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Twitter Shares Jump; Growth Attributed to Fight Against Abuse

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 19:51
Shares in Twitter Inc jumped 13 percent Tuesday after the social media company reported quarterly revenue above analyst estimates, which executives said was the result of weeding out spam and abusive posts and targeting ads better. New ad formats, partnerships with content providers like the U.S. National Basketball Association and efforts to patrol abusive content are helping Twitter better compete for advertising dollars, executives said. Social media companies have been under pressure over privacy concerns and political influence activity. Twitter has removed thousands of spam and suspicious accounts, which it blamed for sequential declines in monthly users in recent quarters. Twitter executives said they saw opportunities for selling ads that earn revenue when users visit websites or download apps, citing success with major brands like Walt Disney Co. The company is looking to grow its sales team in 2019 to better serve big advertisers. "Something where you see a blending of performance and brand is the Star Trek ad that Disney is running right now, where I click through to make sure that I'd be notified when more information was available about the next Star Wars," Twitter Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal told analysts. Twitter said pre-roll ads, or promotional messages that play before videos, are also growing. The company said its monthly active users (MAU) rose 9 million to 330 million from the previous quarter, much better than Wall Street's average estimate that it would lose 2.2 million users, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Still, MAUs were down 6 million from a year earlier. It was Twitter's last quarter of disclosing MAUs. From now on it will only provide "monetizable" daily active users (mDAUs), created to measure people exposed to advertising and exclude those who access Twitter via text messages or aggregating sites like TweetDeck. For the first quarter, Twitter said mDAUs rose to 134 million, up 12 percent from a year ago. Analysts were encouraged by signs the company had found ways to sustainably grow users and revenue, but said the new way of measuring users could make comparisons with rivals like Facebook Inc more difficult. "People are not impressed with a made up metric and their reluctance to give us actual users," said analyst Michael Pachter at Wedbush Securities. "I don't think the stock can get out of its own way until they come clean and report the same metrics everyone else does." Forecast largely below Wall Street For the first quarter, Twitter's revenue rose 18 percent to $787 million from the year-ago quarter, topping analyst estimates of $776.1 million. But Twitter also forecast revenue for the second quarter largely below analyst estimates, and said that it would continue to spend heavily on cleaning up Twitter as well as new ad products. Ad sales jumped 18 percent to $679 million. In the United States, ad revenue rose by 26 percent. Total operating expense including cost of revenue rose by 18 percent from the first quarter a year ago. The company reiterated that operating expenses would grow about 20 percent in 2019. Twitter reported quarterly profit of $191 million, or 25 cents a share, compared with $61 million, or 8 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding a $124.4 million tax benefit, the company earned 9 cents per share. The results appeared to catch the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump, who called for the creation of "more, and fairer" social media companies, repeating his claim that Twitter is biased against Republicans, without presenting evidence. "We enforce the Twitter Rules dispassionately and equally for all users, regardless of their background or political affiliation," a Twitter representative said. "We are constantly working to improve our systems and will continue to be transparent in our efforts."

Will Smith, NASA, Fortnite Among 2019 Webby Award Winners

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 15:30
Actor Will Smith, NASA, Fortnite and Disney are among the 2019 Webby Award winners for internet excellence. The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences announced the winners Tuesday. Smith's The Jump won a Webby for events and live stream video while Disney was chosen the WebbyMedia Company of the Year for earning the most honors across all Webby categories with 32 wins overall. Fortnite is recognized in the game category, and NASA won for best overall social presence. Actress Issa Rae is the Webby video person of the year for using the internet to showcase breakthrough content from diverse creators. Activist Greta Thunberg scored a Webby for social movement of the year for igniting the #FridaysForFuture global movement for climate justice. The 23rd annual Webby Awards will be presented in New York City on May 13.

EU Wary of Fake Online Accounts as Europe Elections Approach

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 15:08
The European Union is praising Facebook, Google and Twitter for tackling disinformation while urging the social media giants to do more in clamping down on fake accounts. Under an EU code of conduct, the three companies report routinely on their efforts to stop election interference. Facebook, for one, has been criticized for being a tool for foreign interference in elections. Tuesday's reports say Facebook, Google and Twitter are tightening advertising policy and surveillance, particularly with election-targeted ads. But the commission urges them to share fake account data with outside experts and researchers. Millions of people across the 28-nation bloc will vote in the May 23-26 European Parliament elections. Polls show nationalist and populist parties could make significant gains, while mainstream parties would lose seats but retain control over the assembly.

