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Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak backs Right to Repair Movement

Hala Turk

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Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak voiced his support towards the right to repair movement amid battle over whether users should be able to fix their own devices.  

Existing right-to-repair rules in Europe and the U.S. are limited to appliances and vehicles, respectively.  

Woznaik’s statement came through a Cameo video, a platform where people can purchase personalized videos from celebrities, in response to a question posed by right to repair advocate, technician, and YouTuber Louis Rossman. 

The right to repair movement refers to proposed government legislation that would allow consumers the ability to repair and modify their own electronic devices, where otherwise the manufacturer of such devices requires the consumer to use only their offered services.  

However, some companies refuse to release the parts necessary to perform repairs and upgrades, and Apple is one of them. 

The co-founder didn’t casually show his support to the movement but went even further with a nine-and-a-half-minute talk. 

“We wouldn’t have had Apple had I not grown up in a very open technology world,” Wozniak said.  

“Back then, when you bought electronic things like TVs and radios, every bit of the circuits and designs were included on paper, total open source,” he added.  

Woznaik said that while growing up, everything used to be straightforward in terms of repair. People who were not even accustomed to tech could be able to follow the designs and start from there.  

The Apple co-founder even said, “everyone did this all the time back then.” 

Wozniak explained how he became a TV and design engineer to create his very own PC. He even narrated a story about how he was able to design the game “Breakout” for Atari. The former Apple programmer said he wasn’t restricted to anything from building his computer and showing it to the world. 

“Being able to tinker with things gives people joy and that they could show it off to others, which is “very motivating to creative minds,” says Wozniak. 

He concluded his Cameo by telling the audience that it’s time to do the right thing, as he talked about the right to repair legislation. 

Right-to-repair advocates say Apple is one of the strongest opponents to expanding the legislation to cover consumer electronics.  

As the U.S.-based giant allows repairs by its own authorized technicians only and does not generally provide spare parts or repair information. And it has reportedly engaged lobbyists to persuade lawmakers repairing devices can be extremely dangerous.  

Which makes Woznaik’s statement very interesting.  

The co-founder during his recorded response exposed that “companies inhibit the right to repair because it gives the companies power and control over everything.”  

However, according to Wozniak, the same repair restrictions are not just bad for consumers, they can also stifle innovation.  

It’s worth noting that Woznaik’s video comes at a time when U.S. President Joe Biden is asking the FTC to draft right to repair rules. The executive order is expected to benefit every citizen from farmers, that deal with software-locked equipment, to casual and business tech users.  

You can find Steve Woznaik’s video published here

Hala is a journalist and an editor with experience in the news industry. She enjoys writing motivational stories aiming to inspire people to overachieve.

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AI bot detects and shames Belgian MPs glued to phones

Hala Turk

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Belgian digital artist called Dries Depoorter launched earlier this month an AI bot called “The Flemish Scrollers” that automatically catches, and tags members of the Federal Parliament glued to their phones during parliamentary proceedings.  

Using artificial intelligence and facial recognition, the software calculates how long the politician spends on their phone, all while broadcasting the session and results on YouTube.  

Those figures are automatically posted on Twitter and Instagram, Depoorter’s website explains. 

Flemish Scrollers’ Twitter bio explains that the program is “automatically tagging distracted Belgian politician when they use their phone on the daily livestreams. This with the help of AI.” 

This case was reported with Peter Van Rompuy, a member of the Senate of Belgium, who was caught using his smartphone; the software picked up the footage, posted it on Twitter, and tagged the politician asking him to “focus.” 

Another Belgian politician, Bart Somers, was also reported to be using his phone while parliamentary proceedings were underway.  

In response, politicians highlighted to the Flemish Scrollers project that they were using their phones for work purposes. However, there’s no way to determine if that was actually the case – the AI bot doesn’t ascertain what politicians are doing on their devices. 

It seems that the idea caught the international eye, as foreign twitter accounts are asking the software creator to make it open source so that it could be used across other countries. 

It’s worth noting that the AI bot comes almost two years after Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon caused public outrage after playing Angry Birds during a policy discussion. 

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Priest outed via Grindr app highlights rampant data tracking

Associated Press

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Digital Privacy Catholic Official

When a religious publication used smartphone app data to deduce the sexual orientation of a high-ranking Roman Catholic official, it exposed a problem that goes far beyond a debate over church doctrine and priestly celibacy.

With few U.S. restrictions on what companies can do with the vast amount of data they collect from web page visits, apps and location tracking built into phones, there’s not much to stop similar spying on politicians, celebrities and just about anyone that’s a target of another person’s curiosity — or malice.

Citing allegations of “possible improper behavior,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday announced the resignation of its top administrative official, Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, ahead of a report by the Catholic news outlet The Pillar that probed his private romantic life.

The Pillar said it obtained “commercially available” location data from a vendor it didn’t name that it “correlated” to Burrill’s phone to determine that he had visited gay bars and private residences while using Grindr, a dating app popular with gay people.

“Cases like this are only going to multiply,” said Alvaro Bedoya, director of the Center for Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law School.

Privacy activists have long agitated for laws that would prevent such abuses, although in the U.S. they only exist in a few states, and then in varying forms. Bedoya said the firing of Burrill should drive home the danger of this situation, and should finally spur Congress and the Federal Trade Commission to act.

Privacy concerns are often construed in abstract terms, he said, “when it’s really, ‘Can you explore your sexuality without your employer firing you? Can you live in peace after an abusive relationship without fear?'” Many abuse victims take great care to ensure that their abuser can’t find them again.

As a congressional staffer in 2012, Bedoya worked on legislation that would have banned apps that let abusers secretly track their victims’ locations through smartphone data. But it was never passed.

