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For many Haitian migrants, journey to Texas started online

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For many Haitian migrants, journey to Texas started online

For the final leg of his journey from Chile to the United States, Haitian migrant Fabricio Jean followed detailed instructions sent to him via WhatsApp from his brother in New Jersey who had recently taken the route to the Texas border.

His brother wired him money for the trip, then meticulously mapped it out, warning him of areas heavy with Mexican immigration officials.

“You will need about 20,000 pesos (about $1,000 U.S. dollars) for the buses. You need to take this bus to this location and then take another bus,” recounted Jean, who spoke to The Associated Press after reaching the border town of Del Rio.

What Jean didn’t expect was to find thousands of Haitian migrants like himself crossing at the same remote spot. The 38-year-old, his wife and two young children earlier this month joined as many as 14,000 mostly Haitian migrants camped under a Del Rio bridge.

A confluence of factors caused the sudden sharp increase at the Texas town of about 35,000 residents. Interviews with dozens of Haitian migrants, immigration attorneys and advocates reveal a phenomenon produced partly by confusion over the Biden administration’s policies after authorities recently extended protections for the more than 100,000 Haitians living in the United States.

It also reflects the power of Facebook, YouTube and platforms like WhatsApp, which migrants use to share information that can get distorted as it speeds through immigrant communities, directing migration flows. That’s especially true for tight-knit groups like the Creole-and-French-speaking Haitians, many of whom left their homeland after its devastating 2010 earthquake and have been living in Latin America, drawn by Brazil and Chile’s once-booming economies.

In extending protections for Haitians this spring, the Biden administration cited security concerns and social unrest in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the temporary protections were limited to those residing in the U.S. before July 29 — but that condition was often missing in posts, leading Haitians outside the United States to believe they, too, were eligible.

Mayorkas acknowledged that this week, saying “we are very concerned that Haitians who are taking the irregular migration path are receiving misinformation that the border is open,” or that they qualify for protected status despite the expired deadline.

“I want to make sure it is known that this is not the way to come to the United States,” he said.

Thousands of Haitians have been stuck in Mexican border towns since 2016, when the Obama administration abruptly halted a policy that initially allowed them in on humanitarian grounds.

Online messages touting the Mexican town of Ciudad Acuña, across from Del Rio, started after President Joe Biden took office and began reversing some of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Ciudad Acuña has been spared the drug and gang violence seen elsewhere along the border. Some of the social media posts recommending it appear to have come from human smugglers seeking to drum up business, according to immigrant advocates.

Haitians began crossing there this year, but their numbers ballooned after a Biden administration program that briefly opened the door to some asylum seekers ended, said Nicole Phillips, of the San Diego-based Haitian Bridge Alliance, which advocates for Haitian migrants. The program allowed in a select number of people deemed by humanitarian groups to be at high risk in Mexico.

Once it ceased in August, people panicked, and the messages recommending Ciudad Acuña “went viral,” Phillips said.

“That’s why they rushed at this time to get in,” she said. “They realized they wouldn’t be able to get in legally through a port-of-entry like they were hoping.”

Del Rio is just one example of how technology that has put a smartphone in the hands of nearly every migrant is transforming migration flows, according to advocates. Migrants often monitor the news and share information on routes. The most popular platform is WhatsApp, which connects 2 billion people worldwide.

In 2020, after Turkey announced that the land border with Greece was open, thousands of migrants headed there – only to find the gates closed on the Greek side. Similar sudden mass migrations have happened elsewhere in Europe.

In 2018, social media posts and WhatsApp messages fueled caravans that swelled to 10,000 mostly Central American migrants who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Last week, in a Facebook group for Haitians in Chile with 26,000 members, one member posted specific instructions on routes through Mexico. It included paths to avoid and recommended certain bus companies.

“Good luck and be careful,” said the post, written in Haitian Creole.

Another member shared a different route in the comments. The group’s members have since relayed stories of horrific conditions in Del Rio and risks of being deported.

The International Organization for Migration found most of the 238 Haitians who were surveyed in March after passing through a 60-mile (100-kilometer) stretch of jungle between Colombia and Panama known as the Darien Gap received route information from family or friends who had made the dangerous trek.

About 15% said they saw instructions on the internet.

Agency spokesman Jorge Gallo said the instructions led the migrants to believe crossing the gap was “difficult but not impossible.”

But just as similar messages drew many Haitians to Del Rio, news of the Biden administration deporting hundreds on the Texas border caused some to change their plans.

A 32-year-old Haitian woman who made it to Del Rio with her two teenage children bought bus tickets to Mexico City after receiving a cousin’s audio message via WhatsApp. She previously lived in Chile for four years.