Samsung Delays Launch of Folding Galaxy Smartphone

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 03:20
Samsung said Monday it was delaying the launch of its folding smartphone after trouble with handsets sent to reviewers. Some reviewers who got their hands on the Galaxy Fold early reported problems with screens breaking. Samsung said it decided to put off this week's planned release of the Fold after some reviews "showed us how the device needs further improvements." The South Korean consumer electronics giant planned to announce a new release date for the Galaxy Fold in the coming weeks. Initial analysis of reported problems with Galaxy Fold screens showed they could be "associated with impact on the top and bottom exposed areas of the hinge," Samsung said. There was also an instance where unspecified "substances" were found inside a Galaxy Fold smartphone with a troubled display, according to the company. "We will take measures to strengthen the display protection," Samsung said. "We will also enhance the guidance on care and use of the display including the protective layer." A handful of U.S.-based reporters were given the flagship Galaxy Fold phones, priced at $1,980, ahead of the model's official release, and they reported screen issues within days of using the devices. Samsung spent nearly eight years developing the Galaxy Fold, which is part of the leading smartphone maker's strategy to propel growth with groundbreaking gadgets. The company essentially gave reviewers a "beta product" without enough information, such as not to peel off a protective coating meant to be permanent, according to independent technology analyst Rob Enderle. "It was all avoidable for a company the size of Samsung," Enderle said. The failure of a "halo product" meant to showcase innovation and quality could tarnish the brand and send buyers to rivals. "If a halo product fails, people don't trust that you build quality stuff," Enderle said. "It can do incredible damage. And Huawei is moving up like a rocket, so this could be good for Huawei." Surviving life Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi told AFP that a Galaxy Fold she reviewed worked fine, performing even in sometimes messy situations that arise in everyday life. She wondered if some problems with smartphones reviewed were due to dust, moisture or other material getting into handsets through small openings at the tops and bottoms of hinges. "If stuff gets in there, it can make its way under the screen," Milanesi said. "There seems to be a kind of real-life test that maybe didn't occur." Testing folding phones in a lab is a much different scenario than challenging them "in the wild" where they need to endure pockets, handbags, greasy food, spilled coffee and more, the analyst noted. Samsung may also need to do more to convey how folding screens warrant more careful handling than stiff displays that have been improved over generations of smartphones. Milanesi did not expect a slight delay in the launch of the Galaxy Fold to be a major setback for Samsung, saying that the model was unlikely to be a big driver of sales given its price and that services or apps are still being adapted to the new type of smartphone. Samsung smartphones tuned to work with super-speedy fifth-generation telecommunications networks are more important to the company's bottom line on the near horizon, according to the analyst. "It is still early days for 5G, but that is the product that is going to make a difference for Samsung this year," Milanesi said. Samsung is the world's biggest smartphone maker, and earlier this month launched the 5G version of its top-end Galaxy S10 device. Adding to Samsung woes Despite the recent announcements about its new high-end devices, Samsung has warned of a more than 60 percent plunge in first-quarter operating profit in the face of weakening markets. The firm is also no stranger to device issues. Its reputation suffered a major blow after a damaging worldwide recall of its Galaxy Note 7 devices over exploding batteries in 2016, which cost the firm billions of dollars and shattered its global brand image. Samsung originally planned to release the Galaxy Fold as scheduled on April 26. While Samsung's device was not the first folding handset, the smartphone giant was expected to help spark demand and potentially revive a sector that has been struggling for new innovations. Other folding devices have been introduced by startup Royole and by Chinese-based Huawei. Samsung Electronics is the flagship subsidiary of Samsung Group, by far the biggest of the family-controlled conglomerates that dominate business in the world's 11th-largest economy, and it is crucial to South Korea's economic health. The company has enjoyed record profits in recent years despite a series of setbacks, including the jailing of its de facto chief.

