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Software maker pushes plastic recycling

The new Plastics Cloud offers links to a secondary materials marketplace for recycled plastics and alternatives.

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RECYCLING plastics uses lesser energy than manufacturing using raw materials. AFP

TAGUIG — Enterprise application software maker SAP, a company listed in the New York Stocks Exchange, said that it has joined the World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership community.

The cross-industry collaboration aims to create a cleaner ocean by 2030 by reducing the amount of plastics entering the ocean through the merging of old and new technologies.

In a statement, SAP reported its plan to launch the next phase of its so-called Plastics Cloud to allow businesses to shift rapidly to alternatives to single-use plastics.

Likewise, the company vows to invest in materials collection infrastructure. “SAP is committed to a significantly cleaner ocean by 2030,” said SAP co-executive officer and executive board member Christian Klein.

“We want to achieve this objective together with customers, non-government organizations, governments and partners. We will provide them with the tools, insights and solutions to eliminate waste and maximize resource productivity,” he added.

SAP said many of its customers have also made commitments to a cleaner planet and that it will support accelerating the move to a restorative and regenerative economy.

By updating the Plastics Cloud, SAP said it will help companies produce products more responsibly by providing global insights about the materials and where they go after their end life.

“This support will be based on local recycling infrastructures and policies in each city, region and country. It will allow them to calculate more accurately the environmental and business impact of using more recycled or reusable materials and packaging,” the SAP official said.

SAP said its software systems also help companies adapt to changing regulations, such as extended producer responsibility policies, while staying current with local markets, global standards and best practices.

The new Plastics Cloud offers links to a secondary materials marketplace based on Ariba Network, which connects packaging and consumer products companies to new sources of recycled plastics and plastic alternatives.

This will complement initiatives such as the UK digital waste map announced last year by waste-insights company Topolytics Limited.

Consumers, regulators, investors and employees are driving the momentum for business to drive responsible growth.

Experience management firm Qualtrics, a SAP company, has conducted a large-scale global study with the World Economic Forum to understand better the experience citizens around the world are having with various issues on the Forum’s sustainability agenda, including the use of plastics.

When asked what method they favor for reducing the harmful effects of plastics, nearly 50 percent of the 10,501 research participants said they prefer replacing plastics with other materials.

On the other hand, while vast majorities called recycling very important, only 30 percent of participants said recycling was the best solution to the plastics crisis.

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Headless on Zoom, prof haunts Twitter, too

In both problems with Zoom and Twitter, algorithmic bias was blamed like when Google misidentified Africans as ‘gorillas’ in its photo service.

Sundy Locus

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Off with his head! No need for the Queen of Spade to issue such an order because Zoom does it for this poor professor at left. / Photograph courtesy of Colin Madland/IG

Now you see it, now you don’t.

Zoom has contacted a black graduate school professor whose head is being cropped by the app when he used the video conferencing service’s virtual background.

A Ph.D. student, Colin Madland, brought to Zoom’s attention the technical glitch through Twitter.

“We have reached out directly to the user to investigate this issue. We’re committed to providing a platform that is inclusive for all,” a Zoom spokesperson said.

The issue took a mysterious turn when in discussing the issue via Twitter’s mobile app, only the image of Madland, a white guy, appeared in the preview.

In both problems with Zoom and Twitter, algorithmic bias was blamed although the latter did not subscribe to the theory.

“Our team did tests for bias before shipping the model and did not find evidence of racial or gender bias in our testing,” said a Twitter spokesperson.

“But it’s clear from these examples that we’ve got more analysis to do. We’ll continue to share what we learn, what actions we take, and will open-source our analysis so others can review and replicate.”

Twitter’s chief design officer vowed to fix the issue as he was “as irritated about this as everyone else,” referring to the app cropping out people with African lineage.

It may be recalled that Google’s own algorithms had been slammed in the past for labeling photos of Africans as gorillas.

Google’s own glitch became public in 2015 when software engineer Jacky Alciné showed that the Google Photos algorithms were classifying his black friends as “gorillas,” prompting an apology from the search engine company.

In 2018, the same issue was resurrected as Google was accused of not doing anything to stop the mislabelling of colored people as gorillas.

However, it was made known that Google, supposedly unwilling to really find a solution, simply stopped identifying gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys altogether to stop the mislabelling.

According to the tech website Wired, it conducted tests on Google Photos’ system by uploading numerous photos of primates like baboons, gibbons and marmosets that were all correctly identified.

