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We must not neglect the ethical concerns of big tech

Yehia El Amine

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ethical concerns of big tech

It is without a shadow of a doubt that ethical scandals in the tech industry have become the norm everywhere; every week, a new story surfaces about how the titans of social media have been breaching the ethical code of its users.

However, we need to ask ourselves what “ethical tech” actually means?

“Technologies have a clear moral dimension—that is to say, a fundamental aspect that relates to values, ethics, and norms. Technologies reflect the interests, behaviors, and desires of their creators, and shape how the people using them can realize their potential, identities, relationships, and goals,” The World Economic Forum said in a report about clean tech.

Nobody has expressed the meaning of ethical tech as accurately as DigitalAgenda, a UK-based clean tech think tank, which believes that “ethical tech is, at its heart, a conversation focused on the relationship between technology and human values, the decisions we make toward technological advances, and the impacts they can have.”

According to report by the think tank, the concept of ethical tech is related to a set of values. The notion of ethical tech refers to a set of values governing the organization’s approach to its use of technologies as a whole, and the ways in which workers at all levels deploy those technologies to drive business strategy and operations.

In addition, leaders’ biggest social and ethical concerns brought about by digital innovation apart from privacy, are related to cybersecurity risks, job replacement and the use of data.

Thus, with that power comes immense responsibility to construct a more just, free, and prosperous online space than what we currently have; and this is starting to show within the ranks of the world’s biggest companies.

How many times have we seen employees from Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon and the like publicly protest and stand against the policies and behaviors of their employers on ethical grounds?

This was brought more to the forefront after Netflix’s aired its new documentary called, “The Social Dilemma” which showcased previous employees who had worked under these titans of tech.

With very minimal protection guaranteed from the industry, this leaves the regular consumer to constantly keep themselves up-to-date and weary regarding their online behavior and how the algorithms at play are shaping what we feel, think, see, hear and experience.

Let’s jump into the basic red flags that people should be aware of.

Mass surveillance

In 2020, anyone who’s remotely tech-savvy and keeps up with the news is aware that private companies such as social media platforms and mobile service operators are collecting massive heaps of data over your every online footprint.

From real-time location tracking, communication, what you post, what you like, what you ignore, and how long you linger on them before making a decision; that information is taken and sold to a handful of other entities – including but not limited to – law enforcement, the intelligence community, advertisers, political campaigns, and more.

And all of this is done without the proper consent of its userbase.

People might not think what’s at stake.

It’s not only about collecting your data to perfectly place which ad you’re going to see next when you’re mindlessly scrolling down your preferred social media platforms; it runs much deeper than that.

This information can be used in a plethora of ways against its users; law enforcement in some countries can access the data and surveillance technology to track and keep tabs on protestors, journalists, persons of question, and the like, which is a complete breach of their very basic human rights.

The trickery of deepfakes

Deepfakes is the use of media clippings, such as a photo, audio or video recording of someone and using it manipulate what the person is saying and doing by swapping out their likeness for another person.

A perfect example of this was seen back in April of this year, when State Farm aired a controversial TV commercial that appeared to show an ESPN analyst making shockingly accurate predictions about the year 2020 in 1998.

The fact that this is becoming a new trend is legitimately scary.

Another deepfake video surfaced where Belgium’s Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès links COVID-19 to climate change. In one particularly frightening example, rumors that a video of the president of a small African country was a deepfake helped instigate a failed coup.

Fake news is still in its prime

Fake news is alive and kicking.

We’ve seen it meddle with elections far and wide, start trade wars and many other real-world repercussions that society hasn’t been able to successfully flag most of the time.

Between 2015 and 2017 Russian operatives posing as Americans successfully organized in-person rallies and demonstrations using Facebook. In one instance, Muslim civil rights activists counter-protested anti-Muslim Texas secessionists in Houston who waved Confederate flags and held “White Lives Matter” banners.

Russian disinformation operatives organized both rallies, and cybersecurity experts predict more to come in the run-up to the 2020 elections.

Addictive tech

It has now become the norm for product managers, designers, tech marketers and start-up founders to tirelessly create user experiences that would be physically and psychologically impossible to put down.

