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Apple Planning to Scan iPhones for Child Abuse Photos: The Flipside

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Earlier this week, Apple announced the newest of features under “protection of children.” Apple will be scanning every devices’ image library for child abuse imagery. From the surface, this initiative looks both commendable and sensible. But many fear that behind the noble cause, Apple might be trying to intervene in the users’ privacy, wide opening Pandora’s box of surveillance and privacy issues.

But, before jumping off to any conclusion let’s understand: What exactly does the new feature state? On what basis will Apple decide whether an image fits the child abuse definition? Will this new feature actually help in tackling child abuse, or is there an unforeseeable downfall?

Apple: The New Protection of Children Feature

Child sexual abuse has been a steaming concern for a long time, and with the rise of technology, it is spiraling out of control. According to NCMES, there was an estimate of 18.4 million cases of child sexual abuse imagery in 2018 alone. So, undoubtedly, technological superpowers do have the social responsibility of curbing the terrible abuse from their platforms, and Apple’s newest feature aims to do just that.

Apple unveiled a set of new tools on Thursday, 5th Augscannscanning iPhones and for explicit content, child pornography images, and text messages. The aggressive feature is proposed to thwart child predators and prey on pedophiles with the use of technology.

How Will it Work?

When used on a child’s mobile, any explicit photo received of their device via message will be blurred, with a warning of the content being subjected to age restrictions. If the child opens the picture anyway, then depending upon the age of the child, the parent or the guardian will be notified. This process will go both ways for receiving and sending.

Till this section, things seem justified, but further down the line, the water gets murky in the second part of the feature, where Apple will effectively scan every user’s iCloud photos, searching for any evidence of child sexual abuse material, also known as CSAM.

When the feature will be rolled out, Apple will be scanning and detecting every CSAM image stored in cloud photos. Suppose anything sketchy is found and the number of the material exceeds Apple’s marked threshold. In that case, the suspected images will be sent for manual review. Apple deployed employees will determine if or not the images and the users need to be reported. Afterward, if the employee decides the photo is truly inappropriate, it will be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and inform law enforcement authorities.

For ensuring user’s privacy, Apple has cleared that all the scanning will happen on everyone’s devices. iCloud photos have to be enabled in order to get your device scanned. So, before your images are uploaded to the cloud, the Apple device will be scanning all the photos against the explicit images on the national database to find a match.

In short, the scan will happen on the device. Apple will only be accessible as Apple is not disclosing the pre-determined internal threshold, which is justifiable, considering the malicious users.

The Unforeseeable Downfall for Apple Users?

Without a shadow of a doubt, the new addition of Apple is appreciable. Child abuse in any form must not be tolerated and should be punished by the laws. Proposed with the noble motive of strengthening law enforcement, the flip side of the new feature can open gates to more demand of user data from the government.

The genuine concern is about the users’ privacy. The suspicion of the technology used for the morally inarguable subject of child security being a gateway to users’ privacy intervention is in the air. Though according to the current formula, the images have to be matched with the NCMES database. But who can guarantee that this way of scanning cannot be connected and implemented on different databases in the coming future?

The current debate is that; Is it okay for Apple to be the digital hall monitor or a straight vigilante for its user? Who is to say that Apple will not expand these features as they see fit?

The conclusion

Once these doors of privacy intervention open, it will be very tough to close them. But what can we do in the catch 22 situation where on one hand the user has to compromise with its privacy or, on the other, debate against child protection which will be morally wrong and will look like they sure have something suspicious to hide. The way of using such a sensitive topic of child abuse and silence the opinion that is opposite is naive.

The arguments presented here are not against child security but about the fact that acceptance of such features could lead to more server privacy issues and could open wide doors to scanning less nefarious activities, significantly when fallen into the wrong hands.

Apple is not introducing this feature for the first time in the market. Google and Facebook are two of the most famous names that are already utilizing this technology for the greater good. But the two market leaders don’t promise the level of privacy as offered by Apple. And this new technology would act as a backdoor into every Apple device, which has a high potential of growing wider and wider.

Climate Change

Air Conditioners Exacerbate Climate Injustice

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Air conditioners exacerbate climate injustice

Air conditioners are the epitome of inequality and climate injustice.

Buying air conditioners is one of the most popular individual responses to climate change. As the temperature of the globe increases, most people are buying and using air conditioners to protect themselves from the scorching heat. As of 2020, there were 1.9 billion air conditioning units in the world. By 2050, the number of air conditioners is expected to grow to 4.5 billion. That means every 2 people out of 7 are using air conditioning. Further, 37% of all the world’s electricity is used for air conditioning.

At an individual level, air conditioning seem good to protect oneself from the sweltering heat. However, the use of air conditioners possesses two inherent problems- (i) They only worsen climate change and (ii) the access to air conditioning is inequitable.