“No one can claim this is a surprise,” Bedoya said. “No one can claim that they weren’t warned.”

Privacy advocates have been warning for years that location and personal data collected by advertisers and amassed and sold by brokers can be used to identify individuals, isn’t secured as well as it should be and is not regulated by laws that require the clear consent of the person being tracked. Both legal and technical protections are necessary so that smartphone users can push back, they say.

The Pillar alleged “serial sexual misconduct” by Burrill — homosexual activity is considered sinful under Catholic doctrine, and priests are expected to remain celibate. The online publication’s website describes it as focused on investigative journalism that “can help the Church to better serve its sacred mission, the salvation of souls.”

Its editors didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday about how they obtained the data. The report said only that the data came from one of the data brokers that aggregate and sell app signal data, and that the publication also contracted an independent data consulting firm to authenticate it.

There are brokers that charge thousands of dollars a month for huge volumes of location data, some of which is marketed not just to advertisers but to landlords, bail bondsmen and bounty hunters, said John Davisson, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. He said someone looking to “reverse engineer” a particular person’s data from that bulk package could potentially get it from any of the many customers in the data chain.

“It is surprisingly and disturbingly cheap to obtain location data derived from mobile phones,” Davisson said. “It’s easy enough that a determined party can do it.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said the incident confirms yet again the dishonesty of an industry that falsely claims to safeguard the privacy of phone users.

“Experts have warned for years that data collected by advertising companies from Americans’ phones could be used to track them and reveal the most personal details of their lives. Unfortunately, they were right,” he said in a statement. “Data brokers and advertising companies have lied to the public, assuring them that the information they collected was anonymous. As this awful episode demonstrates, those claims were bogus — individuals can be tracked and identified.”

Wyden and other lawmakers asked the FTC last year to investigate the industry. It needs “to step up and protect Americans from these outrageous privacy violations, and Congress needs to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation,” he added.

Norway’s data privacy watchdog concluded earlier this year that Grindr shared personal user data with a number of third parties without legal basis and said it would impose a fine of $11.7 million (100 million Norwegian krone), equal to 10% of the California company’s global revenue.

The data leaked to advertising technology companies for targeted ads included GPS location, user profile information as well as the simple fact that particular individuals were using Grindr, which could indicate their sexual orientation.

Sharing such information could put someone at risk of being targeted, the Norwegian Data Protection Authority said. It argued that the way Grindr asked users for permission to use their information violated European Union requirements for “valid consent.” Users weren’t given the chance to opt out of sharing data with third parties and were forced to accept Grindr’s privacy policy in its entirety, it said, adding that users weren’t properly informed about the data sharing.

The advertising partners that Grindr shared data with included Twitter, AT&T’s Xandr service, and other ad-tech companies OpenX, AdColony and Smaato, the Norwegian watchdog said. Its investigation followed a complaint by a Norwegian consumer group that found similar data leakage problems at other popular dating apps such as OkCupid and Tinder.

In a statement, Grindr called The Pillar’s report an “unethical, homophobic witch hunt” and said it does “not believe” it was the source of the data used. The company said it has policies and systems in place to protect personal data, although it didn’t say when those were implemented. The Pillar said the app data it obtained about Burrill covered parts of 2018, 2019 and 2020.

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Activision Blizzard sued over gender-based discrimination

Hala Turk

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U.S. based- video game company Activision Blizzard was sued on Tuesday over a culture of constant sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination. 

The lawsuit filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) against the company was a result of a two-year investigation that revealed top executives were aware and/or involved of unequal pay, promoting men over women, and widespread sexual harassment.  

The complaint highlights those male employees of the gaming company discuss sexual encounters and joke about rape. 

“In the office, women are subjected to ‘cube crawls’, in which male employees drink copious amounts of alcohol as they ‘crawl’ their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees,” the DFEH legal filing claims. 

In another scenario outlined in the complaint, the company refused to deal with a former senior creative director, Alex Afrasiabi, who the department said was “permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussion.”  

That included inappropriately flirting with fellow female colleagues, telling them he wanted to marry them, and putting his arms around them, to the point that other male employees had to “pull him off female employees.” 

Additionally, the complaint proved that women were allegedly paid less than men. According to the lawsuit, women were also assigned to lower-level positions and passed over for promotions, despite doing more work than their male peers in some cases.  

One woman said her manager informed her that her promotion would be withheld since “she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much.” 

“All employers should ensure that their employees are being paid equally and take all steps to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish.  

“This is especially important for employers in male-dominated industries, such as technology and gaming,” Kish added.  

In response, the company behind World of Warcraft and Candy Crush said it was cooperative with the agency in its investigation, and that the DFEH refused to inform them of certain accusations it had discovered. In fact, it considered the accusations “distorted, and in many cases, false,” and said it valued diversity in the workplace and inclusivity for everyone. 

Blizzard also cited new anti-harassment trainings, a confidential tip line for employees to report violations and performance-based compensation as its efforts to improve. 

As the suit surfaced, numerous women stepped forward to corroborate allegations. 

“I’m going to come out and say it. I was one of these women. My incident happened in 2013 at BlizzCon. I didn’t say anything officially until I decided to leave the company last year, because of the name recognition and fear of retaliation,” wrote Stephanie Krutsick, a former producer for the company, on Twitter. 

It’s worth noting that experts had highlighted that the allegations in the lawsuit echoed prior accusations made within other companies in the gaming industry.  

“We cannot allow harassment and toxicity to go unchecked. We must support inclusion and diversity within our industry so that we may all thrive together and support the development of our future talents as well,” said Renee Gittins, executive director of the International Game Developers Association. 

Gittins said that the association had developed guidebooks to help game studios implement human resources policies, improve their culture and prevent toxicity from thriving. 

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