While the people behind the building blocks of these platforms see dollar signs in the distance, we need to also weigh the matter of their long-term effects on the end user.

This kind of tech is being labelled as “habit-forming products;” while they are not all bad, people need to be able to personally assess when a habit is becoming toxic.

It isn’t rocket science to assume that social media has become a common trigger for psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression – the studies speak for themselves.

In these times, there needs to be increased digital media literacy through education, seeing that people aren’t well informed enough to fully understand the level of influence companies have on our personal decisions – from what brand of shoes we decide to buy, to which president we decide to vote for.

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Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

Impact

Digital inclusion: what is being done for vulnerable members of society?

Karim Hussami

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As the wave of digital transformation carries us to exciting new heights of progress in business and personal development, industries must stop to consider the challenges of digital access faced by more vulnerable groups in society.

In this era of rapid technological advancements, enterprises are realizing the need for greater initiatives to encourage growth and participation of all customers, so that no one is left behind. “It’s time for the mobile industry to take steps to ensure our products and services are accessible, unlocking the power of connectivity so that all people thrive,” said Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA.

GSMA driving digital inclusion

Industry organization GSMA has launched the “Principles for Driving the Digital Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities” aiming at encouraging the mobile industry to help close the mobile disability gap.

The industry has developed guidelines with the help of disability and accessibility experts and mobile operators, outlining three regulations to increase digital inclusion for disabled people. These principles have been devised to ensure disability inclusion is adopted at every level of an organization, identifying how to reach and serve people with disabilities and delivering inclusive products and services.

One of the solutions proposed is to combine multiple assistive technologies in a single device, making mobile phones cost-effective tools to facilitate inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities.

However, persons with disabilities are less likely to own smartphones and use mobile internet than persons without disabilities, according to a research by GSMA. The World Health Organization (WHO) also estimates that 80% of persons with disabilities live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), which presents long-term challenges for initiatives that aim to break digital access barriers in under-resourced settings.

Innovation to help serve people with disabilities

In addition, some of the ways for an organization to reach and serve communities include collecting and analyzing data to better understand how disabled customers are using services. Conducting frequent consumer research to find out if the services are meeting the needs of customers with disabilities.

According to GSMA, several other options are present to enhance the access for disabled people and increase the chances of accessing digital platforms by developing handsets focusing on content, as well as creating products and services that are affordable and accessible to all. “Putting provisions in place such as customer service advisors trained in teaching customers how to use such devices as potential ways to ensure the delivery of inclusive products and services.”

Closing the digital access gap is no easy feat; it requires collective collaboration and long-term planning from governments and industries alike. GSMA-driven initiatives will help raise awareness, reduce inequalities and drive change.  

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Crowdfunding: A silent hero in the Covid-19 era

Yehia El Amine

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Crowdfunding

As the world preps itself for a second wave of Covid-19 and vaccine development continues, one cannot deny the hardships humanity has faced this year.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes struggled, economies slowed, and people were overworked from the comfort of their own homes. But if there’s one thing that defines successful entrepreneurs and business leaders, it’s their determination in the face of adversity.

The silent hero and lifeline for that determination has been online crowdfunding.

Platforms such as Indiegogo, Patreon, GoFundMe, and others were the lifeline of many small to medium enterprises (SMEs), as well as solo entrepreneurs working away at their passion projects from the confines of their living rooms.

During 2020, visits to crowdfunding platforms tripled, as 300,000 people actively donated to different projects and causes this month alone, according to numbers by Deloitte.

During the height of the pandemic, brick-and-mortar businesses experienced a painfully screeching halt to their operations, while digitally literate businesses have fared much better during the lockdown.

According to numbers revealed by Indiegogo, the platform witnessed an increase in overall traffic at nearly 14 percent compared to the same time last year, and daily funds raised on the site were up 24 percent compared to the second half of March 2019.

“An air conditioner, an e-bike, and a coffee grinder gained top billing on Indiegogo in March 2020, revealing a world stuck at home and raring to get back into the world,” the report by the crowdfunding site highlighted.

