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Cambridge Analytica-linked researcher wants to stop the next data scandal




Aleksandr Kogan helped get Facebook in its Cambridge Analytica mess. Now he has suggestions on how to stop the next one from happening.

The University of Cambridge professor, who testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Tuesday, said Facebook’s issues with Cambridge Analytica were “inevitable” because of how much data digital marketing harvests from people online.

“They give us technological products and services, not in exchange for money, but in exchange for intimate details about ourselves that we are willing to share,” Kogan said. “We became the product.”

The psychologist then criticized Terms of Services for providing blanket consent. Kogan called for opt-in consent, giving people the right to choose how much data they hand over to companies.

He said getting “informed consent” was the key to “avoiding a future Cambridge Analytica situation.”

Aleksandr Kogan

Kogan is in a unique position to make these comments, since he created the quiz app that harvested a majority of the data used by Cambridge Analytica to create targeted political ads, setting off a massive scandal that has overwhelmed Facebook. The hearing comes as lawmakers and people are becoming much more aware of their data privacy, and how much information companies like Facebook are collecting on them.


That realization has lead to changes, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg welcoming regulation. In May, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation introduced sweeping changes to privacy and tech companies.

“Facebook has embarked on an apology tour, but it is in fact, reaching a turning point,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said in his opening remarks. “My hope is that Facebook will be more forthcoming, that we will expose through these hearings the full range of its activities that may infringe on privacy.”


Facebook didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Facebook has been dealing with the fallout from privacy issues after it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica obtained data on 87 million Facebook users without their permission.


While the “thisisyourdigitallife” app was supposed to tell people about their personality, it ended up siphoning data from anybody who took it, along with data on their friends, without their explicit consent. Cambridge Analytica had worked with multiple political campaigns during the US presidential election, including the Trump campaign.

Kogan noted that while Facebook approached him to audit his app, he told the committee that Facebook never followed up. “They just went away,” he said.


But in Kogan’s opening statement (PDF), he denied the impact of Cambridge Analytica’s data on US politics.

“People may feel angry and violated to the extent that their data may have been used as part of a mind-control effort,” Kogan said. “I believe there is almost no chance this data could have been helpful to a political campaign — and I still have not seen any evidence to indicate that the Trump campaign used this dataset to micro-target voters.”

Kogan said he regretted not understanding privacy concerns when he created the quiz, calling the backlash an “understandable emotional reaction.” Kogan said at the time, the data-harvesting program did not strike him as invasive — given the way


that Facebook and many other data brokers worked at the time.

He called the decision a mistake, and opened his testimony with an apology.

“We thought collecting people’s data was normal, and accepted,” he said.

But he also pointed his finger at the way Facebook runs its network.

“The Facebook platform is run in a way that runs counter to getting true, informed consent,” Kogan said.

While only 300,000 Facebook users actually took Kogan’s quiz, because of the social network’s rules at the time, it was able to collect data from millions of other people who never even saw the personality test.

He’s not optimistic that companies will adopt this suggestion, as it would greatly reduce how much data they could gather.

“The current way tech companies get people’s consent is fundamentally broken,” Kogan said.



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UPS tests ‘smart lock’ technology in New York apartment buildings




ups tests smart lock

United Parcel Service Inc (UPS.N) on Tuesday said it is testing “smart lock” technology that allows its delivery drivers to open doors and drop multiple packages at secure locations inside apartment buildings around New York City.

The test includes “hundreds of non-doorman” multi-family buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn that have installed Latch’s “smart access system.” The project comes as UPS is working to make “last-mile” e-commerce deliveries to households more convenient and cost effective by reducing package theft and the need for drivers to make repeated delivery attempts.

“It’s difficult to securely deliver packages in high-density, multi-family urban residences, especially when people are not at home,” said Jerome Roberts, vice president of global product innovation at UPS.

