Category "News/Technology & Science"

The Facebook livestreaming and subsequent widespread sharing of a shooting that killed 49 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, is raising questions about social media firms’ abilities and responsibilities to stop their platforms from being used to propagate hate and inspire violence.

The attack during Friday prayers on March 15 was recorded and livestreamed on Facebook, apparently by the attacker, until police contacted the social media company to remove the video.

Philip Mai, director of business and communications at Ryerson University’s Social Media Lab, said it does appear that the original video was taken down faster than in previous incidents like this.

But he noted that it still took some time because it required police to intervene.

“By then, the damage has already been done,” he said.

The video, 17 minutes long at its full length, was subsequently shared on various social media platforms, including Twitter and YouTube, for hours, despite police appeals not to share the videos and social platforms’ reported attempts to stamp out circulating copies.

BuzzFeed tech reporter Ryan Mac reported that he was will seeing copies circulating 18 hours later.

Mai said social media sites are often able to remove content such as music videos that they believe violate someone’s copyright far more proactively and automatically, using artificial intelligence.

And Facebook announced Friday that it was planning to use artificial intelligence to automatically flag “revenge porn” for removal.

“The technology’s there,” Mai said. “But for whatever reason, this kind of thing is not being flagged as quickly as other types of content.”

He acknowledged that live videos are unique and may be harder to detect and flag than content like music videos, but he said there have been enough such incidents to program a computer to watch for certain patterns.

Need for regulation?

However, putting in place such a system, along with a process for people to appeal removal, and hiring humans to make the final call could be expensive, he added. It’s something companies may choose not to do if it isn’t required by law.

I think that governments should be looking into laws and have a public debate as to what responsibility these companies have,” he said. “What does society want from these companies and what do we need to impose on them?”

Stephanie Carver, an assistant professor of international affairs who researches terrorism, told CBC News Network she thinks that governments should be asking more questions of social media companies and their role in making it easy to share extremist information.

While many social media companies have started taking Islamist extremist content more seriously and dealing with it, she said, “they’ve been far less willing” to do that with far-right extremism, and governments should ask why.

“And do we need some kind of regulation going forward that … not just forces them to adhere to the law, but to their own stated standards about violence and hateful rhetoric?” she said.

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Facebook Inc. said on Thursday it had restored service to its main app and Instagram, after the world’s largest social network suffered a major outage that frustrated users across the globe for about 24 hours.

The company blamed the outage on a server configuration change.

It also said it was considering whether to refund advertisers for lost exposure due to the problems, which internet outage trackers showed affected users in Europe, Japan, and North and South America.

“Yesterday, a server configuration issue made it difficult for people to access our apps and services. We are 100 per cent back up and running and apologize for any inconvenience,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

“We are still investigating the overall impact of this issue, including the possibility of refunds for advertisers.”

Facebook makes tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue every day.

Media reports earlier said millions of users were affected, and thousands took to Twitter on Wednesday and Thursday to complain under the hashtag #facebookdown.

DownDetector website — one of the internet’s most used sources of numbers on outages — showed the number of complaints had peaked at more than 12,000, gradually falling to about 180 as of 11 a.m. ET on Thursday.

The BBC and a handful of other media outlets said it was the platform’s longest ever outage. Reuters was not immediately able to verify those claims and the company declined to comment beyond the statement on resumption of services.

Facebook’s shares fell nearly two per cent in morning trading on Thursday.

Criminal investigation

Separately, the New York Times reported on Wednesday that U.S. federal prosecutors were conducting a criminal investigation into data deals Facebook struck with more than 150 technology companies such as Inc. and Apple Inc.

Facebook is facing a slew of lawsuits and regulatory inquiries over its privacy practices, including ongoing investigations by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and two state agencies in New York.

A spokesperson for the social network said the company was co-operating with investigators in multiple federal probes, without addressing the grand jury inquiry specifically.

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Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook will start to emphasize new privacy-shielding messaging services, a shift apparently intended to blunt privacy criticisms of the company.

In effect, the Facebook co-founder and CEO promised to transform the service from a company known for devouring the personal information shared by its users to one that gives people more ways to communicate in truly private fashion, with their intimate thoughts and pictures shielded by encryption in ways that Facebook itself can’t read.

