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USA May Go the Opposite Way of China on Facial Recognition: Where Does India Stand?

With Black Lives Matter protests hitting the streets in USA in light of George Floyd’s murder, questions regarding the use of facial recognition by police departments to identify protestors came to light. This follows a known pattern, where preceding protests in Hong Kong led to questions being raised regarding the use of Chinese state-backed facial recognition, coupled with a directive to ban the wearing of masks to safeguard privacy. In India, a glimpse of this was also seen during the Delhi riots that took over the early part of 2020. On this note, what has been uniformly underlined is the need to regulate facial recognition, and understand the thin line that breaches the privacy of a common man.

Highlighting these factors and much more, on June 25, senators in the United States of America proposed a new legislation that aims to prevent the police or any law-keeping body from using facial recognition technology under the guise of legal recourses. Filed by senators Ed Markey and Jeff Merkley, the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act is calling for a full ban on the use of facial recognition technologies by the government and government bodies. This injunction of sorts aims to remain in place until proper legislation safeguarding privacy and human rights – as well as stringent levels of data protection – are brought up. The moratorium will supposedly be lifted once the US Congress passes a bill years later allowing it, and as per the proposal of the senators, any federal agency in USA still proceeding to use facial recognition will not receive grants from the centre to function.

Relevance, now more than ever before

The move is particularly relevant at this time, when technologies such as facial and voice recognition are allegedly being used to identify protesters across the world. On June 15’s episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver stated that almost half of America’s population have likely had their faces indexed or searched for by USA’s law enforcement agencies. This coincides with reports raising questions on how racial profiling may be an inherent part of today’s facial recognition technologies – Amazon’s alleged racial bias in its system come up in recent memory. Compounding the misery, a startup called Clearview AI – that rose to notoriety with its severely privacy-ending facial recognition tool sourced to the police – did not even seem to have a legal clause that would stop it from scraping faces off public domain photos and throwing them into a surveillance data system.

Taking cue from the recent discourse, on June 9, IBM stated that it will exit the facial recognition business. In the letter declaring so, CEO Arvind Krishna said that as an organisation, IBM will “not condone” any technology that enables mass surveillance and racial profiling to violate fundamental human rights. Soon after, Microsoft followed suit, enforcing a ban on selling its facial recognition technology to American police and other agencies. Amazon, which previously refused to stop selling the technology to the police by citing “sufficient” safeguards in its terms of service, has also announced a one-year moratorium on sourcing facial recognition to the police.

A reverse-China precedent

This is of particular importance, as it shows that USA, which often leads discussions on new technologies, is understanding the side-effects of using facial recognition for legal purposes, and may be prepared to lean away from it. The first notion of this had come up when the European Union had discussed a possible blanket ban on all facial recognition usage in public spaces, before scrapping it – apparently due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But, in a world where China, the world’s most populous nation, has enforced what is being referred to as a ‘social credit score’, this move is significant. In fact, this can form a precedent that might define how India would look at facial recognition in the near future.

A November 2019 documentary titled ‘China: Power and Prosperity’ by PBS NewsHour illustrated the plight of individuals living in a surveillance state such as China. In the documentary, Jessica Tan, co-CEO of one of China’s main facial recognition technology suppliers Ping An, revealed how the entire model of facial recognition in China has been built from the ground-up to recognise minute details, such as micro-expressions on a person’s face to detect driving discipline, or even straight-up face recognition to detect bad social behaviour, such as jaywalking. People noted to be in breach are then publicly shamed, to promote ‘good behaviour’. This sets an ominous note on the overall scheme of things when it comes to facial recognition – one which India should be careful to avoid.

What this means for India

In India, the Advanced Facial Recognition Software (AFRS), developed by private firm INNEFU Labs, has been in use with the police for over two years. In a previous News18 report, it was revealed that the technology was initially procured to identify and track missing children and women, in a bid to tap into human trafficking rackets in Delhi. However, this technology soon developed into a full-fledged law enforcement tool, and Union Home Minister Amit Shah revealed in March 2020 that over 1,100 faces were identified using this tool as perpetrators of the violent riots that broke out in Delhi in early 2020.

However, such use of the technology has seen considerable protest and backlash from communities such as lawyers and privacy overseers. In a previous interview with News18, N.S. Nappinai, cyber law advocate at the Supreme Court of India, had stated that there are no laws that govern the use, data capture and storage of facial recognition and related assets in India. Worryingly, despite not having a legal framework to back it up, New Delhi has already appeared among the top 20 most surveilled cities in the world, as per a market survey by Comparitech.

