Published by : ITnews

A South African company that promotes solar power and uses crowdsourcing to raise capital is financing a solar-powered farm in Zimbabwe that is also benefiting neighboring farmers. The company, The Sun Exchange, raised $1.4 million for the farm. Columbus Mavhunga reports from Marondera, Zimbabwe.

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When Chandler Jones realized she was pregnant during her junior year of college, she turned to a trusted source for information and advice.

Her cellphone.

“I couldn’t imagine before the internet, trying to navigate this,” said Jones, 26, who graduated Tuesday from the University of Baltimore School of Law. “I didn’t know if hospitals did abortions. I knew Planned Parenthood did abortions, but there were none near me. So I kind of just Googled.”

But with each search, Jones was being surreptitiously followed — by the phone apps and browsers that track us as we click away, capturing even our most sensitive health data.

Online searches. Period apps. Fitness trackers. Advice helplines. GPS. The often obscure companies collecting our health history and geolocation data may know more about us than we know ourselves.

For now, the information is mostly used to sell us things, like baby products targeted to pregnant women. But in a post-Roe world — if the Supreme Court upends the 1973 decision that legalized abortion, as a draft opinion suggests it may in the coming weeks — the data would become more valuable, and women more vulnerable.

Privacy experts fear that pregnancies could be surveilled and the data shared with police or sold to vigilantes.

“The value of these tools for law enforcement is for how they really get to peek into the soul,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a lawyer and technology fellow at the Ford Foundation. “It gives [them] the mental chatter inside our heads.”

HIPAA, hotlines, health histories

The digital trail only becomes clearer when we leave home, as location apps, security cameras, license plate readers and facial recognition software track our movements. The development of these tech tools has raced far ahead of the laws and regulations that might govern them.

And it’s not just women who should be concerned. The same tactics used to surveil pregnancies can be used by life insurance companies to set premiums, banks to approve loans and employers to weigh hiring decisions, experts said.

Or it could — and sometimes does — send women who experience miscarriages cheery ads on their would-be child’s birthday.

It’s all possible because HIPAA, the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, protects medical files at your doctor’s office but not the information that third-party apps and tech companies collect about you. Nor does HIPAA cover the health histories collected by non-medical “crisis pregnancy centers, ” which are run by anti-abortion groups. That means the information can be shared with, or sold to, almost anyone.

Jones contacted one such facility early in her Google search, before figuring out they did not offer abortions.

“The dangers of unfettered access to Americans’ personal data have never been more clear. Researching birth control online, updating a period-tracking app or bringing a phone to the doctor’s office could be used to track and prosecute women across the U.S.,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said last week.

For myriad reasons, both political and philosophical, data privacy laws in the U.S. have lagged far behind those adopted in Europe in 2018.

Until this month, anyone could buy a weekly trove of data on clients at more than 600 Planned Parenthood sites around the country for as little as $160, according to a recent Vice investigation that led one data broker to remove family planning centers from the customer “pattern” data it sells. The files included approximate patient addresses (down to the census block, derived from where their cellphones “sleep” at night), income brackets, time spent at the clinic, and the top places people stopped before and after their visits.

While the data did not identify patients by name, experts say that can often be pieced together, or de-anonymized, with a little sleuthing.

In Arkansas, a new law will require women seeking an abortion to first call a state hotline and hear about abortion alternatives. The hotline, set to debut next year, will cost the state nearly $5 million a year to operate. Critics fear it will be another way to track pregnant women, either by name or through an identifier number. Other states are considering similar legislation.

The widespread surveillance capabilities alarm privacy experts who fear what’s to come if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The Supreme Court is expected to issue its opinion by early July.

“A lot of people, where abortion is criminalized — because they have nowhere to go — are going to go online, and every step that they take (could) … be surveilled,” Conti-Cook said.

Punish women, doctors or friends?

Women of color like Jones, along with poor women and immigrants, could face the most dire consequences if Roe falls since they typically have less power and money to cover their tracks. They also tend to have more abortions, proportionally, perhaps because they have less access to health care, birth control and, in conservative states, schools with good sex education programs.

The leaked draft suggests the Supreme Court could be ready to let states ban or severely restrict abortion through civil or criminal penalties. More than half are poised to do so. Abortion foes have largely promised not to punish women themselves, but instead target their providers or people who help them access services.