But Zuckerberg didn’t suggest any changes to Facebook’s core newsfeed-and-groups-based service, nor to Instagram’s social network, currently one of the fastest-growing parts of the company. That didn’t sit well with critics.

“He’s kind of pulled together this idea that the thing that matters most to people is privacy between peers and one-to-one communication, ignoring completely the idea that people also value their privacy from Facebook,” said Forrester analyst Fatemeh Khatibloo.

Zuckerberg laid out his vision in a Wednesday blog post , following a rocky two-year period in which the company has weathered a series of revelations about its leaky privacy controls. That included the sharing of personal information from as many as 87 million users with a political data-mining firm that worked for the 2016 Trump campaign.

Since the 2016 election, Facebook has also taken flak for the way Russian agents used its service to target U.S. voters with divisive messages and for being a conduit for political misinformation. Zuckerberg faced two days of congressional interrogation over these and other subjects last April.

Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram connect

As part of his effort to make amends, Zuckerberg plans to stitch together its Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram messaging services so users will be able to contact each other across all of the apps.

Zuckerberg plans to stitch together its Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram messaging services so users will be able to contact each other across all of the apps. (Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images)

The multiyear plan calls for all of these apps to be encrypted, so no one could see the contents of the messages except for senders and recipients. WhatsApp already has that security feature, but Facebook’s other messaging apps don’t.

Zuckerberg likened it to being able to be in a living room behind a closed front door, and not having to worry about anyone eavesdropping. Meanwhile, Facebook and the Instagram photo app would still operate more like a town square where people can openly share whatever they want.

Creating more ways for Facebook’s more than two billion users to keep things private could undermine the company’s business model, which depends on the ability to learn about the things people like and then sell ads tied to those interests.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Zuckerberg said he isn’t currently worried about denting Facebook’s profits with the increased emphasis on privacy.

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It’s been eight long years since astronauts launched from U.S. soil. Now, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is readying for the test of a lifetime with the test launch of its new crew capsule.

The test launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule is scheduled for Saturday at 2:49 a.m. ET in Florida. If all goes well, the spacecraft — uncrewed but loaded with some experiments and supplies for the astronauts as well as a test dummy named Ripley after the protagonist in the Alien movies — will dock with the International Space Station (ISS).


It will be the first commercial crew mission to visit the ISS.

The launch called Demo-1 is designed to test avionics, docking, solar arrays, communications and environmental controls among other things. 

“There are a lot of things you can prepare for on the ground, and through analysis and tests — and we do all that on the ground — but there’s nothing like flying a mission to be able to really check out all the key systems … to get ready for our next mission,” Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA Commercial Crew Program, said last week during a news conference.

In this photograph, the Crew Dragon sits at the launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the crew access arm in position. (SpaceX)

SpaceX has successfully launched and even reused its Dragon cargo capsule, but this will be the first flight for the Crew Dragon, and there are some differences from its predecessor.

When the Dragon cargo reaches the ISS, Canadarm 2 captures it and brings it to dock. Crew Dragon will be able to dock on its own.

The Crew Dragon also has SuperDraco thrusters, more powerful than the Draco thrusters used on the Dragon. They will have the ability to act as a launch escape system in case the crew needs to abort before or after launch.

In 2015, SpaceX conducted its pad abort test seen here. (SpaceX)

The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, which will carry the capsule, will return to a drone ship off the coast of Florida.

The shiny white new capsule is about five metres tall and can carry as many as seven astronauts.

After launching, the capsule will orbit Earth for just over 24 hours before heading to the ISS where it is scheduled to dock at 6:05 a.m. on Sunday. It will then dock where the current astronauts on the station — including Canadian David Saint-Jacques — will unload the cargo.

NASA said that the astronauts, who are already preparing for the Crew Dragon’s arrival, will be able to explore the new capsule after it’s docked. It will then head back to Earth on March 8 where it will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred kilometres off the Florida coast.

I guarantee everything will not work exactly right and that’s cool.– Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of NASA Human Exploration and Operations

As it’s the inaugural launch, NASA officials said they don’t expect everything to go off without a hitch.

