New Delhi, May 6 (PTI) The coronavirus tracking app Aarogya Setu was “secure” and there was no privacy breach in it, Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Wednesday, rejecting charges that it was a “sophisticated surveillance system” that was leveraged to track citizens without their consent.
The government”s assertion also came a day after French hacker and cybersecurity expert Elliot Alderson had claimed that “a security issue has been found” in the app and that “privacy of 90 million Indians is at stake”.
Describing the app as a “prominent preventive measure” in India”s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, an official release said as per information available, close to nine crore users have downloaded it as on May 4.
The mobile application is used by the government for contact tracing and disseminating medical advisories to users in order to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“This is a technological invention of India — Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, our scientists, NIC, Niti Aayog and some private (entities) — whereby it is a perfectly accountable platform to help in the fight against COVID-19. It is safe and secure. The data is in an encrypted form. Most importantly, it is for the safety of Indians in public interest because it cautions you in the event there is a COVID-infected person in your vicinity.” Prasad told PTI.
Last week, the Centre made it mandatory for government and private sector employees to use Aarogya Setu mobile application to bolster the efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and instructed the organisational heads to ensure 100 percent coverage. The Union Home Ministry also said the mobile app will be a must for people living in COVID-19 containment zones.
Following the government”s announcement, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged that the app is a “sophisticated surveillance system, outsourced to a private operator, with no institutional oversight”, raising serious data security and privacy concerns.
“Technology can help keep us safe; but fear must not be leveraged to track citizens without their consent,” Gandhi had said.
Using the GPS (global positioning system), the app helps in tracking movement of COVID-19 patients within coronavirus hotspots. However, the opposition party and others have maintained that the application captures more information than necessary for the tracking purposes.
Prasad said the mobile application also helps tracing contacts in the event a person is infected.
“It is a very robust invention of technology and many other countries are using similar applications to fight COVID-19. And the second most important point is that the data is limited. Routine data remains for 30 days and in the event you are infected, then (for) 45 to 60 days. Then automatically it will vanish,” he explained.
There is always an option to scratch the app out of the phone or uninstall it, he added. “Then what is this ”hangama” (rukus) all about? The country has understood its utility and has willingly accepted it,” he said.
The Aarogya Setu app is for smart phones.
“For feature phones we have developed Aarogya Setu IVRS. The app is absolutely robust in terms of privacy protection and safety and security of data,” he said.
According to the Union home ministry, it is mandatory for all government and private sector employees attending office to download the app.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been urging people to download the Aarogya Setu app, saying it is a fantastic use of technology to combat coronavirus.
“Tracks the spread of COVID-19 and notifies you if someone around you is suffering from it. Also lists help-desk numbers of various states,” he had said in a series of tweets last month.
Dismissing Alderson”s claim, the government said “no personal information of any user has been proven to be at risk by this ethical hacker”. PTI NAB PLB PYK PYK
Twitter Locks China’s US Embassy Account Over Xinjiang Policy-Related Tweet
By Reuters | Updated: 21 January 2021
Twitter has locked the account of China’s US embassy for a tweet that defended China’s policies in the Xinjiang region, which the US social media platform said violated the firm’s policy against “dehumanisation”.
The Chinese Embassy account, @ChineseEmbinUS, posted a tweet this month that said that Uighur women were no longer “baby making machines,” citing a study reported by state-backed newspaper China Daily.
The tweet was removed by Twitter and replaced by a label stating that it was no longer available. Although Twitter hides tweets that violate its policies, it requires account owners to manually delete such posts. The Chinese embassy’s account has not posted any new tweets since January 9.
Twitter’s suspension of the embassy’s account came a day after the Trump administration, in its final hours, accused China of committing genocide in Xinjiang, a finding endorsed by the incoming Biden administration.
The Biden administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Twitter’s move.