“The penalties are for the doctor, not for the woman,” Republican state Rep. Jim Olsen of Oklahoma said last month of a new law that makes performing an abortion a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

But abortion advocates say that remains to be seen.

“When abortion is criminalized, pregnancy outcomes are investigated,” said Tara Murtha, the communications director at the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, who recently co-authored a report on digital surveillance in the abortion sphere.

She wonders where the scrutiny would end. Prosecutors have already taken aim at women who use drugs during pregnancy, an issue Justice Clarence Thomas raised during the Supreme Court arguments in the case in December.

“Any adverse pregnancy outcome can turn the person who was pregnant into a suspect,” Murtha said.

State limits, tech steps, personal tips

A few states are starting to push back, setting limits on tech tools as the fight over consumer privacy intensifies.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, through a legal settlement, stopped a Boston-based ad company from steering anti-abortion smartphone ads to women inside clinics there that offer abortion services, deeming it harassment. The firm had even proposed using the same “geofencing” tactics to send anti-abortion messages to high school students.

In Michigan, voters amended the state Constitution to prohibit police from searching someone’s data without a warrant. And in California, home to Silicon Valley, voters passed a sweeping digital privacy law that lets people see their data profiles and ask to have them deleted. The law took effect in 2020.

The concerns are mounting, and have forced Apple, Google and other tech giants to begin taking steps to rein in the sale of consumer data. That includes Apple’s launch last year of its App Tracking Transparency feature, which lets iPhone and iPad users block apps from tracking them.

Abortion rights activists, meanwhile, suggest women in conservative states leave their cellphones, smartwatches and other wearable devices at home when they seek reproductive health care, or at least turn off the location services. They should also closely examine the privacy policies of menstrual trackers and other health apps they use.

“There are things that people can do that can help mitigate their risk. Most people will not do them because they don’t know about it or it’s inconvenient,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, a deputy director with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “There are very, very few people who have the savvy to do everything.”

Digital privacy was the last thing on Jones’s mind when she found herself pregnant. She was in crisis. She and her partner had ambitious career goals. After several days of searching, she found an appointment for an abortion in nearby Delaware. Fortunately, he had a car.

“When I was going through this, it was just survival mode,” said Jones, who took part in a march Saturday in downtown Baltimore to support abortion rights.

Besides, she said, she’s grown up in the Internet age, a world in which “all of my information is being sold constantly.”

But news of the leaked Supreme Court draft sparked discussions at her law school this month about privacy, including digital privacy in the era of Big Data.

“Literally, because I have my cell phone in my pocket, if I go to a CVS, they know I went to a CVS,” the soon-to-be lawyer said. “I think the privacy right is such a deeper issue in America [and one] that is being violated all the time.”

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The Apple Store at Union Square, the heart of San Francisco’s upscale tourist district, had drawn more than 30 customers within a few minutes of opening Friday morning. Visitors, couples and even a preschool-age boy browsed the atrium packed with iPhone 13s and watches to try out. A sign urged people to trade in old phones to save money on the 13s. 

But a staff member could not say when the iPhone 14 would come out — presumably sometime this year — or what it would cost. Some shoppers wondered whether it would be delayed or cost more than expected given the months of supply chain disruptions in China, where the phones are made. 

“This stuff has got to hit hard at some point,” said Bill Kimberlin, an Apple Store shopper from San Francisco. 

Apple, based in the Silicon Valley, just 50 miles south of San Francisco, outsources iPhone parts from around East Asia, and its handsets are assembled in China.  

Apple had to delay product rollouts first in 2020, when new gear was held up for a month because of China’s first COVID-19 wave, said Rachel Liao, senior industry analyst with the Taipei-based Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute. 

In the first quarter this year, she said, lockdowns in China suspended assembly plants, including at least one operated by Pegatron. Pegatron is the No. 2 iPhone assembler, with 25% of orders, after Foxconn. Both companies are based in Taiwan but manufacture in China.  

Since 2020, the costs of making the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 series have increased “slightly” because of a materials shortage in the semiconductor supply chain, Liao said.  

“Sharp and protracted lockdowns are causing a lot of short-term havoc on logistics, and it’s obviously affecting delivery times significantly,” said Ivan Lam, senior research analyst with market analysis firm Counterpoint Research. 

