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Rumors, happenings, and innovations in the technology sphere. If it's technological news or discussion of technology, it probably belongs here.

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Carissa Véliz is an expert in ethics applied to technology. The Spanish-Mexican philosopher, who does not provide a date or place of birth to protect her privacy, is one of the voices that warn us about the growing digital dangers that lurk at every corner and chip away at our individual autonomy.

Carissa Véliz: Autonomy is a fundamental principle. To have it, you need space to make your own decisions, to think about what your values are and act in that direction. And when they are watching you all the time, the other’s gaze is oppressive, it seeks your compliance. The simple fact of being observed reduces our impulse to experiment, to ask. Human beings need privacy, intimacy and a certain solitude to discover ourselves [...]

We don’t realize how surveillance influences us. If we turned off the cameras we would see that we do not think the same, we do not express things the same way, there is not the same type of frankness in the debate [...]

Anonymity is one of the most important social innovations of democracy, in particular, the possibility of making an anonymous protest, going out into the streets... Today we carry our cell phones with us, which identifies us, and that sometimes means that people do not show up when they need to [...]

China takes the lead [in the rejection of any privacy], it has no pretensions to being democratic or liberal. It is going all out with surveillance, it intends for it to be centralized. The surveillance you are subjected to at work has consequences on your personal relationships in a country like this. It affects, for example, the visibility you achieve on dating applications [...]

Obviously, we [in the West] need regulation. Collective problems need collective solutions. It is not up to the individual to change things and yet we have power; When we change our behavior, companies and governments are sensitive to it. It’s not about not using your cell phone. We must try to protect our privacy when we can and it is not too demanding. Instead of using WhatsApp, use Signal. It’s free, it works just as well, it doesn’t collect your data. Instead of using Gmail, use Proton Mail [...]

Any decision that can significantly affect a person’s life [should never be left in the hands of AI]. AI is not a moral agent, it cannot be responsible for harming someone or denying them an important opportunity. Nor should we delegate to AI jobs in which we value the empathy of a fellow citizen who can understand what we feel.


Archived version

The self-driving taxis have become popular — with Baidu offering super cheap rides to win customers — and the company is eyeing expansion into other Chinese megacities as local governments rush to issue policies in support of the new technology.

But the robotaxi revolution is also causing some public concerns in China, with the issue blowing up on social media after an Apollo Go vehicle ran into a pedestrian in Wuhan last Sunday.

Footage of the incident spread online has sparked a wide debate about the issues created by robotaxis — especially the threat the technology poses to ride-hailing and taxi drivers.

Authorities in Wuhan have felt the need to respond to the “rumors” about problems caused by robotaxis. The city’s transportation bureau told domestic media that the local taxi industry is “relatively stable”.


In response to video clips showing a pedestrian lying on the road next to an Apollo Go robotaxi which began trending within hours, a Baidu spokesperson told domestic media that the accident was a “mild” collision that had occurred because the pedestrian had been jaywalking.


In 2019, Baidu was among the first companies to obtain a business license for operating autonomous vehicles in Wuhan. Then, in 2022, it was granted a license to operate its vehicles on public roads without a safety driver.


But the robotaxis’ growing popularity has also sparked backlash. Wuhan residents have been complaining for months that Apollo Go cars cause traffic jams by driving slowly and stopping unexpectedly. Viral clips on social media show long lines of cars forming behind an Apollo Go vehicle that is blocking the road.


It’s unclear whether the controversy will affect China’s plans for autonomous driving. Beijing recently issued a draft guideline that would allow self-driving vehicles to be used in the public transportation and ride-hailing industries. Cities including Changsha and Jinan have announced plans to conduct robotaxi testing schemes.


So far, the publicity appears to be providing an unexpected boost to Baidu’s stock price. The company’s shares achieved their largest daily gain in over a year on Wednesday, and are still up for the week as of Friday afternoon.


They say it has left them unable to access bank accounts and job offers - and stopped them using Skype, which Microsoft owns, to contact relatives in war-torn Gaza.

Microsoft says they violated its terms of service - a claim they dispute.

"They killed my life online," said Eiad Hametto, who lives in Saudi Arabia.

"They’ve suspended my email account that I’ve had for nearly 20 years - It was connected to all my work," he told the BBC.

He also said being cut off from Skype was a huge blow for his family.

The internet is frequently disrupted or switched off there because of the Israeli military campaign - and standard international calls are very expensive.

