Microsoft to Contractors: Give New Parents Paid Leave

Microsoft will begin requiring its contractors to offer their U.S. employees paid leave to care for a new child.

It’s common for tech firms to offer generous family leave benefits for their own software engineers and other full-time staff, but paid leave advocates say it’s still rare to require similar benefits for contracted workers such as janitors, landscapers, cafeteria crews and software consultants.

“Given its size and its reach, this is a unique and hopefully trailblazing offering,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families.

The details

The new policy affects businesses with at least 50 U.S.-based employees that do substantial work with Microsoft that involves access to its buildings or its computing network. It doesn’t affect suppliers of goods. Contractors would have to offer at least 12 weeks of leave to those working with the Redmond, Washington-based software giant; the policy wouldn’t affect the contractors’ arrangements with other companies. Leave-takers would get 66 percent of regular pay, up to $1,000 weekly.

The policy announced Thursday rolls out over the next year as the company amends its contracts with those vendors. That may mean some of Microsoft’s costs will rise to cover the new benefits, said Dev Stahlkopf, the company’s corporate vice president and general counsel.

“That’s just fine and we think it’s well worth the price,” she said.

Microsoft doesn’t disclose how many contracted workers it uses, but it’s in the thousands.

The new policy expands on Microsoft’s 2015 policy requiring contractors to offer paid sick days and vacation.


Other companies such as Facebook have also committed to improve contractor benefits amid unionization efforts by shuttle drivers, security guards and other contract workers trying to get by in expensive, tech-fueled regions such as the San Francisco Bay Area and around Washington’s Puget Sound.

Facebook doesn’t guarantee that contract workers receive paid parental leave, but provides a $4,000 new child benefit for new parents who don’t get leave. A much smaller California tech company, SurveyMonkey, announced a paid family leave plan for its contract workers earlier this year.

Washington state law

Microsoft said its new policy is partially inspired by a Washington state law taking effect in 2020 guaranteeing eligible workers 12 weeks paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child. The state policy, signed into law last year, follows California and a handful of other states in allowing new parents to tap into a fund that all workers pay into. Washington will also require employers to help foot the bill, and will start collecting payroll deductions next January.

A federal paid parental leave plan proposed by President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, could rely on a similar model but has gained little traction.

“Compared to what employers are doing, the government is way behind the private sector,” said Isabel Sawhill, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has urged the White House and Congress to adopt a national policy.

Sawhill said it is “very unusual and very notable” that Microsoft is extending family leave benefits to its contract workers. Microsoft already offers more generous family leave benefits to its own employees, including up to 20 weeks fully paid leave for a birth mother.

Pushing the feds

Microsoft’s push to spread its employee benefits to a broader workforce “sends a message that something has to happen more systematically at the federal level,” said Ariane Hegewisch, a program director for employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Until then, she said, it’s helpful that Microsoft seems willing to pay contracting firms more to guarantee their workers’ better benefits.

“Paid family leave is expensive and they acknowledge that,” Hegewisch said. Otherwise, she said, contractors with many employees of child-bearing age could find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to those with older workforces.

Republican state Sen. Joe Fain, the prime sponsor of the measure that passed last year, said Microsoft’s decision was “a really powerful step forward.”

By applying the plan to contractors and vendors around the country, “it really creates a pressure for those state legislatures to make a similar decision that Washington made.”

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Republican US Senator Asks FTC to Examine Google Ads

U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch on Thursday added to the growing push in Washington to have the Federal Trade Commission rekindle an antitrust investigation of Alphabet Inc’s Google.

Hatch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons recounting several news reports that identified complaints about Google’s anti-competitive conduct and privacy practices.

Alphabet shares were little changed after the release of the letter. The company declined to comment.

Lawmakers from both major parties and Google’s rivals have said this year they see an opening for increased regulation of large technology companies under the FTC’s new slate of commissioners.