“But gorillas and chimpanzees were not,” it said, lending credence to the report that gorillas were just removed from the algorithm to stop mislabelling.

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Microsoft pumps $7.5-B muscle to Xbox

ZeniMax purchase seen to boost Xbox’s limited titles.

Agence France-Presse

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ELDER Scrolls is among the top games developed by Zenimax. / Photograph courtesy of zenimax

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) — Microsoft on Monday announced it will acquire ZeniMax Media for $7.5 billion, adding muscle to its Xbox arm ahead of a fierce battle in the market for new gaming consoles.

ZeniMax is the parent company of Bethesda Softworks, publisher of popular game franchises including Dishonored, Doom, Fallout and Elder Scrolls.

“Bethesda brings an impressive portfolio of games, technology, talent, as well as a track record of blockbuster commercial success,” Microsoft said in a statement.

The company will pay for the acquisition in cash with the deal expected to close by the mid-2021.

The deal comes as Microsoft prepares to release its Xbox Series X in mid-November, its first update to the gaming console since 2013.

Sony’s eagerly awaited PlayStation 5 will also launch in November, setting up a holiday-season clash with Xbox as the gaming industry thrives during the pandemic.

The competing consoles will be released within two days of each other ahead of the Christmas rush, both aiming to capitalize on a rare bright spot in the economic carnage caused by the coronavirus crisis.

“Gaming is the most expansive category in the entertainment industry, as people everywhere turn to gaming to connect, socialize and play with their friends,” said Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella.

“Bethesda has seen success across every category of games, and together, we will further our ambition to empower the more than three billion gamers worldwide.”

The rising cloud
Buying ZeniMax “checks a lot of boxes” for Microsoft, according to Baird analyst Colin Sebastian.

The acquisition strengthens the Xbox games portfolio as competition for people’s play time increases and boosts Microsoft’s efforts to be the premier platform for cloud-based gaming, the analyst said in a note to investors.

The deal should also free Bethesda to focus on making hit games while Microsoft tends to the work of hosting titles in the cloud for play across a variety of devices.

Xbox team head Phil Spencer has promised to bring top Bethesda titles to the Xbox Game Pass service.

While it is possible Bethesda may publish games for PlayStation, at least those already in development, it is doubtful any titles would be available to competing cloud gaming services, Sebastian said in a note to investors.

All about the games
Adding blockbuster franchises from ZeniMax as exclusives would give the new generation Xbox console more appeal when it takes on the latest PlayStation.

Pricing of the consoles is similar, and PlayStation is thought to have an edge but players are strongly driven by game content.

“If you were going to buy a PlayStation to play Bethesda games, now you are not,” said Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter.

Since most major video games are playable on personal computers powered by Windows software, that would be unlikely to change once Microsoft owns ZeniMax and its studios.

Consoles, however, are another matter. PlayStation fans devoted to franchises such as Elder Scrolls or shooter Wolfenstein could find them unavailable on the consoles going forward.

“If you want to play Elder Scrolls 6, you will have to buy Xbox,” Pachter said.

The extent to which ZeniMax games will remain available on PlayStation will depend on how the company’s contracts are written with Sony.

“Generations of gamers have been captivated by the renowned franchises in the Bethesda portfolio and will continue to be so for years to come as part of Xbox,” Spencer said in announcing the deal.

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Techtalks

Politics weigh down space projects

Three different projects are in competition to build the lunar lander that will carry two astronauts — one of them a woman — to the Moon from their vessel Orion.

Agence France-Presse

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ARTIST’s digital rendition of the Artemis spacecraft. / W. Commons

WASHINGTON (AFP) — NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine noted on Monday that “political risks” are often the biggest threat to NASA’s work, especially before such a crucial election as that happening in November.

He cited as example Barack Obama rejecting plans for a manned Mars mission, after his predecessor spent billions of dollars on the project.

Bridenstine made the statement as NASA revealed that its latest plan to return astronauts to the Moon in 2024, and estimated the cost of meeting that deadline at $28 billion, $16 billion of which would be spent on the lunar landing module.

Congress will have to sign off on the financing for a project that has been set by President Donald Trump as a top priority. The $28 billion would cover the budgetary years of 2021-25.

If Congress approves the first tranche of $3.2 billion by Christmas, “we’re still on track for a 2024 moon landing,” Bridenstine said.

“To be clear, we’re going to the South Pole,” he said, ruling out the sites of the Apollo landings on the Moon’s equator between 1969 and 1972. “There’s no discussion of anything other than that.”

Three different projects are in competition to build the lunar lander that will carry two astronauts — one of them a woman — to the Moon from their vessel Orion.