“I guarantee everything will not work exactly right and that’s cool,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of NASA Human Exploration and Operations. “That’s exactly what we want to do. We want to maximize our learning so we can get this stuff ready so when we put crew on … it’ll be the right safety for our crews.”

See the interior of the Crew Dragon in the video below.


Boeing’s Starliner capsule

The first crewed flight for SpaceX will take place some time in July.

Boeing, which is also providing crew transport for NASA, is scheduled to do its first uncrewed demo launch of its Starliner capsule in April. Its crew demo will take place in mid-2019.

The two companies will also have to do abort tests before their crewed missions.

Human spaceflight is basically the core mission of SpaceX. So we are really excited to do this. There is nothing more important for us than this endeavour.– Hans Koenigsmann, vice-president of SpaceX’s build and flight reliability

Hans Koenigsmann, vice-president of SpaceX’s build and flight reliability, said the company is happy to be playing a role in getting humans into space.

“Human spaceflight is basically the core mission of SpaceX,” he said. “So we are really excited to do this. There is nothing more important for us than this endeavour.”

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Mars One, a Dutch company that planned to send humans on a one-way trip to Mars and start the first human colony on the Red Planet, has been declared bankrupt.

The declaration was made in a Swiss court on Jan. 15 — and posted on Reddit this past weekend — officially dissolving Mars One Ventures AG. The company has not issued a statement and has not yet responded to CBC’s request for comment.

Mars One began accepting applications in 2013 for a mission to establish a permanent settlement on Mars. It planned to launch a total of 24 people in groups of four every two years starting in 2024. The company claimed it could do so using existing technology.

It estimated launching the first four people would cost $6 billion US, and said it planned to raise the money through broadcasting rights and sponsorships.

More than 200,000 people from 100 countries applied, including more than 8,000 Canadians.

The company announced a shortlist of 100 people in 2015, including six Canadians.

However, experts questioned the plan and pointed out that it had some potentially deadly flaws, and some critics openly questioned whether it was a scam.

“The fact is the money is not there, the technology is not there,” Elmo Keep, a journalist who has been investigating the company, told CBC Radio’s q this past November.

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Is your name and your phone number all it takes for a hacker to take over your cellphone account?

Marketplace‘s latest investigation has found that just a few pieces of personal information could leave you and your accounts vulnerable.

It happened to Erynn Tomlinson. The former cryptocurrency executive lost about $30,000 in cryptocurrency after hackers used a few of her personal details during interactions with Rogers customer service representatives to ultimately gain access to her account.

“I don’t know how to describe it. I was sort of in shock at the whole thing,” said Tomlinson about realizing hackers stole savings she was planning on using for a mortgage.

Tomlinson is a victim of the latest type of hack plaguing the telecommunications industry: it’s called a SIM swap, and hackers use what’s known as social engineering to make it happen.

Social engineering fraud typically happens through email, phone, or text — or in Tomlinson’s case, through online chat windows. Hackers use charm and persuasion to convince a customer service representative they are actually the account holder.

If at first you don’t succeed, hack again

The hackers might have a few pieces of publicly available personal information: a person’s name, email address, birthdate, postal code or phone number.

Hackers use some of those details to try to sweet talk a representative into handing over more information and ultimately gain access to an account.

“The attackers are very sophisticated. In this case, Rogers didn’t provide any friction for them and made it far too easy,” Tomlinson said of her experience.

In an increasingly cashless world, many people rely on digital apps for banking and online purchases. Experts say hackers are taking advantage of this. (Hannah Yoon/Canadian Press)

As far as Tomlinson can tell, the hackers had only her name and her phone number. Over a series of eight different online chats, the hackers managed to obtain her date of birth, email address, account number, the last four digits of her credit card, and other details about her account.

Armed with this information, the hacker convinced a Rogers rep to activate a new SIM card linked to Tomlinson’s account, which could then be placefrushedd into a phone in their possession. A SIM card is a chip used to identify and authenticate a subscriber to a service provider.

Once the hackers had executed the SIM swap, they were able to use their own phone to gain access to a number of Tomlinson’s sensitive accounts, including those tied to her finances.

  • Watch Marketplace‘s investigation into social engineering fraud at 8 p.m. Friday on CBC-TV and online.