Sri Lanka Shuts Down Social Media After Terror Attack

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 23:06
People in Sri Lanka are experiencing a second day without access to some of the most popular social media sites within the country, after the government shut down the services in the wake of a terror attack that killed nearly 300 people and injured hundreds on Easter Sunday. Facebook and its properties — Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger — were blocked. Access to Snapchat was turned off, as was Viper, a popular chat application.  The government said it blocked access to the sites because false news reports were spreading through social media. A lack of trust  Sri Lanka's shutdown of social media is a "wake-up call," said Ivan Sigal, executive director of Global Voices, a digital advocacy and journalism organization.  The shutdown reflects governments' worldwide growing mistrust of Facebook, Google and other digital platforms during periods of crisis, he said. "What's different to me is this sense that enough is enough' with the internet companies. The narrative up to three years ago was that technology companies can help us in times of crisis," he said. "There really is a shift in the public conversation of what we expect from technology companies — from a sense that they are positive forces to ones that are more complicated and possibly negative."  Shutdowns are becoming more common after politically sensitive events such as elections, said Peter Micek with Access Now, a digital rights group. What appears to be changing is that "authorities are putting tragedies such as a terrorist attack or a disaster in the same bucket as politically sensitive events," Micek said. "I don't know how governments can communicate with their constituencies with these media bans in place. They only increase the risks to health and safety."  Social media-fueled unrest Sri Lankans have experienced social media shutdowns in the past. In March 2018, Sri Lanka turned off access for more than eight days after anti-Muslim riots that left three people dead. The restrictions then were at first accepted by many, said Alp Toker, executive director of Netblocks, a digital rights group based in London that monitors government shutdowns. There was a sense that social media was fueling the flames. But citizens quickly clamored for access to be restored, he said.  "People realized they are attached to the platforms," Toker said.  Facebook's safety check  A Facebook spokesperson said that the company is "working to support first responders and law enforcement, as well as to identify and remove content which violates our standards. We are aware of the government's statement regarding the temporary blocking of social media platforms." After the terror attacks in Sri Lanka, Facebook turned on its Safety Check service, which asks people in the affected area to report they are safe. It is unclear if anyone in the country is able to access the site. 

With 5G on the Horizon, Researchers Build Experimental Network in Harlem

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 23:02
Fifth generation mobile networks, better known as “5G,” promise ultra-fast connections and more reliability. But getting these networks up and running won’t happen overnight, and only a handful of U.S. cities have initial access. New York City is building an experimental network that tests the limits of 5G and beyond. VOA reporter Tina Trinh explains.

Melinda Gates Talks 'Brash' Microsoft Culture in New Book

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 21:00
Looking back at her time as an early Microsoft employee, Melinda Gates said the brash culture at the famously tough, revolutionary tech company made her want to quit, but that she didn't discuss it with her boyfriend, and later her husband, Bill Gates, the company CEO who embodied that culture. "That wasn't my job to do that at the time," Gates said in an interview with The Associated Press, adding that she drew "bright lines" around the office and home in order to work there for nine years before she left to have children. Her new book, "The Moment of Lift," is a memoir and manifesto on women and power from the former tech business executive, outspoken feminist and public supporter of the #MeToo movement. The Associated Press reviewed an advanced copy of the book ahead of its release Tuesday. All book proceeds will be donated to charity. Missing from the memoir is how her relationship with Gates affected her experience at Microsoft. And she said it's difficult to look back to 30 years ago to say how things might be different today if he had made a move on an employee at work, back when the company was 1% of its current size. "It's impossible to project how that was different," she said. Gates didn't say in the interview if she ever had doubts about starting a relationship with her company CEO. The book trails her life from Catholic school girl in Texas, to young tech leader at Microsoft; and from her private struggles as the wife of a dominating public icon and stay-at-home mom with three kids, to finding her professional purpose as a champion of women through venture capital and philanthropy. The Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's $50 billion endowment makes it the world's largest private foundation. Much of its resources are spent on global health and development, which informed the many academic interpretations of world poverty issues that make up the majority of the book. Illustrated by vivid, heartbreaking anecdotes on how those problems cause death and suffering, it is told from her extraordinary perch as one of the world's richest people. And it's also part celebrity memoir that delves into her personal life. She won Bill Gates' heart after meeting at a work dinner, sharing a mutual love of puzzles and beating him at a math game. Their children enrolled in school under her maiden name, "French," to give them anonymity. At a time when she was still discovering how gender roles were engrained in her, he offered to do school drop-offs, which then influenced other fathers to take on the task. On women and power, Gates outlines her agenda tackling poverty in developing nations and evolution from reluctant to proud feminist pushing for equality in the American workplace after a largely positive but also at times frustrating experience at Microsoft. Melinda Gates said she learned to adapt by being herself despite Microsoft's abrasive style because she loved the work while she was there in the 1980s and 1990s. She said she recruited some of the best in the company who appreciated her kinder leadership style. She also describes how the couple evolved to become more and more equal since starting the foundation together in 2000. She gives Gates feedback often and is adamant about creating a collaborative culture at their powerful nonprofit. "Bill and I are equal partners," Melinda Gates said. "Men and women should be equal at work."