The first one is being developed by Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in partnership with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. The other two projects are being undertaken by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and by the company Dynetics.

The first flight, Artemis I, scheduled for November of 2021, will be unmanned: the new giant rocket SLS, currently in its test phase, will take off for the first time with the Orion capsule.

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LG bags AHRI Award

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THE LG Multi-V is a cooling powerhouse. / Photograph courtesy of LG

All 73 tested air-conditioning models of LG Electronics passed the performance evaluation of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), thereby garnering for the brand the group’s Performance Award.

To secure the Performance Award, all products from each category randomly selected by AHRI must pass the performance test for three consecutive years.

A South Korean electronic company, LG first achieved the award in 2017 after passing the test each year since 2015.

From 2017 to 2019, a total of 73 models of LG’s air-conditioning systems, representing seven product categories were tested and passed the evaluation with “flying colors.”

Among the award-winning products, Multi V is LG’s flagship large-capacity outdoor unit. A single outdoor unit can be connected to up to 16 indoor units, which makes it suitable for even large residential areas and condominiums.

Indoor units are provided in various types from a wall-mounted configuration, a ceiling cassette to a duct-type so that customers can make choices they want.

PTAC, another certified product, is a single, self-contained unit frequently used at hotels. LG’s PTAC units boast exceptional durability, applied with special coating technology aimed to prevent corrosion of the heat exchanger.

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Opinion

Taxing FB, streamers

The social media platforms’ political influence can also be abused and manipulated via posts that escape vetting and policing. Spreading propaganda through them is very much alive.

Paolo Capino

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This may be an unpopular opinion but Facebook, Twitter, Google, and entertainment streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon, and iFlix should be taxed by the Philippine government.

I believe there is now a significant number of households with multiple subscriptions to streaming services, thus the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) should conduct a technical study on how the government can generate revenues from them.

While offering services for free, Facebook, Twitter and Google profit immensely from companies that advertise in their platforms to take advantage of their respective systems and algorithms to also generate profit.

The social media platforms’ political influence can also be abused and manipulated via posts that escape vetting and policing. Spreading propaganda through them is very much alive.

As they resolve flawed internal policies and programs, taxing Facebook and other social media platforms in the Philippines would be reparation for all the damage they are inflicting on our country’s democracy.

Google’s YouTube has allowed the proliferation of influencers without being transparent on how much these individuals earn from their own channels.

The BIR should, therefore, create a digital team that would look into the economic ecology of influencers and how collaborations and connections can create more wealth not only to users but to Google as well. The government should have a slice of that pie to distribute to people who are socially immobile due to the pandemic.

TikTok should not be exempted from taxation as localized advertisements are now being run on the world’s biggest social media platform. It is only a matter of time before Tiktok influencers generate enough financial incentives while escaping paying the government its due.

Digital taxation is a novel concept, but it is essential because revenue sources are limited and businesses are not operating as they used to prior to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Tech capitalists, meanwhile, are using freedom of speech to escape paying taxes and being held accountable for whatever fake news, propaganda or hate views are expressed through them.

The Philippines is the world’s social media capital despite its relatively slower Internet. Statista.com estimates users from our country will reach 90 million by 2025.

If the BIR ignores the potential revenue that the government can use to help poor Filipinos, it will pressure more local entrepreneurs to cough up more money and may result in multiple bankruptcies.

We must hold digital companies based outside the Philippines accountable financially and for them to really crack down on their allowing the spread of hatred and fake news.

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TikTok urges social media alliance against suicide content

Agence France-Presse

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TikTok on Tuesday proposed an alliance with nine other social media platforms to work collectively and rapidly to remove suicide content, following an incident this month when a man killed himself on Facebook.

The Chinese-owned app said it had set out its proposal in a letter to the chief executives of Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Reddit.

TikTok’s interim CEO Vanessa Pappas noted that each of the platforms had its own policies to take down harmful content and stop its distribution.

“However, we believe each of our individual efforts to safeguard our own users and the collective community would be boosted significantly through a formal, collaborative approach to early identification and notification amongst industry participants of extremely violent, graphic content, including suicide,” she wrote in the letter.

Pappas proposed a meeting of safety officers from each company to work out details of a collective approach, “which we believe will help us all improve safety for our users”.

TikTok launched its own investigation after clips of the man’s suicide were embedded into otherwise inoffensive videos shared widely on its global platform, which is especially popular with young teens.

The original video came from a Facebook livestream and showed an American man taking his own life, according to a warning TikTok sent to users on September 8.