“Wait in Mexico until this month is over. They will pick up everyone under the bridge. After that, they will give me the contact to enter Miami,” said the recording in Creole, which she played for an AP reporter. The AP is withholding the woman’s name to protect her safety.

Facebook Inc., which owns WhatsApp, allows people to exchange information about crossing borders, even illegally, but its policy bars posts that ask for money for services that facilitate human smuggling.

Robins Exile said he and his pregnant wife, who left Brazil after he lost his job amid the pandemic-wracked economy, headed to Tijuana, Mexico, instead after seeing warnings via YouTube and WhatsApp from fellow Haitian migrants.

“A lot of Haitians are advising now not to come to Acuña. They say it’s no longer a good place,” he said.

On Wednesday, Antonio Pierre, 33, who was camped in Del Rio with his wife and daughter, listened to the news on his friend’s cellphone.

“The U.S. is releasing some but just a few,” he said, referring to U.S. officials who told the AP on Tuesday that thousands of Haitians in custody were being let go and ordered to report to an immigration office, contradicting the Biden administration’s announcement that all Haitians camped in the town would be expelled to Haiti.

Nelson Saintil and his wife and four children had been camped in Texas but moved back to Mexico as they awaited word on where to go next to avoid deportation.

“I do not want to be like mice who do not find out that they are falling into a trap,” he said. “Because returning to Haiti is to bury a person alive.”


DEL RIO, Texas (AP)

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Chinese tech regulations morph U.S. firms’ course of action

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U.S. Big Tech legion seems to be torn between two economic powerhouses.

In a battle for dominion between the East and the West, Big Tech companies are forfeiting from the Chinese market to prevent getting caught in the conflict, except for Apple, according to the BBC.

Last week, Microsoft announced news of shutting down its professional network platform, LinkedIn, in China, despite the giant’s resumable operations in the country. The choice made came after compliance with Chinese authorities became quite an ordeal for the company to sustain. 

With the ever-growing emergence of regulatory scrutiny on tech companies in China, U.S.-based enterprises are finding it challenging to accommodate the governmental demands, and Apple is encountering a list of obligations owed to the government.

According to the BCC, last week, the iOS developer witnessed the removal of two vigorously powerful applications from its App Store in its Chinese market. Later, news surfaced that Amazon’s Audible, and Yahoo Finance were also extracted from the store.

The mogul’s Apple Censorship group disclosed that recently, the company observed an extensively high rate of applications being removed from its store.

One cannot help but marvel at the reasons behind these tactics adopted by the Chinese authorities against the American Big Tech giant and if the time is of significance to China’s plan to surpass U.S. influence in the tech market.

In the last couple of months, Beijing has been tightening its scrutinizing hold on the tech industry. A factor paraded in Microsoft’s and Apple’s domestic battle with the Chinese authorities amidst regulatory ripple on the innovative sector.

If we look closer, last months’ event led by the country’s harsh regulation on its own Big Tech firms, such as Alibaba, Tencent, and Huawei, left U.S.-based companies subjected to similar behavior, as China grows exasperated from all the supremacy forged from tech companies.

“The crackdown suggests that both Apple and Microsoft are very aware that their position is more tenuous than it’s been in recent years. They know they need to walk carefully,” author of The Great Firewall of China, James Griffiths, said in a statement.

Microsoft’s decision to extract LinkedIn from the Chinese market was mostly driven by law due for legislation on November 1st.

The personal Information Law (PIPL) forces these firms to abide by any regulation imposed on them. Meaning, the software developer will be “facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.”

From there, immerges another riddle.

Why didn’t Apple follow in its Big Tech fellow’s footsteps? Why can’t the iPhone parent extract its manufacturing plans from the Chinese market?

The answer is simple. For Apple, it is not a plain black and white scenario, as it is with Microsoft’s LinkedIn.

The company’s manufacturing operations are embedded deeply into the country’s market, more than any other Big Tech company. This product integration into the Chinese market increases demands for products.

Apple’s 2021 second quarter (Q2) revealed a $15 billion revenue in China and Taiwan alone, marking a phenomenal figure compared to other tech companies since the iOS developer’s global supply chain relies heavily on Chinese manufacturing.

For this reason, Apple is comprehensively aware that it must comply with the powerhouse’s rules, even if it would force censorship to its Apple Store.

Although Beijing’s broadening dominion on tech firms might highlight some red flags in reference to the country’s view on the industry, it does not mean that China is extensively monitoring and fixating its gaze at U.S.-based tech firms.