Tesla Shows Off Self-Driving Technology to Investors

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 20:14
Tesla broadcast a web presentation on Monday to update investors about its self-driving strategy as Chief Executive Elon Musk tries to show that the electric car maker's massive investment in the sector will pay off. Global carmakers, large technology companies and an array of startups are developing self-driving — including Alphabet Inc's Waymo and Uber Technologies Inc — but experts say it will be years before the systems are ready for deployment. Musk previously forecast that by 2018 cars would go "from your driveway to work without you touching anything." Teslas still require human intervention and are not considered fully self-driving, according to industry standards. The webcast, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. PT (1800 GMT), was delayed and Tesla showed a repeating video of its vehicles for 30 minutes. Teslas have been involved in a handful of crashes, some of them fatal, involving the use of the company's AutoPilot system. The system has automatic steering and cruise control but requires driver attention at the wheel. Tesla has been criticized by safety groups for being unclear about the need for "hands-on" driving. The company also sells a "full self-driving option" for an additional $5,000, explained on Tesla's website as "automatic driving from highway on-ramp to off-ramp," automatic lane changes, the ability to autopark and to summon a parked car. Coming later in 2019 is the ability to recognize traffic lights and stop signs, and perform automatic driving on city streets, says Tesla. But Tesla's use of the term "full self-driving" still garners criticism, as the option is not yet "Level 4," or fully autonomous by industry standards, in which the car can handle all aspects of driving in most circumstances with no human intervention. Tesla says its cars have the necessary hardware for full self-driving in most circumstances, and Musk said in February he was certain that Tesla would be "feature complete" for full self-driving in 2019, although drivers would still need to pay attention until the system's reliability improved. Tesla reports first-quarter earnings on Wednesday. That is also the deadline by which Musk and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are supposed to settle their dispute over Musk's use of Twitter.

Ford Unveils New Electric Fleet

Sun, 04/21/2019 - 07:58
Ford is showing off its new fleet of electric vehicles. Some of the standouts include a new hybrid plug-in and the promise of a new, all-electric model by 2022. The U.S. automaker plans to have a fleet of 40 different electric vehicles on the roads in the next three years. VOA'S Kevin Enochs reports.

The Future of Farming: Robots Tend Crops and Bovines Go 5G

Sat, 04/20/2019 - 06:40
British agriculture is going high-tech. Farmers recently tested cutting-edge technology like robots that autonomously tend fields and wireless cattle that may connect faster to the farm than you to your favorite app. Incoming message from Arash Arabasadi.