Google’s critics say that ongoing European antitrust action against the web search leader and this year’s data privacy scandal involving Facebook Inc and political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica demonstrate their concerns about the unchecked power of the tech heavyweights. About 90 percent of search engine queries in the United States flow through Google.

Facebook and Twitter executives are expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on September 5 about their  efforts to deter foreign campaigns from spreading misinformation online ahead November’s midterm elections. Lawmakers have criticized Alphabet for not scheduling a top executive, such as Chief Executive Larry Page, for the hearings.

In 2013, the FTC closed a lengthy investigation of Google after finding insufficient evidence that consumers were harmed by how the company displayed search results from rivals. President Donald Trump accused Google’s search engine on Tuesday of promoting negative news articles and hiding “fair media” coverage of him.

Trump’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, later said the White House was “taking a look” at Google, and that the administration would do “some investigation and some analysis,” without providing further details.

Earlier this year, Representative Keith Ellison, a Democrat, and Representative Todd Rokita, a Republican, sent separate letters asking the FTC to probe Google.

Simon, the new Republican chairman of the FTC, said in July the agency would keep a close eye on big tech companies that dominate the internet.

An FTC representative was not immediately available for comment.

Hatch, at event hosted by reviews website and Google rival Yelp Inc in May, said moves made by “an entrenched monopolist” deserve extra skepticism.

“They may well be used, not to further consumer welfare, but to foreclose competitors,” he said, according to prepared remarks.

Yelp, a local-search service, said in a statement that Hatch’s letter was “heartening to see” as it underscored the bipartisan plea for FTC scrutiny of Google.

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Germany, Seeking Independence From US, Pushes Cybersecurity Research

Germany announced a new agency on Wednesday to fund research on cybersecurity and to end its reliance on digital technologies from the United States, China and other countries.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told reporters that Germany needed new tools to become a top player in cybersecurity and shore up European security and independence.

“It is our joint goal for Germany to take a leading role in cybersecurity on an international level,” Seehofer told a news conference with Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. “We have to acknowledge we’re lagging behind, and when one is lagging, one needs completely new approaches.”

The agency is a joint interior and defense ministry project.

Germany, like many other countries, faces a daily barrage of cyberattacks on its government and industry computer networks.

However, the opposition Greens criticized the project. “This agency wouldn’t increase our information technology security, but further endanger it,” said Greens lawmaker Konstantin von Notz.

The agency’s work on offensive capabilities would undermine Germany’s diplomatic efforts to limit the use of cyberweapons internationally, he said. “As a state based on the rule of law, we can only lose a cyberpolitics arms race with states like China, North Korea or Russia,” he added, calling for “scarce resources” to be focused on hardening vulnerable systems.

Germany and other European countries also worry about their dependence on U.S. technologies. This follows revelations in 2012 by U.S. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden of a massive spying network, as well as the U.S. Patriot Act which gave the U.S. government broad powers to compel companies to provide data.

“As a federal government we cannot stand idly by when the use of sensitive technology with high security relevance are controlled by other governments. We must secure and expand such key technologies of our digital infrastructure,” Seehofer said.

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Virtual Reality: Digital Medicine to Combat Pain

More than 100 hospitals across the United States are using virtual reality or VR, as a form of therapy for patients to help manage symptoms such as pain and anxiety. An increasing number of countries worldwide are taking an interest in VR and doctors are starting to develop international guidelines on how to apply and validate VR in healthcare. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles, where one hospital is leading the effort in using VR as digital medicine.

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Rights Groups Urge no Censored Google Search for China

More than a dozen human rights groups have sent a letter to Google urging the company not to offer censored internet search in China, amid reports it is planning to again provide the service in the giant market.


The joint letter dated Tuesday calls on CEO Sundar Pichai to explain what Google is doing to safeguard users from the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance.


It describes the censored search engine service, codenamed “Dragonfly,” as representing “an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights.”


