Pile of printer scrap outside on ground near New Territories junkyard in New Territories Hong Kong in March. (Photo by Basel Action Network via Flickr.)
Pile of printer scrap outside on ground near New Territories junkyard in New Territories Hong Kong in March. (Photo by Basel Action Network via Flickr.)

That old laptop that you thought would get recycled and saved from a landfill could be headed overseas to a junkyard with lax hazardous waste regulations, according to the results of an investigation released this week by a watchdog group.

Seattle-based watchdog group Basel Action Network worked with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to put 200 small tracking devices into nonfunctional electronic devices that were brought to e-recyclers or charity organizations like Goodwill in multiple states for donation or recycling. The investigation found that between 31 and 39 percent of electronic devices and their embedded trackers ended up in Hong Kong, China and other countries where they are processed with few protections to workers or the environment — or not recycled at all.

The report states:

E-waste is most often hazardous waste and when managed as witnessed recently in Hong Kong and Taiwan, can create serious health and environmental concerns. Toxic substances placed into the products, including mercury, carbon black (toner powders), lead, and brominated flame retardants are likely to harm workers and communities and via global transport mechanisms can harm all of us worldwide.

The full report is available on the Basel Action Network’s website.

Northwest public radio program KCTS 9 followed Basel Action Network’s executive director Jim Puckett to a recent investigative trip to the New Territories region of Hong Kong, where Puckett found discarded electronics collected and shipped from a Seattle company, Total Reclaim. The electronics recycling company has contracts to handle discarded electronics from multiple public agencies including city of Seattle, the University of Washington and Washington state government, and has a policy of not exporting recycling to other countries.

KCTS 9′ report of the trip is on their website, and an audio and video report of the trip also appeared on EarthFix’s website.

There has long been concern about developed countries using “recycling” programs as a pretext to dump electronics in the developing world, with India banning used computer imports in 2012 to stop the practice.

Editor’s note: this story has been corrected. KCTS 9 reported on the Basel Action Network’s trip to Hong Kong.

Rolling rebellion sparks in Seattle to defend Internet and stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Photo by Rick Barry/Broken Shade Photo, republished under Creative Commons license, BY 2.0)
Rolling rebellion sparks in Seattle to defend Internet and stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Photo by Rick Barry/Broken Shade Photo, republished under Creative Commons license, BY 2.0)

Earlier this month, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) made a bold step toward ensuring net neutrality in India. The organization released a 15-page PDF — the “Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations” — that effectively bans services such as Facebook’s Free Basics.

Free Basics is part of Facebook’s larger Internet.org initiative, which seeks to open the Internet to billions of people around the world. If you haven’t heard of Facebook’s Free Basics, or similar services such as Wikipedia Zero or Google Free Zone, there’s a good reason: these types of services are banned in the United States. Free Basics allows poor and low-income users to access certain apps without using their mobile data. By definition, favoring one app or service over another violates net neutrality laws, which dictate that all apps and websites should be treated equally by service providers. (If this sounds familiar, that’s because it was a really big deal in the United States last year).

By some estimates, India has the most Facebook users in the world, and one million people using Free Basics, and the move was seen as a huge win by some.

Mahesh Murthy, a prominent Indian venture capitalist, has been an outspoken adversary of Free Basics and other such services for years. In Murthy’s words, they amount to a kind of “economic racism,” where poor people are offered a pared down version of the Internet the rest of the world has full, unrestricted access to.

“It all seems to amount to economic racism – exploiting the poor in underdeveloped parts of the world to become your customers under the guise of some apparent charitable purpose. While offering them a shoddy, stunted version of the real thing,” Murthy says.

“As a colleague Vijay Shekhar Sharma of PayTM puts it: ‘It’s poor Internet for poor people.’”

But is that really the case?

What is ZR?

While it’s an obscure term in the United States, this specific pricing scheme — used almost exclusively in the developing world — is known as “zero-rated.” Zero-rating refers to the practice of offering free access to certain popular online services for customers of particular mobile networks. India’s decision to ban ZR underscores just how important, and just how contentious, the zero-rated debate has become. One billion people are expected to gain Internet access by 2017, and ZR services have been hailed by some as one way to get them all there.

Free Basics allowed Indian users who had certain mobile carriers to access Facebook and a suite of other apps that offered communication tools and information on news, maternal health, travel, local jobs and local government. The service has been billed not just as a way to access Facebook, but as a way for the world’s poor to achieve economic empowerment through the vast resource that is the Internet. If knowledge is power, then services like Free Basics offer a portal to the most powerful resource of all: knowledge.