China's Political System Helps Advance Its Artificial Intelligence

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 19:14
Recent technological advances demonstrated by China have started an intense debate on whether it is set to take a lead in the field of artificial intelligence, or AI, which has extensive business and military applications. U.S. concerns about China's AI advances have also influenced, in part, the ongoing trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing. Both the United States and European Union are taking measures to stop information leaks that are reportedly helping Chinese companies at the expense of Western business. But many analysts are saying that Chinese corporate and defense-related research in areas like AI and 5G wireless technologies can thrive on their own even if information from the Western world is shut off. China is already reportedly leading in several segments of businesses like autonomous vehicles, facial recognition and certain kinds of drones. The U.S.-based Allen Institute of Artificial Intelligence recently captured attention when it reported that China is a close second after the United States when it comes to producing frequently-cited research papers on artificial intelligence. The U.S. contribution is 29%, and China accounts for 26% of such papers. "The U.S. still is ahead in AI development capabilities, but the gap between the U.S. and China is closing rapidly because of the significant new AI investments in China," Bart Selman, president-elect of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, a professional organization, told VOA. Political advantage Chinese President Xi Jinping has in recent months encouraged Communist leaders to "ensure that our country marches in the front ranks when it comes to theoretical research in this important area of AI, and occupies the high ground in critical and AI core technologies." He also asked them to "ensure that critical and core AI technologies are firmly grasped in our own hands." Analysts said China's political system and its government's eagerness to support the technological advancement were key reasons it could build infrastructure such as cloud computing and a software engineering workforce, and become a big player in artificial intelligence. Chinese companies enjoy special advantages in deploying new technology like facial recognition, which is often difficult in democratic countries like the U.S., said William Carter, deputy director and fellow in the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "China does have strengths in terms of application development and deployment, and has the potential to take the lead in the deployment of some technologies like autonomous vehicles and facial recognition where ethical, social and policy hurdles may impede deployment in the U.S. and other parts of the world," Carter said. China's capabilities in image and facial recognition are possibly the best in the world, partly because government controls have made it easier to generate data from a wide range of sources like banks, mobile phone companies and social media. "These capabilities arise out of the use of deep learning on very large data sets. In general, China has the advantage of having more real world data to train AI systems on ... than any other country," Selman said. Other areas where China has shown significant advances are natural language processing (in Chinese only) and drone (unmanned aerial vehicle) swarming. "China also has unique capabilities that are not found in the U.S. or Europe. I'm thinking of electronic payment platforms [e.g. AliPay] and the super app WeChat that provide an advanced platform for the rapid introduction of further AI technologies," Selman said. U.S. role Last February, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order asking government agencies to do more with AI. "Continued American leadership in artificial intelligence is of paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security of the United States," Trump was quoted as saying in an official press release accompanying the order. Critics have said that Trump's order does not suggest enhanced government investment and plans for attracting fresh talent in AI research and development, which is essential for growth and industry competition. Gregory Allen is an adjunct senior fellow with the research group Center for a New American Security. He was recently quoted as saying that the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is spending the most on research and development at $2 billion over five years. In contrast, the Chinese province of Shanghai, which is a city government, is planning to spend $15 billion on AI over 10 years. "So literally, we have the U.S. federal government at present at risk of being outspent by a provincial government of China," Allen said. China's AI capabilities have limits. They suffer from major weaknesses in areas like advanced semiconductors to support machine learning applications. "At the end of the day, when it comes to most major AI fields, China is not the technological leader and is not the source of most foundational innovations," Carter said.  The U.S. still dominates in the overall market for self-driving car technology, machine translation, natural language understanding, and web search. China has gained a strong presence in a few segments of these businesses, largely because of its vast domestic market. Despite the competition, collaboration and exchange of ideas occur between the two countries in the AI field, although this aspect is less discussed, Carter added. "Politically, the dynamic is more competitive; economically and scientifically, it is more collaborative," he said.

NASA Launches Chicago Planetarium’s Student Project into Space

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 17:41
College student Fatima Guerra, 19, will be the first to admit, she’s into some really nerdy stuff. “Like, up there nerdy.” "Way up there nerdy," she says. "All the way up into space." Guerra is an astronomer in training, involved since a high school internship with a small project at the Adler Planetarium, with big goals. “Our main goal was to see if the ozone layer is getting thinner and by how much, and if there is different parts of the Earth’s atmosphere getting thinner because of the pollution and greenhouse gases,” she told VOA from the laboratory at the Adler where she often works. ​Coding ThinSat Data that sheds light on those circumstances is gathered by a small electronic device called “ThinSat” designed to orbit the Earth. It is developed not by high-paid engineers and software programmers, but by Chicago-area students like Guerra. “We focused on coding the different parts of the sensors that the ThinSat is composed of. So, we coded so that it can measure light intensity, pressure.” “This stuff is very nerdy,” Jesus Garcia admits with a chuckle. “What we hope to accomplish is look at Earth from space as if it was the very first exoplanet that we have. So, imagine that we are looking at the very first images from a very distant planet.” As a systems engineer, Garcia oversees the work of the students developing ThinSat for the Adler’s Far Horizon’s Project, which he outlines “bring all types of students, volunteers and our staff to develop projects, engineering projects, that allow us to answer scientific questions.” Garcia says the students he works with on the project cross national, racial and cultural divides to work toward a common goal. “Here at the Adler, we have students who are minorities who have been faced with challenges of not having opportunities presented to them,” he said. “And here we are presenting a mission where they are collaborating with us scientists and engineers on our first mission that is going into space.” Rocket carries project into space As the NASA-owned, Northrop Grumann-developed Antares rocket successfully blasted off from the coast of Virginia on April 17, it wasn’t just making a resupply mission to the International Space Station. On board was ThinSat, the culmination of work by many at the Adler, including Guerra, who joined the Far Horizons team as a high school requirement that ended up becoming much more. “A requirement can become a life-changing opportunity, and you don’t even know it,” she told VOA. “It’s really exciting to see, or to know, especially, that my work is going to go up into space and help in the scientific world.” Daughter of immigrants It is also exciting for her parents, immigrants from Guatemala, who can boast that their daughter is one of the few who can claim to have built a satellite orbiting the Earth. “I told them it might become a worldwide type of news, and I’m going to be a part of it. And they were really proud. And they were calling my family over there and saying, ‘She might be on TV.’ And it’s something they really feel a part of me about,” Guerra said. Long after the data compiled by ThinSat is complete, Guerro will still have a place in history as a member of a team that put the first satellite developed by a private planetarium into space. She says her friends don’t think that’s nerdy at all. “It’s cool, because it’s interesting to see that something so nerdy is actually going to work, and is going to go up into something so important,” she said.

