Former Refugees Overcome Challenges to Succeed in Male Dominated Tech World

The United States is a land of opportunity for many immigrants. But some who come to the US often face big hurdles. The challenges can be especially great for immigrant women trying to succeed in male dominated careers in STEM fields: for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. VOA spoke with three Afghan women, all of whom prove that where there is a will, there’s usually a way. Zheela Noori went to Silicon Valley to find out what drives them. Freshta Azizi narrates.

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NY Times: US Investigating Cambridge Analytica

The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI are investigating Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct political data firm embroiled in a scandal over its handling of Facebook Inc user information, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Prosecutors have sought to question former Cambridge Analytica employees and banks that handled its business, the newspaper said, citing an American official and others familiar with the inquiry.

Cambridge Analytica said earlier this month it was shutting down after losing clients and facing mounting legal fees resulting from reports the company harvested personal data about millions of Facebook users beginning in 2014.

Allegations of the improper use of data for 87 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by President Donald Trump’s 2016 U.S. election campaign, have prompted multiple investigations in the United States and Europe.

The investigation by the Justice Department and FBI appears to focus on the company’s financial dealings and how it acquired and used personal data pulled from Facebook and other sources, the Times said.

Investigators have contacted Facebook, according to the newspaper.

The FBI, the Justice Department and Facebook declined to comment to Reuters. Former officials with Cambridge Analytica was not immediately available to comment.

Cambridge Analytica was created around 2013, initially with a focus on U.S. elections, with $15 million in backing from billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer and a name chosen by future Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, the New York Times has reported. Bannon left the White House on August 2017.

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Twitter Changes Strategy in Battle Against Internet ‘Trolls’

Twitter Inc on Tuesday revised its strategy for fighting abusive internet trolls,” saying it would use behavioral signals to identify harassers on the social network and then limit the visibility of their tweets.

San Francisco-based Twitter, known for freewheeling discussions since it was founded in 2006, has been trying to rid itself of harassment out of concern that personal attacks were driving people away.

Twitter’s rules already prohibit abuse, and it can suspend or block offenders once someone reports them. Users can also mute people they find offensive.

Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said Twitter now would try to find problematic accounts by examining behavior such as how frequently people tweet about accounts that do not follow them or whether they have confirmed their email address.

Tweets from those accounts will appear lower in certain areas of the service, such as search results or replies to tweets, even if the tweets themselves have not been found to violate any rules.

“We want to take the burden of the work off the people receiving the abuse or the harassment,” Dorsey said in a briefing with reporters. Past efforts to fight abuse “felt like Whac-A-Mole,” he added.

Tweets will not be removed entirely based on behavioral signals, Dorsey said.

In tests the new approach resulted in a 4 percent decrease in abuse reports originating from search results and an 8 percent decrease in abuse reports from the conversations that take place as replies to tweets, according to the company.

Most abuse comes from a small number of accounts that have an outsized impact, said Del Harvey, Twitter’s vice president for trust and safety.

Social media firms including Twitter and Facebook are under pressure to remove bullies, many of whom target women and minorities. Many women cannot express themselves freely on Twitter without fear of violence, Amnesty International said in a report in March.

Reducing abuse could also help Twitter’s business. If more people sign up and spend time on the service, marketers may buy more ads on it.

Dorsey said that Twitter’s 336 million monthly active users should expect a series of other changes over the next several months as the company explores ways to encourage tweets that are more civil.

In March, Twitter sought proposals from academics and others to help gauge the “health of public conversations.” Dorsey said the company is reviewing 230 submissions it received.

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Dutch Government Dropping Kaspersky Software Over Spying Fears

The Dutch government is phasing out the use of anti-virus software made by Russian firm Kaspersky Lab amid fears of possible spying, despite vehement denials by the Moscow-based cybersecurity company.

The Dutch Justice and Security ministry said in a statement late Monday the decision had been taken as a “precautionary measure” in order “to guarantee national security.”

But Kaspersky Lab, whose anti-virus software is installed on some 400 million computers worldwide, said Tuesday it was “very disappointed” by the move.

The firm, which is suspected by US authorities of helping the Kremlin’s espionage efforts, also announced Tuesday that it was moving its core infrastructure and operations to Switzerland.

“Our new center in Switzerland will strengthen the proven integrity of Kaspersky Lab’s products, [and] significantly improve the resilience of our IT infrastructure to any trust risk — even theoretical ones,” the Russian company said in a statement.

Last year, the US federal government removed Kaspersky from its list of approved vendors, weeks after senior US intelligence agency and law enforcement officials expressed concerns about the safety of its software.

