South Africans rake in Airbnb profits

Airbnb has proved a lifesaver to many South African women hosts, giving an especially welcome financial boost to single mothers, according to latest statistics released by the hotel and guest lodge booking platform.

In the report Across the BRICS: How Airbnb connects the emerging economies, the platform detailed how the service contributed towards GDP in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

“South Africa has seen the strongest growth in guest arrivals from BRICS nations at 380%, with explosive year-over-year growth in guests arriving from Brazil, by a factor of nine. South African hosts’ total income earned from BRICS-based guests ranks the highest of the five countries at $1.88m (about R24.3m),” the report read.

“The typical woman host in South Africa earned nearly $2 000 (R25 917.10) last year, more income than earned by the typical women hosts in other countries. More than 60% of women hosts in South Africa are Superhosts – hosts who are specially designated by Airbnb as hosting guests frequently, receiving a high number of five-star reviews, and being exceptionally responsive to guests and committed to reservations with 60% of South African women hosts with children, i.e., single mothers, use (sic) their Airbnb income to help them stay in their homes,” it said.

About 5.3 million Airbnb users from developing nations generated more than $467m over the past year, according to latest statistics released by the app.

The year-on-year growth rate of intra-BRICS  guest arrivals was reported at 134%, according to the study.

With interest in travel and tourism on the rise, reaching 10% of global GDP in 2017, Airbnb allows BRICS countries to benefit in their share of the income, said the report.

Airbnb is an online marketplace and hospitality service that helps people lease or rent short-term lodging including vacation rentals, apartment rentals, homestays, hostel beds, or hotel rooms with 97% of the listing price going directly to hosts.

By Kyle Venktess for Fin24

Is tech just for boys?

The gender stereotypes of parents and teachers play a large role in putting young girls off careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) careers, a study has found.

The study found 53 per cent of girls in secondary school drop Stem subjects due to pressure from parents. Two thirds of girls surveyed (65 per cent) said their parents and teachers were the main influence over what subjects and career choices they made.

One third of parents and teachers (29 per cent) polled said they view Stem subjects and careers “as more closely fitting boys’ brains, personalities and hobbies”.

When discussing attitudes to science and tech careers, 82 per cent of girls said they wanted a career where they could help people, and did not see how a future in a Stem field could achieve that.

The research found the more extra-curricular Stem events or school day trips girls attended, the more likely they were to take at least two Stem subjects at Leaving Cert level such as science subjects or technical graphics. Out of girls who attended three or more Stem events or trips, 30 per cent chose to do two or more science or technology subjects for their Leaving Cert.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the research provided “much-needed insight into the under-representation of girls and women in Stem education and careers”.

He said addressing the lack of women and girls in science, engineering, tech and maths fields was a priority to be addressed.

The research involved 3,000 Irish students, parents and teachers who were questioned earlier this year. The survey was carried out by consulting firm Accenture Ireland and iWish, a Cork-based advocacy group involved in encouraging young girls to enter science and tech fields.

Co-founder of iWish Ruth Buckley said the research “points to the significant role that teachers can play as a gateway to Stem careers”. She said that “giving teachers and girls knowledge, information and access is key, we cannot leave girls’ inclusion to chance, we need to have a consistent and systematic focus on Stem through our education system”.

The report made several recommendations on how to increase the engagement of young girls with Stem careers. These include helping parents educate themselves on the subjects, and providing additional training and information to teachers on Stem careers so they can better inform students about potential opportunities in the field.

Source: www.irishtimes.com

Virtual Teacher platform launched in SA

Vodacom and the Eastern Cape Department of Education have launched ‘Virtual Teacher’, a platform that allows teachers to deliver lessons to multiple remote classes. The move follows Vodacom’s Programme for Mobile Devices introduced in the province earlier this year to promote the use of digital technology in Eastern Cape schools.