How do Air Conditioners Contribute to Global Warming?

Air conditioning is a trap- the warmer it gets, the more air conditioners we use. The more we use air conditioners, the warmer it gets. It is an irony that the technology we need to stay cooler only makes the climate hotter.

Air conditioners use refrigerants that also happen to be powerful heat-trapping gases. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the chemicals used in air conditioners are 12,000 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

According to the calculations of the World Economic Forum, greenhouse gas emissions from air conditioning will account for as much as a 0.5-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures by the end of the century.

Also Read: Pakistan’s Climate Crisis: A Peek Into The Apocalyptic Future That Awaits

Unequal Access to Air Conditioners

As of now, people have mostly focused on the technological aspect of air conditioners. Various countries have started funding initiatives to upgrade air conditioners. They aim to replace HFCs with harmless chemicals.

The problem of unequal access to air conditioners is mostly disregarded.

It is perhaps because almost all elites possess an air conditioner. Further, lower-class people who cannot afford an air conditioner right now desire one. In this race for buying air conditioners, no one is asking the right questions.

Given that air conditioners contribute towards global warming through the release of HFCs and consumption of huge energy, why should only some people be allowed to have air conditioners?

The harmful effects of air conditioning on climate are socialized. However, the benefits are not socialized.

Also Read: Climate Refugees: Pain of Unseen Victims

We are not in this Together

When it comes to climate change, it is often repeated that we are all in this together. However, nothing is farther from the truth. The rich people who afford air conditioning make life terrible for others who cannot afford an air conditioning. Further, they totally insulate themselves from the harm of the air conditioners.

The case of air conditioning makes any kind of technological progress to protect humankind from climate change look bleak. If there is technological progress, it appears that it may be private. Like air conditioning, technology may not be a public good.

When Jeff Bezos returned from space last year, he made it very clear that elites will not reduce their carbon footprint. He instead suggested moving the heavy industry into space. He said, “We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry, and move it into space. And keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is. That’s going to take decades to achieve, but you have to start. And big things start with small steps.”

Bezos is the owner of one of the most polluting companies in the world. Instead of switching to green energy, he is talking about taking polluting industries to space.

It may, in fact, be possible for Bezos to start his life in space permanently. He may be able to give his future generations a better climate up in space. Unfortunately, he will take this step only after he has done damage maximum to the earth, to an extent that life may not be possible here.

That is exactly what air conditioning is- make life terrible for others but also make technological progress to insulate yourself from the harmful effects inflicted on others.

Also Read: Climate Change Deepening Gender Inequalities: A Reality Check

The Way Forward

Before taking any step towards mitigating climate change or making any technological progress to protect humankind from the effects of climate change, it must be kept in mind that climate change affects different classes of society differently.

Any future technology that is not public good should be rejected by the people. Although air conditioners are now beyond the stage where they could be regulated but governments must ensure that air conditioners are taxed heavily. The revenue thus generated can be channeled for green energy initiatives.   

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Are NFTs Killing our Planet? The Darkside of NFT Explained

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NFT

NFTs have exploded in popularity since the beginning of 2020. With the astounding rise in sales by 1,700% between December 2020 and February 2021, the newest tech sensations have led many artists to earn millions over the auction of a single picture.

However, there is a dark side to these digital assets. NFTs may be the future of digital art – but they are putting our planet’s future in grave danger.

So, what are NFTs? Are they bad for the environment? What makes them so dangerous for the planet? And, is there a future for green NFTs?

What are NFTs?

NFTs are being heralded as the next big thing in the high-growth crypto investing world. These tokens, which are seen as the digital equivalent of collectibles, have already attracted millions of dollars in investments in a range of NFTs and NFT-related enterprises. 

But, what exactly is NFT?

The idea of cryptocurrency is that each unit of the currency is interchangeable. They are all identical and worth the same amount; therefore, they are known as a fungible tokens. NFTs, on the other hand, are Non-Fungible Tokens.

An NFT is an information stored on a ledger maintained by a distributed network. However, each NFT is different from one another; therefore, not interchangeable.

My Trap Card NFT (which was sold for $17,000)
My Trap Card NFT (which was sold for $17,000)

NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are gaining traction in the digital world, and they may take the shape of artwork, music, metaverse real estate, and even selfies. They provide new ways for artists to profit from their work, as well as a means for purchasers to support creators while also gaining the bragging rights of having exclusive content. However, they have faced criticism for their environmental impact.

But, what makes NFTs bad for the environment?

Are NFTs Bad News For The Environment?

Yes, NFTs have a devastating impact on the planet. And one of the primary perpetrators behind NFT’s environmental impact is mining. Mining is a procedure that uses enormous processing power and energy to solve complicated mathematical problems to ‘mint’ an NFT on the blockchain and hand over the ownership to the buyer.