Tomlinson used two-factor authentication on her sensitive accounts, an extra security step that sends a message to your cellphone before granting access. Tomlinson believes the SIM swap allowed the hackers to divert those incoming messages to a new device, effectively bypassing her security measures.

She first became aware something was wrong when her cellphone stopped working. After stopping by a nearby café to use the Wi-Fi, she realized one of her financial accounts was at zero. She rushed home and logged onto her other accounts, and also saw them being drained.

In total, the hackers managed to steal the equivalent of $30,000 in cryptocurrency.

“I hope this is a bit more of an extreme case,” she said. “But I think … every Canadian is at risk right now.”

Social engineering on the rise

Tomlinson’s losses may sound extreme, but companies around the world say social engineering attacks are on the rise.

Canada’s federal privacy commissioner now requires all companies to report any security or privacy breaches. Since November 2018,  there have been more than a dozen reports of social-engineering breaches in this country’s telecommunications sector alone.

In an email, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner told Marketplace the trend “clearly raises concerns.”

The emergence of social engineering fraud comes as no surprise to ethical hacker and cybersecurity expert Joshua Crumbaugh.

“Social engineering’s been a popular thing, I mean, since the beginning of time — we just gave it a new term. It’s the same thing that grifters and con men have been doing forever … they’re just exploiting basic human weaknesses or vulnerabilities.”

Joshua Crumbaugh is an ethical hacker and cybersecurity expert whose company, PeopleSec, teaches skills for avoiding cyberattacks. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

It’s human nature to want to help and avoid conflict, which is why Crumbaugh says the key to a successful social engineering hack depends on who picks up the other line.

Chances are if one person is not willing to help, the next person likely is, he says.

“It’s just psychology. So if you understand how somebody’s going to react to something, you can easily manipulate somebody into giving you information or access to things that maybe they shouldn’t.”  

Marketplace calling

To see how Rogers would respond to a social engineering attack, Marketplace asked Crumbaugh to try to hack into Marketplace host Charlsie Agro’s personal account, providing him only with her name and phone number.

On the first attempt, Crumbaugh called the company’s customer service line, posing as Agro’s personal assistant. The call ended quickly, with the rep refusing Crumbaugh’s access to the account unless Agro phoned and added him as user.

He called back minutes later and, with a different rep on the phone, instead posed as Agro herself. He did not disguise his voice. This time, the agent requested Agro’s birthdate and email address as verification, which Crumbaugh was able to provide after some quick searches online.

The agent also asked Crumbaugh to provide the PIN and postal code attached to the account. Crumbaugh guessed at a PIN number and, after another online search, provided a postal code. Both were off by a single digit but the agent still allowed Crumbaugh to access the account, which could have ultimately locked Agro out.

Watch how ethical hacker Joshua Crumbaugh uses social engineering to gain access to Charlsie Agro’s Rogers account:

Cybersecurity expert Joshua Crumbaugh hacks into Marketplace host Charlsie Agro’s Rogers account using only her name and phone number. 1:00

Crumbaugh believes companies need to better educate their customer service representatives on how to identify and prevent social engineering hacks.

“We have got to do more in making our people aware that these things happen,” he said.

Marketplace asked the Canadian Wireless and Telecommunications Association — the wireless industry’s main lobby group, representing Bell, Rogers and Videotron, among others — what it is doing to help protect consumers from social engineering attacks.

CWTA president Robert Ghiz said each of its members is responsible for their own security, but that the companies have measures in place to keep customers’ data safe, including PINs, passwords, security questions and voice identification.

He also said many telecommunications companies are undertaking training for their staff, and that he believes protecting consumers against social engineering attacks is a top priority for CWTA members.

“It’s got to be about educating those front-line services and training those front-line services — and it needs to continue to be vigilant into the future,” Ghiz said.

When Marketplace pointed out that an incorrect PIN and postal code didn’t keep our ethical hacker out of Agro’s account, Ghiz said he believes the security measures in place are largely working, noting there are millions of calls coming in every week.

“There’s always going to be some human error that’s going to exist,” he said.