Virtual Teacher enables teachers or lecturers to deliver lessons through a range of smart devices, learners can join classes from anywhere and at any time. For the first time in South Africa, the technology can be accessed from any personal device.

The platform is supported by portable hardware which delivers high-quality visuals and sound. It can also accommodate unlimited viewer numbers. The technology enables live interaction with the remote audience through a texting Q & A facility for written responses during the lesson.

Vuyani Jarana, Chief Officer at Vodacom Business, says: “Vodacom is working with the Eastern Cape Department of Education to address some of the challenges facing our education system, particularly in rural and underperforming schools. This is all about bringing innovative technology to those who need it most in order to improve learning outcomes for all education segments in our country. The future of the South African education system is digital and we must embrace the opportunities this offers to leapfrog infrastructural backlogs and legacy issues in our schools.”

In order to improve the matric pass rate in the province, the Eastern Cape Department of Education will use the Virtual Teacher platform to provide extra classes to students at selected districts in the province. Lessons will be delivered remotely by some of the country’s best teachers, with an emphasis on Mathematics, Science and Accounting. Students from various locations will be transported to teaching sites in the Eastern Cape, including Mdantsane, Maluti, Lusikisiki and Mt Frere.

The Eastern Cape Department of Education’s Superintendent General, Themba Kojana, says: “The Eastern Cape Department of Education is promoting interactive virtual teaching and learning in the province, particularly in rural communities. Technology such as the Virtual Teacher platform allows teachers to interact with remote learners to increase their understanding of school subject material, with a goal to improve learning outcomes in the province.”

The Virtual Teacher platform encompasses a camera, microphone and streaming unit which can be streamed from any device. Lessons can be pre-recorded if needed and recorded content can also be downloaded to any device. The platform is easy to use and can be linked to a school website. Content can also be zero rated by Vodacom if required.

By Fundisiwe Maseko for www.itnewsafrica.com

Vumatel to bring uncapped fibre to townships

South African fibre-to-the-home operator Vumatel plans to offer uncapped 100Mbit/s fibre to the home in townships across South Africa — at just R89/month!

In the coming months — by October or November — Vumatel will begin a pilot project in Alexandra, the low-income, high-density township north of Johannesburg, offering uncapped fibre to every home, including informal dwellings, for a price equivalent to a few soft drinks.

By the end of the first quarter of 2018, it will have deployed fibre to 60 000 dwellings in the sprawling township, located east of the Sandton CBD. About 400 000 people live in Alexandra, according to the company’s estimates.

CEO Niel Schoeman said in an exclusive interview with TechCentral on Friday that the company has done the business modelling, and believes it will be a commercial success.

In South Africa we have unique challenges and big inequalities. The telco industry is inadvertently exacerbating these inequalities
If it is, Vumatel plans to roll out fibre to other townships in Gauteng and eventually those in Cape Town and Durban – Diepsloot is likely to follow Alexandra next year, with Soweto and Tembisa also high on the priority list.

What’s the catch? There isn’t one, Schoeman said.

Unlike in the suburbs, however, the fibre will be aerial (strung along poles) rather than trenched, and a contention ratio of 20:1 will apply. This means that if 20 consumers maximise use of their lines at the same time, consumers can expect a minimum speed of 5Mbit/s; in practice, however, it will be much higher than that, he said.

Vumatel, which first broke ground in the fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband market three years ago in the leafy Johannesburg suburb of Parkhurst, has rapidly expanded to cover most of the city’s northern suburbs, as well as parts of Cape Town and Durban.

‘Fantastic result’

“Johannesburg is essentially done, and, when you include other fibre operators in to the mix, all the major metro areas will be done by the end of next year,” Schoeman said.

He said it’s a “fantastic result” that within a four-year period, almost all the suburbs in the big cities will have been connected to fibre.

