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Human Rights Defenders Urged Google And Apple To Remove Repressive ‘Absher’ App

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Human Rights Defenders aim Google and Apple to remove the repressive app, Absher from its app store

Google (GOOGL) and Apple (AAPL) have been the focus of several human rights defenders, calling to abolish the Saudi government app “Absher” from its platforms. This is after several protest claims that the app allows Saudi men to track women under their sponsorship.

Recently, a letter was addressed to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook and Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai On Monday from the top Democrat on the US Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon asked the tech giants to prevent their app stores from administering “abhorrent surveillance and control of women.”

The Absher mobile app was first available on iOS Devices in 2015, then, later on, reached Android in 2016. According to the Saudi Ministry of Interior, this app belongs to the Saudi government e-porta,l where users can access a wide range of government services related to Hajj (annual Islamic pilgrimage,) visa, national ID, Traffic violations, and health insurance among others.

The only unlikely thing among the services offered by this app is a feature for male guardians to decide whether their dependents can travel abroad and limitations about their travel plans. Under Saudi Arabia’s repressive guardianship laws, women cannot travel without any permission from their male guardians.

With the rise of complaints from critics who argue that the Absher app is a technological extension of the restrictive rules that repress many aspects of everyday living for the country’s female population.

“IT is hardly news that the Saudi monarchy seeks to restrict and repress Saudi women, but American companies should not enable to facilitate the Saudi government’s patriarchy,” Wdyen expressed in his letter.

Wyden also added in writings that Google and Apple are making it easier for Saudi men to have control over their family members from the convenience of smartphones and restrict their movements.

When Cook was asked about the repressive app, he responded through National Public Radio on Monday that he had not heard about the issue. However, he assured everyone that the company will take necessary actions.

However, Apple has not responded to CNN‘s request for comment.

Amnesty Intenational has also called the attention of Apple and Google to “assess the risk of human rights abuses caused by the app and mitigate the harm it has inflict on women.” An amnesty representative informed the public that the app curtails the movement of women and highlights discrimination against females under the guardianship system.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior later responded to the criticism which spans across the country by issuing a statement saying that the application represents electronic government services, which is an essential and direct means for the beneficiaries to access to the services anytime and from anywhere. It also condemned the campaign aimed at questioning the purpose of (Absher) services.

Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch told CNN that Apple and Google should consider the way that the app is being used and praticed. She emphasized that the tech giants already have rules about apps that facilitate threats and harassment.

The Absher app is designed for smart devices which aims to raise the level of service, besides harnessing its potentials to provide new value-added services, since smart applications are the future platform for implementation of e-services. With all the good features the app has, what Google and Apple can do now is to suggest a request to the Saudi government to remove the guardianship functionality from the app.

I've been contributing news since 2010, both online and print. Aside from Z6Mag, I manage independent news blogs that provide awareness on a diverse list of topics to every reader.

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[Breaking] Democrats Move To Ban Big Techs From Issuing Digital Money

The bill is bluntly named as “Keep Big Tech Out Of Finance Act”

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Photo: Christoph Scholz | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Facebook’s announcement of its biggest financial venture called Libra has prompted multisectoral discussion among tech companies, banking, and financial ecosystem, as well as government and regulatory official regarding the effect of cryptocurrency and digital money on the global economy.

The polarized discussion has seen lawmakers and executives on the opposite side of the poles arguing the harms of allowing tech giants like Facebook to issue currencies that have the potential of disrupting banking systems around the world.

Some say that it is on its way to a full-blown legal and social battle between regulators and the tech stratosphere. Some even suggest that this war has already begun.

A new draft proposal for the bill, bluntly named as “Keep Big Tech Out Of Finance Act,” that circulates among Democrats majority that leads the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, proves that the US government is not joking about its position against Libra and other similar ventures in the future.

According to the proposed bill, no tech company should be allowed to issue any form of financial services. “A large platform utility may not establish, maintain, or operate a digital asset that is intended to be widely used as a medium of exchange, unit of account, store of value, or any other similar function, as defined by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System,” reads a copy of the bill obtained by Z6Mag.