The partnership with Latch – a New York City-based startup that has raised $26 million in private funding – enables UPS drivers to open entry doors with a handheld device that has a different access credential for each building on a route. Every time a driver enters a building, Latch creates a traceable record.
Derek Banta, UPS’s director of global product innovation concepts, said the parcel delivery company will assess the potential cost savings from “completing more deliveries on the first attempt.”

UPS, the world’s largest package delivery company, and rival FedEx Corp (FDX.N) have invested billions of dollars to upgrade their networks to handle surging demand for e-commerce deliveries. Residential deliveries typically cost more than business deliveries because drivers usually drop more packages per stop at offices than at homes.
FedEx told Reuters it began testing smart lock technology in select markets before the winter holiday shipping season last year. FedEx declined to identify the test markets or its smart access technology partner.

Latch a year ago teamed up with Walmart Inc’s (WMT.N) e-commerce site to test its technology at 1,000 residential buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Walmart also made waves in September when it started dropping packages inside homes – or groceries inside refrigerators – as part of a test with August Home smart lock customers in Silicon Valley. (AMZN.O) late last year announced a secure-lock service called Amazon Key that enables Amazon Logistics delivery workers to briefly unlock a customer’s door to drop a package inside.


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Rolls-Royce Looking For Flying Taxi Partners




rolls royce flying taxi

Rolls-Royce is in the process of making a propulsion system for a flying taxi and is now looking for a potential partner to help it create a service that will be in the skies in as soon as early next decade.

Reuters, citing Rolls-Royce, reported the company said it created the plans for an electrical vertical take-off and landing vehicle that could transport four to five people with the speeds reaching up to 250 miles per hour for about 500 miles. Rolls-Royce isn’t the only one making systems for flying taxis. According to Reuters, so are Airbus, Uber and a host of startups including one that has the backing of Larry Page, the Google co-founder. The Rolls-Royce design will be on display at the Farnborough Airshow which kicked off Monday (July 16), reported Reuters. It’s looking for an airframer and another partner that can provide parts of the electrical system to help bring it to commercial market.

“The initial concept vehicle uses gas turbine technology to generate electricity to power six electric propulsors specially designed to have a low noise profile,” the company said in a statement. The report noted its design won’t require recharging and that it can use existing infrastructures like heliports and airports.

In late May Lyft announced it was introducing luxury black cars in five major cities in an attempt to compete for Uber’s high-end clientele. According to a Bloomberg Technology report at the time, the new offerings, called Lyft Lux and Lyft Lux SUV, will launch in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and San Jose before expanding to 20 cities this summer. Customers will be able to book a Tesla, BMW, Rolls-Royce or another premium ride, which are flashier than the cars offered on the company’s existing high-end service, Premier, which will still be offered.


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New Era for Bike-Share in New York: Dockless and Electric Bikes




citi bike new york

Citi Bike has been the only bike-share option in New York City for the last five years.

The bright blue bikes were seemingly everywhere in parts of Manhattan. Then they started to appear near the waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens.

A new era of bike-share is beginning: dockless and electric bikes, spreading to the Bronx and Staten Island, where leaders have long complained about being left off the Citi Bike map.

After a sudden craze for electric scooters on the West Coast, New York is dipping its toe into the electric bike phenomenon with a pilot program to offer dockless bikes in three neighborhoods this summer, city leaders announced on Tuesday.

A company called Jump Bikes will offer dockless electric bikes that give riders a boost when they pedal, topping out at 20 mph.

“It really makes you feel superhuman that you’re riding the bike and it amplifies your natural ability,” said Jump’s founder, Ryan Rzepecki, in an interview at the company’s office at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

New York has taken a cautious approach to dockless bikes after a company tried to set up shop in the Rockaways in Queens last summer without approval from the city. In cities like Seattle and Dallas, stray bikes have been spotted perched in a tree or discarded in a lake.

Officials in New York want to avoid setting off more chaos in a crowded city where hordes of pedestrians already compete for street space with honking cars and flocks of cyclists. Biking has become increasingly popular, especially since other modes of transportation have become less pleasant, from the floundering subway to congested streets.