Ethereum, an open-source blockchain, is the most popular marketplace for NFTs. To construct these digital assets, Ethereum employs a purposeful inefficient ‘Proof of work‘ (PoW) approach.

Powerful computers can try an infinite number of new block creations each second. And the first miner to find the solution is rewarded with their unique assets, which are then added to the blockchain.

However, the puzzle becomes even more complex as more money fuels the NFT industry and more computers join the race to solve the problems. To stay competitive, miners constantly need to upgrade to higher computing power, large warehouses, and more powerful cooling systems. Thus boosting the carbon footprint.

Take, for example, Space Cat,‘ a GIF NFT of a cat traveling to the moon in a rocket. According to Crypto Art, the Space Cat’s carbon footprint is the same as an EU resident’s electrical usage for two months.

Finding the Worst Offender of Carbon Footprint

Given a sequence of steps involved and little to no research in determining the emission during each stage; finding out the actual carbon footprint of each NFT is challenging.

However, we know that Ethereum is one of the most carbon-intensive NFT platforms. Thus any digital asset purchased through it would have a significant carbon footprint.

Unfortunately, most NFTs today are stored in the Ethereum blockchain that operates on a proof-of-work (PoW) model. Digital Artist Akten examined the carbon emission of 18,000 NFTs and discovered that an average digital asset uses energy equivalent to a month’s worth of power consumed by an EU resident.

The PoW system of Ethereum consumes over 31 terawatt-hours (TWh) of power every year, an approximate equivalent to the annual energy usage of Nigeria.

“Since NFTs are getting mainstream, more people are transacting on Ethereum. As long as proof-of-work still exists in that chain, the environmental impact is still high,”

Angeline Viray, a trader and investor in NFTs and cryptocurrencies

Is Proof of Stake (PoS) Model the Way to Green NFTs?

Thre are two widely used blockchain consensus for cryptocurrency and NFT that ensures the legitimacy of the transaction on the network:

  • Proof of Work (PoW)
  • Proof of Stake (PoS)

While most networks today operate on a power-intensive PoW model where miners are rewarded for solving a combination of ‘digital locks,’ PoS might be the future of green NFT and the crypto industry.

PoS is when a validator (a person in charge of validating a transaction on a blockchain) holds a portion of their crypto holdings as collateral (stake). The system periodically awards one of the validators with the ability to produce the next ‘block’ in the blockchain.

However, there are still a lot of hurdles for PoS to become the primary consensus tool of the blockchain networks.

For one thing, shifting to the PoS model while maintaining functionality is quite challenging for blockchain. Furthermore, because specific systems favor validators willing to gamble the largest amount of stake on the line, the process may drift towards centralization (opposite to the core of blockchain tech, i.e., decentralization). Moreover, the consensus is yet to prove its security as PoW already has.

Ethereum, on the other hand, claims to have made progress toward a proof-of-stake paradigm. According to Tim Beiko, the coordinator for Ethereum’s protocol developers, the ultimate transition will minimize Ethereum’s environmental effect by 99 percent.

NFT Industry Towards a Cleaner Future

The energy consumed in generating and operating NFT platforms is enough to power large countries like Argentina and Nigeria. But should this really be prioritized when so many people worldwide still lack access to dependable power while many are already suffering from the consequences of climate change?

However, the bright side is that the crypto and NFT industries are now marching toward a more environment-friendly future. Furthermore, there does seem to be a push in the crypto industry for more sustainability. Therefore, from the current trajectory, we can expect to see an increase in renewable energy and a steep reduction in emissions in the near future.

https://mzemo.com/2021/06/27/cryptocurrency-sustainability-or-a-climate-calamity/

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Digital Agriculture to Fight Poverty in Africa

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Agriculture in Africa

Pandemic like COVID-19 and Russia-Ukraine war shows the vulnerability and dependency of poor countries for food security. One in every five people in Africa is facing hunger. In the African continent, 283 million people are fighting hunger. In such a scenario digital agriculture can pave the way for food security and reduction in poverty.

Read More: Impact of Technology on Human Rights

Conditions are particularly worsening for East African countries like Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda witnessing extreme hunger and poverty due to armed conflicts, weather conditions, drought and global food inflation and supply chain disruption due to the Ukrainian war crisis. African people are on the verge of dying from the shortage of food and nutrition. 

Also Read: Human Rights on the Brink of Tragedy Due to a Severe Drought in the Horn of Africa

World Bank Groups developed a COVID-19 Household Monitoring Dashboard for measuring the impact of COVID-19 on smallholders of around 83 poor and developing countries. According to such surveys, 80% of households reported a decline in their income due to COVID-19 impacts. In Ghana, 76% of families whose main source of income was agriculture reported a decline in their income.