The Netherlands fears Kaspersky’s anti-virus software is “deep in systems” and any abuse could “pose a major security risk.”

Dutch officials also voiced concern that under Russian law companies such as Kaspersky are “required to cooperate with the Russian government.”

But the company hit back saying “Kaspersky Lab has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyber espionage or offensive cyber efforts” and adding it was “being treated as guilty merely due to geopolitical issues.”

It said it would try to arrange a meeting soon with the Dutch coordinator for security and counterterrorism to discuss the situation.

Dutch intelligence officials have increasingly warned however that they fear the Kremlin is trying to hack into Dutch companies and manipulate elections here.

“Russia has an active offensive cyber program focusing on the Netherlands and vital Dutch interests,” the ministry warned, adding it had therefore concluded there was a risk of “digital espionage and sabotage.”

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Kenya Steps Into Space with First Satellite Launch

Kenya took its first step into space with the launch Friday of a nano-satellite made at the University of Nairobi. Engineers involved in creating the cube-shaped space capsule described it as Kenya’s joining the space club, although much remains to be done to get the Kenya space program off the ground. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Nairobi.

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Study Finds Uber’s Growth Slows after Year of Scandal; Lyft Benefits

Uber Technologies’ growth has slowed as a series of scandals has allowed the ride-hailing company’s chief U.S. competitor, Lyft, to grab more market share, digital research firm eMarketer said in a report on Monday.

The research firm has lowered its forecasts for Uber’s growth for the next several years. It projects 48 million U.S. adults will use Uber at least once this year, up 18 percent from last year but well off eMarketer’s earlier forecast of more than 51 million.

EMarketer based its analysis on data from Uber and Lyft, such as trip numbers and app downloads, as well as customer surveys from researchers at JP Morgan and other firms.

The report quantifies the effect of a series of scandals at Uber last year, which included an internal probe of sexual harassment and workplace behavior; a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into whether Uber managers violated U.S. laws against bribery of foreign officials; a lawsuit by Alphabet alleging trade secrets theft that Uber settled for $245 million; and the departure of Uber’s chief executive officer, who was pushed out by investors concerned about the growing list of problems.

Uber did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Lyft has grown quickly, adding more than 160 cities last year, benefiting from Uber’s tarnished image and as a later entry into markets where people are already familiar with ride-hailing services, eMarketer said. On Monday, Lyft said it has 35 percent of the national ride-hailing market, and in 16 U.S. markets its share exceeds 40 percent.

“Uber’s brand image took an even bigger hit than expected as it grappled with a series of scandals and PR disasters in 2017,” said Shelleen Shum, eMarketer’s forecasting director. “Lyft, which had been rapidly expanding its coverage, seized on the opportunity to brand itself as a more socially conscious alternative.”

The research firm said it has lowered its forecast for Uber’s growth every year through 2021, reflecting the company’s competitive disadvantage after last year’s problems. EMarketer’s previous projections pegged the number of Uber users in 2017 at about 44 million, but the actual number ended up being fewer than 41 million.

Even so, Uber remains the dominant U.S. ride-hailing company. At the end of this year it will have about 77 percent of the market, down from 90 percent in 2016, while Lyft will have 48 percent, up from nearly 29 percent, according to eMarketer.

EMarketer’s projections for 2022 show Uber with nearly 74 percent of customers and Lyft with 59 percent of ride-hailing customers. Some people use both services.

Lyft operates in roughly the same number of U.S. cities as Uber, as well as in Toronto. Uber operates across the globe, although it has retreated from Southeast Asia, Russia and China after losing billions of dollars competing with local rivals.

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Musk Tells Tesla Staff He Is Planning ‘Reorganization’

Tesla’s chief executive officer told employees on Monday the company is undergoing a “thorough reorganization,” as it contends with questions over its production schedule and two crashes last week involving its electric, self-driving cars.

CEO Elon Musk said in an email that as part of the reorganization it was “flattening the management structure to improve communication, combining functions where sensible and trimming activities that are not vital to the success of our mission” in an email that was confirmed by Tesla after being disclosed earlier by the Wall Street Journal.

Senior Tesla executives have departed or cut back work

Waymo, Alphabet Inc’s self-driving unit, said on Sunday that Matthew Schwall had joined the company from Tesla, where he was the electric carmaker’s main technical contact with U.S. safety   investigators. Last week, Tesla said Doug Field, senior vice president of engineering, was taking time off to recharge.

Tesla is at a critical juncture as it tries to fix production problems that have slowed the rollout of its Model 3 sedan, a mid-market car seen as key to the company’s success, and as it expands on other fronts.

