The Daily Visionary: Monday, January 28, 2019

Facebook plans integration with WhatsApp and Instagram, further infringing on your privacy

 

The Story

 

Facebook has intentions to partially merge WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger by early 2020, where each app will remain separate, but in the backend their private messaging functions will be woven together into one unified system, allowing users of each service to message users of the others.

 

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, wants all the apps to incorporate end-to-end encryption (E2E), which only WhatsApp currently has by default. Encryption means all private messages are unreadable to anyone from governments to Facebook itself.

 

A unified messaging service would make it easier for Facebook to track and map your connections and social network because the metadata – of who is sending messages to whom and how often. However, a move into encryption would weaken Facebook’s advertising ability at a time when Millennials are largely checking out of the platform. Facebook’s former security chief Alex Stamos argued that analysing the content of Facebook's messages is actually not very effective, tweeting, “Selling ads against unstructured human communications is super hard. Facebook already has tons of ad segments defined by the nice structured data you give them with likes, follows and shares."

 

The Details

 

  • WhatsApp is intentionally chosen by its users for its encryption and keep users' personal data from Facebook, particularly in Europe.

  • Once-independent apps WhatsApp and Instagram were bought by Facebook. The founders of WhatsApp and Instagram have both since left their respective companies.

  • Facebook’s brand continues to suffer alongside mounting evidence of their use of the personal information of both users and non-users.

  • E2E protects your data from those who want to access and abuse your personal information, but critics who are against encryption argue it protects terrorists and criminals.

 

Background

 

Creating a unified platform would give Facebook an advantage against Google and Apple, where Apple's iMessage app comes bundled on all iPhones and which Mr. Zuckerberg recently referred to as Facebook Messenger's main competitor. Facebook has been trying to make Messenger people's default texting app for a long time.

 

The last five years have seen a rise in private messaging as an antidote to traditional social media. Mr. Zuckerberg believes such messaging is "the future" and that "the vast majority of growth" in Facebook sharing now comes through such messages. Facebook also wants to turn private messaging into a way to access all kinds of other services, from customer chatbots to money sending to shopping. It is building its own cryptocurrency, which it is testing as a way for WhatsApp users in India to send each other money.

 

Prior to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect, British and European governments have only blocked Facebook from merging its users' data between the Facebook and WhatsApp. Going forward, European regulators are unlikely to look favourably on Facebook’s plans.

 

Key Quotes

 

As you would expect, there is a lot of discussion and debate as we begin the long process of figuring out all the details of how this will work,” Facebook said in a statement.

PM Trudeau fires his Ambassador to China over Huwawei comments that further damage relations between the two countries

 

The Story

 

Canada’s strategy for navigating growing tensions with China is in disarray as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired his Ambassador to China, John McCallum, over the weekend following Mr. McCallum’s comments earlier in the week that embarrassed his government. Mr. McCallum said Huawei Technologies’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Meng Wanzhou could make a strong argument against being extradited to the United States (US) and that if Washington dropped the extradition request “that would be great for Canada”.

 

Mr. McCallum added that if the US and China reach an agreement on Ms. Meng’s case, the deal should include the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians currently detained in China for what many analysts say is revenge for the detention of Ms. Meng. “We have to make sure that if the US does such a deal, it also includes the release of our two people. And the US is highly aware of that,” Mr. McCallum said. That comment followed a statement Mr. McCallum issued Thursday, saying he misspoke earlier in the week when he discussed Meng’s case with a group of Chinese-language journalists in Toronto, listing several arguments he thought could help her legal fight against extradition.

 

Opposition legislators and former ambassadors accused McCallum of unacceptable political interference in an affair which has badly damaged relations between Canada and China. Brock University professor Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat who had served two postings in China, said Mr. McCallum’s comments on Ms. Meng possibly avoiding extradition had signaled to Beijing that its hard-line tactics were working. “He really made it untenable for the prime minister to sustain him (in his post) for any length of time and he had to go,” Mr. Burton said, suggesting Trudeau should quickly appoint a special envoy to handle the dispute.

 

The Details

 

  • Veteran diplomats and experts said this was the first time a Canadian ambassador had ever been officially fired.

  • PM Trudeau said he had no plans to replace Mr. McCallum.

  • Jim Nickel, deputy head of mission at the Embassy of Canada in Beijing, will represent the country in China, effective immediately.

  • Polls show the Liberals have a slight lead over the Conservatives ahead of a federal election this October.