Rogers responds

In an email, Rogers said it takes its customers’ privacy and security very seriously and the company is continually strengthening its security measures and verification processes. It reinforces those measures with “ongoing training in authentication best practices for front-line team members.”

When provided with the results of Marketplace‘s ethical hacking test, Rogers admitted its authentication steps were not followed and said action was taken to reinforce proper protocols with the agent involved.

As for Tomlinson, she says she was not happy with the solutions Rogers offered following her experience: she was initially offered three months of free service, then a year of free service.

She is now pursuing legal action against the company.

Although Rogers would not comment on Tomlinson’s case, as it is before the courts, the company argues it is not responsible for what happened to her.

“What I really want to see is, not just that they give platitudes, and say, ‘Oh, we’re sorry this happened’ from a customer service point of view, but that they make real changes to their policies and their training … so that this can’t happen,” said Tomlinson.

Kevin Mitnick, one of the world’s most famous hackers, says social engineering attacks are happening every day, as they’re relatively easy to perform, with little technical skill needed. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

Kevin Mitnick, an infamous hacker turned do gooder, agrees customer service reps need better training. “The companies need to have policies put into place to come up with a way to have a very high confidence that they’re dealing with the consumer,” he said.

Mitnick has hacked into more than 40 companies, from a McDonald’s drive-thru to Motorola, and was once one of the FBI’s most wanted — eventually serving five years in prison for computer and phone hacking. Today he runs a business that points out security flaws to the corporations he once targeted.

Social engineering attacks are happening every day, Mitnick says, and it is often the first technique hackers turn to, because “calling somebody on the phone is so much easier than doing the technical magic you need to break into a computer.”

Mitnick is adamant: Consumers need to demand more from their vendors. If you aren’t satisfied with the steps your provider is taking to protect your account, vote with your wallet, he says.

“It’s really up to the organizations that need to verify their customers’ information. They’re the ones that are in control … they’re the ones that could affect change,” he said. “The consumer can only demand change — and if they’re unwilling to do it, you go to a different vendor.”

Consumers can help themselves

Crumbaugh says there are some ways consumers can help themselves.

First, if possible, set a PIN on your account. Choose four digits at random; connecting them to an easy-to-guess birthdate or address is a bad idea.

He also suggests creating fake answers to common security questions like “What is your mother’s maiden name.”  For example, don’t use your dog’s real name and if you do, don’t make that information public.

Social media is one of the first places hackers look to for clues about your passwords and answers to common security questions, such as your birthdate and where you went on your honeymoon.

Watch as Marketplace asks Canadians how careful they are about their online passwords:

Marketplace asked members of the public about the strength of their passwords. 0:51

“So many people will use their children’s names or birthdates or their animals’ names as passwords, and then you go onto their social media, and they’ve posted a million pictures of the same dog with the name of their dog, and they’re basically putting their passwords out there for everyone to see,” said Crumbaugh.

Crumbaugh also suggests using security questions that require an answer only you know but is not a personal detail like a birthdate.

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Canadian efforts to reduce single-use plastic will get a boost this year when a major retailer is slated to launch a test of reusable packaging in the most populated part of the country.

The chain’s identity is expected to be unveiled this spring, with online operations starting by year end, says the founder of recycler TerraCycle’s Loop.

“I say this as a Canadian, I’m super excited about getting Loop to Canada. I think it will resonate really well with the public there,” says Tom Szaky, who grew up in Toronto.

Residents within a 200- to 300-kilometre radius of Canada’s largest city will be able to purchase hundreds of products in reusable packaging made by some of the world’s leading brands, including Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Nestle.

Goods ranging from Haagen-Dazs ice cream to shampoo, toothbrushes and laundry detergent packaged in specially designed reusable containers will be ordered online from the retailer’s e-commerce site and delivered along with other store purchases. In-store purchases are expected to follow about six months later.

Cold-pressed juice startup Greenhouse Juice Co. will also participate in the project, demonstrating it’s not just suitable for “big behemoths,” he said.

The system is akin to the old milkman delivery service that was ubiquitous in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Loop is very much a reboot of an old idea but done in a very modern setting,” said Szaky.

A deposit will be charged for the container and it will be refunded when the unwashed vessel is returned at the next delivery or at the store.

