Month: February 2018

Facebook Launches Job Search Feature for Low-Skilled Workers

Facebook wants to make it easier for people to find low-skilled jobs online.

After testing the new software in U.S. and Canada since last year, Facebook added job postings Wednesday in another 40 countries across Europe and elsewhere.

The software works with both Apple and PC operating systems.

Users can find openings using the Jobs dashboard on Facebook’s web sidebar or its mobile app’s More section. The search can be filtered according to area and type of industry, as well as between full-time and part-time jobs.

Users can automatically fill out applications with information from their Facebook profile, submit the applications and schedule interviews.

Businesses can post job openings using the Jobs tab on their page, and include advertisements.

Separately, Facebook announced the introduction of a face recognition software that helps users quickly find photos they’re in, but haven’t been tagged in. The new software will help users protect themselves against unauthorized use of their photos, as well as allow visually impaired users learn who is in their photos and videos.

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Moon to Get Its Own Mobile Network

Several high-tech companies are teaming up on a plan to put a mobile phone network on the moon next year.

Vodaphone Germany, Nokia, and Audi are working on a mobile network and robotic vehicles that are part of a private expedition to the moon, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary year of the first manned lunar landing.

The project with PTScientists in Germany would use a 4G network to send high-definition information from rovers back to a lunar lander, which would then be able to communicate it back to Earth. 

Project scientists say the system uses less energy than having rovers speak directly to Earth, leaving more power for scientific activities. 

They plan to launch the vehicles from Cape Canaveral next year on a Space X Falcon 9 rocket. 

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US Olympic Committee Chief Steps Down Amid Abuse Scandal Fallout

U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Scott Blackmun is resigning for health reasons, the organization said Wednesday, following months of sustained criticism in the wake of the sex abuse scandal involving former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

In a statement, the USOC cited Blackmun’s “ongoing health issues” related to prostate cancer, for which he has been receiving treatment. The group also announced new reforms aimed at protecting its athletes from abuse.

The USOC, which announced the change less than a week after the Winter Olympics ended in South Korea, had resisted calls to fire Blackmun over the Nassar case.

“Given Scott’s current health situation, we have mutually agreed it is in the best interest of both Scott and the USOC that we identify new leadership so that we can immediately address the urgent initiatives ahead of us,” USOC Chairman Larry Probst said in a statement.

“The important work that Scott started needs to continue and will require especially vigorous attention in light of Larry Nassar’s decades-long abuse of athletes affiliated with USA Gymnastics,” Probst added.

200 accusers

Nassar pleaded guilty of molesting female athletes under the guise of medical treatment and was sentenced to life in prison. Around 200 women, including several Olympic gold medalists, have accused Nassar of abuse.

The scandal prompted the entire board of directors at USA Gymnastics, the sport’s governing body in the United States, to resign, along with the president and athletic director at Michigan State University, where Nassar also worked.

A series of criminal and civil investigations were launched into the USOC, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State after numerous accusers said their complaints about Nassar’s treatments were ignored for years.

USOC board member Susanne Lyons, who in January was chosen to lead a working group to address problems that the Nassar case had exposed, will serve as acting CEO while the organization searches for a permanent replacement.

The USOC will increase funding for support and counseling for victims as well as investigations into abuse allegations, among other reforms, according to the statement.

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Facebook: No New Evidence Russia Interfered in Brexit Vote

Facebook Inc has told a British parliamentary committee that further investigations have found no new evidence that Russia used social media to interfere in the June 2016 referendum in which Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Facebook UK policy director Simon Milner in a letter Wednesday told the House of Commons Committee on Digital, Culture Media and Sport that the latest investigation the company undertook in mid-January to try to “identify clusters of coordinated Russian activity around the Brexit referendum that were not identified previously” had been unproductive.

Using the same methodology that Facebook used to identify U.S. election-related social media activity conducted by a Russian propaganda outfit called the Internet Research Agency, Milner said the social network had reviewed both Facebook accounts and “the activity of many thousands of advertisers in the campaign period” leading up to the June 23, 2016 referendum.

He said they had “found no additional coordinated Russian-linked accounts or Pages delivering ads to the UK regarding the EU Referendum during the relevant period, beyond the minimal activity we previously disclosed.”