While a world stuck at home sought to fund passion projects across the aisle, there were several Covid-19 related campaigns published on these sites. This is cause for concern since cyberattacks have skyrocketed during 2020, mainly due to hackers highly exploiting the pandemic.

According to India-based market researcher, Market Research Future, the Covid-19 outbreak has significantly altered the healthcare industry worldwide, throwing several challenges at it.

The overwhelming scenario, since the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic, has been further aggravated by the alarming rise in cybersecurity threats.

“Malicious hackers are leveraging the pandemic by launching a slew of ransom-ware attacks and phishing campaigns. It is not surprising that following the onset of SARS-CoV-2 and the increased vulnerability due to the lockdown, hackers have become even more active than ever before,” the report highlighted.

Many of these crowdfunding platforms have taken note of this and acted on being wary of these potentially illicit activities; some of these platforms have kept a close eye on Covid-19 related campaigns, as well as stepping up their review processes using the U.S. Department of Justice’s guidelines toward predatory campaigns that take advantage of people in need.

“Accordingly, products claiming to be anti-viral or specifically mentioning the coronavirus are actively being monitored by our Trust and Safety team. Without providing proof of efficacy, the campaigns that we contact and/or fall under this category will be taken down. We have no intention of allowing people to take advantage of the Indiegogo community by using Covid-19 as a selling point,” Indiegogo said in a statement.

Crowdfunding has grown in popularity in an attempt to help startups, SMEs, and even philanthropic causes receive funding during these hard times.

Not only that, but these platforms have opened the door for individuals as well as NGOs to create awareness campaigns about Covid-19 while raising funds for procuring emergency kits and to assist food banks.

In parallel, crowdfunding is also actively working to assist the people most effected by the pandemic and its lockdown such as maids, watchmen, plumbers, electricians, and the like.

This has shown that despite national lockdowns, these initiatives have evoked a sense community, solidarity, as well as philanthropic emotions with others.

One can contribute as much as they like according to their will and capacity, without feeling shy or bad about anything. Thus, an important aspect of these platforms is that it provides an avenue for contribution without any social pressure.

Even though if we find ourselves stuck at home, many people are trying to maintain momentum in their daily lives. The pandemic has proved to be an opportunity for people across the world to explore their passion for social initiatives in their otherwise busy lives.

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Connecting the unconnected: closing the digital divide in rural areas

Yehia El Amine

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digital divide

Come rain or shine, it has become the standard norm for us to enjoy uninterrupted access to the Internet to keep us consistently connected, entertained, informed and working. 

But not all of us are and will experience this right away, especially when it comes to 5G

More than 700 million people in rural areas around the world still cannot make phone calls or access the network, according to GSMA statistics. By the end of 2018, nearly 400,000 villages around the world had no network coverage. 

The digital divide between cities and the countryside is widening, especially the gap between remote and urban areas.

The fifth generation of networks in rural areas and the elimination of the digital divide isn’t a new phenomenon; closing the digital gap is highly needed not only to deliver Internet access at broadband speeds for rural consumers, but also allows for the creation of a smart countryside to match the emergence of smart cities. 

While coverage-related challenges have been plaguing rural areas around the world, there’s also the problem of penetration for fixed broadband. In the U.S., only 63 percent had access to rural broadband, versus 75 percent in urban, and 79 percent in suburban areas, according to U.S.-based think tank, Pew Research Center (PRC).

“The mobile broadband rural penetration was 71 percent versus 79 percent for both urban and suburban areas,” the report added. 

Closing or reducing the digital divide requires both coverage and penetration-related initiatives – especially in a world where demand has changed because of the pandemic.

Governments, telcos, and the private have taken note of this, and have already started to fight back against this connectivity blackout.

In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has established the 5G Fund for Rural America, which will make available up to $9 billion in federal subsidies over 10 years to bring voice and 5G broadband services to unserved rural areas.  

“The FCC continues to take steps to facilitate the deployment of next-generation 5G services nationwide, it is also working to ensure that rural America is not left behind,” the Commission said in a statement back in October. 

