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What is ransomware and how is it dealt with?

<div> <div class="copy"> <h3>What is ransomware?</h3> <p>Ransomware is a type of malicious software – AKA malware – that infects and takes control of a device. It blocks access to files or even whole devices, and then sends a message demanding a ransom to grant access to those files.</p> <p>This is a common form of cybercrime that has recently affected <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.afr.com/policy/health-and-education/unisa-cyber-attack-hits-staff-email-20210519-p57td5" target="_blank">universities</a>, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/125294482/cyber-attack-waikato-dhb-counting-ransomware-cost-but-it-remains-to-be-tallied" target="_blank">hospitals</a> and <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-02/fbi-investigating-jbs-meatworks-ransomwear-cyber-attack/100183376" target="_blank">meatworks</a>. Because it blocks vital data from being accessed, it can <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.zdnet.com/article/ransomware-an-executive-guide-to-one-of-the-biggest-menaces-on-the-web/" target="_blank">massively disrupt</a> organisations that use the shared networks and/or the internet – which is, well, everyone at this point.</p> <h3>How does ransomware work?</h3> <p>Malware is infectious software that will download onto a computer, phone or other device. It can be shared though phishing emails, links in messages or other online locations, or fake download buttons. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether a link or button is malicious in the first place.</p> <p>When the fake link is clicked, the malware automatically downloads and then hunts through the system or network to identify important data. The software can lock the device or files with a new password, or encrypt files with a secret key, preventing access.</p> <p>This can be exacerbated because malware can be accompanied by social-engineering tools that trick you into granting admin access, or it can exploit security holes to dive into the important files and software on the computer without even needing to get ‘permission’.</p> <p>There are <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://resources.infosecinstitute.com/topic/a-brief-summary-of-encryption-method-used-in-widespread-ransomware/#gref" target="_blank">many ways of encrypting files</a>, but the point is to prevent user access with computer algorithms. Without an up-to-date backup, this data is essentially lost.</p> <p>The user will then often see a ransom note in the form of a message demanding (usually) money to lift the password or encryption.</p> <p>Of course, paying the ransom doesn’t mean the cyber-criminal will actually lift the encryption, and if you have paid up once, there is incentive for the criminal to do it again.</p> <p><iframe title="vimeo-player" src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/497805836" allowfullscreen="" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p class="caption"><em>Credit: cyber.gov.au</em></p> <p>The real kicker here is that the infectious software can gain access to a whole network of connected devices, even if it has been downloaded on just one computer – which means businesses that have shared data can be completely prevented for accessing anything<em>, </em>including saved files, emails and user profiles.</p> <p>There is no simple explanation of how the programming works – it is complex software engineering that can be continuously updated, and there are <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.unitrends.com/solutions/ransomware-education" target="_blank">different examples</a> that can be spread and downloaded in ways the suit the attacker.</p> <h3>What does ransomware look like?</h3> <p>Because malware can pop up in almost anywhere, it is often hard to identify.</p> <p>A lot of ransomware is designed to look like something real, such as a casual email attachment, something shared via social media, or a website that looks <em>almost </em>like a real website you wanted to visit, but has a few different letters in the URL.</p> <p>in one sneaky approach, the attacker can even pretend to be somebody from law enforcement who is “stopping another cybercrime” that they accuse you of, and then demand a fine from you – but there are easier ways to get access to a device.</p> <p>The main thing to remember is that a lot of phishing can be prevented by not clicking suspicious links. Just a little life hack on how not to get hacked.</p> <p><iframe src="https://giphy.com/embed/MM0Jrc8BHKx3y" width="480" height="270" frameborder="0" class="giphy-embed" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p><a rel="noopener" href="https://giphy.com/gifs/hacker-MM0Jrc8BHKx3y" target="_blank">via GIPHY</a></p> <h3>Who is committing ransomware cybercrimes?</h3> <p>More seriously, this in an increasingly big business – between ransoms paid, loss of data and downtime, costs of recovery, and other security and investigations, ransomware attacks cost the world <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cybersecurityventures.com/ransomware-damage-report-2017-part-2/" target="_blank">$5 billion in 2017</a>.</p> <p>Cybercriminals are often individuals or work in teams or networks, but there are also <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/people/society/cybercrime-can-be-a-tough-game/" target="_blank">crimeware-as-a-service</a> groups that essentially operate as a business.</p> <h3>What cybersecurity measures need to be in place?</h3> <p>Technology develops so quickly that defenders and attackers can get stuck in an arms race, so cybersecurity and trained professionals are <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/ai/cosmos-briefing-intelligent-manufacturing/" target="_blank">absolutely essential</a> to an online world, especially as we begin to incorporate more AI and machine learning into our manufacturing. Once ransomware is in a network, it’s extremely hard to remove.</p> <div class="twitter-tweet twitter-tweet-rendered" style="display: flex; max-width: 550px; width: 100%; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px;"><iframe id="twitter-widget-0" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allowfullscreen="true" class="" style="position: static; visibility: visible; width: 551px; height: 389px; display: block; flex-grow: 1;" title="Twitter Tweet" src="https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=CosmosMagazine&amp;dnt=false&amp;embedId=twitter-widget-0&amp;features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&amp;frame=false&amp;hideCard=false&amp;hideThread=false&amp;id=1399844326855880704&amp;lang=en&amp;origin=https%3A%2F%2Fcosmosmagazine.com%2Ftechnology%2Fwhat-is-ransomware-and-how-is-it-dealt-with%2F&amp;sessionId=1edacffebc49fba152bed8435892b99ad3545164&amp;siteScreenName=CosmosMagazine&amp;theme=light&amp;widgetsVersion=fcb1942%3A1632982954711&amp;width=550px" data-tweet-id="1399844326855880704"></iframe></div> <p>First and foremost, <strong>keep backups</strong>. If all your files get encrypted but you have another offline backup, it’s simple to restore your data.</p> <p><strong>Always keep your malware security up to date</strong>. Attackers obviously try to get around this security, but it is a whole lot better than having none at all. Many companies test their systems with <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-emerging-threats-what-is-the-difference-between-black-white-and-grey-hat-hackers.html" target="_blank">white hat hackers</a>, who attempt to hack their systems to recognise – and fix – the security flaws.</p> <p>Teaching people to recognise <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-recognize-and-avoid-phishing-scams" target="_blank">phishing emails</a> and be cautious about suspicious sites and links is also necessary, but it can only go so far, because phishing material is constantly being ‘improved’ to blend in better. Don’t click on links or open attachments if you don’t know the sender of the email. A lot of these emails suggest you need to make a payment, have breached some sort of contract, or pretend to have blocked access to an account.</p> <p>Because ransomware secretly searches your device, there can be a delay between when a link is clicked and when files are encrypted. There is a rise in predictive analytics and machine learning to help detect this suspicious behaviour and shut it down early.</p> <p>And finally, if you do get attacked, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.cyber.gov.au/ransomware#:~:text=Ransomware%20is%20a%20type%20of,to%20get%20back%20your%20access." target="_blank">don’t pay up</a>, because it’s likely to make you seem like an easy target in the future.</p> <h2><strong>Q&amp;A with a cybersecurity expert</strong></h2> <p>We asked Diep Ngyuen, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at UTS, for a little more depth. This is what they said</p> <h3>How can a cyber-attack effect a whole network?</h3> <p>Cyber attacks target either to bring down networks/systems (make them malfunction) or to compromise the information access authority or integrity.</p> <p>Although the former is often closer and easier to understand to most people, the latter is more popular and the major target of most daily life cyber attacks.</p> <p>For example, DoS (Denial-of-Service) attacks can make a network or service inaccessible for some time, disrupting corporates’ functioning or business. These types of attacks can be easily detected.</p> <p>However, cybercrimes often target high-value information and attempt to illegally access it or even alter the information.</p> <p>The information authority or integrity attacks are more difficult to be detected but their consequences can be very damaging, even much worse than the DoS attacks.</p> <h3>What are some common cybersecurity precautions?</h3> <p>To prevent or reduce risks from cyber attacks, IT core engineers/experts and daily users can take different approaches. However, these approaches all aim to early detect cyber threats, then effectively protect or cure the systems when the attacks really happen.</p> <p>One of the most common precautions [is] to avoid using services/websites, apps, hardware from non-certified or low-reputation sources/providers. These systems often have back doors or vulnerable loopholes that can be leveraged by cybercrimes.</p> <p>The second precaution would be to update and follow security recommendations from governments and experts, e.g., using multi-factor authentication methods, not to share or be cautious on sharing personal/private information like Date of Birth, photos, [etc] on open platforms (even social media).</p> <p>The last, but not least, is to become more aware of cyber threats/risks before deciding to take any action (e.g., do you understand the risk of using Apple pay or using activity trackers?).</p> <h3>How has cyber security changed over the last decade?</h3> <p>Cyber security landscape has been changing dramatically over the last 10 years. This is because of the penetration of IT to every corner of our daily life, from working, entertaining, to sleeping.</p> <p>This is also because of the ever-growing advances in attacks and their countermeasures. In comparison with 10 years ago, the number of connecting devices today has been increased by multiple times.On average, each person now would have more than a few connecting devices (e.g., phones, activity trackers, laptops, sensors at home).</p> <p>These devices, [while they] bring us lots of conveniences, are making us more vulnerable to cyber threats when they are attacked or compromised. More importantly, most of these newly added devices (e.g., in Internet of Things) are limited in computing and storage capability or referred to as low-end devices in cyber security. They are more susceptible to cyber threats. </p> <p>The advances in machine learning and AI also empower cybercrimes, allowing them to launch larger scale and more damaging attacks.</p> <em>Image credit: Shutterstock                         <!-- Start of tracking content syndication. Please do not remove this section as it allows us to keep track of republished articles --> <img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=154123&amp;title=What+is+ransomware+and+how+is+it+dealt+with%3F" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> <!-- End of tracking content syndication -->          </em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/what-is-ransomware-and-how-is-it-dealt-with/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Deborah Devis. </em></p> </div> </div>