At a hearing on social media political activity that the parliamentary committee held in Washington earlier in February, Milner had promised the panel it would disclose more results of its latest investigation by the end of February.

At the same hearing, Juniper Downs, YouTube’s global head of public policy, said that her company had “conducted a thorough investigation around the Brexit referendum and found no evidence of Russian interference.”

In his letter to the committee, Facebook’s Milner acknowledged that the minimal results in the company’s Brexit review contrasted with the results of Facebook inquiries into alleged Russian interference in U.S. politics. The company’s U.S. investigation results, Milner said, “comport with the recent indictments” Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller issued against Russian individuals and entities.

Following its Washington hearing, committee chairman Damian Collins MP said his committee expected to finish a report on its inquiry into Social Media and Fake News in late March and that the report is likely to include recommendations for new British laws or regulations regarding social media content.

These could include measures to clarify the companies’ legal liability for material they distribute and their obligations to address social problems the companies’ content could engender, he said.

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ISS Astronauts Will Soon Get a Personal Assistant

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station will soon get a personal assistant, similar to Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, but so smart that astronauts prefer to call it a “colleague.”

Its official name is CIMON, short for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, and it will partially live in a five-kilogram ball built by Airbus. It has a video screen with rudimentary face features, cameras with face recognition, microphones and speakers.

CIMON will move freely within the space station; however, its brain will be on Earth in IBM’s supercomputer, named Watson, loaded with a huge amount of scientific knowledge.

CIMON’s main human companion will be German astronaut Alexander Gerst, who will bring it onboard ISS in June. The two are currently training together, as CIMON will have to be able to recognize Gerst’s voice and face, and also to navigate within the complicated interior of the spacecraft.

For starters, Gerst and CIMON will cooperate in experiments with crystals, a complex medical experiment, and also try to solve the Rubik’s magic cube using only videos.

A larger experiment will be the interaction between human and artificial intelligence, especially in view of future deep-space missions.

CIMON’s developers would like to see whether an intelligent interactive assistant will help reduce astronauts’ stress during long flights and improve their efficiency.

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Could Winning Super Bowl Play Be Winning Marketing Ploy?

A company’s value is often tied to the message it portrays to customers. But what happens when other companies try to take advantage of your brand?

Take the Philadelphia Eagles, for instance. The American football team wants to exclusively own the phrase: “Philly Special.” That was the trick play that helped them win the Super Bowl, and the Philly Special is, by far, the most talked-about play of the Super Bowl.

Watch the play here:

It is a gutsy move. In football-speak, it is a direct-snap reverse pass to quarterback Nick Foles, who usually throws the ball. But the coach gives the OK, and Foles tells his teammates the plan in the huddle.

The team lines up, Foles runs up the field. Tight end Trey Burton throws the football, and Foles catches it in the end zone for a touchdown.

“Play of the century”

Now, the phrase, ‘Philly Special,’ has turned into a city-wide phenomena. Bakeries are making Philly Special pastries. Some people are getting the words or even a sketch of the play tattooed on themselves.

And stores, like Ashley Peel’s Philadelphia Independents, cannot keep enough Philly Special T-shirts in stock.

“It’s the ‘Nick Foles play of the century,’ as I’m dubbing it from the Super Bowl,” Peel said. “It has a layout of the [specifics] from the play. We just got it in and we’re almost already sold out of it. It’s definitely moving well.”

It’s moving well, even as several entrepreneurs are competing to be awarded a trademark — in other words, exclusive rights — to the phrase.  Many of the businesses filed their own trademark applications ahead of the Eagles.

“I do have a client that’s applied for the mark, ‘Philly Special,’” said Philadelphia-based lawyer Nancy Rubner Frandsen.

She filed a trademark application on behalf of a company called Whalehead Associates. She can’t comment too much about the application without violating attorney-client privilege, but admits the phrase goes beyond a football play.

“Obviously it brings everyone together, it was our Super Bowl championship that brought it all about,” she said. “It’s got the term ‘Philly’ in it — from the trademark standpoint, it would be deemed to be descriptive. But then you combine it with the term, ‘Special,’ and it could make a very unique trademark.”