“Connectivity is a human right. It cannot be a privilege for the rich and powerful,” Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says in a Free Basics promotional video. “It needs to be something that everyone shares.”

A more connected future

Manu Joseph, Indian author, journalist and ZR advocate. (Photo by Андрей Романенко, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0)
Manu Joseph, Indian author, journalist and ZR advocate. (Photo by Андрей Романенко, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0)

As with many divisive issues, for every Free Basics hater there’s a die-hard advocate. In an article published in the New York Times on September, 16, 2015, Manu Joseph argued that Internet.org, the broad service that includes Free Basics, has given 100 million Indians access to dozens of websites in seven different languages. It’s a triumphant feat, especially for a country of 1.25 billion where 50 percent still do not have Internet access.

“It is an idea that can transform India,” he says.

Helani Galpaya, the CEO of LIRNEasia, raises another point: there is little evidence ZR causes any of the negative effects detractors claim. In fact, she says, ZR gets people online and gets them hungry for more, driving them to consume online content that they probably would have paid for had they known it existed (a point echoed by Zuckerberg in December 2015).

Essentially, Facebook isn’t maliciously shooting fish in a barrel. They’re just serving as the “gateway drug” to the Internet, which could be extremely beneficial to millions of people if they knew it existed.

It is a problem with the cost structure of data as a whole, and ZR happens to be a convenient trigger for much larger, more complex problems with Internet connectivity.

So the problem isn’t that Free Basics tricks people in believing Facebook is the whole Internet, or even that some services are being prioritized over others. The problem is that India has a connectivity problem, and services like Free Basics are simply a scapegoat.

In fact, Free Basics and similar offerings exist because data is expensive in developing countries, barring billions of people from full Internet access. It is a problem with the cost structure of data as a whole, and ZR happens to be a convenient trigger for much larger, more complex problems with Internet connectivity. And all of that isn’t to say Prime Minister Modi and the Indian government aren’t making huge strides in connecting citizens. According to a recent report by TRAI, India had a total of 131.49 million “broadband” connections at the end of Nov. 2015. It seems like a huge number — until you consider that’s only around 10 percent of the country’s total population.

Net neutrality arguments are right to advocate against ZR if the argument is being made in the United States. The FCC has made it clear that the Internet is to be kept an open and level playing field, which is great for people and companies fortunate enough to live in a country with ubiquitous Internet access.

But for the rest of the world, ZR offers a window, however small, into a boundless world of knowledge and connectivity. The societal benefits of prioritization far outweigh any moral high-horse concerns about where Internet access is coming from, and truthfully, net neutrality advocates should be happy that more people are coming online. It adds billions of potential supporters to their cause, which seeks a more free, more open and more accessible Internet for everyone.

As Galpaya says, by banning Free Basics, India is killing the goose before knowing if its eggs are golden.

An earlier version of this post was published in Flip the Media.

by -
0
Morality police take down the name of a detained woman during a crackdown on "social corruption" in north Tehran in this June 18, 2008 file photo. (Photo by stringer for Reuters.)
Morality police take down the name of a detained woman during a crackdown on “social corruption” in north Tehran in this June 18, 2008 file photo. (Photo by stringer for Reuters.)

Reuters logoBy Sam Wilkin

DUBAI (Reuters) — A new smartphone application that helps Iranians dodge the Islamic Republic’s “morality police” is proving popular with the young, tech-savvy population but has quickly fallen foul of the authorities.

The Gershad app allows users who spot checkpoints set up by the morality police, who enforce Islamic dress and behavior codes, to tag their location on a Google map with an icon of a bearded man, enabling others to steer clear of them.

The app was blocked by the authorities soon after it was released for Android devices on Monday but many Iranians bypass Internet restrictions by using a Virtual Private Network.

It is already trending on social media and has received almost 800 reviews on the Google Play app store, nearly all of them positive, although Google Play does not show how many times Gershad had been downloaded.

Gershad is seen by some as setting a precedent for “digital protest” in Iran as elections loom and the country emerges from years if isolation following the lifting of international sanctions imposed over its nuclear program.

“Technology has created an amazing opportunity to forge a cooperative solution to common social problems,” Gershad’s secretive creators said in an email exchange with Reuters.

Gershad is a contraction of the full title of the Gashte Ershad (guidance patrol), which is part of efforts to purge Western culture from the country following the Islamic revolution which overthrew a Western-backed king in 1979.