New York recently approved new rules for electric bikes, allowing so-called pedal-assist bicycles that require a rider to pedal to activate an electric motor and to keep the bike moving. Bikes favored by delivery workers, known as throttle-controlled electric bikes, that can travel faster than 20 mph will remain illegal, a decision that raised concerns over discrimination against a largely immigrant workforce.

The pilot program for dockless bikes, using both electric and regular bikes, will start this month in the Rockaways in Queens, in an area near Fordham University in the Bronx and on the North Shore of Staten Island. Each zone will have at least 200 bikes. If the trials are a success, they could expand to other neighborhoods across the city.

“We want to make sure we get this right,” said Polly Trottenberg, the city’s transportation commissioner. “We think the dockless technology holds a lot of promise.”

Riders will be able to rent a bike for a dollar or two. Instead of returning it to an available docking station, they can leave it at any bike rack or in the area between the sidewalk and the curb.

Uber, the ride-hail company, recently bought Jump. Its bikes are expected to appear in the Uber app, where you can reserve a dockless bike and pay for it on the app.

Trottenberg said she had tried one of Jump’s electric bikes in Washington in January and enjoyed the “extra zip.”

“In New York, I could see them being helpful for the East River bridges,” she said.

Silicon Valley has become practically obsessed with transportation, from Elon Musk’s proposal to dig a tunnel to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, to an arms race to improve driverless cars. With technological advances, it is easy to envision a future — still perhaps many years away — in which New York’s streets look very different, with autonomous vehicles moving alongside a host of electric-powered gadgets.

Several other companies will be involved in the dockless pilot program, including Lime, Pace and Ofo. Officials decided to delay a pilot in Coney Island in Brooklyn, which Citi Bike will operate, until later this year after concerns from the community over scheduled construction and crowds this summer.

Citi Bike will still have free rein of its territory in Manhattan and nearby neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. It has the exclusive right to those areas through 2029, according to its contract with the city.

Citi Bike arrived in New York in 2013, and after some initial setbacks, it has become hugely popular, hitting a record of 80,000 trips on one day in June. It has more than 145,000 annual members.

On Monday, the ride-hail company Lyft announced that it was buying the core operations of Motivate, the parent company that runs Citi Bike. Not much will change for Citi Bike users for now, though it is very likely the bikes will eventually be available in the Lyft app. Citi Bike is also exploring electric bikes and said recently that it would make them available during the shutdown of the L train subway tunnel next year.

Citi Bike was interested in expanding beyond its current borders in New York, but Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration chose to instead try dockless bikes. Dockless bikes can be rolled out more quickly than Citi Bike docks, which are expensive to build and often prompt fights with neighbors over dock locations. As Uber and Lyft enter the bike-share business, electric scooters have become popular on the West Coast. An electric scooter startup called Bird is raising new funding that would value the company at $2 billion. But the company’s unruly rollout of scooters has frustrated some local officials.

Asked whether Bird might try to launch in New York, a spokesman said only that the company was “exploring ways to help millions of New Yorkers join people in cities around the country enjoying a new way to get around that is affordable and environmentally friendly.”

In New York, dockless bikes will be an adjustment for some. With Jump, riders check out a bike using an app and a keypad on the back wheel. A lock is attached to connect it to a bike rack.

Jump already offers electric bikes in Washington, San Francisco and other cities. But Rzepecki, who lives in Manhattan and used to work for the city’s Transportation Department, said he always dreamed of bringing the bikes to New York. Eventually, he would like to expand citywide.

“It’s really dockless plus electric-assist — those two things really open up the market by making it extremely user friendly and easy to ride,” Rzepecki said.

At a security booth at Navy Yard, Fatimah Smalls, a guard, said riding one of the free Jump bikes stationed around the Brooklyn campus felt smoother than riding a Citi Bike.

“It feels like you’re floating,” she said.


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