Now the company is turning its attention to the millions of people who live in the townships and other underserviced areas in the big metros. He said there is a solid business case for delivering low-cost fibre access to these areas, and to do so profitably – albeit at a razor-thin profit margin. The new venture has the backing of Vumatel’s investors, which include Investec and Standard Bank, he added.
The Alexandra township in Johannesburg, as seen in Google Earth
In Alexandra, Vumatel has studied how much consumers spend on mobile data each month, and believes there will be a high take-up of uncapped fibre services, with consumers redirecting some of their mobile spend to fixed access, and leaving them with money to spare.

“Clearly, we have only solved part of the problem: building out the affluent suburbs. In South Africa we have unique challenges and big inequalities. The telco industry is inadvertently exacerbating these inequalities. It’s important for people to realise their ambitions. That’s why the ‘data must fall’ campaign is so emotive. It’s really complicated to function in today’s society without real access and an abundance of data.”

We are going to provide uncapped fibre to the home, with the equivalent user experience of what you’d get in the affluent suburbs, at a price of less than 500MB of prepaid mobile data. We think that’s quite cool
For the past six months, Vumatel has been working on a model of how to address the digital divide. “We have finally come to a point where I think we can. This will be transformative.”

Vumatel has spent considerable time on the ground in Alexandra talking to residents to understand their needs and what they’d be prepared to pay. He said Vumatel’s modelling suggests it has a plan that will not only address these needs, but one that also makes commercial sense.

He declined to go into detail about the mechanics of the roll-out, saying this is competitor-sensitive information, but confirmed the fibre will be strung from poles. Each house, including informal dwellings, will get an access box from which they can connect to fibre services.

“We are going to provide uncapped fibre to the home, with the equivalent user experience of what you’d get in the affluent suburbs, at a price of less than 500MB of prepaid mobile data. We think that’s quite cool,” Schoeman said.

He emphasised that the roll-out will not be in any way subsidised. “This is not corporate funding. This is a fundable model… Without giving away too much of our business model, we have a little bit of magic that will make the economics work.”

‘Same opportunity’

He estimated there are between 6m and 10m people living in areas adjacent to its existing FTTH footprint.

“If we prove this model in Alex, and we have other players starting to do this, then all 35m people living in metro areas are reachable by fibre. A child in Greenside and a child in Alex will have the same essential opportunity for access to information.”

Vumatel also intends to erect free public Wi-Fi hotspots in the townships, offering basic Internet services in public areas, with corporate social investment funding from Investec. As in the suburbs, it will offer free 1Gbit/s Internet to schools in the townships, in return for those schools hosting its networking gear.

If it gets the model right, it will present a major threat to the mobile operators, which have exclusively served the township markets – fixed lines are all but non-existent in those areas.

A child in Greenside and a child in Alex will have the same essential opportunity for access to information
Schoeman said the mobile operators’ prepaid average revenue per user, or Arpu, is typically between R60 and R90/month. Per household, it’s probably in the R400 range, he said. “Now suddenly you can get away with just buying a R12 WhatsApp data bundle and consuming your data at home.”

In building fibre in the suburbs, Vumatel typically waits for sufficient interest from residents before deploying infrastructure. It will not do that in the township markets, where it believes take-up will be sufficiently high to justify the roll-out. “We don’t think we need that in this case – we will go in and build it.”

In these new markets, consumers will connect primarily through smartphones, Schoeman said. However, the access to fibre may spur the sales of tablets, computers and other electronic devices.

Unlike in the suburbs, where it works through a network of third-party Internet service providers, Vumatel will provide Internet access itself, at least at first.

“Some ISPs will help us in providing those services, but at the moment we are seeing if we can make it stack and work”, hence the decision to offer Internet access directly itself for now. “We expect uptake to be high. We think it will easily pass what we need it to pass. It is so compelling compared prepaid mobile data.”

Completely uncapped

For R89/month, consumers will get a completely uncapped 100Mbit/s down, 10Mbit/s up connection at a maximum 20x contention ratio. There will be no setup cost, though the Wi-Fi device will not be included. Vumatel wants to encourage router manufacturers to serve the market directly. “There will be a wall box, into which consumers will plug in their router.”