Mea culpa

The video was uploaded to various social media platforms after a “coordinated attack” by people operating on the dark web, senior TikTok executive Theo Bertram told a British parliamentary hearing on Tuesday.

“Our hearts go out to the victim in this case. But we do believe that we can do things better in the future,” said Bertram, who is director of government relations and public policy for the company in Europe.

“We should now establish a partnership around dealing with this kind of content,” he said, noting the proposed alliance would build on existing collaboration by the social media firms against material showing sexual abuse of children.

Bertram refused to be drawn on TikTok’s travails in the United States, where a deal to restructure the platform involving Oracle and Walmart is in doubt, following threats by President Donald Trump to shut it down.

The executive insisted the platform, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is free of interference by Beijing but regretted instances in the past where it has taken down content critical of the communist regime.

Such content included references to the plight of Uighur Muslims in the region of Xinjiang, and to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

“There is no political censorship of any kind,” Bertram, a former adviser to British prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, told the MPs.

“I accept there are things we’ve got wrong, but I believe TikTok overwhelmingly is a force for good.”

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Judge halts WeChat download ban in US-China tech battle

Agence France-Presse

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A US judge on Sunday blocked the government’s ban on WeChat downloads, hours before it was due to take effect in an ongoing technology and espionage battle between Washington and Beijing.

The Trump administration had ordered a ban on downloads of the messaging platform WeChat as well as hugely popular video-sharing app TikTok, both owned by Chinese companies. Both bans have now been suspended.

A California court ruling said it granted a “motion for a nationwide injunction against the implementation” of the government order on WeChat, with the judge citing concerns over free speech.

The order would have slowed WeChat down and made it unusable in the United States for video chats with family and friends, according to experts.

Owned by technology giant Tencent, WeChat has around 19 million active daily users in the United States.

When contacted by AFP, Tencent declined to comment on the ruling.

The ruling “is a short-term relief for the plaintiffs, who wanted to be sure that the app was not shut down tonight,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

If the government appeals and wins, the plaintiffs can appeal that decision. “The plaintiffs wanted to just buy time,” Tobias said. “It may be very soon that the president is no longer the president.”

As President Donald Trump seeks a breakthrough with voters to win a second term in the November 3 election, he has increasingly put national security and his aggressive stance toward China at the center of his campaign.

He regularly accuses Democratic opponent Joe Biden of weakness toward Beijing.

The president said Saturday that he had approved a deal allowing Silicon Valley giant Oracle to become data partner for TikTok to avert a shutdown of that app.

The deal, announced by the companies, includes Walmart as a commercial partner and would create a new US company named TikTok Global.

National security threat?

TikTok — owned by China’s ByteDance — confirmed the Oracle agreement, which came as companies raced against the Sunday deadline.

The US Department of Commerce on Saturday announced it was postponing the ban on TikTok downloads until September 27, due to “recent positive developments.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Friday accused China of using the two apps “to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the US.”

WeChat is “mostly used by Chinese visiting or working here or by Chinese-Americans staying in touch with their relatives,” said William Reinsch of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

That includes several hundred thousand Chinese students in the United States, who use it for daily online conversations.

Trump has often claimed, without providing evidence, that TikTok and WeChat are collecting user data for Beijing.

In early August, he gave ByteDance until September 20 to hand over TikTok’s US operations to an American company.

TikTok’s brand of short, quirky phone videos has become a global phenomenon, especially among young people, with 100 million users in the United States alone.

China on Saturday condemned US “bullying,” saying it violated international trade norms and that there was no evidence of any security threat.

China also launched its long-expected “unreliable entities list,” seen as a weapon for Beijing to retaliate against the United States.

The Trump administration has used its own “entity list” to shut Chinese telecom giant Huawei out of the US market, in addition to the recent moves against TikTok and WeChat.

US officials have described Washington’s crackdown as essential to safeguard against potential Chinese espionage through the platforms.

According to the US Treasury, the TikTok deal still needs to be finalized by the involved companies and approved by a federal national security committee.

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HK Leaks doxes activists’ data

Agence France-Presse

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DOXING of personal data has become prevalent in the socio-political arena. W. Commons

HONG KONG (AFP) — A dubious website called HK Leaks has so far posted the personal details of more than 2,000 people it deems guilty of various “misdeeds” in Hong Kong.

Hiding behind a Russian server with the intent to evade outing its operators’ identities, HK Leaks uses a “bulletproof” anonymous hosting also favored by white supremacist-linked sites such as 8kun.