In hindsight, USA’s ruling does not particularly ‘mean’ anything directly for India. Right now, India does not have a legal framework in place for enabling or restricting facial recognition, which is what puts the onus more on the government to proceed in this avenue with extra caution. It is important to note that US lawmakers are pushing to ban use of facial recognition during a turbulent time due to the lack of enough legal framework, and not enabling it. Whether India goes down this road, or follows one that is closer to China, would be the most critical deciding factor behind India’s stance on fundamental human rights of freedom and privacy. With strong anti-China sentiments sweeping the nation in light of the Galwan Valley clash, it is important that we reserve the same sentiments when it comes to facial recognition, too.


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Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus, Galaxy Buds Plus BTS Limited Editions Launched in USA, Korea

Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G BTS Editions. (Pic Source: Samsung)

Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G BTS Editions. (Pic Source: Samsung)

Purple is the theme of choice, as Samsung goes out to appease the BTS superfans with its Galaxy S20 Plus flagship phone.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: June 15, 2020, 4:02 PM IST

Samsung has joined hands with popular South Korean boy band BTS to roll out limited edition versions of the Galaxy S20+ 5G, Galaxy S20+ and the new Galaxy Buds+, for BTS superfans in USA and South Korea. The special edition versions of both the 5G and non-5G variants of the Galaxy S20+ will sport a purple rear glass with metal rims, embossed with a BTS logo at the bottom. The retail box of the smartphones will also carry the BTS logo on the front, with a black starry background.

The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ BTS edition, on the other hand, will offer the true wireless earbuds in purple, along with a purple charging case and a purple heart iconography, which should make BTS superfans rather happy. The three devices will go on sale in the designated nations from July 9, which also marks the seventh anniversary of the BTS ARMY fan collective. Pre-orders for the devices begin later this week, from June 19.

Specifications

As one would expect, the BTS-themed devices don’t carry any changes as far as the specifications are concerned. To recall, the Samsung Galaxy S20+ has a 6.7-inch Infinity-O Dynamic AMOLED 2K resolution display. It is powered by Samsung’s Exynos 990 SoC along with 8GB RAM and 128GB in-built storage. The Samsung Galaxy S20+ sports a quad-rear camera unit that comprises a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera with f/2.2 aperture lens, a 12-megapixel 79-degree wide-angle camera with f/1.8 aperture lens, a 64-megapixel telephoto camera with f/2.0 aperture lens, and a DepthVision unit for managing blurred backgrounds. The phone gets a single 10-megapixel front camera embedded in the display. Furthermore, the Galaxy S20+ also features a 4,500mAh battery and runs Android 10, with One UI 2.1 on top.

The Galaxy Buds+ offers three mics, improved noise isolation and support for Samsung’s Ambient Sound technology. There is an 85mAh battery in each of the earbuds, and a 270mAh battery in the charging case. The true wireless earphones are AKG-tuned, and claim 11 hours of battery life. For connectivity, the Galaxy Buds+ gets Bluetooth 5. The earbuds can be pre-ordered now from the ‘Weverse Shop’ in USA and South Korea, and will cost $199 (~Rs 15,100).


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Tech

Android 11 Beta Launch Postponed from June 3 Due to Protests in USA

The official icon of the Android 11 Developer Preview. (Illustration altered by News18.com)

The official icon of the Android 11 Developer Preview. (Illustration altered by News18.com)

The event was originally scheduled to take place virtually on Wednesday, according to the website.

  • Reuters
  • Last Updated: May 30, 2020, 3:13 PM IST

Alphabet Inc’s Google on Saturday said it has postponed next week’s planned unveiling of the beta version of its latest Android 11 mobile operating system in light of protests and unrest in the United States.

“We are excited to tell you more about Android 11, but now is not the time to celebrate,” Google said in a message posted on its Android developer’s website.

The event was originally scheduled to take place virtually on Wednesday, according to the website. In a tweet, it said that it will announce more details on the new version of Android “soon,” without specifying any dates.

Protests have spread across the United States over the killing of George Floyd, a Minneapolis black man who died after being pinned by the neck under a white police officer’s knee.