Apple declined to answer a query from VOA about its China supply chain.   

Not just phones  

Supply chain upsets set off by China’s lockdowns in the major commercial hubs Shenzhen and Shanghai are slowing exports of products ranging from phones to building materials to motor vehicles. Western nations are experiencing shortages and higher prices imported goods.  

Chinese authorities ordered Shenzhen shuttered in March, and Shanghai, with a population of about 26 million, closed weeks later. Those closures have kept workers away from factories, delivery jobs and seaports.

Cities are locking down as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “zero-COVID” policy, aimed at controlling deaths from the coronavirus.

“The impact of the COVID-19-related restrictions and lockdown there in Shanghai is going to be severe on businesses, not just in China but globally,” said Ker Gibbs, executive in residence at the University of San Francisco and former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. 

“Shanghai is so important as a port and as a logistics hub, as a supply chain, so that any business that is touching China is going to be impacted by the lockdown,” Gibbs said. 

COVID-19 cases in China, the world’s largest consumer market, “exacerbated” a drop in global mobile phone production in the first three months of 2022, Taipei-based market analysis firm TrendForce said in an emailed statement May 10. It says production volume worldwide was 310 million phones in the same period. 

Jayant Menon, a visiting senior fellow with the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute Regional Economic Studies Program in Singapore, calls demand for China-made goods “uneven” — another cause for supply chain upsets. He anticipates the disruptions will last for two more quarters. 

“The quantities involved, I think, will clearly reflect the kind of disruptions still ongoing in China because of their zero-COVID strategy,” he said.  

Strategies for smartphones 

Smartphone supplies are holding up better than those of many other China-made goods, analysts say. 

Phone parts such as chips and screens are sourced from outside China; for example, camera lenses are made in Taiwan, and flash memory is produced in South Korea.  

“These things are counted as exports from China, as if 100% of it were made there, and in fact, a much smaller percentage is actually created in China,” said Douglas Barry, vice president of communications at the U.S.-China Business Council, an advocacy group in Washington with over 260 members. 

Apple now requires suppliers to increase inventories as it plans further in advance for product launches, Liao said. That’s a hedge against more supply chain problems. 

The Silicon Valley icon is now asking its assemblers over the longer term to cut reliance on China and raise orders for factories in India, she added. Its chief assemblers — Foxconn, Pegatron and Wistron — will continue to increase production capacity in India, she predicted. Wistron is also based in Taiwan. 

Apple is diversifying further with assembly orders to China-based Luxshare Precision Industry. Liao says that firm handles 3% of iPhone orders, with the prospect of more this year. 

Apple was the world’s No. 2-selling brand of smartphone after Samsung in the first three months of this year, with an 18% market share and 56.5 million units shipped, according to market research firm IDC, up slightly from the same period in 2021.

Some smartphone factories are using “closed-loop operations” to keep production going in China, Lam said. Companies such as Foxconn have long housed workers in factory compounds so large that some have compared them to cities.

“At the end of the day, companies will assess their vulnerabilities and adjust their supply chains accordingly,” Barry said. “It won’t be easy, and consumers will feel their pain by having to wait and paying more for products they want.” 

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The Ukrainian government is using facial recognition software to identify Russian soldiers captured and dead. VOA’s Julie Taboh spoke with one software company CEO and an official with the Ukrainian national police about how the technology is contributing to the war effort

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Canada will ban Chinese telecommunications giants Huawei and ZTE from its 5G wireless networks because of national security concerns, officials said Thursday. 

The long-awaited move follows those of the United States and other key allies and comes on the heels of a diplomatic row between Ottawa and Beijing over the detention of a senior Huawei executive on a U.S. warrant, which has now been resolved. 

The United States has warned of the security implications of giving Chinese tech companies access to telecommunications infrastructure that could be used for state espionage. 

Both Huawei and Beijing have rejected the allegations, while Beijing warned of repercussions for nations placing restrictions on the telecom equipment provider. 

The company did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment on Canada’s ban. 

Canadian Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino made the announcement at a news conference. 

“Today, we’re announcing our intention to prohibit the inclusion of Huawei and ZTE products and services in Canada’s telecommunication systems,” Champagne said. 

“This follows a full review by our security agencies and in consultation with our closest allies.” 