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Facebook introduces new safety measures for kids

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After damning testimony about the safety of Facebook for children, the social media giant </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">plans to introduce several features to protect young people.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These features include instructing teens to take a break from using photo-sharing app Instagram, and ‘nudging’ those who repeatedly look at content that is not conducive to their well-being.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Facebook is also going to allow parents and guardians to monitor their teens' social media usage. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The new initiative comes after facebook announced they are pausing work on their Instagram for Kids project. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Critics of the project are skeptical of the new feature, saying the plan lacks details and clarity. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The new controls were outlined by Facebook’s vice president for global affairs Nick Clegg, where he was grilled about Facebook’s use of algorithms as well as its role in spreading harmful misinformation ahead of the January 6th Capitol riots.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We are constantly iterating in order to improve our products,” Clegg told Dana Bash on State of the Union Sunday.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We cannot, with a wave of the wand, make everyone’s life perfect. What we can do is improve our products, so that our products are as safe and as enjoyable to use.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In an attempt to keep the platform safe, Clegg said Facebook has invested $US13 billion ($A18 billion) over the past few years, as 40,000 people work on user safety. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The series of interviews came after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former data scientist with the company, appeared before Congress last week to accuse the social media platform of failing to make changes to Instagram after internal research showed apparent harm to some teens.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">She also accused the company of being publicly dishonest in its fight against hate and misinformation, which Facebook has denied. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is the chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, said it is time to update children’s privacy laws and offer more transparency in the use of algorithms.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I appreciate that he is willing to talk about things, but I believe the time for conversation is done,” said Klobuchar, referring to Clegg’s plan.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The time for action is now.”</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image credit: Shutterstock</span></em></p>

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Beware the lure of unethical solar power

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>Solar energy may be the future. But only if it lets go of the past.</p> <p>International NGO the <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/09/to-lead-the-green-energy-future-solar-must-clean-up-its-supply-chains/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a> has issued a damning report card on the state of the world’s solar panel manufacturing. It may be experiencing rapid growth. It may be one of the cheapest sources of power. But its climate credentials face intense scrutiny.</p> <p>Forced labour, coal-fuelled production processes and a lack of transparency around the source of crucial components combine, the WEF says, into a cause for concern.</p> <p>“The solar industry is currently grappling with supply chain issues that could significantly impact its future,” the authors, professors Morgan Bazilian and Dustin Mulvaney, write.</p> <p>Much of their concern is concentrated on the production of polysilicon and the drive to make it cheap.</p> <p>Some 45% of global production of this component is sourced from Xinjiang province in China. And much of the labour force used to produce it is supplied by “re-education camps” detaining ethnic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. </p> <p>On top of that, the remote desert region relies heavily on locally sourced coal for its power supply. “This attracted polysilicon manufacturers to this region of China in the first place because electricity is a major cost in the production process,” the report reads.</p> <p class="has-text-align-center"><strong><em>Read more: <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/solar-and-wind-cheapest-energy-source-in-australia/" target="_blank">Solar and wind cheapest energy source in Australia</a></em></strong></p> <p>This, they say, undermines any climate and environmental benefits offered by solar panels further down the supply chain.</p> <p>“Solar panels are cheaper to build and install today in many places than alternative sources of electricity like coal and natural gas, translating to lower levels of greenhouse gases and air pollution,” they write.</p> <p>But Professor Alistair Sproul of the ANU’s School of Photovoltaic &amp; Renewable Energy Engineering says photovoltaic power has more than enough wiggle room in its pricing to clean up its act. Much of the price drop in photovoltaic (PV) production in recent years has been driven by advances in technology, particularly crystalline silicon, he says. “Even if the price stayed where it is now or went up a little – PV is very cost-competitive.”</p> <p>Under current life-cycle <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/life-cycle-assessment.html" target="_blank">calculations</a>, crystalline silicon PV cells produce about 50g of <span>CO<sub>2 </sub></span>for every kilowatt-hour of electricity. Black coal, in comparison, comes in at 1000g of <span>CO<sub>2</sub></span> per kWh. </p> <p>“The PV industry is growing each decade or so by a factor of 10 – this next decade is crucial – but as scale increases, costs will come down anyway – and the industry is not reliant on forced labour,” says Sproul.</p> <p>“Low-cost energy is really key here – so that there is a virtuous cycle – that as PV itself becomes cheaper it should be possible to lower the cost of producing PV further by utilising increasing amounts of PV electricity in manufacturing.”</p> <p>Sproul says materials that need coal for processing – especially steel – are all seeking alternatives.  “Hydrogen is definitely an avenue worth exploring as an alternative to coal to reduce iron oxide (for steel)  and silicon dioxide ( for silicon). [And] all supply chains need to be clear, transparent and free from forced labour.”</p> <em>Image credit: Shutterstock                         <!-- Start of tracking content syndication. Please do not remove this section as it allows us to keep track of republished articles --> <img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=167605&amp;title=Beware+the+lure+of+unethical+solar+power" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> <!-- End of tracking content syndication -->          </em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/energy/beware-the-lure-of-unethical-solar-power/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Jamie Seidel. </em></p> </div> </div>

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Is Australia ready for the digital world?