Alexandra will be completed by March. If successful, Vumatel wants to reach 10m more residents in other townships and underserviced areas in the metros 24 months after that.

Consumers in townships have, until now, not experienced uncapped Internet. Schoeman believes it will transform these economies. It will support education, help grow businesses and spur e-commerce, he said. “Maybe spaza shops will offer Amazon-type drop-off lockers. There is so much more that will be able to happen there.”

Can we move society forward? Ultimately, we hope competitors will join us in this market
He admitted that Vumatel’s management is a “little apprehensive because it’s new territory” for the company, but “at a fundamental level in South Africa, we all have these challenges to address”.

“Our success is not just measured in our financial success. Can we move society forward? Ultimately, we hope competitors will join us in this market.”

Vumatel is still working out the billing and subscription mechanisms for the service, but it is likely to be prepaid. “There will be different methods for access,” he said.

The company will continue to deploy fibre in the suburbs, where there is still much work to be done, especially in Durban and Cape Town. He said Vumatel has the capacity to be able to focus on both.

By Duncan Mcleod for TechCentral 

Mining asteroids in space

For most, an area much smaller than the surface of the planet Earth is considered home. For many, Earth is their favourite planet- as I once heard an astronaut say at an astrobiology conference. But for those few who feel a curiosity, an affinity and indeed a sense of belonging with that overwhelming majority of what is beyond, Earth is but a pale blue dot in a universe of starstuff waiting to be known.

Our increasingly complex use of natural resources is making a strong call for fast-tracked exploration and mining in space. At the turn of the last century, fewer than a dozen materials were in wide use, among them wood, brick, iron, copper, gold, silver, and a few plastics. In contrast, a single modern computer chip uses more than 60 different elements of varying scarcity. Increased societal demand and insufficient recycling of rare resources is putting pressure on local supply chains, which in future could slow down growth and expansion as demand outstrips supply. Most importantly, there is only so much stress our unique biosphere here on Earth can take- all living systems share the same set of finite resources, while human population and associated material needs grows exponentially.
Asteroid mining has been heralded as one of the world’s first multi-trillion dollar industries with the potential to transform the global economy in the 21st century. One near-Earth asteroid that caught the eye of astronomers and prospectors, Anteros, is so packed with rare minerals that it has been valued at $5.57tn, or more than twice the GDP of the entire African continent.

Global innovators reaching for the stars
Leaders in the aerospace industry including Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, among others, are making strides towards initiating an off-Earth economy, and the extraction of resources in space is an essential step towards this future. While bringing asteroid resources back home will contribute to the cost-effectiveness of initial missions, the real potential of asteroid mining is in realising humanity’s next great ambition: the exploration and settlement of space. In combination with technologies such as 3D printing, resources extracted from asteroids can be used to create tools, machines, and even habitats, making crewed space exploration and the establishment of the first extra-terrestrial research settlements feasible.
The most important resource for space exploration is water, which aside from its uses in life support and food cultivation also can be broken up into its constituent parts – hydrogen and oxygen – to create rocket fuel and breathable air. This is an essential step to extending the range of crewed space travel: water currently costs around $50m per tonne to launch into space, so finding and extracting water found in space will essentially turn asteroids into fuel stops for crewed space missions.

A new way of prospecting
In a collaboration with MineRP, SAP Africa participated in a series of co-innovation projects that sought to integrate technical and business planning processes in the mining industry. By broadly grouping the industry into two domains – the science of mining and the business of mining – we jointly developed solutions that overcome the disconnect between technical and financial planning by enabling companies to run fully simulated financing and technical planning scenarios.

