France’s Macron Takes on Facebook’s Zuckerberg in Tech Push

French President Emmanuel Macron is taking on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other internet giants at a Paris meeting to discuss tax and data protection and how they could use their global influence for the public good.

Macron on Wednesday welcomed Zuckerberg and the leaders of dozens of other tech companies, including Microsoft, Uber, and IBM, at a conference named “Tech for Good” meant to address things like workers’ rights, data privacy and tech literacy.

 

The meeting comes as Facebook, Google and other online giants are increasingly seen by the public as predators that abuse personal data, avoid taxes and stifle competition.

 

“There is no free lunch!” Macron joked to express his expectations of “frank and direct” discussions.

 

He said tech giants could not just be “free riding” without taking into account the common good. He called on them to help improve “social situations, inequalities, climate change.”

Zuckerberg came to Paris after facing tough questions Tuesday from European Union lawmakers in Brussels, where he apologized for the way the social network has been used to produce fake news and interfere in elections. But the Facebook founder also frustrated the lawmakers as the testimony’s setup allowed him to respond to a list of questions as he sought fit.

 

Macron sees himself as uniquely placed to both understand and influence the tech world. France’s youngest president, Macron has championed startups and aggressively wooed technology investors.

 

But Macron is also one of Europe’s most vocal critics of tax schemes used by companies like Facebook that deprive governments of billions of euros a year in potential revenue. And Macron has defended an aggressive new European data protection law that comes into effect this week. The so-called GDPR regulation will give Europeans more control over what companies can do with what they post, search and click.

 

Several companies took advantage of the meeting to announce new initiatives.

 

Microsoft said it would extend the EU principles to its clients worldwide. Google committed $100 million over the next five years to support nonprofit projects, like training in digital technologies. Uber said it will finance insurance to better protect its European drivers in case of accidents at work, serious illness, hospitalization and maternity leave. And IBM announced the creation of 1,400 new jobs by 2020 in France.

 

Aides to Macron acknowledged companies like Facebook have become more influential than governments. The aides insisted that Macron isn’t trying to kiss up to such companies or let them whitewash their reputations through philanthropic gifts.

 

The aides spoke only on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to be publicly named.

 

 Privacy and taxes are among issues Macron was raising with Zuckerberg and the other tech executives in one-on-one meetings and a mass lunch Wednesday in the presidential palace with philanthropists and politicians.

 

Macron, Zuckerberg and others are then expected to attend the Vivatech gadget show in Paris on Thursday.

 

At Tuesday’s hearing in the European Parliament in Brussels, Zuckerberg said Facebook “didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibilities,” adding: “That was a mistake, and I’m sorry for it.”

 

But lawmakers left frustrated. Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt asked whether Zuckerberg wanted to be remembered as “a genius who created a digital monster that is destroying our democracies and our societies.”

 

 

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Advocacy Groups Want Facebook ‘Monopoly’ to End

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told EU lawmakers Tuesday that the social media network will always be in “an arms race” with those who want to spread fake news, but that the company will be working to stay ahead and protect the network’s users. The social media giant has been under scrutiny since April when it became known that the Cambridge Analytica company harvested information on Facebook users to help Donald Trump during his 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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Amazon Is Warned About Government Use of Facial Recognition

U.S. civil liberties groups on Tuesday called on Amazon.com Inc. to stop offering facial recognition services to governments, warning that the software

could be used to target immigrants and people of color unfairly.

More than 40 groups sent a letter to Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos saying technology from the company’s cloud computing unit was ripe for abuse. The letter underscores how new tools for identifying and tracking people could be used to empower surveillance states.

Amazon has marketed a range of uses for its Rekognition service, unveiled in late 2016. These include detecting offensive content, identifying celebrities and securing public safety.

In a blog post last year, Amazon said a new feature let customers “identify people of interest against a collection of millions of faces in near real-time, enabling use cases such as timely and accurate crime prevention.”

Customers provide the data for Amazon’s tool to search.

“Seconds saved in the field can make the difference in saving a life,” Chris Adzima, an analyst in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, said in the blog post.

Freedom from being watched

But rights groups say the powerful tool raises concerns.

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” said the letter to Bezos. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it.”

Amazon has helped various U.S. jurisdictions use Rekognition, said the letter, citing public records obtained by affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In Oregon, law enforcement uploaded 300,000 mug shots dating to 2001 into Amazon’s cloud and indexed them in Rekognition, according to another Amazon blog post.

Rekognition identified four faces with more than 80 percent similarity to an image of an unidentified hardware store thief; a Facebook search subsequently helped with the case, the post said.

The City of Orlando Police Department has also used Rekognition, according to Amazon’s website.

In a statement, Amazon Web Services said, “Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology.”

Amazon requires customers to abide by the law and be responsible when using Rekognition, it added.

The world’s largest online retailer is not alone: Microsoft Corp and Alphabet Inc.’s Google offer recognition services as well.

Identifying faces has become a common feature in consumer products from Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc.

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg Apologizes to EU Lawmakers

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized to EU lawmakers on Tuesday, saying the company had not done enough to prevent misuse of the social network and that regulation is “important and inevitable.”

Meeting the leaders of the European Parliament, Zuckerberg stressed the importance of Europeans to Facebook and said he was sorry for not doing enough to prevent abuse of the platform.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility. That was a mistake and I am sorry for it,” Zuckerberg said in his opening remarks.

In response to questions about whether Facebook ought to be broken up, Zuckerberg said the question was not whether there should be regulation but what kind of regulation there should be.

“Some sort of regulation is important and inevitable,” he said.

He declined to answer when leading lawmakers asked him again as the session concluded whether there was any cross use of data between Facebook and subsidiaries like WhatsApp or on whether he would give an undertaking to let users block targeting adverts.

Facebook has been embroiled in a data scandal after it emerged that the personal data of 87 million users were improperly accessed by a political consultancy.

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Indian Innovators Convert Diesel Exhaust Into Ink To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink. 

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest. 

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye. 

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up. 

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using. 

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems. 

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink. 

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon. 

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says. 

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere. 

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms. 

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. 

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Robots Taking Over Grocery Warehouses

Grocery stores in the U.S. are locked in a fierce battle for customers who often demand the convenience of home deliveries. Automation is increasingly becoming part of the competitive equation. When U.S. mail-order retail giant Amazon shook up the supermarket industry with its purchase of Whole Foods, America’s second biggest food retailer, Kroger, responded by partnering with a British online supermarket known for its advanced warehouse technology. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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