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>Australia needs to focus on digital technology research, according to a new report by the Australian academies of Science (AAS) and Technology and Engineering (ATSE).</p> <p>The <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.science.org.au/files/userfiles/support/reports-and-plans/2021/Digital-future-policy-primer-september-2021.pdf" target="_blank">summary</a>, published on the AAS’s website, urges policymakers to recognise the significance of digital technologies – including <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/ai/" target="_blank">AI</a>, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/computing/spin-qubits-quantum-computing/" target="_blank">quantum computing</a>, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/computing/cybersecurity-war-online/" target="_blank">cybersecurity</a>, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/computing/explainer-cryptocurrency/" target="_blank">blockchain</a> and <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/5g-more-science-same-safety/" target="_blank">5G</a>.</p> <p>While the use of all this technology is growing in Australia, the academies stress that the country lags in innovation and development.</p> <p>“We call on the Australian Government to recognise the importance of building scientific capability behind the digital economy, both in investment and narrative,” says Professor Shazia Sadiq, an ATSE Fellow and computer science researcher at the University of Queensland.</p> <p>The summary stresses that compared to other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations, Australia is falling behind in digital technology research and development.</p> <p>On average, 11.2% of OECD nations’ GDP comes from digital innovation, while in Australia it only accounts for 7.4%.</p> <p>The academies have three key recommendations for the federal government:</p> <ol type="1"> <li>Prioritise research and innovation in emerging digital technologies</li> <li>Include this in the <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://2021nriroadmap.dese.gov.au/" target="_blank">2021 Research Infrastructure Roadmap</a>, and</li> <li>Recognise digital technology as its own independent growth sector</li> </ol> <p>The report points out that there’s a growing demand for digitally skilled workers, with an expected increase of 100,000 jobs in the sector between 2018 and 2024.</p> <p>This contrasts with a rise in automation and AI, both of which are expected to replace jobs and further disrupt the workplace over the next decade.</p> <h4 class="has-text-align-center"><em>See more: <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/ai/cosmos-briefing-intelligent-manufacturing/" target="_blank">Cosmos Briefing: Intelligent Manufacturing</a></em></h4> <p>“While it is difficult to predict what future innovations might look like, a strong national focus on fundamental science and engineering behind emerging digital technologies will allow Australia to stay ahead of the curve in a dynamic and fast evolving landscape,” says Sadiq.</p> <p>“Australia must address the digital divide to ensure equity of access to the benefits delivered by digital technologies, and to meet the skill requirements for a future digital workforce,” says ATSE Fellow and University of South Australia Emeritus Professor Mike Miller.</p> <p>“Australia’s emerging digital technology capabilities must receive this support in order for the nation to remain internationally competitive and ensure that scientific leadership is adequately harnessed in shaping our collective digital future.”</p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p> <em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/digital-technology-australia-atse-aas/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Ellen Phiddian.  </em></div> </div>

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The most useful iPhone and iPad keyboard shortcuts

<p>It’s time to give your tired thumbs a break.</p> <p>With keyboard shortcuts on iPhones and iPads, you can save time when typing messages to your family, friends and colleagues.</p> <p>Changing your keyboard’s settings is simple and quick, even for the least tech-savvy users.</p> <p>Here’s how to set up and customise text shortcuts on your iPhone and iPad keyboards – and the handiest shortcuts to try.</p> <p><strong>What are keyboard shortcuts?</strong></p> <p><span>Keyboard shortcuts are text replacement tools for the busy iPhone or iPad owner. </span></p> <p><span>Similar to how autocorrect works for spelling, a shortcut automatically replaces any brief abbreviation with a longer word or phrase as you type. </span></p> <p><span>Just customise your shortcuts in the Settings app to start using them. </span></p> <p><span>Not only does this feature speed up your texting time, but it can also save you from accidental or embarrassing typos.</span></p> <p><strong>How to create keyboard shortcuts </strong></p> <p><span>To make a new shortcut, launch the Settings app  – &gt; General  – &gt; Keyboard  – &gt; Text Replacement and choose the “+” symbol in the top right corner. </span></p> <p><span>Enter the abbreviation you’d like to use in the “Shortcut” field, and then type in the entire phrase you want it to be replaced with in the “Phrase” field. </span></p> <p><span>Tap “Save” at the top right once you’re done. </span></p> <p><span>N</span><span>ow when you type that abbreviation and tap the space bar, it will be replaced with the phrase you saved in the settings. </span></p> <p><span>Pro tip: To stop your phone from autocorrecting certain words by mistake (“lick” instead of “luck,” for example), fill in the “Phrase” field with the word and leave the “Shortcut” field blank. These 40 iPhone tricks will make your life easier, too.</span></p> <p><strong>How to edit and customise keyboard shortcuts</strong></p> <p><span>If you find yourself typing a shortcut by accident or one of your shortcuts has a typo, there’s an easy fix. </span></p> <p><span>Edit and customise any shortcut by going to the Settings app  – &gt; General  – &gt; Keyboard  – &gt; Text Replacement. Select the shortcut you want to edit, type in the new phrase, and hit “Save.”</span></p> <p><strong>How to delete keyboard shortcuts</strong></p> <p><span>No longer using a keyboard shortcut? You can get rid of it with a swipe of your finger. </span></p> <p><span>In the Settings app, hit General  – &gt; Keyboard  – &gt; Text Replacement, and swipe left on the shortcut you want to delete. </span></p> <p><span>Then tap on the “Delete” button to make the shortcut disappear. </span></p> <p><span>This trick is also good to know if pranksters ever get a hold of your phone and secretly change your shortcuts.</span></p> <p><strong>Most useful iPad and iPhone keyboard shortcuts </strong></p> <p>Thanks to text shortcuts for iPhones, you can communicate fast while out and about.</p> <p>If you are constantly running late, try the shortcut “OMW” to say “On my way,” or “FMIN” to say “I’ll be there in five minutes.”</p> <p>Personal information that you often share, like your email address, phone number, and home address, can be programmed to appear when you type EML, PHN, or ADDR, respectively.</p> <p>You can also create your own abbreviations for names or places that you frequently type or text, such as a favourite restaurant or your child’s school. Consider adding any words you often misspell or mistype, like “should” rather than “shoukd,” as well.</p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article first appeared in <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/true-stories-lifestyle/science-technology/the-most-useful-iphone-and-ipad-keyboard-shortcuts" target="_blank">Reader's Digest</a>. </em></p>

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Could AI predict the next pandemic?

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>Most of the emerging infectious diseases that threaten humans – including coronaviruses – are zoonotic, meaning they originate in another animal species.</p> <p>And as population sizes soar and urbanisation expands, encounters with creatures harbouring potentially dangerous diseases are <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/urbanisation-brings-animals-and-diseases-closer-to-home-34415" target="_blank">becoming ever more likely</a>.</p> <p>Identifying these viruses early, then, is becoming vitally important.</p> <p>A <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://10.1371/journal.pbio.3001390" target="_blank">new study</a> out today in <em>PLOS Biology </em>from a team of researchers at the University of Glasgow, UK, has identified a novel way to do this kind of viral detective work, using machine learning to predict the likelihood of a virus jumping to humans.</p> <p>According to the researchers, a major stumbling block for understanding zoonotic disease has been that scientists tend to prioritise well-known zoonotic virus families based on their common features.</p> <p>This means that there is potentially myriad viruses unrelated to known zoonotic diseases that have not been discovered, or are not well known, which may hold zoonotic potential – the ability to make the species leap.</p> <p class="has-text-align-center"><strong><em>More reading: <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/cosmos-qa-predicting-the-next-pandemic/" target="_blank">Cosmos Q&amp;A: Predicting the next pandemic</a></em></strong></p> <p>In order to circumvent this problem, the team developed a machine learning algorithm that could infer the zoonotic potential of a virus from its genome sequence alone, by identifying characteristics that link it to humans, rather than looking at taxonomic relationships between the virus being studied and existing zoonotic viruses.</p> <p>The team found that viral genomes may have generalisable features that enable them to infect humans, but which are not necessarily taxonomically closely related to other human-infecting viruses.</p> <p>They say this approach may present a novel opportunity for viral sleuthing.</p> <p>“By highlighting viruses with the greatest potential to become zoonotic, genome-based ranking allows further ecological and virological characterisation to be targeted more effectively,” the authors write.</p> <p>“These findings add a crucial piece to the already surprising amount of information that we can extract from the genetic sequence of viruses using AI techniques,” says co-author Simon Babayan.</p> <p>“A genomic sequence is typically the first, and often only, information we have on newly discovered viruses, and the more information we can extract from it, the sooner we might identify the virus’s origins and the zoonotic risk it may pose.</p> <p>“As more viruses are characterised, the more effective our machine learning models will become at identifying the rare viruses that ought to be closely monitored and prioritised for pre-emptive vaccine development.”</p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/ai/could-ai-predict-next-pandemic/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Amalyah Hart.</em></p> </div> </div>