“The Chinese government extensively violates the rights to freedom of expression and privacy; by accommodating the Chinese authorities’ repression of dissent, Google would be actively participating in those violations for millions of internet users in China,” the letter says.


In a statement, Google said it has “been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools. But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China.”


The expression of concern by the rights groups follows a letter earlier this month signed by more than a thousand Google employees protesting the company’s secretive plan to build a search engine that would comply with Chinese censorship. The letter called on executives to review ethics and transparency at the company.


Google had previously complied with censorship controls starting in 2006 as it sought a toehold in the booming Chinese economy. But it exited the Chinese search market in 2010 under unrelenting pressure from human rights groups and some shareholders to leave.


The letter, signed by groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, said China’s controls over the internet have only strengthened since then amid an overall crackdown on civil liberties and freedom of expression.


“It is difficult to see how Google would currently be able to relaunch a search engine service in China in a way that would be compatible with the company’s human rights responsibilities under international standards, or its own commitments,” the letter said.


According to online news site The Intercept, Google created a custom Android app that will automatically filter out sites blocked by China’s so-called “Great Firewall.”


Google co-founder Sergey Brin was born in the Soviet Union in 1973 and lived there until age 6 when his family fled. He has said his experience with a repressive regime shaped his and the company’s views.


However, Pichai, who became CEO in 2015 when Google became part of parent Alphabet, has said he wants Google to be in China serving Chinese users.


In December, Google announced it was opening an artificial intelligence lab in Beijing, and in June, Google invested $550 million in, a Chinese e-commerce platform that is second only to Alibaba in the country. The companies said they would collaborate on retail solutions around the world without mentioning China, where Google services including Gmail and YouTube are blocked.


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Cameroon Gaming Stars Train New Generation of Business Superheroes

Off a dusty path in the capital city, flanked by chickens roosting in the grass, one of Cameroon’s most successful digital startups is capitalizing on its success to foster a new generation of entrepreneurs.

Founded in 2013, Kiro’o Games has grown to become Central Africa’s first major video games studio. It draws on African mythology rather than Hollywood for inspiration, as in its fantasy role-playing game “Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan.”

Today, Kiro’o’s online educational platform Rebuntu, launched in June last year, trains young Cameroonians to navigate obstacles in real-life business.

“Our generation has the duty to bring something really new that will finally generate growth,” said Olivier Madiba, founder and chief executive officer of Kiro’o.

Subscribers pay 10,000 Central African francs ($17.50) to access a digital training manual, featuring cartoons and advice on how to find good projects, hire the right staff and secure investor funding.

They can also seek online and in-person mentoring from Kiro’o staff.

In volatile Central Africa, better known for conflict, disease and poverty, training locals to set up international companies may seem like mission impossible.

Unlike neighboring states, Cameroon has been relatively stable for decades, but is blighted by high youth unemployment.

Many young people with professional education are forced to take up lower-skilled jobs such as farming, driving taxis and running market stalls.

But Kiro’o digital communications head William Fankam believes there is another way: create your own work.

“We are wall-breakers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that the gaming team is determined not to let the region’s challenges halt their progress.

The company has broken down barriers in education, with its game designers managing to acquire expertise despite a lack of specialized training in Cameroon.

And it has also overcome the obstacle of financing, Fankam said, developing its own model to raise funds from investors.

The entrepreneurs’ training program aims to share Kiro’o’s pioneering approach with others, he added.

That may seem counter-intuitive in a competitive environment, but in Cameroon, there is a need to stimulate a dynamic and creative business community, he said.

“We realized we can’t evolve alone,” he said. “We want to create an ecosystem where we’ll have many startups with different services which would have an impact on the Cameroonian economy, and wider in Africa.”

In just over a year, about 1,000 Cameroonians have signed up for the training.

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has paid inscription fees for more than 800 of them, who are looking to set up technology-focused businesses.