The company has registered a new car firm in Shanghai, China, in a likely step toward production in China.

Musk said on a May 2 earnings call that the company was “going to conduct sort of a reorganization restructuring of the company … this month and make sure we’re well set up to achieve that goal.”

He added that “the number of sort of third-party contracting companies that we’re using has really gotten out of control, so we’re going to scrub the barnacles on that front. It’s pretty crazy. You’ve got barnacles on barnacles. So there’s going to be a lot of barnacle removal.”

Tesla will still rapidly hire critical positions “to support the Model 3 production ramp and future product development,” Musk said in the email.

Tesla faces a variety of issues

Investors gave a rare rebuke to Musk after he cut off analysts on the earnings call asking about profit potential, sending shares down 5 percent despite promises that production of the troubled Model 3 was on track.

In the latest of two reported crashes last week that have drawn attention, a Tesla Model S sedan was traveling at 60 miles per hour (97 km per hour) when it smashed into a fire truck stopped at a red light in South Jordan, Utah, about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City on Friday night, police said on Monday.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said on Monday “at this point it doesn’t appear that NTSB is investigating” the Utah crash.

The Tesla driver suffered a broken ankle and was taken to a hospital while the firefighter was not injured, the police said.

Witnesses said the Tesla sedan did not brake prior to impact, police said in a statement, adding it was unknown if the Autopilot feature in the Model S was engaged at the time.

“Tesla has not yet received any data from the car and thus does not know the facts of what occurred, including whether Autopilot was engaged,” the company said in a statement on Monday.

The NTSB said last week it was investigating a Tesla accident in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on May 8 that killed two teenagers and injured another — the agency’s fourth active probe into crashes of the company’s electric vehicles.

Autopilot, a form of advanced cruise control, handles some driving tasks and warns those behind the wheel they are always responsible for the vehicle’s safe operation, Tesla has said.

A U.S. traffic safety regulator on May 2 contradicted Tesla’s claim that the agency had found that its Autopilot technology significantly reduced crashes.

Tesla shares dipped 0.5 percent to $299.45 on Monday.

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Forget Pokemon Go, Red Cross Augmented Reality App Brings War to You

Thousands of people are using their smartphones to experience the devastation of urban conflict through an augmented reality app which aims to raise awareness of the suffering faced by millions trapped by war, the app’s developer said on Monday.

Launched by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in March, “Enter the room” provides a visceral, first-person experience of war through the eyes of child from their bedroom.

While there are numerous apps being designed by aid groups, this is the first known use of augmented reality (AR) by the humanitarian sector to simulate civilian life at war. The app has been downloaded more than 50,000 times since its launch.

Entering through a portal on the screen of their device, users experience the impact of years of fighting in accelerated time as the virtual child’s bedroom room transforms from a place of light and laughter to one of darkness and suffering.

“It (AR) makes war real in a powerful and new way and pushes the audience to really think about this question: What if this happened to your childhood bedroom, or your son or daughter’s?” said the ICRC’s Digital Content Manager Ariel Rubin.

“We spend our lives on our smartphones, walking around with our eyes glued to them. There is something incredibly moving about mapping this virtual reality onto our actual reality “and within that creating a narrative that tells a real story.”

Around 65 million people are fleeing conflict in countries like Syria and Yemen today – 75 percent of whom live in cities, where battles are increasingly taking place, says the ICRC.

Yet many of urban conflicts are being waged using weaponry designed for open battlefields, say aid workers, resulting in greater destruction in these highly populated towns and cities.

As a result, vital infrastructure from medical facilities to basic services such as electricity and water are being hit.

In Yemen, for example, there has been a total collapse of the healthcare system, water and sewage network, the food chain, and the most basic building blocks for a healthy and functioning society – all because of the war, said Rubin.

“It is easy to get lost in the numbers and forget that each and every number represents a human being. Many of them are children who see their bedrooms, homes, their childhoods be totally destroyed by war,” he said.

“Our hope is that the AR app will help connect people to this reality that millions of people are facing every day in their cities.”

Augmented reality apps for gaming such as Pokémon GO have become increasingly popular in recent years, but they are also being developed as online shopping and education tools.

Preliminary reviews of ‘Enter the room’ have been largely positive.

“The chance to use augmented reality to generate empathy towards the victims of these ignored conflicts is an exciting application of this new technology,” said one user’s review on Apple’s App Store.

“Hopefully, it can lead to meaningful change in the world’s response to the continuing slaughter of innocents in places like Syria, Central African Republic, Sudan and Yemen.”

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