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One in ten Australian jobs at risk of automation

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As the Australian economy begins its recovery efforts in tandem with the coronavirus pandemic slowing, a worrying statistic has been released about Aussie jobs. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The study, which was conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), warns that one in every 10 jobs is at risk of being automated. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The research concluded that the employment disruption will be felt unevenly across Australia, as cities and regional towns will be hit the hardest. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In comparison, wealthier and affluent urban areas face the least risk of jobs being automated.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The OECD believe that plant and machinery operators, as well as food preparation workers are among the employment sectors most at risk. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The report also says the demographics that will be hit hardest are young people, men and Indigenous people, as they are more likely to have declining job opportunities. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The regional towns where automation is said to hit have roots in the coal mining industries, as 40 percent of jobs in the New South Wales Hunter Region face some disruption while in Queensland's Mackay region it was about 41 per cent.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In comparison, Canberra and Sydney's eastern suburbs face the lowest risk of jobs lost through automation.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Teaching and health services are likely to remain safe from automation technology, as the pandemic saw a drastic increase in jobs in these areas over the last 12 months. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In order to protect existing jobs, the OECD says some workers will have their duties upskilled in order to save as many jobs as possible from the mundane tasks that automation can be utilised for. </span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image credits: Shutterstock</span></em></p>

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Could AI predict the next pandemic?

<p><span style="font-size: 14px;">Most of the emerging infectious diseases that threaten humans – including coronaviruses – are zoonotic, meaning they originate in another animal species. And as population sizes soar and urbanisation expands, encounters with creatures harbouring potentially dangerous diseases are </span><a style="font-size: 14px;" rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/urbanisation-brings-animals-and-diseases-closer-to-home-34415" target="_blank">becoming ever more likely</a><span style="font-size: 14px;">.</span></p> <div class="copy"> <p>Identifying these viruses early, then, is becoming vitally important. A <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://10.1371/journal.pbio.3001390" target="_blank">new study</a> out today in <em>PLOS Biology </em>from a team of researchers at the University of Glasgow, UK, has identified a novel way to do this kind of viral detective work, using machine learning to predict the likelihood of a virus jumping to humans.</p> <p>According to the researchers, a major stumbling block for understanding zoonotic disease has been that scientists tend to prioritise well-known zoonotic virus families based on their common features. This means that there is potentially myriad viruses unrelated to known zoonotic diseases that have not been discovered, or are not well known, which may hold zoonotic potential – the ability to make the species leap.</p> <p>In order to circumvent this problem, the team developed a machine learning algorithm that could infer the zoonotic potential of a virus from its genome sequence alone, by identifying characteristics that link it to humans, rather than looking at taxonomic relationships between the virus being studied and existing zoonotic viruses.</p> <p>The team found that viral genomes may have generalisable features that enable them to infect humans, but which are not necessarily taxonomically closely related to other human-infecting viruses. They say this approach may present a novel opportunity for viral sleuthing.</p> <p>“By highlighting viruses with the greatest potential to become zoonotic, genome-based ranking allows further ecological and virological characterisation to be targeted more effectively,” the authors write.</p> <p>“These findings add a crucial piece to the already surprising amount of information that we can extract from the genetic sequence of viruses using AI techniques,” says co-author Simon Babayan.</p> <p>“A genomic sequence is typically the first, and often only, information we have on newly discovered viruses, and the more information we can extract from it, the sooner we might identify the virus’s origins and the zoonotic risk it may pose.</p> <p>“As more viruses are characterised, the more effective our machine learning models will become at identifying the rare viruses that ought to be closely monitored and prioritised for pre-emptive vaccine development.”</p> <!-- Start of tracking content syndication. Please do not remove this section as it allows us to keep track of republished articles --> <img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=167020&amp;title=Could+AI+predict+the+next+pandemic%3F" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> <!-- End of tracking content syndication --></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/ai/could-ai-predict-next-pandemic/" target="_blank">This article</a> was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com" target="_blank">Cosmos Magazine</a> and was written by <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/contributor/amalyah-hart" target="_blank">Amalyah Hart</a>. Amalyah Hart is a science journalist based in Melbourne.</em></p> <p><em>Image: Getty Images</em></p> </div>

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Beware the robot bearing gifts

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>In a future filled with robots, those that pretend to be your friend could be more manipulative than those that exert authority, suggests a new study published in <em>Science Robotics.</em></p> <p>As robots become more common in the likes of education, healthcare and security, it is essential to predict what the relationship between humans and robots will be.</p> <div style="position: relative; display: block; max-width: 100%;"> <div style="padding-top: 56.25%;"><iframe src="https://players.brightcove.net/5483960636001/HJH3i8Guf_default/index.html?videoId=6273649735001" allowfullscreen="" allow="encrypted-media" style="position: absolute; top: 0px; right: 0px; bottom: 0px; left: 0px; width: 100%; height: 100%;"></iframe></div> </div> <p class="caption">Overview of authority HRI study conditions, setup, and robot behaviors. Credit: Autonomous Systems and Biomechatronics Lab, University of Toronto.</p> <p>In the <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/scirobotics.abd5186?_ga=2.192393706.1796540797.1632092915-1153018146.1604894082" target="_blank">study</a>, led by Shane Saunderson and Goldie Nejat of the University of Toronto, Canada, researchers programmed a robot called Pepper to influence humans completing attention and memory tasks, by acting either as a friend or an authority figure.</p> <p>They found that people were more comfortable with, and more persuaded by, friendly Pepper.</p> <p>Authoritative Pepper was described by participants as “inhuman,” “creepy,” and giving off an “uncanny valley vibe”.</p> <p>“As it stands, the public has little available education or general awareness of the persuasive potential of social robots, and yet institutions such as banks or restaurants can use them in financially charged situations, without any oversight and only minimal direction from the field,” writes James Young, a computer scientist  from the University of Manitoba, Canada, in a related <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://10.1126/scirobotics.abk3479" target="_blank">Focus</a>.</p> <p>“Although the clumsy and error-prone social robots of today seem a far cry from this dystopian portrayal, Saunderson and Nejat demonstrate how easily a social robot can leverage rudimentary knowledge of human psychology to shape their persuasiveness.”</p> <p class="has-text-align-center"><strong><em>Read more: <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/robotics/meet-the-robots-representing-australia-at-the-robot-olympics/" target="_blank">Meet the robots representing Australia at the ‘robot Olympics’</a></em></strong></p> <p>To test a robot’s powers of persuasion, Pepper assumed two personas: one was as a friend who gave rewards, and the other was as an authoritative figure who dealt out punishment.</p> <p>A group of participants were each given $10 and told that the amount of money could increase or decrease, depending on their performance in set memory tasks.</p> <p>Friendly Pepper gave money for correct responses, and authoritative Pepper docked $10 for incorrect responses.</p> <p>The participants then completed tasks in the <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.pearsonclinical.co.uk/Psychology/AdultCognitionNeuropsychologyandLanguage/AdultAttentionExecutiveFunction/TestofEverydayAttention(TEA)/TestofEverydayAttention(TEA).aspx" target="_blank">Test of Everyday Attention</a> toolkit, a cognition test based on real-life scenarios.</p> <p>After the participant made an initial guess, Pepper offered them an alternative suggestion – this was always the right answer. The participant could then choose to listen to Pepper or go with his or her original answer.</p> <p>The results showed that people were more willing to switch to friendly Pepper’s suggestions than those of authoritative Pepper.</p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/robotics/beware-the-robot-bearing-gifts/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Deborah Devis.</em></p> </div> </div>

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African-American Google employee mistakenly escorted off premises

