China Tech Firms Pledge to End Sexist Job Ads

Chinese tech firms pledged on Monday to tackle gender bias in recruitment after a rights group said they routinely favored male candidates, luring applicants with the promise of working with “beautiful girls” in job advertisements.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report found that major technology companies including Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent had widely used “gender discriminatory job advertisements,” which said men were preferred or specifically barred women applicants.

Some ads promised candidates they would work with “beautiful girls” and “goddesses,” HRW said in a report based on an analysis of 36,000 job posts between 2013 and 2018.

Tencent, which runs China’s most popular messenger app WeChat, apologized for the ads after the HRW report was published on Monday.

“We are sorry they occurred and we will take swift action to ensure they do not happen again,” a Tencent spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

E-commerce giant Alibaba, founded by billionaire Jack Ma, vowed to conduct stricter reviews to ensure its job ads followed workplace equality principles, but refused to say whether the ads singled out in the report were still being used.

“Our track record of not just hiring but promoting women in leadership positions speaks for itself,” said a spokeswoman.

Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of search engine Google, meanwhile said the postings were “isolated instances.”

HRW urged Chinese authorities to take action to end discriminatory hiring practices.

Its report also found nearly one in five ads for Chinese government jobs this year were “men only” or “men preferred.”

“Sexist job ads pander to the antiquated stereotypes that persist within Chinese companies,” HRW China director Sophie Richardson said in a statement.

“These companies pride themselves on being forces of modernity and progress, yet they fall back on such recruitment strategies, which shows how deeply entrenched discrimination against women remains in China,” she added.

China was ranked 100 out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Gender Gap Report, after it said the country’s progress towards gender parity has slowed.

Facebook Says It is Taking Down More Material About ISIS, al-Qaida

Facebook said on Monday that it removed or put a warning label on 1.9 million pieces of extremist content related to ISIS or al-Qaida in the first three months of the year, or about double the amount from the previous quarter.

Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, also published its internal definition of “terrorism” for the first time, as part of an effort to be more open about internal company operations.

The European Union has been putting pressure on Facebook and its tech industry competitors to remove extremist content more rapidly or face legislation forcing them to do so, and the sector has increased efforts to demonstrate progress.

Of the 1.9 million pieces of extremist content, the “vast majority” was removed and a small portion received a warning label because it was shared for informational or counter-extremist purposes, Facebook said in a post on a

corporate blog.

Facebook uses automated software such as image matching to detect some extremist material. The median time required for takedowns was less than one minute in the first quarter of the year, the company said.

Facebook, which bans terrorists from its network, has not previously said what its definition encompasses.

The company said it defines terrorism as: “Any non-governmental organization that engages in premeditated acts of violence against persons or property to intimidate a civilian population, government, or international organization in order to achieve a political, religious, or ideological aim.”

The definition is “agnostic to ideology,” the company said, including such varied groups as religious extremists, white supremacists and militant environmentalists.

Technology is Latest Trend Reshaping Fashion

Imagine wearing a computer in the form of a jacket. Now, it is possible.

“When somebody calls you, your jacket vibrates and gives you lights and [you] know somebody is calling you,” said Ivan Poupyrev, who manages the Google’s Project Jacquard, a digital platform for smart clothing.

Project Jacquard formed a partnership with Levi’s to create the first Jacquard enabled garment in the form of Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket. What makes the jacket “smart” includes washable technology, created by Google, woven into the cuff of the jacket.

“These are highly conductive fibers, which are very strong and can be used in standard denim-weaving process,” said Poupyrev.

A tap on the cuff can also provide navigation and play music when paired with a mobile phone, headphones and a small piece of removable hardware, called a snap tag, that attaches to the cuff.

“You get the most important features of the phone without taking your eyes off the road,” said Paul Dillinger, vice president of global product innovation for Levi Strauss & Co.

Smart clothing

The Levi’s jacket is just one step to smarter clothing.

“Do they want to make shoes? Do they want to make bags? Do they want to make trousers?” Poupyrev explained, “The platform [is] being designed so that this technology can be applied to any type of garment. Right now, it’s Levi’s but right now, we’re very actively working with other partners in the apparel industry and try to help to make their products connected.”

That means designers need to be increasingly tech savvy.

“Fashion designers in the future are going to have to think about their craft differently. So, it’s not just sketching and pattern making and draping and drafting. It’s going to involve use case development and being a participant in cladding an app and becoming an industrial designer and figuring out what you want these components to look like.” Dillinger added, “What we found out is engineers and designers are kind of the same thing. They just use very different languages.”

New patterns and materials

From the functionality of clothes to how they are made, computing power is reshaping fashion. Designers can create structures and patterns that have never existed before current technology.

“Designers now have a new set of tools to actually design things they could never design before. We can use computational tools to make patterns and formats that we could not do individually, because they were too mathematically and technically complicated. So, we’re using algorithms to help us facilitate design,” said Syuzi Pakhchyan whose job is to envision the future as experience design lead at the innovation firm, BCG Digital Ventures.

New technologies are also being used to make bioengineered fabrics made with yeast cells in a lab. The company, Bolt Threads, is developing fabrics made out of spider silk.

“We take the DNA out of spiders, put it in yeast, grow it in a big tank like brewing beer or wine and then purify the material, the polymer and spin it into fibers so it’s a very deep technology that’s required many years to develop,” Dan Widmaier, chief executive officer and co-founder of Bolt Threads.

The company Modern Meadow grows leather from yeast cells.

“We engineer them to produce collagen which is the same natural protein that you find in your skin or an animal skin, and then we really grow billions of those cells, make a lot of collagen, purify it and then assemble it into whatever kinds of materials, the brands, the designers that we’re working with would like to see,” explained Suzanne Lee chief creative officer of Modern Meadow.