China clearly wants global tech firms to abide by its set of rules, as it is rightfully valid for a rising reign to impose authorities on expanding tech influence on its territory.

“The Western media is wearing tinted lens when they say China is over-regulating. The U.S. should think more about whether its own government is setting the restrictions too high in its exchanges with China, especially for those high-tech enterprises,” a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University, Li Haidong, told the Global Times. 

Beijing’s desire to push lucrative tech companies to abide by Chinese laws on its province will force American firms to fasten their adaptation to the latest adjustment to the country’s market.

With U.S. empowered restrictions on China, one cannot deny that time would eventually come for U.S. Big Tech firms to be affected by their country’s harsh tactics on Chinese firms.

In this case, China could either be retaliating against U.S. sanctions or simply exacting regulatory tech authority on its turf. Or it could be both.

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EXPLAINER: What the metaverse is and how it will work

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EXPLAINER What the metaverse is and how it will work

The term “metaverse” seems to be everywhere. Facebook is hiring thousands of engineers in Europe to work on it, while video game companies are outlining their long-term visions for what some consider the next big thing online.

The metaverse, which could spring up again when Facebook releases earnings Monday, is the latest buzzword to capture the tech industry’s imagination.

It could be the future, or it could be the latest grandiose vision by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that doesn’t turn out as expected or isn’t widely adopted for years — if at all.

Plus, many have concerns about a new online world tied to a social media giant that could get access to even more personal data and is accused of failing to stop harmful content.

Here’s what this online world is all about:

WHAT IS THE METAVERSE?

Think of it as the internet brought to life, or at least rendered in 3D. Zuckerberg has described it as a “virtual environment” you can go inside of — instead of just looking at on a screen. Essentially, it’s a world of endless, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work and play, using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices.

It also will incorporate other aspects of online life such as shopping and social media, according to Victoria Petrock, an analyst who follows emerging technologies.

“It’s the next evolution of connectivity where all of those things start to come together in a seamless, doppelganger universe, so you’re living your virtual life the same way you’re living your physical life,” she said.

But keep in mind that “it’s hard to define a label to something that hasn’t been created,” said Tuong Nguyen, an analyst who tracks immersive technologies for research firm Gartner.

Facebook warned it would take 10 to 15 years to develop responsible products for the metaverse, a term coined by writer Neal Stephenson for his 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash.”

WHAT WILL I BE ABLE TO DO IN THE METAVERSE?

Things like go to a virtual concert, take a trip online, and buy and try on digital clothing.

The metaverse also could be a game-changer for the work-from-home shift amid the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of seeing co-workers on a video call grid, employees could see them virtually.

Facebook has launched meeting software for companies, called Horizon Workrooms, to use with its Oculus VR headsets, though early reviews have not been great. The headsets cost $300 or more, putting the metaverse’s most cutting-edge experiences out of reach for many.

For those who can afford it, users would be able, through their avatars, to flit between virtual worlds created by different companies.

“A lot of the metaverse experience is going to be around being able to teleport from one experience to another,” Zuckerberg says.

Tech companies still have to figure out how to connect their online platforms to each other. Making it work will require competing technology platforms to agree on a set of standards, so there aren’t “people in the Facebook metaverse and other people in the Microsoft metaverse,” Petrock said.

IS FACEBOOK GOING ALL IN ON THE METAVERSE?

Indeed, Zuckerberg is going big on what he sees as the next generation of the internet because he thinks it’s going to be a big part of the digital economy. He expects people to start seeing Facebook as a metaverse company in coming years rather than a social media company.

A report by tech news site The Verge said Zuckerberg is looking at using Facebook’s annual virtual reality conference this coming week to announce a corporate name change, putting legacy apps like Facebook and Instagram under a metaverse-focused parent company. Facebook hasn’t commented on the report.

Critics wonder if the potential pivot could be an effort to distract from the company’s crises, including antitrust crackdowns, testimony by whistleblowing former employees and concerns about its handling of misinformation.

Former employee Frances Haugen, who accused Facebook’s platforms of harming children and inciting political violence, plans to testify Monday before a United Kingdom parliamentary committee looking to pass online safety legislation.

IS THE METAVERSE JUST A FACEBOOK PROJECT?

No. Zuckerberg has acknowledged that “no one company” will build the metaverse by itself.

Just because Facebook is making a big deal about the metaverse doesn’t mean that it or another tech giant will dominate the space, Nguyen said.

“There are also a lot of startups that could be potential competitors,” he said. “There are new technologies and trends and applications that we’ve yet to discover.”

