, about 13 miles from his job. He can barely afford the rent on his $16-an-hour salary, even with overtime, but the car that doubled as his home needed a pricey repair and he found a landlord willing to overlook his lousy credit. Still, Brown worries he won't be able to keep up with his payments. His feet have been hurting. What if a doctor tells him to rest for a few days or a week? “I can't miss a minute. If I miss a minute or a shift? No way, man. A week? Forget it, it's over. It's all downhill from there,” he said. “It's a sad choice. I have to decide whether to be homeless or penniless, right?”

Indonesia Threatens to Block WhatsApp Messaging Over Obscene Content

Indonesia on Monday vowed to block Facebook's WhatsApp Messenger within 48 hours if the service did not ensure that obscene Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) images were removed. WhatsApp, which is widely used in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, said message encryption prevented it from monitoring the animated graphics files, known as GIFs, that are available on the app through third-party services. WhatsApp said in a statement on Monday that it asked the government instead to work with those providers, which integrate their technology into WhatsApp to allow users to enter keywords to search for GIFs. Indonesia's internet is partly censored, with access blocked to websites providing criticism of Islam, dating services and sex education, according to research published in May by Tor Project, a nonprofit maker of Web browsing tools. Semuel Pangerapan, a director general at Indonesia's communications and informatics ministry, said WhatsApp would be blocked within 48 hours unless the images supplied by third parties were taken off the service. "Yes, true. They have to follow the rules of the host," Pangerapan said of the proposed block. The ministry had sent three letters to WhatsApp over the issue, he said. "They have responded, but asked us to speak directly to the third party. The GIFs appeared in their apps. Why do we have to be the one speaking to the third party? They are supposed to be the ones managing it," said Pangerapan. Third party responds Tenor Inc, one of the third parties, said it was attempting to release a "fix." Giphy, another provider, did not respond to requests to comment. Jennifer Kutz, a Tenor spokesperson, said in a statement that the company is working "to address the content issues raised by the Indonesian government within the next 48 hours." Kutz said the company "regularly" works with "local entities to make sure our content reflects the cultural mores and legal requirements." She declined to identify the proposed fix or existing regions with content restrictions. Tenor allows integrators of its service to block potentially objectionable image results or a defined list of search terms. "In the case of WhatsApp, we're taking on this responsibility," Kutz said in an email. Giphy, a New York City company that also works with WhatsApp, offers its partners a feature for filtering inappropriate images. Indonesia's warning did not appear to target Gboard, a keyboard app developed by Google that provides comparable GIF search results but must be installed separately from WhatsApp on most devices. Past battles Indonesia had 69 million monthly active Facebook users as of the first quarter of 2014, ranking the country fourth globally after the United States, India and Brazil, company data showed. Some reaction on Indonesian social media to the threatened block was skeptical. "While you're at it, why don't you block Twitter too, (and) if necessary all browsers in the Playstore, because it's way easier to search for porn there than on WhatsApp," wrote one Twitter user, with the handle @jnessy. The country's regulators have reached settlements with several technology companies after threatening to shut them down. In August, Indonesia announced it would block Giphy's website for showing gambling-related ads. Access soon was restored after it agreed to cooperate with regulators. Bans similarly were rescinded in recent years on social media websites such as Vimeo and Tumblr and the chat app Telegram, which regulators had said was "full of radicals and terrorist propaganda." The Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) had urged the communications ministry to block pornographic GIF images accessible via emoticons, complaining that children could easily reach them, according to news website Terms of use for WhatsApp, Tenor and Giphy say users must be 13 years old.

Snapchat Outage Prompts Complaints on Twitter

Snapchat faced a worldwide outage for at least four hours on Monday, prompting a flood of complaints on rival mobile application Twitter a day before posting its third quarterly earnings as a public company. "We're aware of the issue and working on a fix," Snapchat said on its support Twitter account, recommending that users stay logged on.  Many users tweeted about being unable to sign on after logging off the app, which is popular among people under 30 for posting pictures that are automatically deleted within 24 hours. Twitter user @bradleykeegan11 wrote, "(Snapchat)Won't let me log in and keeps saying 'could not connect'." A spokesman for the Snap Inc unit did not immediately respond to a query about the size and cause of the outage. Snapchat had at least a couple of technical issues in October, according to its Twitter support page. Snap, which went public in May, is scheduled to report third quarter earnings on Tuesday. Its stock closed down 2.8 percent at $14.83 on Monday, below its initial public offering price of $17.