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Amazon Warehouses Hit by Coronavirus in At Least Nine Locations in USA: Report

Amazon in USA has reportedly been hit by the coronavirus in multiple warehouses, with at least nine facilities said to have witnessed coronavirus cases among workers. A CNN report citing local sources on the matter states that one worker based in the company’s Staten Island, New York fulfillment centre has already tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, and is reportedly recovering in quarantine after last attending work on March 11.

The case comes one week after the first coronavirus case was reported in any Amazon facility in USA, which came out of Queens in the New York state. Other reported cases out of Amazon’s warehouses have come from facilities in California, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and Connecticut. This comes in light of a steady escalation of coronavirus cases in USA, even as the country’s government continues to put large sections of the country in lockdown and announces economic measures to soften the blow on the economy.

According to reports, Amazon has reported that it is taking “extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees”, which include sanitisation of frequently touched surfaces, spreading out seating sections to safe distances, and intervening work shifts among warehouse employees. As a result of these issues, Amazon has already warned its users of delays in shipments and delivery times, which in the long run may be extended even further.

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Indian-Origin Techie in USA United Coders from Apple, Amazon to Create COVID-19 Tracker

With the coronavirus pandemic still accelerating in many parts of the world, individuals are coming up with contributions in varying shapes and forms. One such contribution, angled at American individuals to track the spread of the coronavirus in the country, is covidnearyou.org — a free to use tracking website that offers you details about the spread of SARS-CoV-2 across USA. Additionally, the website also asks you about any symptoms that you might be facing, asking you if you’re feeling fine, or a bit under the weather. Depending on your response, the site offers you either a simple form asking if you’ve received the flu vaccine, or which of 14 selected symptoms might you be facing.

Additionally, scrolling down on the website shows past two weeks of COVID-19 activity in whichever region you wish to search for. You can do this by simply entering the ZIP code. However, the tracking service appears to be offline or broken at the moment, since the latest numbers on the website remain unavailable. If you aren’t feeling well, you can select the listed symptoms on the site (or opt for other and describe your problem precisely), following which you would be asked more details, such as how many days has it been since you fell sick, if you’ve consulted a doctor, if you’ve received a flu vaccine, if you have remained in quarantine, if you’ve recently been in contact with anyone who may have tested positive for COVID-19, and lastly, if you have any travel history that you would like to disclose.

The website was built by a group of 30 volunteers in USA working in multiple technology giants. The project was started by Sidewalk Labs’ product head, Prem Ramaswami, when both he and his wife were down with COVID-19 symptoms, but were denied tests by a doctor since they were not clearly in contact with a known COVID-19 patient. He then contacted John Brownstein, the chief innovation officer of Boston Children’s Hospital and one of silicon valley’s favourite doctors, who then directed him towards the idea of such a website. Ramaswami subsequently brought together a group of his coder friends, who work in myriad IT-related jobs in USA in companies such as Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, CloudFlare, MongoDB and other technology majors, who worked for six straight nights to come up with this website.

Covidnearyou also partners with Harvard Medical School, which offers it reliable content access, therefore making it a very trustworthy website. Going forward, it remains to be seen if such public web hostings see a better response than government-run sites for being information sources. More importantly, it also marks the initiation of a new website that can help many ease their tensions with a lightweight, easy to run and use source of comprehensive information on COVID-19.

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Google's COVID-19 Website Dedicated to USA is Now Live

Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Saturday it launched a United States-focused website with information about coronavirus guidance and testing, as the country works on slowing the spread of the highly contagious virus. The site (google.com/covid19), which consists of resources and links focused on the potentially deadly respiratory illness COVID-19, will be available in more languages and countries in coming days, Google said in a blog post.

Emiley Moxley, product management director of Google Search, described the tool in a blog post, “As we continue to see people’s information needs expanding, we’re introducing a more comprehensive experience for COVID-19 in Search, providing easy access to authoritative information from health authorities alongside new data and visualizations. This new format organizes the search results page to help people easily navigate information and resources, and it will also make it possible to add more information over time as it becomes available.”

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said in a blog post last Sunday that the search giant was partnering with the U.S. government to create a website by March 16. However, the launch was delayed as local and national guidance changed significantly from Sunday to Monday and the company had said it would roll out the website later in the week.

Further describing the matter, Moxley wrote, “People will also find a carousel of Twitter accounts from local civic organizations and health authorities to help connect them with the latest local guidance as it’s shared. we’re adding modules with statistics and a map showing COVID-19 prevalence in countries around the world. This new COVID-19 experience on Search will roll out in the coming days in English in the US.”