The funds are expected to support the deployment of 5G networks that will not only provide rural areas with critical access to telehealth, telework, remote learning opportunities, and precision agriculture, but will also drive job creation and economic growth.  

Across the Pacific Ocean, South Korea’s government in partnership with the country’s top three mobile operators have launched a task force that aims to expand 5G coverage into rural areas of the country.

“The task force has the main goal of allowing roaming network sharing among SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus in areas where population density is low,” South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT said in a statement. 

Under the terms of this collaboration agreement, each mobile carrier will set up communication networks in designated areas, which can be shared with the other two, after they reach an agreement on the issue within the next six months.

According to the statement, South Korea’s 5G subscribers reached 7.86 million in July, up 487,190 from the previous month, accounting for 11.3 percent of the country’s 69.8 million mobile subscriptions.

The three operators launched 5G technology and services back in April 2019, and 5G networks are available mostly in large cities. The government previously said that the carriers had already deployed over 115,000 5G base stations

While in China, Huawei released the RuralStar solution back in 2017, which provides network coverage for over 20 million people in rural areas across the country. 

In parallel, Huawei later launched the simplified RuralStar Lite solution in 2019 for rural areas with small populations.

“This solution not only allows 100 million people in rural areas to access the network, but also improves people’s livelihood and assists enterprises in fulfilling their social responsibilities,” Huawei said in a statement.

While connecting the unconnected has been on the menu for a long time coming, the impact that 5G will deliver to rural areas will be transformative for the world’s countryside. 

Let’s jump right in. 

Remote education

Connecting rural schools to the Internet has been a long-time priority for many lawmakers across the world. While these educational institutions have sought alternatives, such as opening up after school hours for students who need high-speed internet access for their homework. 

This model provided relief when the needs were limited to homework.   

The Covid-19 pandemic has put rural broadband needs under the microscope, widening the scope from homework, to bringing the entire educational experience online. 

These gaps not only prevent rural inhabitants from education but increases the already growing rates of the brain drain, as talented students seek better opportunities outside the countryside, driven by their ambition to earn a college degree. 

Which is why there needs to be immediate focus on education in these areas to reverse the urbanization trend. 

Introducing 5G connectivity within these areas will not only close the digital divide, but will allow small businesses to prosper, and create more, which would attract investments into a plethora of opportunities such as smart farming. 

So as the saying goes, “build it, and they will come.” 

Remote work 

In urban areas, the transition to working from home pretty much happened overnight. Any information worker with a laptop and a video conferencing app could leverage their home broadband and start working from home.

This transition wasn’t as smooth as the rest of the world, due partially to fewer professionals in rural areas who work in digital industries, while the already existing broadband network supporting a family of workers and students at home had become bottlenecked. 

Thus, enhancing the areas’ digital infrastructure can have a hidden benefit.  

“Rural communities must consider the role their broadband infrastructure will play in attracting digital workers. Educated professionals can pursue a digital career without moving to a city in the first place,” a report by Swedish telecom giant Ericsson said. 

According to the report, Digital professionals are packing up their urban life and finding a better lifestyle in rural communities.

“Any community with aspirations to attract both these types of professionals and tap into a new “brain-train” needs excellent broadband infrastructure,” the report added. 

Thus, digital infrastructure will be the decisive factor for anyone looking to settle down in rural areas.

Telehealth

There is a myriad of obstacles facing healthcare in rural areas to begin with. 

First, its attracting educated doctors and medical professionals to relocate in areas with limited career paths. 

Weirdly enough, the pandemic has fundamentally changed the supply aspect of things since medical professionals have championed remote consultations overnight. And as efforts of connecting such areas to the rest of the world increase, these communities could be on the heels of leveraging telehealth to its maximum potential. 

With the worldwide rollout of 5G, rural communities could be the prime target for both public and private sectors to heavily invest in medical and surgical facilities to provide healthcare for inhabitants. 

Closing the digital divide will require heaps of work, investments, and coverage but the emergence of the fifth generation of networks will prove to be a strong weapon in the fight to bring fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure. 

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