‘Impossible Dream’

Kenneth Fabo, who runs JeWash, a home dry-cleaning and ironing service in Douala and Yaounde, said the program is helping him devise a crowdfunding strategy to grow his business.

“They taught us a certain method that helped us prepare to fund-raise effectively,” he said, describing how he received training to ensure the business is managed transparently and responsibly in a way that reassures investors.

Kiro’o Games – despite its unique selling point as an African company producing culturally relevant video games – struggled to raise money at the start, said Madiba.

“All conventional investors, the banks, the businesses, rejected our project,” said Madiba, whose childhood ambition was to make computer games. “So we decided to invent our own fundraising process.”

Through a combination of tactics including YouTube videos, a campaign on creative funding platform Kickstarter and tapping non-conventional backers like the Cameroonian diaspora, the group went on to raise 130 million francs ($227,000) from nearly 90 international investors – “a dream that everyone told us was impossible,” said Madiba.

Arielle Kitio Tsamo, founder of CAYSTI, an initiative that trains youth in technology, and winner of the 2018 Norbert Segard Foundation prize for African innovation, said her company had benefited from the Kiro’o support.

“They helped us structure our business model,” she said, adding the scheme also connected her with government partners.

Business Against Poverty

Efforts to motivate entrepreneurs and share knowledge are vital in Cameroon, where the education system does not provide such training, said Steve Tchoumba, business development manager at ActivSpaces, an incubator and accelerator for tech startups.

It provides temporary office space, as well as business coaching and links with mentors and investors, and has also set up partnerships with schools and universities.

“We want to motivate youth to consider entrepreneurship – and specifically technological entrepreneurship – as a potential way of poverty alleviation,” said Tchoumba.

“For every company that is created, there is income for the country, there’s employment for the youth,” he said.

Tchoumba particularly hopes to foster social businesses that can bring wider benefits to local communities.

Multinational companies are also showing interest in West Africa’s startup scene.

Since 2017, Google has been running Launchpad Accelerator Africa, a training program for promising startups. In June, it began accepting applications from Cameroon, Senegal and Ivory Coast, among others.

Despite promising developments, many of the African incubators that have sprung up in the past five years have limited resources, World Bank private-sector specialist Alexandre Laure noted in a blog earlier this year.

Challenges include a lack of basic business necessities, such as a reliable power supply, with sub-Saharan Africa having the world’s lowest household electrification rate.

Kiro’o’s Madiba admits dealing with power cuts and other fundamental problems is tough, but says the group’s resilience has spurred it on to greater things.

“When we started we were just passionate — but at a certain point we became a symbol of something, and we didn’t anticipate this,” he said, referring to the frequent emails he receives from Cameroonians struggling to set up a business.

Many tell him they do not give up because Kiro’o shows that success is possible.

“It’s not only a job — you are building a legacy,” said Madiba.

($1 = 572.4500 CFA francs)

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Oprah, John Legend Voice ‘Madagascar’ Director’s VR Passion Project

It’s been around for decades, but, unlike regular 3D, virtual reality (VR) has yet to make a big impact in the movie industry, something a maker of Hollywood animations believes can change – if the films are good enough.

Eric Darnell, who co-wrote and directed the “Madagascar” movies, showed his own VR film at the Venice Film Festival this week, “Crow: The Legend,” in which the viewer is immersed in the story of a mythical bird that has to fly to the sun to bring back warmth to the Earth.

With a voice cast that includes Oprah Winfrey, John Legend and “Crazy Rich Asians” star Constance Wu, “Crow” is hardly an amateur affair, but Darnell’s Baobab Studios will be giving the movie away rather than selling it, as a way to generate interest in the medium.

“I don’t expect it’s going to be today or six months even,” he said of when VR might go mainstream.

“The technology has to get better, headsets have to get cheaper, the content has to get better and that’s at least as important as anything else,” Darnell told Reuters. “It’s a chicken and an egg thing. You can make all the great headsets you can but if there’s not great content … what’s the point?”