The recycling effort is being launched as corporations — including large retailers, airlines and fast-food chains — have joined a global bandwagon aimed at reducing single-use plastics. The material has attracted negative attention from images of a floating garbage island in the Pacific Ocean and tangled ocean wildlife.

Other retail solutions

Retailers including Ikea, Walmart, KFC, A&W, Starbucks and Subway have promised to eliminate plastic straws and are looking for plastic alternatives for lids and cutlery. Air Canada says it will replace millions of plastic stir sticks with wood on all flights starting this summer. Tim Hortons’ parent company says it will unveil efforts to tackle the issue in the coming months, begin testing a new strawless lid this year and increase the amount of recycled content in packaging.

Loop would do away with disposable containers for some name-brand products, such as Clorox wipes, above, some shampoos and laundry detergents. Instead, those products would be delivered in sleek, reusable containers that will be picked up at your door, washed and refilled. (Dara Rackley/TerraCycle via AP)

Retailers, suppliers, consumer goods companies and governments are taking action after research has disclosed the size of the challenge, says Kathleen McLaughlin, chief sustainability officer at Walmart Inc.

The world’s largest retailer has promised in Canada to further reduce checkout plastic bags, replace plastic straws with paper and eliminate “hard-to-recycle” PVC, expanded polystyrene and unnecessary plastic packaging in all its own private brand products.

McLaughlin denies Walmart is merely engaging in a public-relations exercise.

“No, this is real action,” she said in an interview. “We are trying to change the way that people produce and consume products.”

Loblaw Cos. Ltd. says it is looking for solutions both to plastic and food waste, and has taken action to reduce plastic checkout bags, increase recyclable packaging and eliminate synthetic microbeads in its private-label products.

“The challenge of plastics won’t be solved by one-off actions. It requires the work of industry, government and consumers — and a system built to address the environmental, social and business opportunities and risks associated with waste,” spokesperson Kevin Groh wrote in an email.

Metro Inc. expects to unveil its approach to reducing waste, including plastic by mid-year. Sobey’s says it agrees with customers who complain there is too much plastic packaging. It said it is working with suppliers and industry partners to reduce the amount of plastic used in packaging and other products.

‘Whole lifecycle’ costs?

While agreeing plastic waste is unacceptable, the Canadian plastics industry pushes back against attacks on a lightweight, cost-efficient product that extends the life of produce and supports food safety.

“I don’t think these companies are fully looking at the science,” said Joe Hruska, vice-president of sustainability at the Canadian Plastics Industry Association. “They are like any company, reacting to consumer pressure and the consumers just don’t know the facts.”

He points to a 2016 study by Trucost, an environmental data and risk analysis firm, that concludes replacing plastics with alternative materials would almost quadruple environmental costs because less plastic material is used “throughout the whole lifecycle” of the products.

Lesieur’s stainless steel vegetable oils and mayonnaise containers are designed for use with Loop. A major retailer is slated to launch a Canadian test of the reusable packaging system in the Toronto area this year. (Team Créatif/Lesieur/TerraCycle via AP)

Canadians generate about 3.25 million tonnes of plastic waste, or about 140,000 garbage trucks’ worth, each year, according to Greenpeace Canada.

Sarah King, head of an oceans and plastics campaign for the environmental group, says there’s too much reliance on improving the recyclability or increasing recycled content even though just 10 to 12 per cent of goods are recycled in Canada.

For too long, the onus has been unfairly placed on consumers to recycle better and dispose of things properly instead of requiring major corporations that produce the packaging to find alternatives, said King.

“We want to go back to a model that is more holistic and is more not so disposal-centric.”

Paris, New York debut 

Szaky said Loop puts the ownership of the containers back to manufacturers who will then be motivated to make packaging durable.

The system will launch in New York and Paris this spring.

Additional Canadian cities, likely starting in western provinces, will be added as a distribution network is built.

Loop is just one of many strategies that have to be implemented to tackle the problem, says Tony Walker, assistant professor at the School for Resource and Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University.

“There’s no one answer to this problem. It’s a very complex environmental challenge so there’s no one silver bullet. We just have to hit it with many solutions.”