“For years the morality police have been causing disturbances for Iranian women,” the Gershad team said. “Avoiding them in the streets, metro stations and in shopping malls is challenging and tiresome.”

A handout photo shows a new Iranian app, Gershad, that aims to help users circumvent the Iranian "morality police" by having users upload the locations of their mobile checkpoints. (Photo by gershad.com via Reuters)
A handout photo shows a new Iranian app, Gershad, that aims to help users circumvent the Iranian “morality police” by having users upload the locations of their mobile checkpoints. (Photo by gershad.com via Reuters)

Iranian officials have not commented on Gershad but state broadcaster IRIB said the app had been written about on social media and “networks opposed to the (Islamic) revolution”.

“This is an innovative idea and I believe it will lead to many other creative apps which will address the gap between society and government in Iran,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Ghaemi said the app’s developers were based outside Iran but had grown up in the country and experienced the problem firsthand.

“It’s really an indigenous product… these are the kind of people who have been stopped at checkpoints,” he said.

Digital Protest

Gershad is an example of how young Iranians are turning to technology to circumvent checks on their everyday lives.

“It’s showing a trend in digital protest… I see it as a precedent for future apps of its kind,” said Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh, a Dubai-based consultant for app makers in the Iranian market.

Gershad does not describe itself as a form of protest, but its website describes it as a “social movement” and asks: “Why should we give up the most basic right of choosing what clothes to wear?

An online video advert shows patrol members, rendered as dopey-looking cartoon figures, fidgeting impatiently at a checkpoint as the app diverts the flow of pedestrians away from them.

“Wander freely!” says the tagline.

Smartphone messaging applications are popular in Iran, where half of the population is aged under 25. Young Iranians use apps to share news and jokes that would not be allowed in the tightly controlled traditional media.

A recent poll suggested that about 20 million Iranians, around a quarter of Iran’s population, use Telegram, a messaging app with a focus on privacy and security.

Many young Iranians hope the lifting of the nuclear-related sanctions last month will be accompanied by an easing of cultural restrictions, particularly if an election on Feb. 26 ushers in a more moderate legislature.

But hardliners in the establishment have moved to block any relaxation of the Islamic Republic’s social rules, warning of the “infiltration” of Western culture. Thousands of moderate and reformist candidates have been barred from standing in the elections.

Security

Gershad’s interactive map at times shows dozens of checkpoints in Tehran and other Iranian cities but also flags checkpoints in London and Los Angeles, showing the potential unreliability of data provided by an online community.

Some Iranians have expressed concern on social media about Gershad’s digital security in a country where the authorities frequently arrest social media users for sharing what they regard as “immoral” or “subversive” content.

The developers said they were working to better detect false reports. They said their servers were based outside Iran and that they do not collect user information when users report checkpoint locations.

Gershad’s website says it uses Psiphon, a Canadian-made app designed to circumvent censorship. Psiphon co-founder Michael Hull said his company’s technology allows users in Iran to open an encrypted connection to Gershad’s servers outside the country, making their activity harder to block or detect.

“Once they have that tunnel, the traffic that’s going back and forth is just mixed in with the rest of the Psiphon network,” Hull said.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Teens work on their Magic Genius Device designs during a workshop at Za'atari Refugee Camp in Jordan in November 2015. (Photo courtesy of Brian Tomaszewski, Rochester Institute of Technology)
Teens work on their Magic Genius Device designs during a workshop at Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan in November 2015. (Photo courtesy of Brian Tomaszewski, Rochester Institute of Technology)

“This is a magic road,” says Karen Fisher, a professor at the Information School (iSchool) at the University of Washington. “You can stand on it and it can take you anywhere you would need to go.”

After returning from her second trip to the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, Fisher holds up a drawing from a workshop she opened at the camp in November 2015. The prompt driving the workshop was meant to unleash creativity of the teens she worked with: “If you could create anything you wanted — magical genius devices — what would you do?”

On March 4, Fisher will return to the camp to help the young people build the prototypes for their devices, and bring storytelling tools to Syrian families at the camp who have lost nearly everything, including family records and histories, she says.

Photo by Domonique Meeks.
Photo by Domonique Meeks.

The Central District-based Africatown will be honored with a City of Seattle’s Human Rights Award tomorrow night at Town Hall Seattle, along with six other organizations and individuals.