We focused on the SHEPHERD asteroid retrieval conceptualisation, a leading contender in terms of mission design which focuses on encapsulating each asteroid for resource utilisation extraction, which is essential for providing protection from loose rubble and dust, capturing volatiles from icy objects, and enabling the use of reactive gasses in processing the asteroid material. Spectral analysis of metals extracted can provide a real-time profit estimate, powered by SAP’s digital core and supported by advanced real-time analytics. By looking at criteria such as the estimated content – type, grade and volume – of an asteroid, as well as the feasibility of its extraction plan and the energy required to enter or exit Earth’s orbit, mining prospectors can make accurate predictions of profitability to ensure no efforts are wasted.

Space mining – and traditional mining – are similarly at a crossroads. Without proper and accurate modelling and simulation, both industries will fail to attract the investment they need to sustain and grow. But by bringing together the science and business of mining through the use of technology, the mining industry can continue to innovate and support humanity’s greatest ambitions.

By Dr Adriana Marais, Head of Innovation at SAP Africa

South Africa can expect at least three big new banking options within the coming months – all of which will be entering a highly competitive market.

A poll conducted in August by BusinessTech, generating over 10,000 responses found that Capitec is far and away the bank most South Africans would switch to, garnering 44% of the votes.

Capitec said recently that it has added 400,000 customers since February 2017 to become the second biggest bank in the country by this metric.

Its success has forced South Africa’s other banks to compete more effectively, and has led to Absa and FNB in particular to launch entry-level accounts that target Capitec’s market approach.

However, Capitec will soon face stiff new competition of its own, through Patrice Motsepe’s Tyme which promises to cause ‘disruption’ of its own through a digital play.

Tyme joins insurance giant Discovery, which also plans to launch a commercial bank, while government has plans for a retail offering of its through the South African Post Office – all of which are expected to launch sometime between now and late 2018.

Each offering brings with it unique features which could entice customers from the current “big five”.

Tyme

Billionaire Patrice Motsepe made headlines last week after he announced that he was set to challenge South Africa’s biggest banks with investment company African Rainbow Capital (ARC) close to securing a banking license.

Tyme was granted a provisional license by the South African Reserve Bank in 2016, with Johan van der Merwe, co- CEO of African Rainbow Capital stating that the company expected a full licence before the end of September.

“The South African banking environment is due for a bit of disruption,” said van der Merwe.

“While Capitec has been able to play that role, the soon-to-be-licensed lender will be a disruption over and above that. This will be a complete game changer.”

“The regulator is looking at the cloud-based system that ARC’s fintech partner is using to make sure it works before granting a full licence,” he said.

Tyme is reportedly signing up 5,000 new customers each week, following the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s acquisition for a reported AU$40 million.

Arguably, Tyme’s biggest asset is its in-house developed “know your customer” KYC accreditation solutions.

These allow customers to open a simple bank account over their mobile phone, and open an unrestricted bank account from a remote location instead of having to enter a bank branch.

This form of unrestricted account access and cloud-based solutions is likely to tie-in with African Rainbow Capital’s July announcement that it invested in 20% of fixed and mobile data network operator Rain.

Discovery

In March 2017, Discovery said that it had received authorisation from the Registrar of Banks to establish banking operations in South Africa, and is on track to launch its banking products next year.

Discovery CEO, Adrian Gore first announced plans for a retail bank in 2015, and stated that it would act as a direct competitor to Absa, FNB, Nedbank, Capitec, and Standard Bank.

The insurer has reportedly seen great success with its Discovery Card joint venture with FNB, which would provide a launch pad for full banking services.

“We’ve got the capital, we’ve hired bankers, we’re building substantial systems. We want to make an offering that’s relevant and can win market share,” said Gore.

Discovery has an advantage over the big four traditional banks, as it does not have to maintain a country-wide network of branches and ATMs. This means Discovery Bank’s costs have the potential to be lower than its competitors.

Former FNB CEO Michael Jordaan also believes that the technology available to Discovery could make it a major disruptor in the financial sector as it uses its vast resources and lower cost base to offer clients lower banking fees and better interest rates.