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Angel Onuoha was innocently riding his bicycle around the Mountain View, California, Google office where he worked as an associate product manager.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">He was shocked and confused when he was stopped by security and asked to provide proof of identification, after being reported by someone who thought he was trespassing on company grounds. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Riding my bike around Google’s campus and somebody called security on me because they didn’t believe I was an employee,” his recently shared viral tweet read. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Had to get escorted by two security guards to verify my ID badge.”</span></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p dir="ltr">A lot of people keep DM’ing me asking for the full story…<br /><br />They ended up taking my ID badge away from me later that day and I was told to call security if I had a problem with it. And that was after holding me up for 30 minutes causing me to miss my bus ride home <a href="https://t.co/UBzHDC1ugG">https://t.co/UBzHDC1ugG</a></p> — Angel Onuoha (@angelonuoha7) <a href="https://twitter.com/angelonuoha7/status/1440727156896661511?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 22, 2021</a></blockquote> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Angel’s ID badge was taken off him, as he was instructed to take up the matter with the campus security. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“And that was after holding me up for 30 minutes causing me to miss my bus ride home,” he wrote. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Almost 2,000 people responded to his original tweet as they expressed outrage at how such an incident, largely presumed to be racially motivated, had played out in 2021.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">One response was from a black man who said he previously worked in security at another Google campus. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Dawg I worked as security at Google and got security called on me,” he wrote.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Angel was inundated with messages from individuals who had faced similar acts of discrimination in the workplace. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A spokesperson for Google told </span><a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/johanmoreno/2021/09/23/black-google-associate-product-manager-detained-by-security-because-they-didnt-believe-he-was-an-employee/?sh=1ee730742349"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Forbes</span></a> <span style="font-weight: 400;">the company was taking Mr Onuoha’s “concerns very seriously”.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We take this employee’s concerns very seriously, are in touch with him and are looking into this. We learned that the employee was having issues with his badge due to an administrative error and contacted the reception team for help,” the spokesperson said. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“After they were unable to resolve the issue, the security team was called to look into and help resolve the issue.” </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The incident comes after Google’s public support for the Black Lives Matter movement, as they vowed to double its black workforce by 2025.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since its pledge however, black employees have increased by just one per cent, while white employees have declined 1.3 per cent.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image credit: Twitter @angelonuha7 / Shutterstock</span></em></p>

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Welcome to Telosa: the $400 billion city built from scratch

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The city of Telosa: where everyone is equal, the future is sustainable, the opportunities are innovative and the city is for everyone. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While this utopian city sounds like the perfect place to live, it doesn’t actually exist yet. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Telosa is the latest project from former Walmart executive and e-commerce billionaire Marc Lore, who wants to create the world’s first “woke” city from scratch. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">He unveiled his elaborate plans with an </span><a href="https://cityoftelosa.com/#telosa"><span style="font-weight: 400;">interactive website</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, where he explains that the name Telosa comes from the Ancient Greek word Telos, meaning “highest purpose.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The mission of Telosa is to create a more equitable, sustainable future. That’s our North Star,” Lore said in a promotional video. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We are going to be the most open, the most fair and the most inclusive city in the world.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The city will run to Lore’s unique economic vision that he dubs “Equitism” in which the land upon which the city is built will be donated to a community endowment.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“If you went into the desert where the land was worth nothing, or very little, and you created a foundation that owned the land, and people moved there and tax dollars built infrastructure and we built one of the greatest cities in the world, the foundation could be worth a trillion dollars,” Lore told </span><a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-09-01/how-diapers-com-founder-marc-lore-plans-to-build-utopian-city-telosa"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Bloomberg Businessweek</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“And if the foundation’s mission was to take the appreciation of the land and give it back to the citizens in the form of medicine, education, affordable housing, social services: Wow, that’s it!”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The city aims to tackle America’s rapidly growing wealth gap, which Lore believes is “going to bring down America”.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“While the current economic system is a growth engine, it has led to increasing inequality,” the project’s website explains. “Equitism is inclusive growth.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The beginning phase of the project will be built to accommodate 50,000 residents across roughly 1,500 acres at a cost of $25 billion, and is targeted for completion by 2030.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The project’s planners have yet to commit to a location for Telosa, but the website identifies Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Texas and the Appalachian region as possible sites.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Digital renderings of the utopia show an expanse of space for pedestrians to stroll through the metropolis, as well as including aircrafts known as the electric “air taxi” start-up, in which Lore is a key investor. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Another image on the site shows a skyscraper called Equitism tower that houses elevated water storage, aeroponic farms and an energy-producing roof.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Despite the buzz about the unique city, Sarah Moser, an associate professor of geography at Montreal’s McGill University, puts Lore’s chances of success at roughly zero.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">She cites approximately 150 similar projects that have been pitched, and all resulted in failure. </span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image credits: cityoftelosa.com</span></em></p>

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How new smartphone tech will help diagnose mental health issues

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Apple is reportedly working on new technology that could be used to diagnose mental health conditions such as depression and cognitive decline. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In collaboration with the biotech Biogen, Apple is hoping to utilise their digital sensors to their potential, which already include heart, sleep and activity monitoring through the Apple Watch and iPhone. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Researchers told the </span><a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-wants-iphones-to-help-detect-depression-cognitive-decline-sources-say-11632216601"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Wall Street Journal</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> they will be able to use data from iPhone sensors to track digital signals that are linked to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, and feed them into an algorithm. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This should be able to predict depression and other conditions and form the basis of new features in a future version of Apple's operating system.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The research is an amalgamation of two research projects that involve tracking Apple devices to predict mental health habits. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">One project, codenamed ‘Seabreeze’, explores stress and anxiety-induced tendencies in partnership with Apple.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The other, codenamed ‘Pi’, has set out to further analyse mild cognitive impairment. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As the projects remain in their early stages, Apple has yet to officially confirm if they will result in new iPhone features. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To effectively diagnose a mental health condition, an individual requires close monitoring by experts to look for changes in behaviour from the norm.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The data analysed by these projects include monitoring facial expressions, how often users speak, how often they go for a walk, how well they sleep as well as heart and breathing rates.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">People 'close to the study' told the WSJ they may also be looking at the speed of typing, frequency of typos, content they type and other points.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">All of these habits are thought to be “digital signals” that can hint at mental health issues.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image credit: Shutterstock</span></em></p>

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New ‘Phobys’ app to help arachnophobes

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A new app designed by researchers at the University of Basel, Switzerland, uses augmented reality to help users reduce their fear of spiders.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Phobys uses exposure therapy, through a combination of hyper-realistic images and interactive stages of engagement, to help people conquer their fears.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To test their technology, the researchers conducted a clinical trial with 66 participants with a fear of spiders over two weeks.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">One group used the app for about six and a half hours, while a second group didn’t use it at all.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Those who used the app reported less “fear” and “disgust” than those in the control group.</span></p> <p><img style="width: 500px; height: 281.25px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7844308/spider1.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/8b79284e182a4f56bafc2fa5f0451878" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Phobys</span></em></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It’s easier for people with a fear of spiders to face a virtual spider than a real one,” said Anja Zimmer, the study’s lead author.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The app is available in app stores for iPhone and Android.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, researchers have advised those who suffer from a “serious” fear of arachnids to use the app under the guidance of a therapist.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Getty</span></em></p>

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Do algorithms erode our ability to think?