NASA Rocket Carries Adler Planetarium Student Project into Space

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 17:26
For some, the launch of a rocket into space to resupply the International Space Station is a routine mission. But for a group of students working with the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, it is a historic moment marking the achievement of a lifetime. VOA's Kane Farabaugh has more from Chicago.

Food Stamps, Online Grocery Shopping Are About to Mix 

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 01:59
Amazon and Walmart on Thursday kicked off a two-year government pilot program allowing low-income shoppers on government food assistance in New York to shop and pay for their groceries online for the first time.    ShopRite will join the two retailers on the program early next week, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.    The USDA has long required customers using electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, to pay for their purchases at the actual time and place of sale. So the move marks the first time SNAP customers can pay for their groceries online. ShopRite and Amazon are providing the service to the New York City area, and Walmart is providing the service online in upstate New York locations. The agency said the pilot will eventually expand to other areas of New York as well as Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. Purchase food, but not delivery The pilot program will test both online ordering and payment. SNAP participants will be able to use their benefits to purchase eligible food items but will not be able to use SNAP to pay for service or delivery charges, the agency said.    ``People who receive SNAP benefits should have the opportunity to shop for food the same way more and more Americans shop for food — by ordering and paying for groceries online,'' said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. ``As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance, too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients.''    Perdue said he will be monitoring how the pilot program increases food access and customer service, specifically for those who have trouble visiting physical stores.   Roughly 38 million individuals receive food stamps in the U.S., according to the USDA. Nearly $52 billion, or 82% of all food stamp dollars, were spent at big box stores and grocery chains in 2017, according to the most recent USDA data.    The 2014 Farm Bill authorized the USDA to conduct and evaluate a pilot program for online purchasing prior to national implementation. The USDA says the move was intended to ensure online transactions are processed safely and securely.    Seattle-based Amazon said those who qualify don't need to be Prime members to buy groceries with their benefits. They'll get free access to its AmazonFresh service, which delivers meat, dairy and fresh produce to shoppers' doorsteps. And they'll also be able to use Prime Pantry, which delivers packaged goods like cereal and canned food. Qualifying amounts However, they'll need to spend over a certain amount to qualify for free shipping: $50 at AmazonFresh and $25 at Amazon.com. The online shopping giant launched a website, amazon.com/snap, where people can check if they qualify. Amazon said it's working with the USDA to expand service to other parts of New York state.    Amazon.com Inc. was on the initial list for the government pilot program, and Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart Inc. made the list later. The world's largest retailer, however, in late 2017 had started allowing customers in limited locations to order items through its online grocery pickup service and then pay for it in person at the stores.    ``Access to convenience and to quality, fresh groceries shouldn't be dictated by how you pay,'' Walmart said. ``This pilot program is a great step forward, and we are eager to expand this to customers in other states where we already have a great online grocery.''    Walmart said that nearly 300 locations with grocery pickup in the states will be part of the USDA government program. 

Facebook 'Unintentionally' Uploaded Email Contacts of 1.5 Million Users

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 19:47
Facebook Inc said on Wednesday it may have "unintentionally uploaded" email contacts of 1.5 million new users since May 2016, in what seems to be the latest privacy-related issue faced by the social media company. In March, Facebook had stopped offering email password verification as an option for people who signed up for the first time, the company said. There were cases in which email contacts of people were uploaded to Facebook when they created their account, the company said. "We estimate that up to 1.5 million people's email contacts may have been uploaded. These contacts were not shared with anyone and we are deleting them," Facebook told Reuters, adding that users whose contacts were imported will be notified. The underlying glitch has been fixed, according to the company statement. Business Insider had earlier reported that the social media company harvested email contacts of the users without their knowledge or consent when they opened their accounts. When an email password was entered, a message popped up saying it was "importing" contacts without asking for permission first, the report said. Facebook has been hit by a number of privacy-related issues recently, including a glitch that exposed passwords of millions of users stored in readable format within its internal systems to its employees. Last year, the company came under fire following revelations that Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm, obtained personal data of millions of people's Facebook profiles without their consent. The company has also been facing criticism from lawmakers across the world for what has been seen by some as tricking people into giving personal data to Facebook and for the presence of hate speech and data portability on the platform. Separately, Facebook was asked to ensure its social media platform is not abused for political purposes or to spread misinformation during elections.