The South African Post Office

While not as eye-catching as Tyme or Discovery, the South African Post Office (SAPO) could prove to be a large disruptor in the financial sector because of its ease of accessibility.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in May, telecommunications minister Siyabonga Cwele said that the Post Office’s transition into a development bank will be government’s first big step in “radically transforming the financial sector and challenging the current banking institutions”.

“It’s not going to be a normal bank like the big four. It’s going to be a developmental bank to deal with the market that is not being served at the moment,” said Cwele.

He added that, despite the higher risks involved, the Post Office will also look at funding entrepreneurs with small loans.

“We are going to need a very strong risk management system. The issue of financial inclusion is part of radical economic transformation. We are not talking about reckless access to finance.”

Current SAPO CEO Mark Barnes will likely head up the new bank, which is expected to become a fully-fledged consumer bank sometime in 2018.

The bank could also be bolstered massively should it acquire the rights to distribute social grants to over 17 million South Africans from SASSA.

Source: BusinessTech

Loophole used to spy on more than 70 000 phones in SA

Law enforcement agencies are spying on at least 70 000 phone numbers each year, exploiting a loophole in South Africa’s surveillance policies that allow them to access phone records through a less rigorous process.

Civil rights organisation Right2Know Campaign (R2K) surveyed statistics from MTN, Vodacom, Cell C and Telkom, which revealed that government accesses sensitive communications information from tens of thousands of people every year using a loophole that bypasses South Africa’s primary surveillance law, the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (RICA).

Jane Duncan, founder of the Media Policy and Democracy Project, said statistics show South Africans’ privacy is routinely being violated. Yet there is very little sense of how this is bringing down crime.

“Privacy is not sufficiently protected in processes followed,” she said.

RICA requires law enforcement and intelligence agencies to obtain permission from a special judge, appointed by the president, to intercept a person’s communications.

“RICA sets high standards, with a specialised judge appointed that reviews applications,” said Duncan.

But instead of using RICA, the government is turning to Section 205 of the Criminal Procedures Act which gives officials access to phone users’ metadata in phone records. This reveals who they have communicated with, when, and where.

The Criminal Procedures Act is not nearly as protected as RICA and definitely creates a loophole, Duncan explained.

Data from the four mobile phone companies shows that law enforcement received call records for a minimum of 70 960 phone numbers every year, from 2015 to 2017.

In contrast, the most recent statistics from the RICA judge’s office show that in 2014/2015, the judge issued 760 warrants for interception. At a minimum, in the same year magistrates issued 25 808 warrants in terms of Section 205 of the Criminal Procedures Act.

These statistics confirm for the first time that the vast majority of ‘authorised’ surveillance operations are happening outside the RICA judge’s oversight.

Policymakers have wrongly assumed that information about a communication – such as the identity of the person communicated with, when, and the location – is less sensitive than its content, R2K said.

In order to apply for this warrant, applicants need to provide strong reasons because RICA is cognisant that such interceptions could threaten peoples’ right to privacy, it said.

Obtaining a warrant through Section 205 of the Criminal Procedures Act is far less rigorous, and R2K said as a result a loophole developed where Section 205 allows law enforcement officials to bypass the RICA judge.

According to this law, any magistrate can issue a warrant that forces telecoms companies to give over a customer’s call records and metadata.

Policymakers are wrong to assume that the metadata is less sensitive or private than the contents of the communication: metadata can reveal as much as, if not more, about a person’s contacts, interests and habits than what they say over the phone or in a text message, R2K stated.

Duncan said that despite RICA’s protection, case studies such as cops who spied on two Sunday Times journalists showed that abuses even happened there.

According to evidence before the court, South African Police Force intelligence officials received a warrant to monitor these phone numbers by lying to the RICA judge – they told the judge these were the phone numbers of suspected criminals who were under investigation. Under RICA, it is an offence to supply false information to the RICA judge.