<div class="copy"> <p>Have you ever watched a video or movie because YouTube or Netflix recommended it to you?</p> <p>Or added a friend on Facebook from the list of “people you may know”?</p> <p>And how does Twitter decide which tweets to show you at the top of your feed?</p> <p>These platforms are driven by algorithms, which rank and recommend content for us based on our data.</p> <p>As Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University, Boston, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2018-04-30/how-the-internet-tricks-you-out-of-privacy-deceptive-design/9676708" target="_blank">explains</a>: “If you want to know when social media companies are trying to manipulate you into disclosing information or engaging more, the answer is always.”</p> <p>So if we are making decisions based on what’s shown to us by these algorithms, what does that mean for our ability to make decisions freely?</p> <h3>What we see is tailored for us</h3> <p>An algorithm is a digital recipe: a list of rules for achieving an outcome, using a set of ingredients.</p> <p>Usually, for tech companies, that outcome is to make money by convincing us to buy something or keeping us scrolling in order to show us more advertisements.</p> <p>The ingredients used are the data we provide through our actions online – knowingly or otherwise.</p> <p>Every time you like a post, watch a video, or buy something, you provide data that can be used to make predictions about your next move.</p> <p>These algorithms can influence us, even if we’re not aware of it. As the New York Times’ <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/22/podcasts/rabbit-hole-prologue.html" target="_blank">Rabbit Hole podcast</a> explores, YouTube’s recommendation algorithms can drive viewers to <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/feb/02/how-youtubes-algorithm-distorts-truth" target="_blank">increasingly extreme content</a>, potentially leading to online radicalisation.</p> <p>Facebook’s News Feed algorithm ranks content to keep us engaged on the platform.</p> <p>It can produce a phenomenon called “<a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.pnas.org/content/111/24/8788/tab-article-info" target="_blank">emotional contagion</a>”, in which seeing positive posts leads us to write positive posts ourselves, and seeing negative posts means we’re more likely to craft negative posts — though this study was <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.pnas.org/content/111/29/10779.1" target="_blank">controversial</a> partially because the effect sizes were small.</p> <p>Also, so-called “<a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2018-04-30/how-the-internet-tricks-you-out-of-privacy-deceptive-design/9676708" target="_blank">dark patterns</a>” are designed to trick us into sharing more, or <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://econsultancy.com/three-dark-patterns-ux-big-brands-and-why-they-should-be-avoided/" target="_blank">spending more</a> on websites like Amazon.</p> <p>These are tricks of website design such as hiding the unsubscribe button, or showing how many people are buying the product you’re looking at <em>right now</em>.</p> <p>They subconsciously nudge you towards actions the site would like you to take.</p> <h3>You are being profiled</h3> <p>Cambridge Analytica, the company involved in the largest known Facebook data leak to date, claimed to be able to <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/cambridge-analytica-and-the-perils-of-psychographics" target="_blank">profile your psychology</a> based on your “likes”.</p> <p>These profiles could then be used to target you with political advertising.</p> <p>“Cookies” are small pieces of data which track us across websites.</p> <p>They are records of actions you’ve taken online (such as links clicked and pages visited) that are stored in the browser.</p> <p>When they are combined with data from multiple sources including from large-scale hacks, this is known as “<a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2019-12-03/data-enrichment-industry-privacy-breach-people-data-labs/11751786" target="_blank">data enrichment</a>”.</p> <p>It can link our personal data like email addresses to other information such as our education level.</p> <p>These data are regularly used by tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, and others to build profiles of us and predict our future behaviour.</p> <h3>You are being predicted</h3> <p>So, how much of your behaviour can be predicted by algorithms based on your data?</p> <p>Our research, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0510-5">published in </a><em><a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0510-5" target="_blank">Nature Human Behaviou</a></em><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0510-5">r last year</a>, explored this question by looking at how much information about you is contained in the posts your friends make on social media.</p> <p>Using data from Twitter, we estimated how predictable peoples’ tweets were, using only the data from their friends.</p> <p>We found data from eight or nine friends was enough to be able to predict someone’s tweets just as well as if we had downloaded them directly (well over 50% accuracy, see graph below).</p> <p>Indeed, 95% of the potential predictive accuracy that a machine learning algorithm might achieve is obtainable <em>just</em> from friends’ data.</p> <p>Our results mean that even if you #DeleteFacebook (which trended after the <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.sbs.com.au/news/deletefacebook-calls-grow-after-cambridge-analytica-data-scandal" target="_blank">Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018</a>), you may still be able to be profiled, due to the social ties that remain.</p> <p>And that’s before we consider the things about Facebook that make it so <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/why-its-so-hard-to-deletefacebook-constant-psychological-boosts-keep-you-hooked-92976" target="_blank">difficult to delete</a> anyway.</p> <p>We also found it’s possible to build profiles of <em>non-users</em> — so-called “<a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0513-2" target="_blank">shadow profiles</a>” — based on their contacts who are on the platform.</p> <p>Even if you have never used Facebook, if your friends do, there is the possibility a shadow profile could be built of you.</p> <p>On social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, privacy is no longer tied to the individual, but to the network as a whole.</p> <h3>No more free will? Not quite</h3> <p>But all hope is not lost. If you do delete your account, the information contained in your social ties with friends grows stale over time.</p> <p>We found predictability gradually declines to a low level, so your privacy and anonymity will eventually return.</p> <p>While it may seem like algorithms are eroding our ability to think for ourselves, it’s not necessarily the case.</p> <p>The evidence on the effectiveness of psychological profiling to influence voters <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/06/us/politics/cambridge-analytica.html" target="_blank">is thin</a>.</p> <p>Most importantly, when it comes to the role of people versus algorithms in things like spreading (mis)information, people are just as important.</p> <p>On Facebook, the extent of your exposure to diverse points of view is more closely related <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/348/6239/1130" target="_blank">to your social groupings</a> than to the way News Feed presents you with content.</p> <p>And on Twitter, while “fake news” may spread faster than facts, it is <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6380/1146" target="_blank">primarily people who spread it</a>, rather than bots.</p> <p>Of course, content creators exploit social media platforms’ algorithms to promote content, on <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/dont-just-blame-youtubes-algorithms-for-radicalisation-humans-also-play-a-part-125494" target="_blank">YouTube</a>, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/dont-just-blame-echo-chambers-conspiracy-theorists-actively-seek-out-their-online-communities-127119" target="_blank">Reddit</a> and other platforms, not just the other way round.</p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/people/behaviour/are-algorithms-eroding-our-ability-to-think/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by The Conversation.</em></p> </div>

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Why does my internet connection feel slow and jumpy, even when my internet speed is high?