Canada had been reviewing the 5G technology and network access for several years, repeatedly delaying a decision that was first expected in 2019. 

It remained silent on the telecoms issue after China jailed two Canadians — diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — in what observers believed was in retaliation for the December 2018 arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the request of the United States. 

All three were released in September 2021 after Meng reached a deal with U.S. prosecutors on the fraud charges, ending her extradition fight. 

Champagne said Canadian telecommunications companies “will not be permitted to include in their networks products or services that put our national security at risk.” 

“Providers who already have this equipment installed will be required to cease its use and remove it,” he said. 

‘Hostile actors’ 

Huawei already supplies some Canadian telecommunications firms with 4G equipment. 

Most, if not all, had held off using Huawei in their fifth-generation (5G) wireless networks that deliver speedier online connections with greater data capacity, or looked to other suppliers while Ottawa hemmed and hawed. 

Mendicino said 5G innovation “represents a major opportunity for competition and growth” but also comes with risks. 

“There are many hostile actors who are ready to exploit vulnerabilities” in telecom networks, he said. 

The U.S., Australia, Britain, New Zealand, Japan and Sweden have already blocked or restricted the use of Huawei technology in their 5G networks. 

The U.S. government considers Huawei a potential security threat because of the background of its founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, a former Chinese army engineer who is Meng’s father.

The concern escalated as Huawei rose to become the world leader in telecom networking equipment and one of the top smartphone manufacturers following Beijing’s passage of a 2017 law obliging Chinese companies to assist the government in matters of national security. 

Canada’s two spy agencies had reportedly been divided initially over whether to ban Huawei from Canada’s 5G networks. One favored a ban, while the other argued risks could be mitigated. 

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Communications Security Establishment had been tasked with conducting a cybersecurity review to evaluate the risks, as well as the economic costs to Canadian telecoms and consumers, of blacklisting the equipment supplier. 

Huawei was already prohibited from bidding on Canadian government contracts and core network equipment such as routers and switches. 

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Twitter is stepping up its fight against misinformation with a new policy cracking down on posts that spread potentially dangerous false stories. The change is part of a broader effort to promote accurate information during times of conflict or crisis. 

Starting Thursday, the platform will no longer automatically recommend or emphasize posts that make misleading claims about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including material that mischaracterizes conditions in conflict zones or makes false allegations of war crimes or atrocities against civilians. 

Under its new “crisis misinformation policy,” Twitter will also add warning labels to debunked claims about ongoing humanitarian crises, the San Francisco-based company said. Users won’t be able to like, forward or respond to posts that violate the new rules. 

The changes make Twitter the latest social platform to grapple with the misinformation, propaganda and rumors that have proliferated since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. That misinformation ranges from rumors spread by well-intentioned users to Kremlin propaganda amplified by Russian diplomats or fake accounts and networks linked to Russian intelligence. 

“We have seen both sides share information that may be misleading and/or deceptive,” said Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, who detailed the new policy for reporters. “Our policy doesn’t draw a distinction between the different combatants. Instead, we’re focusing on misinformation that could be dangerous, regardless of where it comes from.” 

The new policy will complement existing Twitter rules that prohibit digitally manipulated media, false claims about elections and voting, and health misinformation, including debunked claims about COVID-19 and vaccines. 

But it could also clash with the views of Tesla billionaire Elon Musk, who has agreed to pay $44 billion to acquire Twitter with the aim of making it a haven for free speech. Musk hasn’t addressed many instances of what that would mean in practice, although he has said that Twitter should only take down posts that violate the law, which taken literally would prevent action against most misinformation, personal attacks and harassment. He has also criticized the algorithms used by Twitter and other social platforms to recommend particular posts to individuals. 

The policy was written broadly to cover misinformation during other conflicts, natural disasters, humanitarian crises or “any situation where there’s a widespread threat to health and safety,” Roth said. 

Twitter said it will rely on a variety of credible sources to determine when a post is misleading. Those sources will include humanitarian groups, conflict monitors and journalists. 

A senior Ukrainian cybersecurity official, Victor Zhora, welcomed Twitter’s new screening policy and said that it’s up to the global community to “find proper approaches to prevent the sowing of misinformation across social networks.” 