“How much easier is it to abuse the Criminal Procedures Act, with even fewer checks and balances?” Duncan asked.

R2K said that when a person’s communications information is handed over using the Criminal Procedures Act, they are never notified, even if the investigation is dropped or if they are found to be innocent.

By Yolandi Groenewald for Fin24

Big Tech can no longer be allowed to police itself

In the early days of the commercial Internet, back in the mid 1990s, one of the things that technology platform companies lobbied hard for was the notion that they were like the town square – passive conduits for the actions of others, facilitating a variety of activities and thoughts, but not responsible for any of them.

The idea was that the garage entrepreneurs starting message boards and chat rooms, or the nascent search engines, simply did not have the legal or economic bandwidth to monitor or be liable for the actions of users, and that to require them to do so would stymie the development of the internet itself.

How times have changed. Not only can the largest Internet companies like Facebook and Google monitor nearly everything we do, they are also policing the net with increasing vigour. Witness the variety of actions taken by Facebook, Google, GoDaddy and PayPal, in the wake of racially charged violence in Charlottesville, to block or ban rightwing hate groups from their platforms.

You can argue that this is laudable, or not, depending on your relative concern about hate speech versus free speech. But there’s a key business issue that has been missed in all the hoopla. It is one that was summarised well by Matthew Prince, the chief executive of Cloudflare, a web-infrastructure company that dropped the rightwing Daily Stormer website as a client, under massive public pressure and against the firm’s own stated policies. “I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the internet,” said Mr Prince following the decision. “No one should have that power.”

Powerful tech companies do. Yet they also continue to benefit, in the US at least, from laws that treat them as “special” and allow them to get around all sorts of legal issues that companies in every other kind of business have to grapple with. This amounts to billions of dollars in corporate subsidies to the world’s most powerful industry.

The golden goose is a little-known bit of Federal Trade Commission legislation. Section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act (CDA) was crafted in 1996 to allow tech firms exemption from liability for nearly all kinds of illegal content or actions perpetrated by their users (there are a few small carveouts for things like copyright violations and rare federal criminal prosecutions). In recent years, the tech industry has thrown a tremendous amount of money and effort into ensuring that it maintains section 230 as a “get out of jail free” card.

But this law is being challenged by powerful politicians. On August 1, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Rob Portman, introduced legislation that would create a carve-out in section 230 for tech firms that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking. The impetus for this was the horror of backpage.com, a firm that actively created a platform for online sex trafficking for its own profit.

It is a piece of legislation that everyone, it seems, can get behind – except the largest tech companies and their industry lobbying groups . They are concerned that it would open a Pandora’s box of legal issues for them. These groups had the rough copy of the bill for months before its introduction, yet refused to offer edits during its crafting. Keith Smith, a spokesperson in Mr Portman’s office, says: “We did our due diligence, met with the tech community on a bipartisan basis for months and yet they offered no constructive feedback.”

The firms say that is because any amendment to 230 is a no-go; they suggested alternatives like tougher criminal laws. Noah Theran, a spokesperson for the Internet Association, a trade group that represents companies such as Google and Facebook, says: “The entire internet industry wants to end human trafficking. But, there are ways to do this without amending a law foundational to legitimate internet services.”

Still, Big Tech realises the cognitive dissonance involved in censoring online activity while continuing to portray itself as the town square. See, for example, the recent Electronic Frontier Foundation statement fretting about the slippery slope of censorship. The industry simply does not have the ability, or the right, to self-police any longer. In a world where Big Tech has the power not only to fan the flames of hate speech and fake news, but also remove it when and where it likes, it is clear that the internet is a fundamentally different place than it was in 1996 – one that needs fundamentally different rules.

The conversation about what those rules should look like is heating up. Olivier Sylvain, an associate professor of law at Fordham University, notes that as the business model and power of technology change and grow, so too should the law.