Video game companies also are taking a leading role. Epic Games, the company behind the popular Fortnite video game, has raised $1 billion from investors to help with its long-term plans for building the metaverse. Game platform Roblox is another big player, outlining its vision of the metaverse as a place where “people can come together within millions of 3D experiences to learn, work, play, create and socialize.”

Consumer brands are getting in on it, too. Italian fashion house Gucci collaborated in June with Roblox to sell a collection of digital-only accessories. Coca-Cola and Clinique have sold digital tokens pitched as a stepping stone to the metaverse.

Zuckerberg’s embrace of the metaverse in some ways contradicts a central tenet of its biggest enthusiasts. They envision the metaverse as online culture’s liberation from tech platforms like Facebook that assumed ownership of people’s accounts, photos, posts and playlists and traded off what they gleaned from that data.

“We want to be able to move around the internet with ease, but we also want to be able to move around the internet in a way we’re not tracked and monitored,” said venture capitalist Steve Jang, a managing partner at Kindred Ventures who focuses on cryptocurrency technology.

WILL THIS BE ANOTHER WAY TO GET MORE OF MY DATA?

It seems clear that Facebook wants to carry its business model, which is based on using personal data to sell targeted advertising, into the metaverse.

“Ads are going to continue being an important part of the strategy across the social media parts of what we do, and it will probably be a meaningful part of the metaverse, too,” Zuckerberg said in the company’s most recent earnings call.

That raises fresh privacy concerns, Nguyen said, involving “all the issues that we have today, and then some we’ve yet to discover because we’re still figuring out what the metaverse will do.”

Petrock she said she’s concerned about Facebook trying to lead the way into a virtual world that could require even more personal data and offer greater potential for abuse and misinformation when it hasn’t fixed those problems in its current platforms.

“I don’t think they fully thought through all the pitfalls,” she said. “I worry they’re not necessarily thinking through all the privacy implications of the metaverse.”


LONDON (AP)

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IBM brings $17.79 billion for Q3 revenue

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IBM released on Wednesday its third-quarter (Q3) revenue report, revealing the hardware company’s rise in cloud unit, faced with a drop in IBM Z Power systems.

The hardware computer mogul reported a non-generally accepted accounting principle (GAAP) of $2.52 earnings per share (EPS) revenue, resulting in $17.6 billion, with a 1 percent rise Year-over-Year (YoY).

Non-GAAP earnings are earnings measured that are not developed using GAAP and are not needed for external reporting or other public disclosures.

In parallel, the company revealed that its cloud and cognitive software sum reached $5.7 billion its Q3 revenue, with a 2.5 percent augmentation.

While IBM witnessed a rise in cloud incomes, its system revenue dropped by 11.9 percent, resulting in $1.1 billion in total revenue. This decline was mostly directed by a drop in IBM Z and Power Systems that was faced with a storage system growth of 11 percent.

On the other hand, IBM’s Global Technology Services (GTS) unveiled a 4.8 percent drop, summing to $6.2 billion, while Global Business revenue rose by 11.6 percent, growing to $4.4 billion.

“We again had solid cash generation for the quarter and over the last year, while maintaining a strong balance sheet and the liquidity to support our hybrid cloud and AI strategy,” IBM senior vice president, and chief financial officer James Kavanaugh said in a statement.

“Our post-separation portfolio mix is shifted toward our growth vectors, with a higher-value recurring revenue stream and strong cash generation, allowing us to continue to invest in the business and provide attractive shareholder returns,” he added.

As for its cash flow and balance sheet, IBM produced $2.7 billion in net cash from Q3’s operating activities. Throughout the past 12 months, the computer hardware giant generated $16.1 billion from operating activities alone compared to 2020’s free cash flow, which accumulated to $9.2 billion for its Q3 revenue.

After excepting cash impacts of $1.8 billion directed at the structural actions and transaction separation costs, IBM altered the cash flow revenue to reach a total of $11.1 billion.

“With the separation of Kyndryl early next month, IBM takes the next step in our evolution as a platform-centric hybrid cloud and AI company,” said IBM chairman and chief executive officer Arvind Krishna.

“We continue to make progress in our software and consulting businesses, which represent our higher growth opportunities. With our increased focus and agility to better serve clients, we are confident in achieving our medium-term objectives of mid-single-digit revenue growth and strong free cash flow generation,” he added.

The hardware firm closed its Q3 with an $8.4 billion cash on hand – accessible balance referring to all cash – which also includes marketable securities. The balance witnessed a $5.9 billion drop from the end of 2020, mirroring a sum of acquisitions of $3.0 billion, in addition to debt reduction payments.

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