Being recognized with this award (fittingly under the theme Black Lives Matter) is a monumental step for Africatown, said Wyking Garrett, its founder. The group is the umbrella under which Umoja P.E.A.C.E Center, Hack the CD and First Place School programs operate.

by -
12
The Uber logo on a vehicle in San Francisco. (Photo by   REUTERS / Robert Galbraith)
The Uber logo on a vehicle in San Francisco. (Photo by REUTERS / Robert Galbraith)

When I miss my last bus home after a night out with friends, I don’t have to panic. Instead, it’s a no-brainer: I can just hazily flick through my smartphone and open my Uber app, through which I can summon a driver to pick me up. For car-less people like me, Uber and other smartphone app-based hailing services are often a cheap and convenient option to get around the city.

But what can my mindless app request mean for the mostly immigrant drivers on the other end of my smartphone?

For some, like Tekele Gobena, it can mean a dismal hourly wage. By the end of 2014, Gobena had put nearly 40,000 miles on his car after just seven months of driving for Uber. When it came time to do his taxes, he realized he was only making $2.64 an hour as an independent contractor for Uber after car maintenance, vehicle insurance, gas, and Uber’s commission from his rides.

by -
0

After we published SEAchange last week — a crowdsourced mapping project for Seattle communities to share memories about business and property changes in the South End — three other local interactive projects came to our attention that we’d like to highlight.

Though inevitably the geography between mapping projects overlap, each covers its own figurative ground.

Paul Nyambe has gotten support from Fledge to develop his business, ZamGoat. He hopes to build a goat-meat market not only in Zambia but globally. (Jama Abdirahman)
Paul Nyambe has gotten support from Fledge to develop his business, ZamGoat. He hopes to build a goat-meat market not only in Zambia but globally. (Jama Abdirahman)

Button up shirts, wireless mikes and a puddle of spotlight. At first glance rehearsals for Fledge “Demo Day” look like any start up pitch event around town. But these entrepreneurs aren’t promoting apps and gadgets. They’re pitching businesses that will further development of their home countries — from Argentina to Zambia.

“Fledge is a business accelerator,” says Michael “Luni” Libes who founded Seattle-based Fledge three years ago to help support socially conscious start-ups, “We take applications from any entrepreneur anywhere in the world as long as they’re working on something important.”

Fledge wasn’t always as global. The first cohort was entirely American but the next had one team from Singapore and from there Libes says “It just grew.” This year Fledge had applicants from forty-five countries and all seven start-ups in this current cohort are international.

Peyton yawns and stretches as my sister Katie holds her during our first Skype conversation. (Screen grab by Janelle Retka)
Peyton yawns and stretches as my sister Katie holds her during our first Skype conversation. (Screen grab by Janelle Retka)

Instagram introduced me to my niece.

The next time I saw her was through iCloud. Then on Facebook. A few days later, via Skype.

In the next five months, I was immersed in photos of her furrowed eyebrows and wordless personality before we even met in the same place in the same time zone.

My oldest sister packed her bags to move from Seattle to Australia eight years ago for what we thought would be a three-year job contract. Before long, Katie had met my brother-in-law, Josh, and settled down.

Peyton Elise Barkley was born to them on February 24, 2014.

Separation of families across borders is an increasing trend, as globalization continues to make every part of the world more accessible. Emigration from the U.S., immigration into the U.S. and the military all contribute to the separation of families across international borders.

by -
3
James Keum (#auntieboi) and Lulu Carpenter #LadyBear discuss Ferguson and resiliency, during a #LuluNation + #SadBoisHypeClub show on November 18th. (Photo by V. Nguyen).
James Keum (#auntieboi) and Lulu Carpenter (#LadyBear) discuss Ferguson and resiliency, during a #LuluNation + #SadBoisHypeClub show on November 18th. (Photo by V. Nguyen)

Last Friday on World Radio Day, about 100 people gathered at the Seattle Public Library downtown to celebrate the roll out of 13 new low-power FM radio stations (LPFM, for short), that will be squeezing onto the airwaves over the next year.

On the amount of power needed to light a single light bulb, these tiny community radio stations will broadcast to their immediate surroundings, right up against the corporate and public goliaths already dominating the FM dial.

So why is one of the most tech-forward cities in the nation celebrating such a low-tech revolution?

Jane McGrane on her first trip to the US, taken in 1976 in San Francisco. (Photograph courtesy of Jane McGrane)
Jane McGrane on her first trip to the US, taken in 1976 in San Francisco. (Photograph courtesy of Jane McGrane)

When was the last time you saw a cow? If you lived in Kilmaurs, Scotland, the answer would probably be “this morning.” The town of just over 2,600 people is ringed by dairy farms, manure-filled fields, and cows, making them part of residents’ everyday life.