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Imagine this: You finish your work for the day, press “Send” to email files to your boss, then lean back in your chair, toss your feet up, and gaze out at the turquoise water and white sand beach.

And no, it’s not a screen saver.

Untethered to a desk, a commute, or a mortgage, digital nomads use technology to work remotely, earning a living while they travel the world.

But while the thought of working from a tropical locale can be an intoxicating fantasy during these dreary days of winter, it’s not without its challenges. Indeed, much of the culture is built around perpetuating a dream, so cubicle workers can live vicariously through the brave few who are able to make a go of the nomadic lifestyle — often with no mention of the drawbacks of such radical freedom.

It wasn’t that long ago that the concept of a person just plugging in to the digital world from wherever they happened to be was a futuristic scene out of a cyberpunk William Gibson novel.

But the technologies we’ve come to take for granted in our daily lives — high-speed wireless internet and user-friendly production tools and platforms — have enabled entire economies built around digital culture, social media and online influence, and have made that science fiction reality.

Hubs for nomads

In turn, destinations around the world, from Chiang Mai, Thailand, to Medellin, Colombia, have become hubs for digital nomads, attracting “location-independent” freelancing travellers with an attractive combination of temperate climates, breathtaking scenery, reliable Wi-Fi, co-working spaces and a low cost of living.

According to a Gallup survey, over half the U.S. population already works remotely, at least some of the time, and this number is increasing.

Medellin, Colombia, is one of the hubs for digital nomads due to a combination of temperate climate, breathtaking scenery, reliable Wi-Fi, co-working spaces and a low cost of living. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

“We can attribute the uptick in remote work to a confluence of factors; the most obvious, of course, is the staggering growth of internet and mobile communication,” says Brooke Erin Duffy, an assistant professor in the department of communication at Cornell University, who notes that organizations are facing mounting pressure to provide more flexible work schedules to accommodate their employees.

Indeed, says Pat Lau, a Toronto-based visual effects artist, while 90 per cent of his clients are local, he’s never met most of them in person.

“I try not to form the habit of going to a studio unless it’s necessary,” he says. “If they ask me to come in, usually I decline, or ask if I can do the work remotely.”

Essentially, says Lau, it doesn’t matter where he is when he’s working. And while that currently means he can avoid a gruelling commute, his goal is to relocate to a more exotic setting.

Others have already made that leap.

“I was on a path to live a traditional lifestyle,” says Kate Smith, who has been travelling the world and working remotely since 2015. She lives in Bali and runs an immersive training program that shows people “how to get started with working online,” as well as a blog called The Remote Nomad that promises to help readers “create a life with more freedom and fulfilment.”

Scrolling through popular social media platforms, it would seem that, like Smith, many of the most prominent digital nomads support themselves by documenting their travels, sharing their experiences and teaching others how to do the same.

Indeed, while there are no doubt many less visible digital nomads quietly working in graphic design or online marketing, the top related search results on YouTube feature lessons and tips on how to be a digital nomad, and how to make money while travelling and working remotely.

‘Think in a different way’

So what does it take to make the dream a reality?

“People think they need to be a developer or overly tech savvy, but that’s not true,” says Smith. “It really comes down to learning how to think in a different way … it takes a lot of hard work, but it’s possible.”

But Duffy cautions, “The idea of overnight success is often a mythical one that conceals everything that goes on behind the scenes or, in this case, behind the screens.”

A woman works on a computer at a coffee shop in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. High-speed wireless internet and user-friendly production tools and platforms have enabled entire economies built around digital culture, social media and online influence. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

She says, as with any type of social media career, the meritocratic notion that “with talent, anyone can do it,” is a central part of its cultural resonance.

Ironically, given the time commitment required to build and maintain a loyal online following, many of the most visible digital nomads don’t necessarily enjoy the very freedom they promote so enthusiastically.

Dan Johnston, a self-proclaimed digital nomad, runs a YouTube channel called Dreams Around the World filled with videos such as “How to work for yourself and travel full time.”

He says he’s encountered workaholics who sell freedom because that’s what they think people want, but they’re not living that. “They’re really selling how to make money online, and look at all this freedom, but they’re ultimately working 60 hours a week.”