While the results have been mixed, Twitter’s efforts to address misinformation about the Ukraine conflict exceed those of other platforms that have chosen a more hands-off approach, like Telegram, which is popular in Eastern Europe. 

Asked specifically about the Telegram platform, where Russian government disinformation is rampant but Ukraine’s leaders also reach a wide audience, Zhora said the question was “tricky but very important.” That’s because the kind of misinformation disseminated without constraint on Telegram “to some extent led to this war.” 

Since the Russian invasion began in February, social media platforms like Twitter and Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, have tried to address a rise in war-related misinformation by labeling posts from Russian state-controlled media and diplomats. They’ve also de-emphasized some material so it no longer turns up in searches or automatic recommendations. 

Emerson Brooking, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab and expert on social media and disinformation, said that the conflict in Ukraine shows how easily misinformation can spread online during a conflict and the need for platforms to respond. 

“This is a conflict that has played out on the internet, and one that has driven extraordinarily rapid changes in tech policy,” he said. 

 

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In February, the Nigerian technology startup CrowdForce announced a big break: It had received $3.6 million from investors to expand its financial services operations to many more underserved communities.  

Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Tomi Ayorinde said new funding will boost its mobile agent network from 7,000 to 21,000 this year.

“We were looking to scale faster and really gain market share,” Ayorinde said. “And what we’re doing is also very impact-related because we’re creating jobs, avenues for people to make extra income in their communities. So, it was also very interesting for impact investors to be part of what we’re trying to do.” 

When Ayorinde helped launch CrowdForce seven years ago, he intended it to be a data collection company. But after about two years, the company overhauled its business model when Ayorinde realized it could fill a need for bank accounts.   

“When we collected data of 4.5 million traders what we saw was, a lot of them didn’t have bank accounts and the ones that have bank accounts had a very tough time accessing the cash that was sent to them,” said Ayorinde.”That’s when we kind of realized that there’s a bigger problem to solve here.”

Experts say about 60% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people lack access to banks or financial services. Technology startups in Africa are trying to fix that, said the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association known as AVCA.   

In a recent report, the industry group said African startups attracted $5.2 billion in venture capital last year, and that West Africa – led by Nigeria – accounted for the largest share of investments.    

AVCA research manager Alexia Alexandropoulou said investors are looking to tap into Africa’s huge population of young people.    

“Africa is the world’s most youthful population, so as the proportion of skilled labor increases, then the result will be more human capital in order to power African businesses and also the industrial development within the continent,” said Alexandropoulou.

AVCA’s report also cites increased internet penetration in Africa and more favorable government policies as contributing to increased investments in financial technology services knwoFintech.  

But Fintech Digital Marketing Expert Louis Dike said there are obstacles to overcome, such as weak currencies and policies.  

“Africa is not a perfect place because it’s still made up of virgin markets,” said Dike. “The standard of living is quite low, our regulations are not consistent, today the government will say this and tomorrow they will change the law and restrict some startup activities.”  

But with new talents emerging in technology, more startups with big dreams are emerging in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. 

 

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk says his deal to buy Twitter can’t move forward unless the company shows public proof that less than 5% of the accounts on the social media platform are fake or spam.

Musk made the comment in a reply to another user on Twitter early Tuesday. He spent much of the previous day in a back-and-forth with Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, who posted a series of tweets explaining his company’s effort to fight bots and how it has consistently estimated that less than 5% of Twitter accounts are fake.

In his tweet Tuesday, Musk said that “20% fake/spam accounts, while 4 times what Twitter claims, could be much higher. My offer was based on Twitter’s SEC filings being accurate.”

He added: “Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO publicly refused to show proof of 5%. This deal cannot move forward until he does.”

Twitter declined to comment.

It’s Musk’s latest salvo over inauthentic accounts, a problem he has said he wants to rid Twitter of.

At a Miami technology conference Monday, Musk estimated that at least 20% of Twitter’s 229 million accounts are spam bots, a percentage he said was at the low end of his assessment.

The battle over spam accounts kicked off last week when Musk tweeted that the Twitter deal was on on hold pending confirmation of the company’s estimates that they make up less than 5% of total users.

Also at the All In Summit, Musk gave the strongest hint yet that he would like to pay less for Twitter than the $44 billion offer he made last month.