Furthermore, while the bill does not specify any company, it clearly refers to Facebook, and it’s planned blockchain-based currency, Libra. The “large platform utility” is defined as a technology company with “an annual global revenue of $25,000,000,000 or more” and one that is “predominately engaged in the business of offering to the public an online marketplace, an exchange, or a platform for connecting third parties.” This definition seems to be crafted to include Facebook rather than exclude other companies.

It is also worth noting that the proposed legislation also prohibits “large platform utilities” from affiliation with “persons who are a financial institution.” This further includes Facebook’s proactive workaround against possible future laws that may prohibit them from owning Libra.

Libra is actually not owned by Facebook. Instead, it is governed by a group of companies that are based in Switzerland called the Libra Association with Facebook as one of its founding members.

Nonetheless, the bill is still on its earliest phase yet, and many could happen to move forward. For it to become a law, it still has to withstand the possible opposition by Republicans in both the House and the Senate.

But it seems like the bill has an unlikely ally in the person of Donald Trump as the new proposal came out after Trump criticized cryptocurrencies.

In a series of tweets on Thursday, the POTUS said that he is not a “fan” of cryptocurrencies, asserted that America has only one currency, criticized bitcoin, as well as told Facebook that they need a banking charter if they want to launch their newly announced crypto-based money called Libra.

Trump said cryptocurrencies are not money, and “Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity.”

“If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must seek a new Banking Charter and become subject to all Banking Regulations,” said the president.

According to the President, the dollar is the only currency in America, and Libra, among other cryptocurrencies, are not “real money.”

“We have only one real currency in the USA, and it is stronger than ever, both dependable and reliable. It is by far the most dominant currency anywhere in the World, and it will always stay that way. It is called the United States Dollar!” Trump said in a tweet.

Trump’s sentiments echoed similar apprehensions from cryptocurrency critics who have been advocating against the growth of the “volatile” blockchain technology and crypto money. Many argue that those attributes count against the wider adoption of digital currencies.

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Ireland To Investigate Google’s Potential Data Breach

They are “looking into it.”

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Photo: Paul Robertson | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Ireland’s data protection regulating body is set to investigate the potential data breach in Google, following the confirmation from the tech superpower that their employees are listening to the recordings taken from their Smart Home speakers.

The Data Protection Commission in Ireland is set to look into the possibility of Google violating the privacy and data protection of users after admitting having linguistics experts listen to “anonymous” recordings taken from their smart speakers.

Google listens to smart home speaker recordings

According to Google, linguistics experts are listening to “snippets” of recordings made by users to improve the device’s artificial intelligence for voice recognition technology used in their smart home systems and smartphones. Nonetheless, they clarified that the tapes were randomly snipped and are unnamed.

After Ireland’s data privacy agency was made aware of the reports on Thursday, a spokesperson said that they would be “looking into it.” It is, however, unclear at this point if any Irish customers were affected by the potential violation of consumer privacy.

“We received a breach notification from Google on Thursday evening in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and we are currently assessing the information we have,” Spokesperson for the Commission, Graham Doyle said.

The smart speaker from Google understands and responds to voice commands given to it, answering queries about the news and weather, as well as being able to control other internet-connected devices around the home.

In a statement released by the search engine and smart device tycoon, Google reveals that its experts transcribed a small number of anonymous recordings, and an investigation has been launched following the controversial Dutch tape recordings that were leaked in the recent months.

“We partner with language experts around the world to improve speech technology by transcribing a small set of queries – this work is critical to developing technology that powers products like the Google Assistant,” Google said.

“Language experts only review around 0.2% of all audio snippets, and these snippets are not associated with user accounts as part of the review process.”

The statement continued: “We just learned that one of these reviewers had violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data.”

“Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again,” they added.

Data breach plagues smart home manufacturers

Similarly, earlier reports have tagged a similar system released by Amazon, Alexa, to have been listening to the recordings made by their users in their smart home devices. Amazon admits the process and justified it in the same manner as Google, citing its role in the development and improvement of artificial intelligence.

Privacy campaigners claimed it was a “data protection disaster waiting to happen.”

Privacy concerns are not only limited to smart home speakers. Last week, Chinese smart home devices manufacturer Orvibo suffered a data breach that exposed the exact geolocation of their users through their device’s GPS.