Darnell said he was attracted to VR after becoming “a little bit stale” making regular animation.

“When I put a VR headset on, it just blew me away and it reminded me of the first time I saw computer animation back in the early 80s … (That) launched a whole career for me and so when I put that headset on it reminded me of what I felt like

back then.”

In “Crow”, based on a native American legend, the viewer wears a VR helmet and hand-controllers to join the bird on its adventure, using the hands to send waves of virtual energy to help it on its way.

“I think the way we are really going to get there is by putting the viewer inside the story,” Darnell said. “Not just playing a story for them, putting them inside the story so that other characters recognize that the viewer is there and that it means something to them, that you are in their world.”

The Venice Film Festival runs from Aug. 29 to Sept 8.

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Instagram: Users Can Now Evaluate Authenticity of Accounts

Photo-sharing app Instagram’s more than 1 billion users will now be able to evaluate the authenticity of accounts, weeks after parent Facebook Inc rolled out similar measures in a bid to weed out fake accounts on its social media platform.

Instagram said on Tuesday it will launch the “About This Account” feature that will allow users to see the advertisements an account is running, the country where the account is located, username changes in the past year as well as other details.

“Keeping people with bad intentions off our platform is incredibly important … that means trying to make sure the people you follow and the accounts you interact with are who they say they are, and stopping bad actors before they cause harm,” Instagram co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Mike Krieger said.

Instagram also said it will allow the use of third-party apps such as DUO Mobile and Google Authenticator for two-factor authentication to help users securely log in to their accounts.

Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security on top of usernames and passwords by prompting users for information they have access to.

Earlier this month, Facebook introduced this feature for users who managed pages with a large U.S. following, seeking to make it harder to administer a page using a fake or compromised account.

These features will be broadly available in the coming weeks, the photo-sharing app said in a blog post.

Starting Tuesday, Instagram will allow accounts with a large reach to request verification through a feature within the app, it said.

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As Tesla Deals With Internal Woes, Rivals Make Their Move

While Tesla grapples with internal issues like production delays, a sometimes-erratic CEO and a recent about-face on whether to go private, its rivals are moving aggressively into the luxury electric vehicle space.

In the next few days, German competitors Mercedes-Benz and Audi, the luxury arm of Volkswagen, are both showing off production-ready electric sport-utility vehicles aimed at Tesla’s Model X.

Meanwhile Jaguar Land Rover offers the I-Pace electric SUV while further out, Porsche is taking on Tesla’s Model S high performance luxury car with the Taycan, expected to reach the market in late 2019.

The established carmakers have multiple motives. They need zero driving emissions vehicles to meet tougher greenhouse gas limits coming into effect in Europe in 2021. Diesel is in the doghouse. And China, a major market, is pushing hard for more electrics.

But the new models will also aim to win back some of the luxury customers drawn away by Tesla’s electric vehicles at a time when the company is consumed by multiple distractions . Its CEO, Elon Musk, took to Twitter on Aug. 7 to abruptly announce he had secured funding to take his company private, only to turn around 17 days later to say that Tesla would remain public . The electric carmaker is also facing financial pressure, with a $230 million debt payment that’s due in November on top of the $920 million that must be paid off three months later. And it has only recently hit production targets for its Model 3 mass-market vehicle.

In the meantime, its rivals — who had emphasized diesel and hybrids — are finally rolling out the leading edge of what they say will be a slew of all-electric models. Their latest offerings are “the vanguard” of more to come, said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

“By 2020, Tesla must stabilize itself or be overtaken,” he said.

The new entrants challenge what has been one of Tesla’s key selling points: range. The EQC sport utility crossover from Daimler AG’s luxury brand Mercedes, for instance, should go up to 500 kilometers (300 miles) on a single charge. That’s comparable to Tesla’s SUV, the Model X, which has a range of up to 295 miles. The EQC, to be unveiled outside of Stockholm on Sept. 4, is the first in the Mercedes EQ sub-brand that bundles the company’s efforts in electric, connected and autonomous driving. Media representatives didn’t provide a price ahead of the unveiling.