Of all of the visitors to Smith’s blog, or Johnston’s YouTube channel, only a fraction will  follow the lessons they proffer, to actually become a digital nomad.

And for those who are able to make a go of it financially, a new set of challenges present themselves.

Less glamorous side

The less glamorous elements of the nomadic lifestyle “are strategically concealed,” says Duffy.

“We’ve seen a wider idealization of independent work in recent years, and the celebration of the digital nomad is a key place to witness how certain features of this workstyle get underplayed,” Duffy explains. She cites the intermittent nature of employment, the lack of stability or benefits and, notably, the social repercussions.

Kate Smith admits that being a nomad can be really lonely. (Kate Smith)

As Smith admits, being a nomad can be really lonely.

“It’s difficult to find other people that have the flexibility to live this lifestyle. It’s hard to have people come and go in your life. It’s the most difficult part.”

Johnston points out that many of the services offered in hubs that target digital nomads are designed to address the inevitable loneliness of the lifestyle, by fostering a sense of community with “things like workstations, or co-living, or co-working.”

So maybe there’s a tradeoff between those brave enough to leave it all behind and those who stay closer to home, perhaps chained to a desk and committed to a mortgage, but with the benefit of friends and community.

After all, we all need to dream, and if we can’t be gazing off at a sparkling turquoise ocean, at least we can scroll through an Instagram version.

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Apple says Facebook can no longer distribute an app that paid users, including teenagers, to extensively track their phone and web use.

The tech blog TechCrunch reported late Tuesday that Facebook paid users about $20 US ($26) a month to use the Facebook Research app. While Facebook says this was done with permission, the company has a history of defining “permission” loosely and obscuring what data it collects.

Facebook says fewer than 5 per cent of the app’s users were teens and they had parental permission. Nonetheless, the revelation is yet another blemish on Facebook’s track record on privacy and could invite further regulatory scrutiny.

App store circumvented

According to TechCrunch, Facebook sidestepped Apple’s app store and its tighter rules on privacy. Apple says Facebook was using a distribution mechanism meant for company employees, not outsiders, so Apple has revoked that capability.

This is very flagrantly not allowed.– Will Strafach, mobile app security researcher

As of Wednesday, a disclosure form on Betabound, one of the services that distributed Facebook Research, informed prospective users that by installing the software, they are letting Facebook collect a range of data. This includes information on apps you have installed, when you use them and what you do on them. Information is also collected on how other people interact with users and their content within those apps, according to the disclosure.

Betabound warned that Facebook may collect information even when an app or web browser uses encryption.

Mobile app security researcher Will Strafach, who studied the app on TechCrunch’s behalf, told The Associated Press that he was aghast to discover Facebook caught red-handed violating Apple’s trust. He said such traffic-capturing tools are only supposed to be for trusted partners to use internally. Instead, he said Facebook was scooping up all incoming and outgoing data traffic from unwitting members of the public — in an app geared toward teenagers.

“This is very flagrantly not allowed,” said Strafach, CEO of Guardian Mobile Firewall. “It’s mind-blowing how defiant Facebook was acting.”

He called “muddying the waters” any attempt by Facebook to claim that users who installed the apps understood the unrestrained scope of the data collection.

“I don’t think they make it very clear to users precisely what level of access they were granting when they gave permission,” Strafach said. “There is simply no way the users understood this.”

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Apple has made the group chat function in FaceTime unavailable after users said there was a bug that could allow callers to activate another user’s microphone remotely.

The bug was demonstrated through videos online and reported on this week by tech blogs. Apple’s online support page on Tuesday said there was a technical issue with the application and Group Facetime “is temporarily unavailable.”

Reports said the bug in the video chat app could allow an iPhone user calling another iPhone through Group Facetime to hear the audio from the other handset — even if the receiver did not accept the call.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement warning people about the bug and urging people to disable the app until Apple fixes the issue.

How to disable FaceTime

Here’s how to disable FaceTime on a Mac

  • Open the FaceTime app.
  • Choose FaceTime in the menu.
  • Choose “Turn off FaceTime.”

Disabling FaceTime on an iPhone or iPad:

  • Open Settings.
  • Scroll down to FaceTime app.
  • Hit the button, turning green slider to grey.

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