Google and other tech companies “cannot be trusted”

The announcement of Google’s potential data breach follows the recent report that the majority of Americans do not trust Facebook and Google. The recent poll conducted by McLaughlin and Associate revealed that 76.7% of conservative America does not trust Facebook and Google to be unbiased and to treat everyone equal. The survey asked respondents several questions to understand their perception and their opinions towards Big Tech companies like Facebook, Google, Youtube, and Twitter.

And the results for the overall trustworthiness perception of tech companies isn’t far from the results from conservative respondents. Of all the respondents, around 63.4 percent of them said that Facebook and Google could not be trusted to treat all its users equally.

The results, which also revealed that conservatives also don’t trust Google, came following a crucial “bias” issue that the tech giant is facing. 62.9 percent of conservative respondents saying they do not believe the company treats users equally, while nearly half of the respondents polled in general — 47.9 percent — agreed that Google is untrustworthy.

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More Than Half Of Facebook Employees Are White Men; Claims They’ve Come A Long Way In Terms Of Diversity

Less than 10% of their employees are Hispanics, Blacks, and Mixed Race.

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Photo: Robert Scoble | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Hispanic, Black, and Mixed Race combined only comprise less than 10% of Facebook’s workforce that is dominated by Whites and Asians; their annual diversity report reveals.

According to the Facebook 2019 Diversity Report, published June 9th, 2019, there are 44.2% and 43% Whites and Asians working on Facebook. Aggregately, the two demographic profile comprise 97% of all of Facebook’s employees. Furthermore, only 5.2% are Hispanics, and only 3.8% are Blacks.

Furthermore, the report also reveals a disproportionate number of men working for the San Francisco-based company as compared to women. In the said report, Facebook claims that across all roles, 63.1% are men, while only 36.9% are women. The numbers are similar for their senior leadership, that is comprised of 67.4% of men and only 32.6% of women.

The only department where women outnumber men is the Business and Sales department having 57.2% women and 42.8% men.

According to Facebook, the company had a long way of improving its workforce diversity. In 2014, for example, more than half of Facebook’s employees are White Men, and women occupy only a quarter of the senior leadership positions.

“Over the last six years, we have worked hard to make our commitment to diversity and inclusion more than just sound bites. Our company has grown a lot. So has our approach,” Facebook said in a press release.

“We are more focused than ever on creating a diverse workforce and supporting our people. They are the ones building better products and serving the communities on our platforms.”

Facebook has assigned departments and committees to improve the company’s diversity policy and allow a more inclusive business and working environment among their employees.

“Lauryn, Director of Education Partnerships, brings people together to learn more about computer science and programming through Facebook-led initiatives, such as TechPrep and CodeFwd, and partnerships with organizations like CodePath.org, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Jason, Head of Supplier Diversity, ensures that our supply chain, from the cafe, produce data center construction and global event production, is both diverse and inclusive,” reads the report.

The global tech giant also highlights the importance of design in fostering diversity within its workspace.

“Our design choices are important, too. Designing for inclusivity leads to better decisions and better products. Ian, Director of Design at Instagram, has relied on diverse teams to build the best products throughout his career in the US and now in Japan. It’s also vital to be increasingly intentional not just about what we design, but how. We are committed to the ethical design and responsible innovation in tech. Margaret, VP of Product Design, insists on diverse perspectives and a broad view of social and political contexts informing how we design,” they added.

” Facebook Resource Groups are building community and supporting professional development while programs like Managing Bias, Managing Inclusion, Be the Ally Circles, Managing a Respectful Workplace, and Efficacy Training build everyone’s skills.”

Facebook’s programs for diversification of its workplace also extends to people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“We are also committed to disability inclusion and are particularly proud of our top score and naming as a “Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion” by the Disability Equality Index. We have expanded our disability and inclusion recruiting efforts globally to provide more opportunity for job satisfaction and advancement, and we have launched new initiatives,” they said.

“Our commitment to and support of the LGBTQ+ community is unwavering. We’re proud to have earned 100% on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) 2019 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) and the designation as a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality. This is the fifth year in a row that we have received the best score. The HRC recognition reflects the hard work that this community and its allies across the company do to make LGBTQ+ inclusion a priority for the people at Facebook and on our platform around the world. About 8% of US-based Facebook employees identify as LGBTQ+, based on a voluntary survey.”

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