Volkswagen’s Audi will show off its e-tron in San Francisco on Sept. 17. It offers more than 400 kilometers (248 miles) on a single charge. The company says the e-tron should be able to use high-speed charger facilities — if they’re available — to charge in less than 30 minutes. The German price will be around 80,000 euros ($93,000) and it should go on sale near the end of the year in Europe, and next year in the U.S.

The Porsche Taycan will also pose a stiff challenge to Tesla’s Model S in terms of range: Porsche claims it can load enough power for 400 kilometers (248 miles) in just 15 or 20 minutes. The company hasn’t announced a price. The I-Pace, whose price starts at $69,500 before local and federal incentives, offers 292 miles (470 kilometers) under the tougher European Union standard. The Model S, meanwhile, has a range of up to 335 miles.

The starting price for Tesla’s Model X is around $80,700 while the Model S is around $74,500.

Not that Tesla is standing still while the competition laps it. Musk has said the company intends to develop a Model Y, a small SUV to be unveiled in the first half of next year — a growing sales category that other carmakers have been piling into as fast as they can.

But Tesla’s ambitions go way beyond the luxury electric vehicle market. That’s the whole point of the Model 3, which is aimed at the mass market with a starting price of $35,000 and an EPA range of 310 miles. But there, too, the company must go head to head with rivals. They include the BMW i3 with a starting price of $44,500 and an EPA range of 114 miles; the Nissan Leaf with a starting price of $30,000 and an EPA range of 151 miles; and the Chevrolet Bolt with a starting price of $37,495 and an EPA range of 238 miles. Nissan promises a longer range version of the Leaf for 2019 and in 2020, Volkswagen plans to launch a compact version of its all-electric ID lineup.

Tesla’s Supercharger network has a big advantage over competitors. The company’s website says it has 1,332 fast-charging stations with 10,901 charging units worldwide. Electric cars made by other manufacturers can’t use Tesla stations and public and private charging stations are sporadic. European carmakers are rolling out their own fast-charging highway network through a joint venture, but only a few stations are up and running.

Chris Hopson, manager of North American light vehicle forecasting for IHS Markit, said that established manufacturers are going electric not just in response to Tesla, “but because of a whole host of other things, with Tesla in mind.” New electrics serve “not just to alleviate some of sales going to Tesla but to also to grab hold of the ongoing trend globally toward electric vehicles.”

The electric push also comes in the wake of Volkswagen’s 2015 diesel scandal. The company’s illegal rigging of vehicles to cheat on emissions testing helped turn consumers off diesels. Falling diesel sales numbers make it harder for European car makers to meet lower fleet emissions requirements coming into force in the EU in 2021.

China is also pushing for more electric vehicles through regulation, requiring carmakers to ensure 10 percent of their fleets are electrics in 2019. Regulations limit foreign brands to about 4 percent of the market, with Tesla owning half that. Other carmakers such as BMW, Ford and GM work with local partners.

Analysts James J. Albertine and Derek J. Glynn said they do not see competition as a threat to Tesla, “but a validation of electric vehicle technology that will grow the global electric vehicle demand pie, of which Tesla is likely to maintain a significant share.”

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5-Person Sub Readies for Titanic Dive

The ocean has untold wonders waiting to be discovered. A U.S. company has developed an improved, ultra-deep diving submersible craft to search for them. It will take a 5-person crew as deep as 4000-meters, with the wreck of the Titanic its first deep sea destination. If the craft can withstand the staggering water pressure found several kilometers below the surface, it can explore the riches of an unknown world. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.