Google: Android Users Get Browser, Search Options in EU Case

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 15:30
Google said Thursday it will start giving European Union smartphone users a choice of browsers and search apps on its Android operating system, in changes designed to comply with an EU antitrust ruling. Following an Android update, users will be shown two new screens giving them the new options, Google product management director Paul Gennai said in a blog post. The EU’s executive Commission slapped the Silicon Valley giant with a record 4.34 billion euro (then $5 billion) antitrust fine in July after finding that it abused the dominance of Android by forcing handset and tablet makers to install Google apps, reducing consumer choice. The commission had ordered Google to come up with a remedy or face further fines. The company, which is appealing the ruling, said the changes are being rolled out over the next few weeks to both new and existing Android phones in Europe. Android users who open the Google Play store after the update will be given the option to install up to five search apps and five browsers, Gennai said. Apps will be included based on their popularity and shown in random order. Users who choose a search app will also be asked if they want to change the default search engine in the phone’s Chrome browser. Android is the most widely used mobile operating system, beating even Apple’s iOS.

Polo Ralph Lauren Debuts Shirt Made From Plastic Bottles

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 06:20
Earth, meet Polo. Polo Ralph Lauren on Thursday launched a version of its iconic polo shirt made entirely of recycled plastic bottles and dyed through a process that uses zero water. David Lauren, the youngest son of the company’s founder and its chief innovation officer, told The Associated Press ahead of the announcement that the new shirt is part of a broader strategy of fresh environmental goals throughout the manufacturing process. “Every day we’re learning about what’s happened with global warming and what’s happening all around the world, and our employees and our customers are really feeling that it’s time to step up and make a difference,” Lauren said. ​Not the first The Polo isn’t the first of its kind. Smaller brands around the world are using repurposed and recycled materials. In announcing Earth Polo, Ralph Lauren committed to removing at least 170 million bottles from landfills and oceans by 2025. The shirts are manufactured in Taiwan, where the bottles are collected. Each uses an average 12 bottles. The shirts are produced in partnership with First Mile, an organization that collects the bottles turned into yarn and, ultimately, fabric. The new fibers will also be used for existing performance wear already made of polyfibers, which are popular for their ability to wick away moisture. The Earth Polo went on sale Thursday, ahead of Monday’s Earth Day, at RalphLauren.com and retail stores around the world. It comes in styles for men and women in green, white, navy and light blue. The shirts are not more expensive than other Polos. Serious about environment Ralph Lauren has taken on environmental initiatives over the years, but it’s putting into place a more significant strategy aimed at changing both its corporate culture and how it thinks about the clothes it produces. The effort includes a new supply chain and sustainability officer, Halide Alagoz, who said more details will be released in June. “At the moment we’re refreshing our approach and framework around sustainability,” she said. Among the company’s other goals: the use of 100% sustainably sourced cotton by 2025 and 100% recyclable or sustainably sourced packaging materials by the same year. Fashion forward Other fashion powerhouses are also getting more aggressive on the environment. Late last year, Burberry and H&M were among fashion stakeholders to sign on to the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, launched at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP24, in Poland. The charter contains a vision to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Ralph Lauren is not a signatory but is exploring the call to action. As for Earth Polo, a huge threat facing oceans today involves trillions of tiny plastic and chemical-covered non-plastic microfibers that flow from washing machines through drain water, placing smaller fish and other sea life, such as anemones, at risk. Alagoz said Ralph Lauren is working with experts who say the impact of turning a plastic bottle into recycled microfiber is “much less than that bottle ending up in the ocean.” The broader question of biodegradability of such fibers remains unresolved. For Polo Earth, the story is about recycling and reusing, Lauren said. “There’s so much out in the world that is not good for the environment. Whatever materials we can turn into threads, we’ll start looking at other opportunities,” he said. “Right now, we’re trying to make sure that what we produce is as good for the environment as possible, or at least helps clean up another problem. Are we creating a new problem? I think we’re creating solutions, or at least trying to find solutions.”