She said these bioengineered materials are more sustainable and can be described as both natural and man-made.

“So, we’re really bringing both of those fields together to create a new material revolution. The best of nature with the best of design and engineering,” said Lee

What’s hot and what’s not

Technology is also disrupting fashion trends.The prevalence of social media means it is not just the designers who decide what is the latest trendy styles in fashion.

“Fashion has been democratized. A lot of fashion is being made by influencers with zero design experience,” said Pakhchyan.

Replacing trend forecasters, artificial intelligence can now collect data from social media and the web to give designers insight on public preferences.

“This is actually I think changing the role of the designer. Cause now, you have all this information so what are you going to do with this information?” said Pakhchyan.

Shopping on-line

How clothes are marketed and sold are also increasingly dependent on technology. If a consumer has shopped on a website once, that data is collected to entice the user to buy other products through personalization.

“When I connect online with a brand, they know me. I feel like they know me. They know who I am, they know what I like, they know what I want,” said Pakhchyan.

The Levi’s smart jacket can also be purchased online. The price tag: $350.

Technology is Latest Trend Reshaping Fashion

Technology is permeating and changing almost every industry, including fashion. From how clothes are made and purchased to your relationship with what you wear, computing power is reshaping fashion as we know it. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details.

App Helps Traveling Muslims Find a Mosque

Muslims who are traveling and looking for a place to pray can now turn to their smart phones for help. A mobile app, called Islamic GPS, helps users find mosques around the world. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us more about this helpful technology.

Russia Considers Banning Facebook After Blocking Telegram

Russia says it may block Facebook if the social media company does not put its Russian user database on servers in Russian territory. The warning Wednesday by the head of the country’s state media regulator Roskomnadzor comes just days after a Russian move to block Telegram, the encrypted messaging app. VOA’s Iuliia Alieva has more in this report narrated by Anna Rice

Plastic: If It’s Not Keeping Food Fresh, Why Use It?

The food industry uses plastic to wrap its products in many places around the world. Plastic manufacturers say that keeps produce and meat fresh longer, so less goes bad and is thrown away. But, according to a new European study, while the annual use of plastic packaging has grown since the 1950s, so has food waste. Faiza Elmasry has the story. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Scientists Coax Plastic-Munching Enzyme to Eat Faster

Recently, the world was stunned to learn that an island of mostly plastic trash, floating in the Pacific Ocean, grew to the size of France, Germany and Spain combined. Because plastics take centuries to decompose, could civilization someday choke in it? Scientists at Britain’s University of Portsmouth say they may have found a way to speed up the decomposition of plastics. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Zuckerberg Under Pressure to Face EU Lawmakers Over Data Scandal

Facebook Inc’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg came under pressure from EU lawmakers on Wednesday to come to Europe and shed light on the data breach involving Cambridge Analytica that affected nearly three million Europeans.

The world’s largest social network is under fire worldwide after information about nearly 87 million users wrongly ended up in the hands of the British political consultancy, a firm hired by Donald Trump for his 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani last week repeated his request to Zuckerberg to appear before the assembly, saying that sending a junior executive would not suffice.

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova, who recently spoke to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, said Zuckerberg should heed the lawmakers’ call.

“This case is too important to treat as business as usual,” Jourova told an assembly of lawmakers.

“I advised Sheryl Sandberg that Zuckerberg should accept the invitation from the European Parliament. (EU digital chief Andrius) Ansip refers to the invitation as a measure of rebuilding trust,” she said.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment. Zuckerberg fielded 10 hours of questions over two days from nearly 100 U.S. lawmakers last week and emerged largely unscathed. He will meet Ansip in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Another European lawmaker Sophia in’t Veld echoed the call from her colleagues, saying that the Facebook CEO should do them the same courtesy.

“I think Zuckerberg would be well advised to appear at the Parliament out of respect for Europeans,” she said.

Lawmaker Viviane Reding, the architect of the EU’s landmark privacy law which will come into effect on May 25, giving Europeans more control over their online data, said the right laws would bring back trust among users.


Iran Bans Government Bodies from Using Foreign Message Apps

Iran’s presidency has banned all government bodies from using foreign-based messaging apps to communicate with citizens, state media reported Wednesday, after economic protests organized through such apps shook the country earlier this year.

Chief among those apps is Telegram, used by over 40 million Iranians for everything from benign conversations to commerce and political campaigning. Iranians using Telegram, which describes itself as an encrypted message service, helped spread the word about the protests in December and January.

Telegram channels run on behalf of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri were already shut down Wednesday.

A report on the website of Iran’s state television broadcaster said the ban affected all public institutions. It was not clear if the ban applied to civil servants outside of work hours. The report did not elaborate on penalties for violating the ban.

Last month, officials said Iran would block Telegram for reasons of national security in response to the protests, which saw 25 people killed and nearly 5,000 reportedly arrested.

Authorities temporarily shut down Telegram during the protests, though many continued to access it through proxies and virtual private networks.

The move against Telegram suggests Iran may try to introduce its own government-approved, or “halal,” version of the messaging app, something long demanded by hard-liners. Already, Iran heavily restricts internet access and blocks social media websites like Facebook and Twitter.

Iran has said foreign messaging apps can get licenses from authorities to operate if they transfer their databases into the country. Privacy experts worry that could more easily expose users’ private communications to government spying.

Khamenei, however, has stressed that invading people’s privacy is religiously forbidden.

Iran’s move also comes after a Russian court on Friday ordered Telegram to be blocked after the company refused to share its encryption data with authorities.

Telegram CEO Pavel Durov responded to the ruling by writing on Twitter: “Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed.”