 

Background

 

68-year-old Mr. McCallum is a long-time former Liberal cabinet minister and is not a trained diplomat. His biggest achievement was in the immigration portfolio in delivering on PM Trudeau’s promise to bring tens of thousands of Syrian refugees into Canada. Mr. McCallum has strong personal ties to China, as his wife has Chinese ethnicity and his three sons have Chinese spouses. He also had a large Chinese constituency in his former federal riding in Markham, Ontario.

 

Ms. Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was arrested in Vancouver last month over alleged violations of US sanctions on Iran. China subsequently detained two Canadian citizens on national security grounds. A Chinese court later retried a Canadian man who had been jailed for drugs smuggling and sentenced him to death.

 

Key Quotes

 

Last night I asked for and accepted John McCallum’s resignation as Canada’s ambassador to China,” PM Trudeau said in a statement that did not explain his reasons.

 

Justin Trudeau should have fired his ambassador the moment he interfered in this case. Instead, he did nothing and allowed more damage to be done. More weakness and more indecision from Trudeau on China. It should never have come to this,” leader of the Conservative Opposition Andrew Scheer tweeted Saturday.

 

Theoretical physicist shows how “elastic thinking” can unleash your brain’s potential

 

The Story

 

Leonard Mlodinow is a theoretical physicist who has authored a book called Elastic: Unlocking Your Brain’s Ability To Embrace Change, where he offers readers a set of tools to think more flexibly, which he believes is an increasingly essential mindset in today’s world. By being more polymathic, or knowledgeable about various topics that are complex and connected, we break the myth that humans only use 10 percent of our brain function and cognitive potential.

 

Mr. Mlodinow cites Encyclopedia Britannica being outpaced by Wikipedia, Blockbuster by Netflix, and taxi companies by Uber as respected companies that can fall by the wayside when they are “stuck in Newton’s laws.” He says it’s only by reframing the entire problem that a new wave of entrepreneurs have thrived. As adults, our minds are packed with associations and assumptions that are all too often fixed. “Your brain is generating idea after idea on an unconscious level that you’re not even aware of, and it has filters to keep these out and only let the conventional ideas come through,” Mr. Mlodinow explains.

 

Three techniques help us to think more elastically. One, a mental flexibility exercise: list some of your strongly held beliefs on slips of paper, then fold them, pick one, and imagine someone explaining to you why they think the belief written on it is false. Two, a gratitude exercise: open your mind to thinking more creatively by boosting your mood. Regularly write down three things which you are grateful for. Three, get mentally fatigued: try exhausting your executive brain by doing a repetitive, mindless chore before pondering a challenging intellectual issue. According to research done in France in 2015, our elastic thinking capacity may be highest when we feel “burnt out”.

 

The Details

 

  • The human brain takes nearly 20 years to mature.

  • In the womb, humans grow 8,000 new brain cells every second. By the time humans are born they have all the brain cells they will ever need.

  • Each brain cell will make, on average, 10,000 connections with other brain cells.

  • Learning to balance and co-ordinate your body is so complex the area of the brain devoted to this task contains as many cells as the rest of the brain put together.

 

Background

 

Mr. Mlodinow has completed groundbreaking theoretical physics research, worked with Stephen Hawking on trying to understand the origins of the universe, written for TV shows including Star Trek and MacGyver, made computer games, published several best-selling books, and sold paintings. The thread between science and art that ties it all together is what he calls elastic thinking.

 

Mr. Mlodinow was introduced to this style of thinking by the generation of his parents who were Polish Jews who lived through the holocaust before emigrating to the USA. During his upbringing Mr. Mlodinow was told stories of how thinking on your feet could mean the difference between life and death.

 

Key Quotes

 

Most of us try and forget times when we were wrong but it’s a good thing to dwell on. When people say I’m acting childish I say ‘good, that’s my goal,’” says Mr. Mlodinow, affirming that we might become more in touch with our inner child in the process, since children are the ultimate elastic thinkers, unstifled by rigid assumptions that haven’t yet formed.

 

United States government agencies restart operations Monday

 

The Story

 

On Friday American President Donald Trump signed a measure to fund the government for three weeks as congressional negotiators work on a bill to fund the federal government through September 30. The White House Office of Management and Budget’s acting chief, Russell Vought, told agencies in a memo to reopen “in a prompt and orderly manner.”

 

The White House held a conference call with Cabinet department financial officers late Friday to discuss the resumption of government operations, while agencies began to grapple with a backlog of management and policy issues. On Saturday US government agencies said they were moving swiftly to resume operations and compensate employees for missed paychecks.