Agriculture contributes 23% of African countries’ GDP and is one of the major sectors of the economy. Around 60% of working population in Africa works in agricultural fields. That’s the reason why agricultural failure leads to more than 12 million children being severely malnourished due to food insecurity and 33 million people are at the gate of starvation due to food shortages.

Hence, the development of the agricultural sector can help African nations to see prosperity and become food secure. Further, it can help the rising population growth and reduce the burden of shortage of arable land in future.

Most farmers in Africa explained challenges regarding lack of information and access to markets and logistics, need for money, inputs, agronomic advice, and transportation facilities.

In such a situation, there seems a hope in digital agriculture, which is the combination of agriculture and technology. Technology can help farmers to become resilient to unseen and random shocks like the Covid-19 pandemic.

Digital agriculture is the flawless integration of digital technologies with livestock and agriculture management and other agricultural processes.

Various technological tools and techniques are used to collect and analyse data for predictive agriculture. Farmers can have fast, accurate and efficient decision making.

Technologies that are commonly used in digital agriculture are sensors, UAVs, communication networks, cloud computing, data analysis, artificial intelligence and machine learning and other advanced machinery and tools.

Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) mentioned benefits that can help small farmers are access to data, information, market, reduced operational costs, enhanced production and better supply chain management.

The younger generation especially wants to go for digital agriculture but they are unable due to a lack of training and funds.

Hence, Governments can provide finance, develop knowledge dissemination centres and provide skills to the larger population to adopt digit solutions for agriculture. 

Governments and people need to realise the immense potential of digital agriculture for the development of the African region and its people.

Opportunities for Agricultural Revolution

Digital agriculture has multiple benefits throughout the agricultural food chain as documented in a report, “Digital Technologies in Agriculture and Rural Areas“, released by FAO.

  1. Management of resources can be highly optimised with high anticipation, traceability, and accuracy.
  2. Data and information can be readily available to the small farmers that will help them in the decision-making process.
  3. Real-time decisions can be made for the care and utilisation of agricultural inputs like fertilisers, seeds, water and manure according to the exact need and climatic conditions. It will reduce the wastage of resources and make the agriculture output less costly. Farmers can avail themselves more market price.
  4. Fields, crops and animals can be tracked at the farm level. 
  5. The health of livestock can be tracked on a real-time basis with health devices attached to them. So that required care is given to them on time.
  6. Digital agriculture helps in developing agricultural systems that are highly predictable and productive and adaptive to climatic conditions. 
  7. There are benefits to a clean environment and climate change as resource optimization would lead to less resource burden and wastage.
  8. People can reap social and cultural benefits as well with improved communication, development, peace and prosperity. 
  9. Overall farmers can achieve success in higher food security, sustainable livelihood and overall improvement in living standards.

Challenges to adopting digitalization

There is no denying that digital agriculture can change the landscape of the African economy. But it is also true that it would need dramatic changes in farming systems, communities’ mindsets, rural ways of doing agriculture, and resource management. This would definitely be a challenge and requires systematic and holistic efforts from the top to down level. International Organizations like FAO, UNO, and World Bank Group, national Governments, domestic NGOs, knowledge centres, research groups, universities and farmers at large need to be adaptive and supportive. They need active collaboration and communication to make things a reality.

Also Read: The African Great Green Wall

Funds, knowledge creation and dissemination, and skills development are the important milestones to look after.

Conditions for implementing digital agriculture systems

Following are the bare minimum conditions that can be fulfilled to transform the agricultural sector towards more efficient and productive farming systems through digitalisation.

  1. Development of basic ICT infrastructure.
  2. Provide education in ICT.
  3. Government policies and plans to support digital strategies and e-programs.
  4. Spread the use of mobile, internet and social media.
  5. Make the farmers aware of agriculture entrepreneurship and digital innovation.
  6. Establish partnerships between agriculture research scientists working in labs to the farmers at the agricultural grounds. So that farmers can take knowledge and help from the scientific knowledge and skills while scientists can get the real time and behavioural data and feedback directly from the grounds to direct research more towards the local needs of the farmers.
  7. Government can establish incubators and accelerators programmes to impart skills to the farmers to better utilise digital technologies at the farms.
  8. Further, the government can provide easy access to equity funds and loans to the farmers.

Key Takeaways

Successful introduction and implementation of digital technologies in the agriculture sector depends on government support to provide enabling social, economic and policy infrastructure to fully develop the digital agricultural ecosystem in the countries. As technology makes changes with high disruptions, it takes time for society and economic systems to adopt changes and hence they change progressively. Hence, a balance can be created by the government to make an environment for the uptake and effective utilisation of digital agriculture.

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