My mum, Jane McGrane, lived in Kilmaurs for almost 30 years. When she did move, just before she married my dad, Sean, it was to his hometown of Stewarton– an entire mile away. She worked as a hairdresser, then at a factory which made famous highland sweaters from local wool. My dad recalls walking along the mile of train tracks to visit my mum’s town, which still only has one traffic light.

A ferry docks into downtown Seattle. (Photo by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/pasfam/16777186/in/photolist-gNkca-2Y9v2o-3eCoCD-5ZaaWV-8WRrQi-2fUx45-2tZgQ-fpmXvB-e1Cqhx-8JURMU-cN5NoC-NcQX3-a3S7Jm-9FZirj-8WUsbo-4FrAHU-8JUVdL-a8jC9n-eCe3u8-4FzgBN-e3GxNx-cK6EhN-cK6Cgw-awQQe2-dRZSbP-ay57rw-868JWo-dU6Tpt-4X3irM-ebGT4P-ebPyCw-4zVnNK-8DbZKL-asQqKu-7QuvvX-8sEowx-cBCGZC-fpmAKH-7SHWVt-cD97Fy-6uNuFD-6HLSU1-4QgLch-8jsMmN-9He6oi-8K4tQ2-e3GyCZ-51VcwQ-5nBSp7-abZDgo" target="_blank">Paul Schultz via Flickr</a>)
A ferry docks into downtown Seattle. (Photo by Paul Schultz via Flickr)

For many of us Washingtonians, ferries conjure up sentimental thoughts of trips to the San Juan Islands or images of ferries humming along Puget Sound with the Seattle skyline or Olympic Mountains behind them.

But the recent ferry accident in South Korea killing almost 300 passengers and another capsizing in Bangladesh remind us that as safe as we may feel on a ferry deck looking at the water go by, there is potential for disaster just like any other means of transportation.

by -
0

Protected African elephants at Samburu National Reserve in Kenya. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

Every year as many as 50,000 elephants are killed in Africa for the illegal ivory trade. If this trend continues, African elephants could be extinct within a decade.

An increasing demand for ivory in emerging markets like China — where ivory is considered a sign of wealth — has led to the killing of more elephants than ever before.

The trading of poached ivory is a very lucrative crime that effectively carries little risk of prosecution for poachers. The ivory trade is the world’s largest transnational organized crime, involving complex networks of suppliers, smugglers, corrupt officials and buyers that are very difficult for law enforcement agencies to unravel.

But now science is providing a novel approach to attack ivory poaching at the source.

A car sports the unmistakable pink mustache of Lyft’s ridesharing service. (Photo courtesy of Lyft)
A car sports the unmistakable pink mustache of Lyft’s ridesharing service. (Photo courtesy of Lyft.)

After an almost year-long debate, Seattle City Council decided yesterday to limit rideshare companies Lyft, Sidecar, and UberX to only 150 operating cars in the city per company at any given time.

However, no limit was placed on the total number of authorized rideshare drivers nor the number of rideshare companies allowed in the city.

Neither taxis nor rideshare companies seem to be happy with the decision. According to MyNorthwest.com, an Uber statement following the City Council meeting called it “disappointing,” saying the driver cap would shut down the company.

Alok Vaid-Menon. (Photo courtesy of Alok Vaid-Menon)
Alok Vaid-Menon is an activist with the Audre Lorde Project and is one half of the queer South Asian poet-activist duo Dark Matter. (Photo courtesy of Alok Vaid-Menon)

On February 13, Facebook introduced a feature that allows U.S. English-speaking users to select from roughly 50 different gender identities for their profile information, as well as three different pronoun options (she/hers; he/his; they/theirs).

Since 1992, Satya Nadella has brought Microsoft engineering expertise, business savvy, innovation and the ability to bring colleagues together, says Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Yesterday was a historic day for Microsoft with Satya Nadella’s appointment as the company’s new CEO.

After a six-month long search following former CEO Steve Ballmer’s retirement announcement, the corporate board appointed frontrunner Nadella CEO over other candidates that included Microsoft executive vice president Tony Bates and Ford CEO Alan Mullaly.

A Microsoft leader for 22 years, Nadella has inspired tech and news analysts to predict that he will usher in a new era for mobile at Microsoft, which has long been stalled during Ballmer’s tenure. This has the potential to push the Gates-founded enterprise to its former legacy of groundbreaking innovation.