 

Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Jay Clayton, said on Saturday in a statement that the agency is “continuing to assess how to most effectively transition to normal operations.” He said some SEC units, including those devoted to corporate finance, trading and markets, and investment management and the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, “will be publishing statements in the coming days regarding their transition plans.” The SEC has been unable to approve initial public offerings during the shutdown, and some analysts had suggested the issue could delay IPOs in 2019.

 

It will take the Federal Register, which publishes government regulatory actions, weeks to catch up with the backlog of documents, which will delay the start of public comments on some proposals. The shutdown is also likely to delay the rollout of President Trump’s 2020 budget proposal and congressional hearings on the budget.

 

It is not clear when President Trump will deliver his State of the Union Address, but one administration official said it is not likely to be until February.

 

The Details

 

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) asked employees for “patience and attention, especially during the first 48 hours,” noting that the vast majority of employees’ laptops and smartphones have been inactive for more than a month and have not had “critical, regularly scheduled maintenance.

  • Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote Saturday on Twitter that the agency would send back pay to staffers no later than Thursday.

  • The Coast Guard told personnel it was “working through the weekend to process your pay as quickly as possible” and said back pay should be received by Thursday.

 

Background

 

President Trump had demanded USD $5.7 billion in funding for a wall on the US – Mexico border, but Democratic legislators refused to include the money. The partial government shutdown is the longest in US history at 35 days, resulting in approximately 800,000 federal workers going unpaid, including 380,000 furloughed workers. Federal workers are owed about USD $6 billion in back pay, according to a study released last week.

 

Key Quotes

 

"We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier. If we don't get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15 — again — or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency. As everyone knows, I have a very powerful alternative [declare a national emergency], but I didn't want to use it at this time," said President Trump.

 

The status of Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta as a UNESCO World Heritage Site may be at risk

 

The Story

Environmental groups and First Nations claim a Parks Canada draft for a federal plan to restore Canada's largest national park suggests Ottawa is unlikely to ease international concerns about threats posed to its status as a World Heritage site. The federal government was given until Friday, February 1 to respond to concerns raised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) about the Wood Buffalo National Park, which straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary.

 

Spokespeople from Environment Canada say the draft document has changed significantly since it was released in November. Audrey Champagne, a spokesperson for Parks Canada, responded to criticism that the document was vague by noting the government has committed more than CAD $27.5 million over five years to support the action plan to preserve the UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

Ms. Champagne countered critics allegations saying that Parks Canada participates with other federal departments in the environmental review of projects which may impact the park. She also noted the Alberta government has been a "key partner" in the action plan's development and will speak about their contributions once the plan is submitted to the World Heritage Centre. The draft report has been distributed to 30 Indigenous groups and at least 13 energy companies and environmental groups, as well as to the Alberta, British Columbia, and Northwest Territories governments.

 

The Details

 

  • Wood Buffalo covers almost 45,000 square kilometres of grasslands, wetlands and waterways. Millions of migratory birds from four continental flyways converge there to breed.

  • It is the world's only breeding ground for endangered whooping cranes and home to the largest herd of free-ranging wood buffalo left anywhere. First Nations have depended on the area for generations for cultural and physical sustenance.

 

Background

 

Wood Buffalo’s Mikisew Cree First Nation warned UNESCO in 2014 that the sprawling park, one of the world's largest inland deltas, was in trouble. UNESCO investigators agreed, which triggered a federal study. At 561-page report released last summer concluded that 15 out of 17 measures of ecological health were declining. The effects, from low water flows to curtailed Indigenous use, stem largely from changes to area rivers caused by climate change, dams in British Columbia, and industry in Alberta.

 

UNESCO gave Canada until Feburary 1 to say how it would fix the problems. The draft of that plan isn't encouraging, said Mikisew's Melody Lepine. However, much of what the draft highlights are measures that already exist. The draft plan suggests threats posed by vast oilsands tailings ponds upstream of the park are adequately managed by company remediation plans filed with Alberta's energy regulator. The draft promises improved Indigenous consultation through an existing management committee, a group which Ms. Lepine called dysfunctional.

 

Key Quotes

 

"This demonstrates Canada's commitment to securing the future of Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site, so that it remains a treasured place with Outstanding Universal Value for generations to come," Ms. Champagne wrote in a statement, adding more details will be available when the action plan is formally announced.


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