“We’ve taken action on the Tweet you referenced for violating our policy against dehumanisation, where it states: We prohibit the dehumanisation of a group of people based on their religion, caste, age, disability, serious disease, national origin, race, or ethnicity,” a Twitter spokesperson said on Thursday.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a e-mailed request for comment. Twitter is blocked in China but is an increasingly favoured platform by China’s diplomats and state media.
China has repeatedly rejected accusations of abuse in its Xinjiang region, where a United Nations panel has said at least 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims had been detained in camps.
Last year, a report by German researcher Adrian Zenz published by the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation think tank accused China of using forced sterilisation, forced abortion and coercive family planning against minority Muslims. The Chinese foreign ministry said the allegations were groundless and false.
Twitter’s move also follows the removal of the account of former US president Donald Trump, which had 88 million followers, citing the risk of violence after his supporters stormed the US Capitol this month.
Twitter had locked Trump’s account, asking for deletion of some tweets, before restoring it and then removing it altogether after the former president violated the platform’s policies again.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
DC to Relaunch Mobile App as DC Universe Infinite on January 21 With Focus on Comics
By ANI | Updated: 20 January 2021
DC is all set to shake up its comics app on January 21 and will be relaunching it as DC Universe Infinite.
According to The Verge, the original DC Universe featured television shows and comics, but now that DC shows have moved to HBO Max, the company has decided to refocus the app on comics and the ”fan community,” while keeping the same USD 7.99 (roughly Rs. 580)-a-month price.
DC Universe Infinite will have DC’s catalogue and early access to comics six months after they are released physically in stores.
The company said that the comic reader in its app has been improved, and users will have more options to curate custom lists of titles.
The app will also have a customisable icon and a widget for iOS 14 so that users can get back into whatever they were reading faster.
As per The Verge, in terms of features, DC Universe Infinite is most similar to Marvel Unlimited, which is Marvel’s USD 9.99 (roughly Rs. 730)-a-month take on an exclusive comics service.
Infinite undercuts Marvel by keeping its cost at USD 7.99 (roughly Rs. 580) a month or USD 74.99 (roughly Rs. 5,500) a year , and it might help to make it popular as WarnerMedia rolls out its plans for the DC universe(s) in film and TV.
Dunzo Raises $40 Million in Funds From Google, More Investors as It Rides Pandemic-Induced Surge
By Reuters | Updated: 20 January 2021
Dunzo has raised $40 million (roughly Rs. 290 crores) from existing investor Google and others after seeing a surge in usage during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As many Indians stayed indoors for much of 2020 because of the health crisis, Dunzo and food-delivery apps Zomato and Swiggy recorded a fresh surge in popularity. Naspers-backed Swiggy also runs a hyperlocal courier service.
“This capital stems from a year of robust growth amidst the pandemic,” Dunzo said in a statement. “As cities reopen, (Dunzo) continues to see strong growth across user segments.”
Besides Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada, and Alteria also participated in the fundraising round, the Bengaluru-based company added.
Dunzo allows users to order groceries and other essential items from nearby stores as well as run pick-up and drop errands within the eight cities it operates in.
“As merchants go digital, Dunzo is helping small businesses in their digital transformation journey,” said Caesar Sengupta, vice president at Google, which has set aside $10 billion (roughly Rs. 73,100 crores) for digital investments in India over five to seven years.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
TikTok Parent ByteDance Launches Douyin Pay Mobile Payment Service in China
By Reuters | Updated: 19 January 2021
Beijing-based ByteDance launched on Tuesday its third-party payment service for the Chinese version of its hit short video app TikTok, “Douyin Pay”, as it presses to expand into the e-commerce business in China.
“The set-up of Douyin Pay is to supplement the existing major payment options, and to ultimately enhance user experience on Douyin,” Douyin said in a statement.
Users of Douyin, which accumulated 600 million daily active users, previously could use Ant Group’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay, the country’s two ubiquitous third-party mobile payment channels, to buy virtual gifts for livestreamers or items from shops on the platform.
ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang Yiming built up the company’s payment capability in China by acquiring Wuhan Hezhong Yibao Technology last year. Hezhong Yibao obtained a third-party payment license from the central bank in 2014.
ByteDance has been ordered by the outgoing Trump administration to divest TikTok’s US assets on national security concerns.
The company, which denies the allegation, has been in talks for months with Walmart and Oracle to shift such assets into a new entity.
Douyin is the main revenue generator for ByteDance. It provides a glimpse of what TikTok could eventually become, as Douyin started selling merchandise in 2017 and now operates a growing e-commerce operation where hundreds of millions of users shop on a daily basis.
ByteDance’s expansion comes as China’s financial regulators are tightening oversight over financial technology firms, particularly companies such as Ant Group.
China’s third-party payment sector is dominated by Alipay and WeChat Pay, with the former taking 55.39 percent of the total market in the second quarter of last year, according to market researcher Analysys. Other players include JD.com’s JD Pay, Baidu Wallet, and Meituan Pay.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
WhatsApp May Retain Only 18 Percent Users Amid Privacy Row: Survey
By ANI | Updated: 19 January 2021
A recent survey has revealed that only 18 per cent of users may continue using WhatsApp in India while 36 per cent will reduce their usage drastically. Also, 15 per cent of users are likely to stop using the app completely, amid the ongoing privacy row.
According to Mashable, the survey received over 24,000 responses from WhatsApp users based in 244 districts of India. 24 percent of users said they (along with their groups) are considering a switch to other instant messaging platforms, while 91 percent of WhatsApp users said that they will not use its payment features.
This action is over the concerns that WhatsApp will share payment and transaction-related data with its parent company Facebook and other third parties.
As per Mashable, Signal and Telegram had 24,000 and 1.3 million downloads respectively between January 1 and January 5, leading to growth by 9,483 per cent in the case of Signal and growth by 15 per cent in the case of Telegram. WhatsApp, on the other hand, has witnessed a massive drop in its downloads by 35 per cent over January 6 to January 10.
Parler Partially Reappears With Support From Russian Technology Firm
By Reuters | Updated: 19 January 2021
Parler, a social media website and app popular with the American far right, has partially returned online with the help of a Russian-owned technology company.
Parler vanished from the Internet when dropped by Amazon’s hosting arm and other partners for poor moderation after its users called for violence and posted videos glorifying the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
On Monday, Parler’s website was reachable again, though only with a message from its chief executive saying he was working to restore functionality.
The Internet protocol address it used is owned by DDos-Guard, which is controlled by two Russian men and provides services including protection from distributed denial of service attacks, infrastructure expert Ronald Guilmette told Reuters.
If the website is fully restored, Parler users would be able to see and post comments. Most users prefer the app, however, which remains banned from the official Apple and Google stores.
Parler CEO John Matze and representatives of DDoS-Guard did not reply to requests for comment.
Last Wednesday, Matze told Reuters the company was in talks with multiple service providers but declined to elaborate.
DDoS-Guard has worked with other racist, rightist and conspiracy sites that have been used by mass murderers to share messages, including 8kun. It has also supported Russian government sites.
DDoS-Guard’s website lists an address in Scotland under the company name Cognitive Cloud LP, but that is owned by two men in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Guilmette said. One of them told the Guardian recently that he was not aware of all of the content the company facilitates.
Parler critics said it was a potential security risk for it to depend on a Russian company, as well as an odd choice for a site popular with self-described patriots.
Russian propaganda has stoked political divisions in the United States, supporting outgoing US President Donald Trump and amplifying false narratives about election fraud but also protests against police brutality.
Parler, which disclosed it has over 12 million users, sued Amazon last Monday after the ecommerce giant and cloud services provider cut off service, citing poor moderation of calls to violence.
In an update on Monday, Parler.com linked to a Fox News interview in which Matze said he was “confident” Parler would return at the end of January.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
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