Israel launched its offensive in Gaza in response to the Hamas attack on 7 October, which killed about 1,200 people. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 38,000 people have been killed in the war.


Archived version

China’s relentless e-commerce price war leaves sellers struggling to make ends meet as shopping platforms compete with ever-more aggressive policies and a domestic economy slowing down

A once-thriving e-commerce industry punctuated by shopping bonanzas featuring galas and celebrities is bearing the brunt of a sputtering economy that has seen consumers all but tie knots in their purse strings.

While extreme discounting, influencer-led sales campaigns and generous returns policies did much to enrich the sector, those same practices by which vendors have to abide are now hurting those upon which the sector rests.

“The good times for e-commerce are over,” said Shanghai-based e-commerce operator Lu Zhenwang, who sells everyday items for small vendors. “This year there is fierce competition and I don’t think a lot of sellers will survive another three years.”

Profit margins are being squeezed at big platforms such as those of Alibaba and JD, but also at the thousands of small businesses which joined the e-commerce boom decade that started around 2013.

That boom has left e-commerce accounting for 27% of retail, with 12 trillion yuan ($1.65 trillion) of goods sold annually.

But as the economy slows, so does e-commerce, with the double-digit growth of recent years set to be replaced by single digits, showed data from Euromonitor.


[One e-commerce shop owner] said major platforms, upon which vendors rely, should not use “consumer first” policies that add to the burden of businesses, many of which have to sell below cost to maintain high positions in search results amid multiple discount events.


Archived version

Russia's telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor confirmed to Interfax that the order targets multiple apps (including NordVPN, Proton VPN, Red Shield VPN, Planet VPN, Hidemy.Name VPN, Le VPN, and PIA VPN) used to gain access to content tagged as illegal in Russia.


Archived version

The US elections are less than five months away, and the public has less visibility than ever into political messaging on Facebook and Instagram.

In August, Meta is shutting down CrowdTangle, a popular social media monitoring tool used to track misinformation on Facebook and Instagram. The company says its replacement, the Meta Content Library (MCL), is a better tool for researchers.

But a joint investigation by Proof News, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, and the Algorithmic Transparency Institute found that Meta’s replacement tool is less transparent and accessible than CrowdTangle. On eleven key topics, Meta’s new tool has fewer features than CrowdTangle. And researchers say the process of getting access to the tool is cumbersome and slow—and some journalists can’t access it at all.


Archived link

The social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, received criticism from researchers after it labeled a link by the investigative journalism group Bellingcat about Russia’s attack on a children’s hospital in Kyiv as “potentially spammy or unsafe.”

In their latest research, Bellingcat identified a Russian Kh-101 cruise missile that struck Ukraine's largest children's medical center, Okhmatdyt, during an attack on Kyiv over the weekend that killed 33 people, including 5 children.

Bellingcat’s investigation debunked claims from pro-Russian accounts that denied responsibility for the attack and “sought to shift the blame for the incident onto Ukraine,” researchers said.


Despite its reputation, X marked the link to the group’s latest research as “unsafe,” saying that it could lead users to “violent or misleading content” or to a website that misleads people, disrupts their experience, or steals their personal information.


Full toot:

Many have tagged us in discussions about a specific Google extension built into Chromium browsers and asked us what we've done about it.

This is a part of the Google Meets browser extension, which we bundle in order to allow Google Meets to work. This can be disabled in Settings > Privacy and Security > Google Extensions > Meets. Disabling it will break Meets. We expose this as a setting because we want you to be able to control it, and disable it if you want to.

Disabling it by default would be great, but doing so would break Meets for users who are not able to understand why it’s broken, or what they need to change in order to allow it to work. Unfortunately, when websites break, either because of browser detection, or missing features, users invariably assume the browser is at fault rather than the website, and we have to make choices about what needs to be done to make websites work. We do not take these kinds of decisions lightly.

We do find it very interesting that Google, who run the Chromium browser project, choose to give Meets additional information that is not given to other videoconferencing websites, and this could easily be seen to be uncompetitive behaviour. Hopefully, the EU's competition enforcement agencies can add this to their radar, and require a change in Google's Meets functionality.


It seems YT started another attempt at blocking alternative clients. They changed something in their API and both SmartTube and Tubular (NewPipe fork) are completely broken. Apparently it started happening this past week, but we personally just felt it today.

Edit: SmartTube already has an update but still not working for 4K videos it seems. Tubular still not working but it might be due to the upstream (NewPipe) is still working on a fix.

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