Stephen Hawking Says Technology Could End Poverty But Urges Caution

Technology can hopefully reverse some of the harm caused to the planet by  industrialisation and help end disease and poverty, but artificial intelligence (AI) needs to be controlled, physicist Stephen Hawking said on Monday. Hawking, a British cosmologist who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease aged 21, said technology could transform every aspect of life but cautioned that artificial intelligence poses new challenges. He said artificial intelligence and robots are already threatening millions of jobs — but this new revolution could be used to help society and for the good of the world such as alleviating poverty and disease. “The rise of AI could be the worst or the best thing that has happened for humanity,” Hawking said via telepresence at opening night of the 2017 Web Summit in Lisbon that is attended by about 60,000 people. “We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management and prepare for its consequences well in advance.” Hawking’s comments come during an escalating debate about the pro and cons of artificial intelligence, a term used to describe machines with a computer code that learns as it goes. Silicon Valley entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc and rocket company SpaceX, has warned that AI is a threat to humankind’s existence. But Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, in a rare interview recently, told the WSJ Magazine that there was nothing to panic about. Hawking said everyone has a role to play in making sure that this generation and the next are fully engaged with the study of science at an early level to create “a better world for the whole human race.” “We need to take learning beyond a theoretical discussion of how AI should be, and take action to make sure we plan for how it can be,” said Hawking, who communicates via a cheek muscle linked to a sensor and computerized voice system. “You all have the potential to push the boundaries of what is accepted, or expected, and to think big. We stand on the threshold of a brave new world. It is an exciting — if precarious — place to be and you are the pioneers,” he said.    

Study: Africa Set to Top 1 Billion Mobile Internet Connections in Five Years

Africa's mobile internet connections are set to double in the next five years, a study showed on Monday, thanks to affordable smartphones and the roll-out of high-speed networks. A report by research and consulting firm Ovum in London estimates that mobile broadband connections will rise from 419 million at the end of this year to 1.07 billion by the end of 2022. "Data connectivity is growing strongly in Africa, and there are also good prospects on the continent in areas such as digital media, mobile financial services, and the Internet of Things," said Matthew Reed, Practice Leader Middle East and Africa at Ovum. "But as Africa's TMT market becomes more convergent and complex, service providers are under increasing pressure to make the transition from being providers of communications services, and to become providers of digital services." Mobile phone operators such as MTN Group, Orange and Bharti Airtel are investing heavily in high-speed networks to meet demand from users who are increasingly using phones for everything from paying their bills to streaming videos and surfing the internet.

Broadcom Offers $103 Billion for Qualcomm, Sets Up Takeover Battle

Chipmaker Broadcom made an unsolicited $103 billion bid for Qualcomm on Monday, setting the stage for a major takeover battle as it looks to dominate the fast-growing market for semiconductors used in mobile phones. Qualcomm said it would review the proposal. The San Diego-based company is inclined to reject the bid as too low and fraught with risk that regulators may reject it or take too long to approve it, people familiar with the matter told Reuters. A Broadcom-Qualcomm deal would create a dominant company in the market for supplying chips used in the 1.5 billion or so smartphones expected to be sold around the world this year. It would raise the stakes for Intel Corp, which has been diversifying from its stronghold in computers into smartphone technology by supplying modem chips to Apple. Qualcomm shareholders would get $60 in cash and $10 per share in Broadcom shares in a deal, according to Broadcom's proposal. Including debt, the transaction is worth $130 billion. GBH Insight analyst Daniel Ives said bullish investors were hoping for $75 to $80 per share. "Now it's a game of high-stakes poker for both sides," he said. Shares of Qualcomm, whose chips allow phones to connect to wireless data networks, traded above $70 as recently as December 2016 and topped $80 in 2014. Qualcomm's shares were up 2 percent at $63.09 at mid-afternoon, suggesting investors were skeptical a deal would happen. Broadcom shares fell 0.3 after hitting a record high of $281.80. Regulatory scrutiny Qualcomm's largest market is the so-called modem chips that allow phones to use mobile data plans, but it also sells connectivity chips for automobiles that handle "infotainment" systems and wireless electric vehicle charging. Qualcomm provides chips to carrier networks to deliver broadband and mobile data. Any deal struck between the two companies would face intense regulatory scrutiny. A big hurdle would be getting regulatory approval in China, on which both Qualcomm and Broadcom rely on to make money. China is set to look at any deal closely after U.S. regulators blocked a flurry of chip deals by Chinese firms due to security concerns, thwarting the Asian country's attempt to become self-reliant in chip manufacturing. Broadcom could spin out Qualcomm's licensing arm, QTL, to get regulatory approval and funding for the deal, raising as much at $25 billion from a sale, Nomura Instinet analyst Romit Shah suggested. Broadcom had $5.25 billion in cash and cash equivalent as of July 30. Qualcomm had $35.03 billion as of Sept. 24. Broadcom said BofA Merrill Lynch, Citi, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley have advised it they are highly confident that they will be able to arrange the necessary debt financing for the proposed transaction. The company has also got a commitment letter for $5 billion in financing from private equity Silver Lake Partners, an existing Broadcom investor. Vulnerable Qualcomm Broadcom approached Qualcomm last year to discuss a potential combination, but did not contact Qualcomm prior to unveiling its $70 per share offer Monday, according to sources. Qualcomm is more vulnerable to a takeover now because its shares have been held down by a patent dispute with key customer Apple, as well as concerns that it may have to raise a $38 billion bid for NXP Semiconductors NV that it made last year. Broadcom, Qualcomm and NXP together would have control over modems, Wi-Fi, GPS and near-field communications chips, a strong position that could concern customers such as Apple and Samsung Electronics because of the bargaining power such a combined company could have to raise prices. However, a combined company would also likely have a lower cost base and the flexibility to cut prices. Broadcom said its proposal stands irrespective of whether Qualcomm's acquisition of NXP goes through or not. Qualcomm's entire 10-member board is up for re-election this spring, and Broadcom could seize on the Dec. 7 nomination deadline to put forward its own slate. Broadcom Chief Executive Hock Tan, who turned a small, scrappy chipmaker into a $100-billion company based in Singapore and the United States, told Reuters he would not rule out a proxy fight. "We are well advised and know what our options are, and we have not eliminated any of those options," said Tan, who has pulled off a string of deals over the past decade. "We have a very strong desire to work with Qualcomm to reach a mutually beneficial deal." Tan added that if Broadcom acquires Qualcomm which in turn has acquired NXP, the combined company's net debt could be in the range of $90 billion. Two Qualcomm directors, Anthony Vinciquerra and Mark McLaughlin, have been aligned with activist hedge fund Jana Partners LLC, which pushed for a shakeup of the company two years ago. Jeffrey Henderson, another Qualcomm board director, was added last year as a compromise candidate. Apple, as a key customer, could pose a risk to the deal, said Karl Ackerman, an analyst at Cowen. Tan told Reuters that Broadcom taking over Qualcomm would improve relations with Apple: "We believe we can be very constructive in resolving these issues and resetting relationships." Broadcom plans to move its headquarters solely to the United States, which would allow it to avoid review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews foreign ownership of U.S. assets. Broadcom's offer represents a premium of 27.6 percent to Qualcomm's closing price of $54.84 on Thursday, a day before media reports of a potential deal pushed up the company's shares.