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>Of the 8.2 million homes and businesses active on Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) in July 2021, 77% are now <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.nbnco.com.au/corporate-information/about-nbn-co/updates/dashboard-july-2021" target="_blank">reported</a> to be on a broadband plan that delivers speeds of at least 50 megabits per second (Mbps).</p> <p>This is plenty to accommodate a typical household’s needs for video streaming (Netflix high-definition resolution, for instance, uses about 3Mbps and ultra-high definition about 12Mbps), video conferencing (2-3Mbps), gaming (less than 1Mbps) and general web browsing.</p> <p>So why do we still experience video freeze, game lag spikes, and teleconference stutters?</p> <p>The problem is not speed, but other factors such as latency and loss, which are unrelated to speed.</p> <p>For more than three decades we have been conditioned to think of broadband in terms of Mbps.</p> <p>This made sense when we had dial-up internet, over which web pages took many seconds to load, and when DSL lines could not support more than one video stream at a time.</p> <p>But once speeds approach 100Mbps and beyond, studies from the <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.broadband-forum.org/an-economic-argument-for-moving-away-from-mbps" target="_blank">Broadband Forum</a> and others show that further increases are largely imperceptible to users.</p> <p>Yet Australian consumers fear being caught short on broadband speed.</p> <p>More than half a million Australians moved to plans delivering <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/record-number-of-australians-move-to-very-high-speed-nbn-plans" target="_blank">more than 250Mbps</a> in the March 2021 quarter.</p> <p>Indeed, we have collectively bought about 410 terabits per second (Tbps) on our speed plans, while actual usage peaks at 23Tbps.</p> <p>This suggests we collectively use less than 6% of the speed we pay for!<a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/cybersecurity-war-online/" target="_blank"></a></p> <p>In contrast to our need for speed, our online time has grown tremendously.</p> <p>According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the average Australian household <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/Internet%20Activity%20Report%20%28December%202020%29.pdf" target="_blank">consumed 355 gigabytes of data in December 2020</a>, a 59% increase on the year before.</p> <p>Our internet usage is like a marathon runner gradually adding more and more miles to their training distances, rather than a sprinter reaching higher and higher top speeds.</p> <p>It therefore makes little sense to judge our multi-hour marathon of video streaming, gaming and teleconferencing by running a connection speed test which is a 5-10 second sprint.</p> <h2>What do we really need from broadband?</h2> <p>So what do we need from our broadband for a good streaming, gaming or conferencing experience?</p> <p>A connection that offers low and relatively constant <em>latency</em> (the time taken to move data packets from the server to your house) and <em>loss</em> (the proportion of data packets that are lost in transit).</p> <p>These factors in turn depend on how well your internet service provider (ISP) has engineered and tuned its network.</p> <p>To reduce latency, your ISP can deploy local caches that store a copy of the videos you want to watch, and local game servers to host your favourite e-sport titles, thereby reducing the need for long-haul transport.</p> <p>They can also provide good routing paths to servers, thereby avoiding poor-quality or congested links.</p> <p>To manage loss, ISPs “shape” their traffic by temporarily holding packets in buffers to smooth out transient load spikes.</p> <p>But there’s a natural trade-off here: too much smoothing holds packets back, leading to latency spikes that cause missed gunshots in games and stutters in conferences.</p> <p>Too little smoothing, on the other hand, causes buffers to overflow and packets to be lost, which puts the brakes on downloads.</p> <p>ISPs therefore have to tune their network to balance performance across the various applications.</p> <p>But with the ACCC’s <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/internet-landline-services/broadband-performance-data" target="_blank">Measuring Broadband Australia (MBA) Program</a> predominantly focused on speed-testing, and with a 1% margin separating the top three ISPs all keen to claim the top spot, we are inadvertently incentivising ISPs to optimise their network for speed, rather than for other factors.</p> <p>This is a detrimental outcome for users, because we don’t really have quite the need for speed we think we do.</p> <h2>How can we do better?</h2> <p>An alternative approach is possible.</p> <p>With advances in artificial intelligence (AI) technology, it is now becoming possible to analyse network traffic streams to assess users’ experience in an application-aware manner.</p> <p>For example, AI engines trained on the pattern of video “chunk” fetches of <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://www2.ee.unsw.edu.au/%7Evijay/pubs/conf/19tma.pdf" target="_blank">on-demand streams</a> such as Netflix, and <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://www2.ee.unsw.edu.au/%7Evijay/pubs/conf/21iwqos.pdf" target="_blank">live streams</a> such as Twitch, can infer whether they are playing at the best available resolution and without freeze.</p> <p>Similarly, AI engines can <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.ausnog.net/sites/default/files/ausnog-2019/presentations/2.1_Vijay_Sivaraman_AusNOG2019.pdf" target="_blank">analyse traffic</a> throughout the various stages of games such as CounterStrike, Call of Duty or Dota2 to track issues such as lag spikes.</p> <p>And they can detect videoconferencing stutters and dropouts by analysing traffic on Zoom, Teams, and other platforms.</p> <p>Australia has made significant public investment into a national broadband infrastructure that is now well equipped to provide more-than-adequate speed to citizens, as long as it runs as efficiently as possible.</p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/computing/why-does-my-internet-connection-feel-slow-and-jumpy-even-when-my-internet-speed-is-high/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by The Conversation.</em></p> </div> </div>

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Researchers discover dangerous spyware being used to hack messages

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The recent hacking of a Saudi activist’s phone has alerted smartphone users to the dangers of messaging applications. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These apps, such as iMessage or WhatsApp, are the latest software targeted by hackers to steal private information. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">All it takes is a simple call through these systems to infiltrate a device, even if the person doesn’t answer. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Apple has recently issued an update saying they intend to resolve the loophole in iMessage, but there are still growing concerns over the ease of hacking through messaging software.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The latest research into cyber security was published by Citizen Lab, after the phone belonging to the anonymous activist was hacked using the Pegasus surveillance tool.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Pegasus – created by NSO Group, a global cyber security organisation based in Israel – is the world’s most powerful spyware tool.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Previous versions of Pegasus have deployed malicious software that could infiltrate devices without users needing to click on anything for the hacking to take place. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Citizen Lab researcher John Scott-Railton told </span><a href="https://www.news.com.au/technology/online/hacking/researchers-find-new-pegasus-spyware-hack-targeting-imessage-on-saudi-activists-iphone/news-story/dc5ed151272805b8a2eb62e7b5f332d6"><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Washington Post</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> that the hack on the Saudi activist’s phone showed that messaging apps were the weak spot. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Chat programs are quickly becoming a soft underbelly of device security,” he said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Pegasus has previously been investigated by cyber experts and journalists after political figures, business leaders and human rights activists have all been targeted. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The latest finding is expected to heap pressure on the Israeli government who have previously said they will investigate NSO Group.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image credit: Shutterstock</span></em></p>

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Meet gamer grandma Haughty Chicken

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">59-year-old Haughty Chicken is the gamer grandmother challenging the status quo.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Having gamed for most of her life, the Sydney resident has moved on from playing classics on the Atari to hosting her own live-streams on Twitch.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Her first game was Ping Pong Table Tennis, which she played on her parent’s TV.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“And then one of the cousins got the Atari system so I started playing that,” she told </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://honey.nine.com.au/latest/online-streaming-twitch-grandma-gamer-haughty-chicken/5f226c20-063d-48c8-b904-ff45d6b8ef70" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">9Honey</span></a></em><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">She even gamed in shopping centre arcades, moving with the times as games continued to evolve.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When she started her own live-stream, her twin sister hadn’t even heard of it.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“She looked at me for a minute. And she said, ‘Is it something to do with the cloud?’ And I said, ‘No.’”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After becoming a mum, Haughty Chicken gamed with her kids, and now with their kids.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“And my mum is a gamer too,” she said. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“My mum’s just turned 79.”</span></p> <p><img style="width: 0px; height: 0px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7844222/haughty-chicken1.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/594cc8bfe9ed40d6950e60f5de8a0b92" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Haughty Chicken / YouTube</span></em></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Haughty Chicken enjoys online gaming, particularly as a platform for making friends. She even met her husband that way.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It started as many friendships do start in any MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game, which is what World of Warcraft is. I was playing by myself and I tended to be quite solitary back then, even though it was a multiplayer game,” she said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“And I was trying to complete a quest and another player came over in the game to help me and I said, ‘Sure’, and we played for the rest of the day. And then the next time they came on, and I didn’t know who they were at that point.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It was only when we started voice chatting that I realised he was male and around my age.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Despite living in California at the time, as their friendship and relationship developed the Canadian player would later move to Australia and marry Haughty Chicken, joining and forming their own gaming family.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I will game online with my mum. She plays with some of the games I play. My children tend to play different things. My son is a console player. He plays a PS5.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Haughty Chicken is also well aware of the benefits that come with playing games online, aside from fun and making friends.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“And there’s been a lot of research to show that it does improve critical thinking and mental wellbeing,” she said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though she has gamed for her whole life, Haughty Chicken didn’t start sharing her gaming with the world until the pandemic hit in 2020.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I have never had a setup to stream because streaming was something I never thought I would do,” she said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Having set herself up with a camera and microphone and gained a following of almost 16,000 people since April 2020, Haughty Chicken admits that live streaming has changed how she plays.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Because it’s not just a solo thing,” she said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It has to be something that I can give to my community as well. So I actually choose my games relative to my stream - I won’t choose a game that I stream that will take a lot of my attention, because then I can engage with my community.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“And my community is growing.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I think I’ve got about four-and-a-half thousand people in the US from streaming - a lot of followers in a short space of time. And they’ve not stopped coming since, which is lovely.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Although the majority of her followers are in their late 20s to 30s, Haughty Chicken said she does have older gamers reach out to her too.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“They’re very relieved when they do find me,” she said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“And I think that’s part of the reason why I’m growing. It’s not so much my age. It’s who I represent as an older person. It’s not a novelty. Many people come in and think it’s a novelty.”</span></p> <p><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.youtube.com/c/HaughtyChicken" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Haughty Chicken</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> streams six times a week between Tuesday and Sunday, usually taking Monday as a day-off.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Supplied</span></em></p>

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Seniors become more digitally savvy during the pandemic