Some of the other businesses that want to trademark the term include a sandwich maker, a gift shop manufacturer … and the Philadelphia Eagles. The team was actually the last to file a trademark application. Even so, experts say, it’s likely the rights will be awarded to the Eagles.

Newsjacking

“This particular term, ideally, should belong to the Eagles,” said Dr. Jay Sinha, an associate marketing professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.

He added the phenomenon around ‘Philly Special’ is not the first time there’s been a rush to trademark a term after a big event, like the Super Bowl. And it’s even got a name: ‘newsjacking.’

“The term, newsjacking, means where a company rides or takes advantage of some event happening in current affairs and uses it for their own commercial purposes, especially for marketing in branding,” Sinha said.

For example, think of famous movie lines, like: ‘May the force be with you,’ from “Stars Wars.” When sequels are released, other companies often try to take advantage of the film’s popularity for marketing purposes, like an ice cream shop that posts a sign reading, ‘May the swirl be with you.’

“If there’s anything which is relevant in popular culture as well as the news, companies like to ride on it,” Sinah said.

In this case, it likely will be several months before the U.S. Patent Office announces who will be awarded the rights to the now famous phrase. By then, though, another Super Bowl will be approaching and the excitement of the Philly Special could be fading.

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Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods Crack Down on Gun Sales  

Two major U.S. retailers changed their gun sales policies Wednesday in the fallout over a Florida high school massacre.

Walmart, the country’s biggest retailer, announced it is raising the age restriction for buying guns and ammunition to 21.

“We take seriously our obligation to be a responsible seller,” it said in a statement. 

Walmart is also dropping toys and other items that resemble assault-style weapons from its website. The retail giant stopped selling assault-style guns in 2015 and does not sell handguns except for its stores in Alaska.

Earlier Wednesday, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it would no longer sell assault-style rifles or any gun to anyone younger than 21.

The chain went one step further and urged Congress to ban assault-style weapons and raise the minimum age.

The alleged Parkland high school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, used an AR-15.

Dick’s says Cruz had bought a shotgun at one of its stores after going though all the proper procedures, but stressed it was not the exact weapon or the type allegedly used in the Feb. 14 massacre. 

Both Walmart and Dick’s say they are committed to serving sportsmen, hunters, and the majority of gun owners whom they call law-abiding citizens.

WATCH: Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO: ‘We Don’t Want to be a Part of This Story’

 

The mass shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has had an impact on the corporate world, which is seemingly taking a close look at nationwide polls that overwhelmingly favor tighter gun laws.

More than a dozen major companies are ending discounts for members of the National Rifle Association (NRA). They include Delta Airlines, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, MetLife Insurance and Best Western Hotels. 

President Donald Trump, who has been a huge supporter of the NRA and whose campaign was a recipient of millions of dollars in NRA funds, said earlier this week that sometimes you just have to fight the NRA.

At a discussion on gun safety with U.S. lawmakers Wednesday, he also accused Republican politicians who have given tepid support for stronger gun laws of being “afraid” of the powerful pro-gun lobby group.

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Dengue Fever Vaccine Causing Panic, Political Strife in Philippines

A faulty dengue fever vaccine has set off mass panic over immunization shots and a political storm in the Philippines following the deaths of three children.

The dengue fever vaccine Dengvaxia poses health risks to more than 700,000 schoolchildren who were inoculated, the Philippine House of Representatives public affairs bureau said Monday as it opened hearings on the issue.

 

The mosquito-borne disease has killed three children despite use of the vaccine, which the government ultimately banned, media outlets in the Southeast Asian country say. Manila also has asked French vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur for a refund.

 

Ex-president Benigno Aquino, whose government approved the 3.5 billion-peso ($67,000) purchase that took place half a year before he stepped down due to term limits in June 2016, attended a congressional hearing Monday along with former budget and health secretaries.

 

Filipinos have quit vaccinating their children until they get clearer information about what happened, said Renato Reyes, secretary general of the Manila-based Bagong Alyansang Makabaya alliance of social causes.

 

“It’s a serious issue, given that kids who had no previous experience with dengue may develop a severe form of dengue if they get infected now after the vaccination,” Reyes said.