(With inputs from Reuters)

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New Coronavirus Diagnostic Tech Can be Used to Test Even Before Emergency Approvals

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now allowing the use of new diagnostic technologies that will test for the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, at multiple hospitals and healthcare facilities in the country. This comes as cases of Coronavirus deaths are being confirmed in the US and there are now confirmed cases every day. The regulator says this test can now be used even before they have had a chance to review the Emergency Use Authorization request. However, the condition for this is that only labs that can handle high-complexity tests will be able to use this new diagnostic method and the FDA insists they are pushing this through to ensure there is wider availability of Coronavirus test options.

“We believe this policy strikes the right balance during this public health emergency. We will continue to help to ensure sound science prior to clinical testing and follow-up with the critical independent review from the FDA, while quickly expanding testing capabilities in the U.S. We are not changing our standards for issuing Emergency Use Authorizations. This action today reflects our public health commitment to addressing critical public health needs and rapidly responding and adapting to this dynamic and evolving situation,” says,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. in an official statement.

According to the latest numbers, there are 89,074 confirmed Coronavirus cases around the world. The global death toll has crossed 3,000 and the Coronavirus cases have been reported in 60 countries. The worst hit is China, with 80,026 cases reported in Mainland China as well as 98 in Hong Kong and 10 in Macau. After China, the worst hit is South Korea with 4,212 confirmed cases followed by Italy clocking 1,694 confirmed Coronavirus cases and 978 reported cases in Iran.

The US Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) have been criticized for being underprepared to deal with the potential Coronavirus spread in the US. At the time of writing this, CDC data suggests they have done only 472 tests thus far using the kits available. Science Magazine reports that South Korea has tested more than 65,000 people thus far. The same publication also reports that the World Health Organization (WHO) has shipped testing kits to 57 countries. China had five commercial tests on the market 1 month ago and can now do up to 1.6 million tests a week. “The global emergence of COVID-19 is concerning, and we appreciate the efforts of the FDA to help bring more testing capability to the U.S.,” says Nancy Messonnier, M.D., director of the CDC’s Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD).

The WHO in one of its daily briefings recently suggested that there are multiple Coronavirus test kits that are commercially available and cost as little as around $5 per kit.

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Amazon Echo to Trump Google with 70% Share of All Smart Speakers in USA in 2020

When it comes to smart speakers, retail giant Amazon is crushing its rival Google and Apple in the US. A new report by eMarketer said that almost 70 per cent of of total US smart speaker owners will continue to use an Amazon Echo devices. “This year, 69.7 per cent of US smart speaker users will use an Echo, down slightly from 72.9 per cent last year. By comparison, 31.7 per cent of smart speaker users will turn to Google-branded devices, and 18.4 per cent will use other smart speaker brands, including the Apple HomePod, Harmon Kardon Invoke and Sonos One,” the market research company said in a statement on Monday.

These percentages add up to more than 100 per cent because some smart speaker users use more than one brand of speaker. Even though Amazon wasn’t first-to-market with a voice assistant, it had first-mover advantage in smart speakers with its US introduction of the Echo and built-in voice assistant Alexa in late 2014. Since then, it has consistently released new features that make the speaker easier and more intuitive to use. “Since Amazon first introduced the Echo, it has built a convincing lead in the US and continues to beat back challenges from top competitors,” said Victoria Petrock, Principal Analyst at eMarketer.

“We had previously expected Google and Apple to make more inroads in this market, but Amazon has remained aggressive. By offering affordable devices and building out the number of Alexa skills, the company has maintained Echo’s appeal.” Amazon has also opened Alexa to outside development and fostered its compatibility with thousands of Amazon-branded and third-party smart-home devices. The Echo is, however, slightly less competitive in some countries because it supports fewer non-English languages than its major competitors.

The market research firm noted that while US smart speaker users will continue to rise in absolute numbers, it expects the overall growth to slow over the next several years, particularly as Alexa and other voice assistants migrate into other devices, including vehicles, appliances and other smart-home components. “We estimate that there will be 83.1 million smart speaker users this year, representing year-over-year growth of 13.7 per cent. In 2021, growth will slip into the single digits. Some 28.9 per cent of internet users currently use smart speakers, a figure we expect to rise to 30.5 per cent next year,” the firm noted.