In an update since last year, the site now features a pop-up window saying “rioters have ruined the rule of law and order of society in Hong Kong”, and claims more than 2,000 police and pro-China individuals have themselves been doxed by activists.

How’s that for tit for tat.

Prominent pro-democracy leaders Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, co-founders of the disbanded Demosisto party, are on the site under a subsection named “Hong Kong independence rioter,” while media mogul Jimmy Lai is also listed.

Constantly shifting domain, HK Leaks’ online traffic has increased to about 230,000 annual unique page views, according to SiteWorthTraffic.

Among the 14 alleged national security law offenders to have been doxed are well-known activists Tony Chung, Nathan Law and Ray Wong.

Chung in July became the first political figure to be arrested under the law over allegations he had promoted Hong Kong independence through Studentlocalism, a group he co-founded in 2016.

Law, former chairman of Demosisto, fled to Britain after the national security law was passed.

Ray Wong, who was granted political refugee status in Germany in May 2018, told AFP he suspects he has been targeted as part of a harassment campaign by Hong Kong authorities.

“I am not surprised at all,” he said. “The Hong Kong government said they would try to arrest me by any means.”

Online archives suggest HK Leaks migrated to its latest Pakistani domain address in November 2019.

The site moved its domain multiple times last year, apparently in an attempt to avoid detection, said an analysis by AFP.

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Injecting technology into the commute

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JEEPNEY drivers use plastic partitions just so they can ply their routes. PHOTOGRAPH BY YUMMIE DINGDING FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE @tribunephl_yumi

For those whose jobs necessitate a return to the office in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they will undoubtedly face a “new normal.”

Concerns over infection have severely limited the operating capacity of buses, trains, and jeeps, all of which are staples for commuters just trying to get from point A to point B.

As a result, the Philippine government has appealed to the private sector to provide transportation like shuttle services to their employees. So what are the options for these companies?

Seeing the dire situation their employees on the road face each morning, many companies have started to offer company shuttles.

Though well-intentioned, there are a host of logistical problems that can crop up: How do you balance heavy traffic with the need to pick up all workers? How do you decide which routes to take? How do you make sure no unnecessary detours are taken?

There are also potential problems in planning for shift workers, such as having to accommodate all of the different schedules. If they have split shifts, assigning vehicles becomes arduous.

Shuttle service
Running a company shuttle can also become exceedingly expensive if executed incorrectly: Failing to figure out the best routes to pick up employees can lead to being stuck in traffic for hours on end.

Not only does it create whopping expenses in the form of gas and vehicle maintenance, but the impact on productivity is also costly.

After all, it’s estimated that businesses in the Philippines lose an average of P4 trillion a year no thanks to traffic — money that could have been spent on programs to encourage business growth.

Here is where a company like SWAT Mobility can provide a solution by providing vehicle-routing technology that efficiently solves complex logistical issues at a reasonable cost.

How these partnerships work is that a company gives authorized employees access to the SWAT Mobility app, where they can book rides for an entire month (ideal for employees on a fixed, regular schedule) or on-demand (for employees whose shift schedules change often).

Dispatching digitization
Their fleet picks employees up close to their door and gives a much better experience than public transport, while still being noticeably cheaper than a private car.

Users of SWAT Mobility in the Philippines have overwhelmingly reported increased safety, convenience and drastically reduced commute times.

There are still those who still stand opposed to the digitization of dispatching, intimidated by the complexity of the technology behind it. There are even arguments that too much technology would be distracting to a driver.

Yet there are many counterarguments against this.

In the case of SWAT Mobility, technology is used as a tool to assist the driver and improve the journey. If it gets informed of a road closure beforehand, its algorithm would take that into account and reroute accordingly.

Drivers are also asked to report any roadblocks they see and report it to our system. These roadblocks will be indicated on our navigation feature.

Routes for all vehicles would also automatically reroute immediately taking into account any road closures.

Through the use of these route optimization features, both riders and drivers can rest assured that their journey will always be as pleasant and short as possible.

Highly transmissible
The incredibly contagious nature of COVID-19 makes social distancing a necessity. As much as people want to adhere to it, however, it can be difficult to comply at all times, especially in crowded megacities.

Thus, nudges are helpful in reminding people of the need for social distancing.

In jeepneys, plastic screens are used to separate passengers from one another.

On the MRT and LRT, there are seat markers asking people not to sit close to one another. SWAT Mobility works with the Department of Transportation to set vehicle capacity controls and even keep records of each ride in case they’re needed for contract tracing.

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