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Call Growing for Treaty to Ban Killer Robots

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is urging the United Nations to begin talks on a legally binding treaty to ban the use and development of lethal autonomous weapons systems. Representatives from more than 70 countries are attending a weeklong meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, or CCW, to recommend future work on this issue.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is a global coalition of 76 organizations in 32 countries. Members include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Mines Action Canada and the Nobel Women’s Initiative. It began in April 2013 to pre-emptively ban lethal autonomous weapons systems, better known as killer robots.

Activists say momentum is building for states to negotiate a ban on the devices when the CCW holds its annual meeting in late November; however, the recommendation for further action is required during the current CCW meeting.

Since the last meeting in April, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots reports 26 countries have joined the call for a ban. It says China is agreeable to a partial ban on the use of these weapons, though not on their development, and Russia has announced its support for a non-binding agreement.

Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch, the coordinator of the campaign, says this is putting pressure on the United States and other countries to support a ban on fully autonomous weapons.

“All of the ingredients are there for states to take action now,” Wareham said. “It is just a matter of who is willing to be the bad guy and try and block this, and that is what we will know at the end of the week. … The CCW operates by consensus, and it is always an awkward thing to witness. We will find out on Friday if any country wants to block the consensus for the proposed mandate.” 

The proposed mandate is to negotiate a legally binding agreement by the end of 2019. During the last meeting, France, Israel, Russia, Britain and the United States emerged as potential spoilers — they all explicitly rejected moves to prohibit these weapons systems.

Activists say legally binding arrangements must be enacted to ensure human control over lethal fully autonomous weapons. To do otherwise, they say, would violate international ethical standards. They say it is not possible to hold killer robots accountable for acts that would amount to war crimes if triggered by a human.

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Russian Artist Builds Cameras out of Wood

A Russian artist is going back to the roots of photography, rejecting the digital trappings and the assembly-line convenience of the modern age, by designing and creating wooden cameras the way they were built a hundred years ago. Combining craftsmanship with the principles of old school photography, some consider his creations art forms in themselves. And as VOA’s Julie Taboh reports, his wooden cameras, and the unique photographs he takes with them, are attracting buyers from around the world.

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WWII Shipwreck Found off Alaska, Sunk After Only Battle on US Soil

Scientists have used multibeam sonar and a remotely operated craft to locate the remains of the USS Abner Read, which was sunk nearly 75 years ago after hitting a Japanese mine off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. The ship had been sent to look for Japanese submarines following the only World War II battle to be fought on North American soil. VOA’s Jill Craig has more.

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Face Recognition Nabs Fake Passport User at US Airport

Facial recognition technology was credited with the arrest this week of a man attempting to use a fake passport to enter the United States at Washington’s Dulles airport, officials said.

Officials said that on the third day of deployment of the new technology, border agents were able to determine that the man was using a fake French passport.

US Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, said Dulles is one of 14 “early adopter airports” using facial recognition technology for the entry process, and began deploying it Monday.

On Wednesday, a 26-year-old man traveling from Sao Paulo, Brazil sought to enter with a French passport but the facial comparison biometric system determined he was not a match to the passport he presented.

A search revealed the man’s authentic Republic of Congo identification card concealed in his shoe. His name was not released.

The use of facial recognition has been growing for law enforcement, border control and other uses, even as concerns have risen on privacy.

Privacy activists say there are few safeguards on the databases used and that the technology evokes fears of a “Big Brother” surveillance state.

Heightening those concerns are studies showing facial recognition may not always be accurate, especially for people of color.

The technology is being adopted around the world, with China a heavy user of facial recognition for law enforcement.

The airport border agents use the biometric system to determine if the person is using a real passport, claiming it speeds the entry and exit process.

The agency is also assessing the use of biometric technology as part of a process from check-in to departure in which travelers use biometrics instead of their boarding pass.

The agency said in a release it is “committed to its privacy obligations” and has published several privacy impact assessments.

Facial recognition came into play earlier this year when a suspect arrested for a shooting at a newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, refused to cooperate with police and could not immediately be identified using fingerprint

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