Companion Robot Responds to User’s Emotional Cues, Health Needs

The arrival of the pandemic intensified feelings of loneliness and social isolation for millions of older people, many of whom were already battling depression and other health issues. For those struggling, a robot companion might make a difference, and states like New York are starting to provide them to residents free of charge. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more. Camera: Adam Greenbaum …

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Sanctions Frustrating Russian Ransomware Actors

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appears to be having an unanticipated impact in cyberspace — a decrease in the number of ransomware attacks.  “We have seen a recent decline since the Ukrainian invasion,” Rob Joyce, the U.S. National Security Agency’s director of cybersecurity, told a virtual forum Wednesday.  Joyce said one reason for the decrease in ransomware attacks since the February 24 invasion is likely improved awareness and defensive measures by U.S. businesses.  He also said some of it is tied to measures the United States and its Western allies have taken against Moscow in response to the war in Ukraine.  “We’ve definitively seen the criminal actors in Russia complain that the functions of sanctions and the distance of their ability to use credit cards and other payment methods to get Western infrastructure to run these [ransomware] attacks have become much more difficult,” Joyce told The Cipher Brief’s Cyber Initiatives Group.  “We’ve seen that have an impact on their [Russia’s] operations,” he added. “It’s driving the trend down a little bit.”  Just days after Russian forces entered Ukraine, U.S. cybersecurity officials renewed their “Shields Up” awareness campaign, encouraging companies to take additional security precautions to protect against potential cyberattacks by Russia itself or by criminal hackers working on Moscow’s behalf.      And those officials caution Russia still has the capability to inflict more damage in cyberspace.  “Russia is continuing to explore options for potential cyberattacks,” the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Matthew Hartman told a meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week.  “We are seeing glimpses into targeting and into access development,” Hartman said, noting Russia has for now held back from launching any major cyberattacks against the West. “We do not know at what point a calculus may change.”  FBI cyber officials have likewise voiced concern that it could be a matter of time before the Kremlin authorizes cyberattacks targeting U.S. critical infrastructure, including against the energy, finance and telecommunication sectors.      U.S. and NATO officials on Wednesday also cautioned that it would be a mistake to think that just because there have been few signs …

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Meta Returns with Africa Day Campaign

Meta, the company that owns Facebook, is hosting its second annual Africa Day campaign to promote Africans who are making a global impact. The content producer for the film project, South African filmmaker Tarryn Crossman, said Meta identified eight innovators, creators and businesspeople on the continent whose stories the company wanted told for the “Made by Africa, Loved by the World” campaign. Crossman’s company, Tia Productions, teamed up with Mashoba Media to find four fellow filmmakers in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their job was to make two- to three-minute documentaries about the subjects. “So, for example we did Trevor Stuurman here in South Africa,” Crossman said. “He’s a visual artist and his line was, I just loved so much, he says: ‘Africa’s no longer the ghost writer.’ We’re telling our stories and owning our own narratives. That’s kind of the thread amongst all these characters. They all have that in common.” Nairobi-based filmmaker Joan Kabangu made a movie about Black Rhino VR, a Kenyan virtual reality content producing company which has worked with international brands. “They are the pioneers around creating VR content, 360 content, augmented mixed reality kind of content in Kenya, in the wider Africa. And it’s a company which is run by a young person and everybody who is working there is fairly young. And they are really getting into how tech is being used to elevate the way we are creating content in 2022, going forward,” Kabangu said. Of Meta’s Africa Day campaign she said, “I feel it’s celebrating the good in Africa.” In Ghana, Kofi Awuah’s movie making has been delayed by floods in the capital, Accra. But he is determined to finish. His innovator is designer Selina Beb, whose work can be seen on Instagram and is sold online, often to buyers in the U.S. and Britain. “She’s very unique,” Awuah said. “Based on material she uses and even the processes she uses are kind of things that tell a Ghanian or African story. For instance, she uses a certain kind of stone that you can find only in …

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Facebook, Instagram to Reveal More on How Ads Target Users

 Facebook parent Meta said it will start publicly providing more details about how advertisers target people with political ads just months ahead of the U.S. midterm elections.  The announcement follows years of criticism that the social media platforms withhold too much information about how campaigns, special interest groups and politicians use the platform to target small pockets of people with polarizing, divisive or misleading messages.  Meta, which also owns Instagram, said it will start releasing details in July about the demographics and interests of audiences who are targeted with ads that run on its two primary social networks. The company will also share how much advertisers spent in an effort to target people in certain states.  “By making advertiser targeting criteria available for analysis and reporting on ads run about social issues, elections and politics, we hope to help people better understand the practices used to reach potential voters on our technologies,” Jeff King wrote in a statement posted to Meta’s website.  The new details could shed more light on how politicians spread misleading or controversial political messages among certain groups of people. Advocacy groups and Democrats, for example, have argued for years that misleading political ads are overwhelming the Facebook feeds of Spanish-speaking populations.  The information will be showcased in the Facebook ad library, a public database that already shows how much companies, politicians or campaigns spend on each ad they run across Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp. Currently, anyone can see how much a page has spent running an ad and a breakdown of the ages, gender and states or countries an ad is shown in.  The information will be available across 242 countries when a social issue, political or election ad is run, Meta said in a statement.  Meta collected $86 billion in revenue during 2020, the last major U.S. election year, thanks in part to its granular ad targeting system. Facebook’s ad system is so customizable that advertisers could target a single user out of billions on the platform, if they wanted.  Meta said in its announcement Monday that it will provide researchers with new details that …

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With Roe in Doubt, Some Fear Tech Surveillance of Pregnancy

When Chandler Jones realized she was pregnant during her junior year of college, she turned to a trusted source for information and advice. Her cellphone. “I couldn’t imagine before the internet, trying to navigate this,” said Jones, 26, who graduated Tuesday from the University of Baltimore School of Law. “I didn’t know if hospitals did abortions. I knew Planned Parenthood did abortions, but there were none near me. So I kind of just Googled.” But with each search, Jones was being surreptitiously followed — by the phone apps and browsers that track us as we click away, capturing even our most sensitive health data. Online searches. Period apps. Fitness trackers. Advice helplines. GPS. The often obscure companies collecting our health history and geolocation data may know more about us than we know ourselves. For now, the information is mostly used to sell us things, like baby products targeted to pregnant women. But in a post-Roe world — if the Supreme Court upends the 1973 decision that legalized abortion, as a draft opinion suggests it may in the coming weeks — the data would become more valuable, and women more vulnerable. Privacy experts fear that pregnancies could be surveilled and the data shared with police or sold to vigilantes. “The value of these tools for law enforcement is for how they really get to peek into the soul,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a lawyer and technology fellow at the Ford Foundation. “It gives [them] the mental chatter inside our heads.” HIPAA, hotlines, health histories The digital trail only becomes clearer when we leave home, as location apps, security cameras, license plate readers and facial recognition software track our movements. The development of these tech tools has raced far ahead of the laws and regulations that might govern them. And it’s not just women who should be concerned. The same tactics used to surveil pregnancies can be used by life insurance companies to set premiums, banks to approve loans and employers to weigh hiring decisions, experts said. Or it could — and sometimes does — send women who experience miscarriages cheery ads on …

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