<p>A survey has found that Aussie seniors (60+) have become more digitally savvy during the pandemic. So, what are the top apps and services they’re using?</p> <p>Digital magazine app <a href="https://au.readly.com/">Readly</a> has, together with Yougov, investigated how the pandemic has affected Aussie seniors and judging by what they found, Aussie seniors have become significantly more digital with 38 percent of people aged 60+ using more digital apps and services during the pandemic. </p> <p>Across all ages, digital habits have increased and the survey found 56 percent of Aussies are trying out more digital services than usual to facilitate their lifestyle.</p> <p>When asked, 81 percent of Aussies said they believed their lifestyle will remain more digital after COVID.</p> <p><strong>Significant shift among Aussie seniors</strong></p> <p>But it’s amongst Aussie seniors where you can see a significant digital shift has occurred. Interestingly, 80 percent of the 60+ age demographic believe their lifestyle will remain more digital after the pandemic and lockdown eases.</p> <p>This indicates that over the next few months, we may see even more of an increase in seniors adopting digital technology or trying new platforms.</p> <p><strong>What are the top digital apps seniors are trying?</strong></p> <p>The top digital apps our seniors have been trying for the first time during lockdown include:</p> <ul> <li>Reading apps (magazines, newspapers, books)</li> <li>Food ordering apps</li> <li>Video call apps</li> <li>Film and series apps</li> <li>Gaming apps</li> <li>Podcast apps</li> <li>Social media apps</li> </ul> <p>Chris Couchman Head of Content for Readly said, “The pandemic has brought with it curiosity and knowledge about how the digital world can bring us closer to each other, optimise our well-being and make everyday life easier.</p> <p>“It is fantastic to see how the older target group discovers reading apps like Readly as a source of everything from entertainment to news. We are also seeing the increase in readership across the gardening, home and DIY genres, which reflects our interests in more activities to do at home.”</p> <p>“During the last six months there has also been a 30 percent increase in engagement with crosswords and sudoku on the platform, which we know is popular among the senior demographic.”</p> <p>Looking ahead, the survey looked at what activities Australians were most looking forward to in a post COVID society, with 58 percent of our seniors saying they’re mostly looking forward to travelling.</p> <p><strong>About the Survey:</strong></p> <p>The survey was conducted by YouGov on behalf of Readly. A total of 1070 interviews were conducted among Australians over the age of 18 during the period 17-24 June, 2021.</p> <p><em>Image: Readly</em></p>

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Ray-Ban and Facebook collaborate on a controversial project

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Facebook and Ray-Ban have announced the launch of a “first generation” pair of sunglasses that has divided fans of the brand. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The ‘smart glasses’ combine a sleek looking pair of sunnies that showcase the brand’s signature style, but with a very unique feature. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The glasses boast a tony 5MP camera lens in each of the glasses that can be used to capture life’s special moments completely hands free. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The glasses feature a simple touch button to start a 30-second video recording that says stored on the glasses. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When the user opens the Facebook View app, the photos and videos download onto your phone and can be shared on any social media platform. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Facebook's president of their Reality Labs Andrew Bosworth said the glasses are introducing a new way of connecting. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">"Ray-Ban Stories is designed to help people live in the moment and stay connected to the people they are with and the people they wish they were with.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">He said, "We're introducing an entirely new way for people to stay connected to the world around them and truly be present in life's most important moments, and to look good while doing it."</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While the glasses certainly seem impressive, many potential customers have questions about privacy. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Facebook predicted the hesitancy, and said the glasses were “designed with privacy in mind”.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In a blog post announcing the product, they say "we have a big responsibility to help people feel comfortable and provide peace of mind, and that goes not only for device owners but the people around them, too."</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While Facebook assures users that the glasses are equipped with software to protect the privacy of others, it’s up to each individual customer to not abuse the new technology. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Facebook's Ray-Ban Stories are now on sale from $449 in Australia, at OPSM and Sunglass Hut or Ray-Ban online.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Check out the promotional video here.</span></p> <blockquote style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/tv/CTm1mBSBE8i/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="13"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"></div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;"><a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/tv/CTm1mBSBE8i/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank">A post shared by Ray-Ban (@rayban)</a></p> </div> </blockquote> <p><em>Image credit: <span style="font-weight: 400;">Getty Images / Instagram @rayban</span></em></p>

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Touch screens transmit less disease the more they’re touched

<div class="copy"> <p>You’ve probably used many public touch-screen interfaces, to withdraw cash at ATMs, check-in at airports, and in numerous other places.</p> <p>As we’ve all learned during the past 18 months, they can be prime opportunities to transmit disease.</p> <p>But new research has found a surprising result: in some cases, they’re less germy if they’re touched more.</p> <p>“It was an interesting result that seemed surprising at first,” says Andrew Di Battista, senior ultrasound research scientist at Ultraleap, a UK-based company that makes touch-free displays and interfaces, and first author on a paper describing the research, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.210625" target="_blank">published</a> in <em>Royal Society Open Science</em>.</p> <p>“However, once you consider the full scenario it makes intuitive sense. Essentially, once a TUI (touchscreen user interface) has been contaminated there is a fixed number of pathogens available to ‘infect’ other users.</p> <p>“The next couple of people to use the screen will pick up most of the available pathogens (particularly if they have to touch the screen at a higher rate). As a result, the risk to these individuals goes up with higher touch rates, while simultaneously having the effect of shielding subsequent users.”</p> <p>The researchers, who are based at Ultraleap and the University of Cyprus, used computer simulations to examine the risk of disease transmission from touch screen interfaces.</p> <p>“The model is meant to work as a framework where you set certain parameters, run the simulation and watch what happens,” says Di Battista.</p> <p>“It turns out that TUIs have some nice simplifying features – the glass/non-porous surface correlates well with laboratory results from the literature involving touch deposit rates, pathogen survival times, etc.”</p> <p>They examined the model’s sensitivity with a simulation of touch screens at one location, changing factors like disease infectivity, cleaning rate, and the rate of people touching the screen.</p> <p>They then ran a simulation based on data from check-in and baggage drop screens at Heathrow Airport in the UK, focusing on cleaning rate and comparing use of the screens to a non-touch alternative.</p> <p>The simulations were used to predict the changes in the reproduction number.</p> <p>The reproduction number, or <em>R,</em> is the number of people expected to become infected by someone carrying a disease.</p> <p>A disease with an <em>R </em>value of 2.0 means that one person carrying it infects two other people, on average.</p> <p>This number varies for diseases depending on how transmissible they are, and how much opportunity there is to transmit – an area with lots of people in close contact yields higher <em>R</em> values than one with more space, for instance.</p> <p>The researchers found several predictable results: timing of use on the TUIs makes a difference to the <em>R</em> value, as pathogens rarely survive for a long time without a host, for instance.</p> <p>High cleaning rate of screens is also associated with low transmission.</p> <p>But surprisingly, the model suggested that multiple screen touches did the same thing as cleaning the screen.</p> <p>In a high-touch scenario, if an infected person used the screen and deposited pathogens, the next one or two users would pick all those germs up, removing them from the screen and preventing further transmission.</p> <p>“Overall, the <em>R</em> value goes down because this is proportional to the <em>total number</em> of people ‘infected’ in the simulation,” says Di Battista, “but this is only because the risk to those unlucky initial one or two users after contamination goes up.</p> <p>“So perhaps the <em>R</em> value doesn’t quite fully express all the risk.”</p> <p>Di Battista says the simulation could be used to examine other high-touch public devices, like keyboards, but these can be harder to predict because they’re made of a more diverse group of materials than touch screens, and they’re handled in different ways.</p> <p>Next, the researchers are planning to refine their touch-screen model, and see if they can use it to predict more complicated touch-screen interactions.</p> <p>“One of the things we would like to implement is the model’s ability to estimate cross-contamination, ie pathogens picked up from one surface onto fingers/hands that get re-deposited onto the next touched surface,” says Di Battista.</p> <p><em>Image credit: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/body-and-mind/public-touch-screens-transmit-less-disease-with-higher-use/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Ellen Phiddian.</em></p> </div>

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