Musk’s comments are likely to bolster theories from analysts that the billionaire either wants out of the deal or to buy the company at a cheaper price. His tweet Tuesday came in reply to one from a Tesla news site speculating that Musk “may be looking for a better Twitter deal as $44 billion seems too high.”

“Twitter shares will be under pressure this morning again as the chances of a deal ultimately getting done is not looking good now,” Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives, who covers both Twitter and Tesla, said in a research note. He estimated that there’s “60%+ chance” that Musk ends up walking away from the deal and paying the $1 billion breakup fee.

Musk made the offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share on April 14. Twitter shares have slid since then. They were down slightly in Tuesday morning trading to $37.28.

To finance the acquisition, Musk pledged some of his Tesla shares, which have slumped by about a third since the deal was announced.

In tweets on Monday, Agrawal acknowledged Twitter isn’t perfect at catching bots. He wrote that every quarter, the company has made the estimate of less than 5% spam. “Our estimate is based on multiple human reviews of thousands of accounts that are sampled at random, consistently over time,” Agrawal wrote.

Estimates for the last four quarters were all well under 5%, he wrote. “The error margins on our estimates give us confidence in our public statements each quarter.”

Twitter has put the under 5% estimate in its quarterly filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission for at least the last two years, well before Musk made his offer last month.

But in the filings, Twitter expressed doubts that its count of bot accounts was correct, conceding that the estimate may be low.

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When he was 20 years old, Harel Hershtik planned and executed a murder, a crime that a quarter of a century later is still widely remembered for its grisly details.

Today, he is the brains behind an Israeli health-tech startup, poised to make millions of dollars with the backing of prominent public figures and deep-pocket investors.

With his company set to go public, Hershtik’s past is coming under new scrutiny, raising questions about whether someone who took a person’s life deserves to rehabilitate his own to such an extent.

“When I was young, I would say that I was stupid and arrogant,” said Hershtik, now 46. “You can be a genius and yet still be very stupid and the two don’t contradict each other.”

Today, Hershtik is the vice president of strategy and technology at Scentech Medical, a company he founded in 2018, while behind bars, which says its product can detect certain diseases through a breath test.

In a three-hour interview with The Associated Press, he repeatedly expressed remorse for his crime.

Hershtik was convicted of murdering Yaakov Sela, a charismatic snake trapper he met when he was 14. The two had a bumpy relationship.

Sela was known for having numerous girlfriends at once, one being Hershtik’s mother. Hershtik said he felt uneasy with how Sela treated some of the women, including his mother.

In early 1996, Sela discovered that Hershtik had stolen 49,000 shekels (about $15,000 at the time) from him, and the two agreed that instead of involving the police, Hershtik would pay him back double that amount. Court documents say Hershtik instead planned to murder Sela.

Pulled over during a drive to gather the money, an accomplice of Hershtik’s fired three shots at Sela, using Hershtik’s mother’s pistol. He then handed Hershtik the gun, according to the documents, and Hershtik shot Sela in the head at close range.

The pair shoved Sela’s body into the trunk and buried it in a grove in the Golan Heights, according to the documents. Weeks later, hikers saw a hand poking up from the earth, and Sela’s body was found.

The sensational crime gripped the nation.

In court documents, prosecutors say Hershtik lied repeatedly in his attempt to distance himself from the murder.

Hershtik said he was compelled to lie so that he could protect the others involved in the scheme, which included his mother.

Hershtik was sentenced to life in prison for premeditated murder and obstructing justice, among other crimes.

He would serve 25 years, during which time Hershtik earned two doctorates, in math and chemistry, and got married three separate times. He said he established 31 companies, selling six of them.

But prison was also a fraught time for Hershtik. He said he spent 11 years in quarantine because of health issues. He was punished twice for setting up internet access to his cell, in one case building a modem out of two dismantled DVD players.

Last year, a parole board determined he had been rehabilitated and no longer posed a danger to society.

As part of his early release and until 2026, he is under nightly house arrest from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. He must wear a tracking device around his ankle at all times and is barred from leaving the country.

A free man, Hershtik sat recently with the AP in his office in the central city of Rehovot, Israel.

His start-up is waiting for regulatory approval to merge with a company called NextGen Biomed, which trades on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and would make Scentech public.

Hershtik said the company’s product is being finalized for detecting COVID-19 through a patient’s breath, and it is working to add other diseases such as certain cancers as well as depression. The product is meant to provide on-the-spot results in a non-invasive way.