Samsung to Investigate Reports of Galaxy Fold Screen Problems

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 05:23
South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. said it has received a few reports of damage to the main display of samples of its upcoming foldable smartphone and that it will investigate. Some tech reviewers of the Galaxy Fold, a splashy $1,980 phone that opens into a tablet and that goes on sale in the United States April 26, said the phone malfunctioned after only a day or two of use. “We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter,” Samsung said in a statement, noting that a limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. Screen cracking, flickering The problem seems to be related to the unit’s screen either cracking or flickering, according to Twitter posts by technology journalists from Bloomberg, The Verge and CNBC who received the phone this week for review purposes. Samsung, which has advertised the phone as “the future,” said removing a protective layer of its main display might cause damage, and that it will clearly inform customers such. The company said it has closed pre-orders for the Galaxy Fold because of “high demand.” It told Reuters there is no change to its release schedule following the malfunction reports. From phone to tablet The South Korean company’s Galaxy Fold resembles a conventional smartphone but opens like a book to reveal a second display the size of a small tablet at 7.3 inches (18.5 cm). Although Galaxy Fold and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.’s Mate X foldable phones are not expected to be big sellers, the new designs were hailed as framing the future of smartphones this year in a field that has seen few surprises since Apple Inc. introduced the screen slab iPhone in 2007. The problems with the new phone drew comparisons to Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 phone in 2016. Battery and design flaws in the Note 7 led to some units catching fire or exploding, forcing Samsung to recall and cancel sales of the phone. The recall wiped out nearly all of the profit in Samsung’s mobile division in the third quarter of 2016. Samsung has said it plans to churn out at least 1 million foldable Galaxy Fold handsets globally, compared with its total estimated 300 million mobile phones it produces annually. Reviewers puzzled Reviewers of the new Galaxy Fold said they did not know what the problem was and Samsung did not provide answers. Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman tweeted: “The screen on my Galaxy Fold review unit is completely broken and unusable just two days in. Hard to know if this is widespread or not.” According to Gurman’s tweets, he removed a plastic layer on the screen that was not meant to be removed and the phone malfunctioned afterward. Dieter Bohn, executive editor of The Verge, said that a “small bulge” appeared on the crease of the phone screen, which appeared to be something pressing from underneath the screen. Bohn said Samsung replaced his test phone but did not offer a reason for the problem. “It is very troubling,” Bohn told Reuters, adding that he did not remove the plastic screen cover. Steve Kovach, tech editor at CNBC.com tweeted a video of half of his phone’s screen flickering after using it for just a day.

UN: Smartphones, Digital Technology Can Improve Health Care

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 16:46
The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued its first guidelines on digital health intervention. The U.N. agency said governments can improve the health of their citizens by using digital technology to make health systems more efficient and responsive to their patients. The United Nations said 51 percent of the world's population has access to broadband internet service. Chief WHO scientist Soumya Swaminathan said increased availability and use of digital technology offers new opportunities to improve people's health. She told VOA the technology enables people, even in the remotest settings, to leapfrog into the development of a more effective, inclusive health system. With the use of mobile phones, computers and laptops, she said it is possible to bypass the intervening stages many countries have had to go through. "So, a health worker in Congo can directly start using a mobile phone if the government is able to provide one to the health worker and get away from filling 30 paper registers, which occupy about one-third of front-line health workers time," she added. New recommendations The new guidelines include 10 recommendations on how governments can use digital technology for maximum impact on their health systems. A WHO scientist specializing in digital innovations and research, Garrett Mehl, said the recommendations deal with issues such as birth notification. "Knowing that a baby has been born is critical to knowing how to provide vaccinations; knowing that the mother needs different post-natal care visits," he said. "But without knowing that there was a birth that has happened, it is difficult to trigger those events in the health system." The guidelines also address privacy concerns.They have recommendations for ensuring that sensitive data, such as issues of sexual and reproductive health, are protected and not put at risk.

Human Tissue Used to Create 3D Printed Heart

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 07:30
Scientists in Israel have revealed what they say is the world's first 3D-printed heart using human tissue. It's hoped the small heart will pave the way for transplants without donors, when every hospital might have access to 3D organ printers. Faith Lapidus reports.

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