 

“It has become a great cause of concern, so much so that one of the unintended consequences of the whole issue is there’s been a drop in people availing themselves of the vaccination program, because there’s like fear that all kinds of vaccine, not just the dengue vaccination, will have adverse effects on children,” he said.

 

People feel confused because “no single government report or finding” has given consistent guidance, Reyes said.

Panic began in 2017

 

Aquino’s government ordered vaccines from Sanofi Pasteur after his country took part with nine others in 2014 clinical studies. The manufacturer said in November that people never before infected by dengue faced higher risk of contracting it after taking the vaccination, CNN Philippines reported.

 

The World Health Organization also warned in December that people who have never been infected should avoid Denguevaxia. That month, current President Rodrigo Duterte’s health secretary ordered the vaccinations to stop and remaining stocks returned to the pharmaceutical company.

 

Sanofi Pasteur has refused to refund money for used vaccinations, domestic news website Inquirer.net said last week.

Sanofi Pasteur said in a statement for this report that people aged 9 years and older have a lower risk of hospitalization due to dengue, if vaccinated, compared to people of the same age without a vaccination.

“Sanofi Pasteur stands behind the quality, safety, and the overall public health benefit of the vaccine to reduce overall dengue burden in these populations,” the statement says.

 

Filipinos are “correct” to demand that the Aquino government be accountable and that Sanofi give a refund, said Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at University of the Philippines Diliman.

Scramble for information

Statements from the Philippine Public Attorney’s Office have sown some of the panic among common people, she said, but it’s not clear how much information the office has. Dozens have fallen dangerously ill since taking the vaccination, Philippine media say.

 

“They really need expertise, so these government agencies must work together to determine if the children who died, that their deaths are actually results of being injected with the vaccine,” Atienza said.

 

Dengue is common in the Philippines as well as much of tropical Asia. About 96 million people get sick with the virus. They normally show intense flu-like symptoms before recovery.

Vaccinations are free for many Filipino schoolchildren, but the Denguevaxia case has made parents fear shots for any disease, said Rhona Canoy, president of International School Cagayan de Oro in the southern Philippines.

 

Health and education officials are working together to monitor “thousands” of students who took Dengvaxia, the office of current president Rodrigo Dutere said on its website in December. “We call on all citizens not to spread information that may cause undue alarm,” the presidential website added.

Congressional hearings

 

Legislators are probing whether former officials misused public money to get the vaccines. The lower house’s committees on good government and health on Monday raised what they call a “technical malversation case” against Aquino.

 

That type of case refers to officials who use public funds for expenses other than those originally covered by law, the house’s public affairs bureau said Monday.

 

Aquino made a name over his six-year term for standing up to China over competing maritime sovereignty claims and raising the budget for public infrastructure.

 

Aquino rushed the vaccine order to prove in an election year that he had taken a tough stand against dengue fever, said Dexter Feliciano, a Filipino voter who runs a legal startup in Metro Manila.

“They railroaded this vaccine,” he said. “And another thing, Sanofi should have paid us because this is a trial. It’s not yet finished.”

Funding for the vaccination program came from the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund and Pension Gratuity Fund savings, the congressional statement said.

 

Legislators want to know about “the legality of the procurement process and use of public funds relative to the school-based dengue immunization program…as well as the efficacy and safety of the vaccine procured,” it said.

 

Aquino said Monday he had done all he could to fight dengue fever in his term based on advice from experts, the statement said.

Former health secretary Janette Garin has filed a libel lawsuit against her successor, Paulyn Jean Ubial, over being blamed for the vaccination scandal, the health department website says.

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New Operating Systems, Improved Cameras on Display at Barcelona’s Mobile Phone Congress

The world’s biggest mobile phone trade fair, the Mobile World Congress, or MWC, opened earlier this week in Barcelona, Spain. Except for Apple, which traditionally stays away, all other big and small phone manufacturers and developers are displaying their wares as they continue to battle a market valued at $478 billion in 2017. VOA’s George Putic has more.

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U.S. Attorney General Announces New Task Force to Combat Opioid Epidemic

Joined by several state attorneys general and the acting DEA administrator, U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions announced a new task force to crack down on opioid manufacturers and distributors. He also announced the hiring of a federal prosecutor to lead anti-opioid efforts at the Department of Justice. From Washington, VOA’s Jill Craig has more.

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