The company has received a patent for its technology in Israel and said it is preparing to apply for FDA approval soon.

Hershtik said the merger values the company at around $250 million and that he has raised more than $25 million in funding over the last two years through private Israeli investors. A large part of the investment is from Hershtik’s own money, although he won’t say how much. Prisoners in Israel aren’t barred from doing business, but

Hershtik’s success is rare.

His company is backed by prominent Israeli names, including Yaakov Amidror, who chairs NextGen and is a former chief of the country’s National Security Council.

“According to the rules of the country, the man is allowed to rehabilitate. He paid his price and he rehabilitated. So there is no reason not to help him rehabilitate,” Amidror, who testified to the parole board on Hershtik’s behalf, told the AP.

But Hershtik’s past is already haunting him. Hershtik was demoted from CTO earlier this year to his current position, in part because he didn’t want his crime to scare away investors.

“Harel has always said if for some reason his presence is a problem and the company would be better off without him, that he’s willing to leave the company,” said Drew Morris, a board member and investor.

As Scentech seeks to take its product to market, investors will need to decide whether Hershtik’s rap sheet influences where they put their money.

Ishak Saporta, a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University’s Coller School of Management, said he believed investors would be drawn to the company’s potential for profit rather than deterred by Hershtik’s history.

“What concerns me here is that he became a millionaire. He paid his debt to society in jail. But does he have a commitment to the victim’s family,” Saporta asked.

Tovia Bat-Leah, who had a child with Sela, suggested he help fund her daughter’s education or create a reptile museum in Sela’s name.

“He served his time but he should also make some kind of reparation,” she said.

Hershtik sees the good that could come about from the company as the ultimate form of repentance. He said he could have used his smarts to create any sort of company with no benefit to society but chose health tech instead.

“Trust me, this is not for the money,” he said.

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Six historically Black universities in five Southern states will be getting the first IBM cybersecurity centers aimed at training underrepresented communities, the company said.

The schools are Xavier University of Louisiana, that state’s Southern University System, North Carolina A&T, South Carolina State, Clark Atlanta and Morgan State universities, according to a news release Tuesday.

“Technology-related services are in constant demand, and cybersecurity is paramount,” said Dr. Ray L. Belton, president of the Southern University System based in Baton Rouge.

The centers will give students, staff, and faculty access to modern technology, resources, and skills development, said Dr. Nikunja Swain, chair and professor of the Computer Science and Mathematics Department at South Carolina State, in Orangeburg.

“It will further enhance our ongoing activities on several key areas, including cybersecurity, data science analytics, cloud computing, IOT, blockchain, design thinking, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence,” he said.

IBM said it plans more than 20 such centers at historically Black colleges and universities nationwide.

The company said each school will get customized courses and access to company academic programs. They also will be able to experience simulated but realistic cyberattacks through IBM Security’s Command Center.

The company said it also will provide faculty and students free access to multiple SaaS IBM Cloud environments.

Xavier is in New Orleans, North Carolina A&T in Greensboro and Morgan State in Baltimore.

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Africa, in recent years, has become the new frontier where China and the United States, the world’s two biggest economic superpowers, are competing for influence in a key industry: telecommunications.

This week, Ethiopia celebrated the launch of a 5G network powered by China’s telecom giant Huawei in Addis Ababa.

Just before that, on a visit to the continent last week, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited U.S. mobile company Africell’s offices in Angola, where the firm has amassed some 2 million users since it was launched just over a month ago.  

“Today in Luanda, I visited @AfricellAo, an innovative, state-of-the-art U.S. company expanding 5G access in Angola with trusted technology components,” she wrote in a tweet.

Asked in a subsequent press briefing whether the tweet wasn’t a dig at Huawei – which already has a huge digital foothold in Africa but which was sanctioned in the U.S. in 2019 by then-President Donald Trump – Sherman was unequivocal.  

“It’s not about throwing shade (being critical) on Huawei. We’ve been very direct. We believe that when countries choose Huawei, they are potentially giving up their sovereignty,” she said. “They are turning over their data to another country. They may find themselves bringing in a surveillance capability they didn’t even know was there.”  