Amid Outcry, Afghan Officials Rescind Temporary Ban on WhatsApp, Telegram

Afghanistan's government has decided against blocking the instant messaging services of WhatsApp and Telegram in the face of widespread anger and sustained criticism of the controversial move from civil rights groups and users. President Ashraf Ghani held a meeting Monday with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and “decided that there will be no ban on Whatsapp & Telegram in #Afghanistan," Abdullah wrote on his official Twitter account Monday. The Afghan telecoms regulator last week wrote a letter to internet service providers, instructing them to instantly block the services. Copies of the controversial letter also emerged in mainstream and on social media, prompting an outcry from activists. Officials later confirmed the move, saying the services were being suspended for a period of 20 days at the request of state security institutions. Afghan media reported the decision was meant to stop the Taliban insurgency from using encrypted messages to circulate battlefield claims. The telecoms regulator later explained the ban was temporary so as to allow experts to carry out necessary improvements in the wake of user complaints. The ban on the two popular messaging services outraged Afghan activists and users, with some taking to social media to denounce it as an attack on freedom of expression. A presidential statement later Monday said Afghanistan's constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the unity government is committed to its constitutional responsibilities. In the statement, the government also promised to investigate circumstances that led to the dispute. More than six million people have access to the internet in Afghanistan, which has been ravaged by years of conflict, underscoring the importance of internet and mobile services there.

Supreme Court Rejects Samsung Appeal in Apple Patents Case

The Supreme Court has rejected Samsung's appeal of court rulings that it impermissibly copied features of Apple's iPhone. The justices on Monday left in place rulings in favor of Apple involving its patents for smartphone features that include auto-correct and a slide that unlocks the device. In 2014, a jury awarded Apple $120 million in damages for Samsung's infringement of the patents. The case is part of a series of disputes between the technology rivals that began in 2011. Last year, the high court ruled in favor of Samsung in a legal fight over the similar appearances of the two companies' smartphones.

Deterring Sheep Rustlers with High Tech

Rustlers, the villains in countless Wild West movies, are a very real threat to ranchers and farmers today. In Britain, sheep farmers are resorting to technology to protect their flocks. Faiza Elmasry reports on some high tech ways farmers are tracing their animals. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Will Formula Racing Switch to Electric Cars?

As private and public transportation slowly shifts to electric propulsion, fans of Formula One car racing wonder whether the thrill of roaring turbocharged engines and the smell of burning car tires will someday be replaced by the subdued sleep-inducing whine of electric motors. But Formula E cars keep gathering fans and creating support for alternative power sources. VOA's George Putic reports.