Washington has long expressed concern that Beijing is trying to monopolize networks and possibly use them for espionage, while Huawei has repeatedly denied the allegations.  

“So, we’ve been very public about our concerns about Huawei, and so we are glad that Africell can provide to the people of Angola a safe, capable tool in their hands to reach out to the world,” Sherman added.  

The deputy secretary’s comments raised ire in Beijing, where they were met with a stiff rebuke from Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.  

“Chinese companies including Huawei have conducted mutually beneficial cooperation with many countries in Africa and the world beyond, contributed to the improvement and development of the countries’ communications infrastructure, provided advanced, quality, safe and affordable services for the local people and won great support,” he said on Chinese state media.  

“There is not a single case of cyber security accident, surveillance or wiretapping in the course of the cooperation,” he added, going on to allege that the U.S. has long been responsible for such spying activities itself.  

Zhao noted that it is up to African governments to decide with whom to cooperate.

In Angola, the company already has a significant presence, with mobile operator Unitel linked to Huawei, which is also building two technological training centers, worth $60 million, in the country in order to develop the digital economy.  

And with Huawei widely available in South Africa, only one of the five people VOA spoke to at a local shopping center was even aware of the controversy over the brand.  

Cheris Fourie, a sales consultant at a cellphone shop in Cape Town’s Blue Root Mall, said Huawei handsets aren’t that popular anymore, not because of concerns over any nefarious activities by the company, but rather because Google services are no longer on the devices. Google is no longer available because of a U.S. Huawei ban.  

David Devillieras, who was sitting at a cafe at the mall using his Samsung phone, told VOA he’d never heard of the possibility Huawei was involved in surveillance. He added that he wouldn’t buy a Huawei phone having heard that.  

“I wouldn’t go there at all, not for one second. I wouldn’t buy a Chinese phone,” he said.

One shopper, Steve Elliot-Jones, said he “wouldn’t trust anything that comes out of China,” but thought other countries could also be using mobile networks to spy.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if technology companies including the states or anywhere else for that matter… I wouldn’t say anyone’s actually innocent. I think they’re all probably all up to selling information and making money on the side and denying it if it comes out.”

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The “metaverse” has been touted as the next digital shift, 3-dimensional online spaces where people will shop, work, play games, and go to concerts. VOA’s Michelle Quinn is looking at what the Metaverse is or might be. VOA footage and video editing by Matt Dibble.

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Elon Musk said on Friday his $44-billion deal for Twitter Inc was temporarily on hold, citing pending details on spam and fake accounts.

“Twitter deal temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users,” Musk said in a tweet.

Shares of the social media company fell 20% in premarket trading. Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company had earlier this month estimated that false or spam accounts represented fewer than 5% of its monetizable daily active users during the first quarter.

It also said it faced several risks until the deal with Musk is closed, including whether advertisers would continue to spend on Twitter.

Musk, the world’s richest man and the chief executive of Tesla Inc, had said that one of his priorities would be to remove “spam bots” from the platform.

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Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said Tuesday he has tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing mild symptoms. 

Via Twitter, the billionaire philanthropist said he will isolate until he is again healthy. 

“I’m fortunate to be vaccinated and boosted and have access to testing and great medical care,” Gates wrote. 

The Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the most influential private foundation in the world, with an endowment of about $65 billion. 

Bill Gates has been a vocal proponent for pandemic mitigation measures, specifically access to vaccines and medication for poorer countries. The Gates Foundation in October said it will spend $120 million to boost access to generic versions of drugmaker Merck’s antiviral COVID-19 pill for lower-income countries. 

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Elon Musk on Tuesday said he would reinstate former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account. 

The Tesla CEO who’s vying to buy Twitter and take it private for a reported price tag of $44 billion made the comment at the Financial Times Future of the Car conference. 

“I do think that it was not correct to ban Donald Trump,” Musk said. “I think that was a mistake because it alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice.”  

Musk added that Trump’s ban was “morally wrong and flat-out stupid.” 

Trump’s account was permanently banned after the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, with Twitter saying his continued presence on the platform was a “risk of further incitement of violence.”  

Musk added that permanent bans should be “extremely rare” and reserved for “bots, or spam/scam accounts.”  

“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” he said in a recent statement.  

Trump has said he does not intend to rejoin Twitter and will focus mostly on the social network he launched called Truth Social. 

Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

 

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