“The concept of immunity in 230 as originally conceived is no longer relevant in a world in which the largest tech firms are engineering an environment in which they can extract all kinds of information about users for their own profit,” says Prof Sylvain. He recently proposed that the CDA be recrafted to “shield providers from liability for third-party user online conduct only to the extent such providers operate as true passive conduits”.

Regulators and politicians, take note: Big Tech should no longer have its cake and eat it too.

By Rana Foroohar for the Irish Times 

Google Chrome to block video ads

Google has developed a tool that lets you permanently mute Web sites that automatically play videos with sound.

It’s an extremely irritating problem, and the new option will be welcomed by the majority of internet users.

Videos – often ads – that play with sound can be distracting, especially if you’re trying to watch or listen to something at the time.

To turn one off, you usually need to stop what you’re doing, figure out which background tab it’s playing from and then scroll down the page to actually find it.

Google is only experimenting with the feature right now, according to Chromium evangelist François Beaufort, so it’s not currently available to Chrome users.

“This will give you more control about which website is allowed to throw sound at you automatically,” he said in a Google+ post.

You can, however, try it out in Chrome Canary, an experimental and unstable version of the browser.

By Aatif Sulleyman for The Independent 

Five inspiring South African women in tech

There are many women doing great things in tech in South Africa, making their mark with cool initiatives and strong leadership roles.

Gender diversity in technology is an ongoing challenge, and women have to constantly prove their capabilities and strengths.

Yet, more women are contributing innovative and even disruptive ideas, making meaningful change in people’s lives.

Here are 5 inspiring women in the ever growing fast-paced South African tech space.

1. Barbara Mallinson, Obami CEO

Barbara Mallinson is the founder and chief executive of Obami, a social learning platform being used by hundreds of schools across Africa, Europe and the United States.

She saw a gap in the SA market – schools were creating real-life networks, but they weren’t making use of online tools to take that further.

Obami was recognised as one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Technologies in the World in 2011 by Netexplo, Unesco and partners.

It was also identified as one of the Top 20 Start-ups in Africa by Forbes a year later, and Mallinson was featured on the Forbes 10 Female Tech Founders to Watch in Africa list.

2. Karen Nadasen, PayU South Africa CEO

Karen Nadasen, the CEO of PayU South Africa, is a self-motivated professional with extensive experience working in both Europe and Africa for the likes of Microsoft and BP.

Nadasen joined PayU in June 2012 as a Product Manager; she advanced to Head of Product and Delivery Manager for MEA, before being appointed as CEO in June 2016.

She is passionate about direct, on-the-ground leadership and execution, fostering environments that promote visibility, hard work and dedication, that inspire and deliver results.

PayU is South Africa’s largest online payment gateway and part of the Naspers group. PayU has a 40% market share in the South African online payments market and currently services more than 1 500 of SA’s top merchants.

Globally, PayU has a presence across 16 high-growth markets, offering over 250 payment options to over 2.3 billion users.

3. Nisha Maharaj, Niche Integrated Solutions executive

Nisha Maharaj is the founder of Niche Integrated Solutions, an ICT solutions company that brings innovative solutions to Africa.

Niche Integrated Solutions provides software solutions, ICT managed services and training.

Maharaj has an accumulated service record of 20 years working experience within South Africa’s major listed companies.

These range from the top four banking and financial services companies, to the telecommunications sector – where for more than 14 years she served at either executive management, general management or COO level.

She is of the Ernst and Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women Class of 2015.

4. Annette Muller, DotNxt founder

Annette Muller is at the forefront of the South African tech sphere as the founder and CEO of DotNxt, a strategic innovation management firm in Cape Town.

DotNxt was established to bridge the gap between strategy (consulting) and delivery (project management) on a range of digital, mobile, social and next-generation branding projects.

Muller manages the execution and strategy of over twenty corporate clients, including some of South Africa’s largest companies, such as Nedbank, Primedia and Graham Beck, making sure there’s a clear line of communication throughout the company’s networks.

Muller was also listed by Forbes as one of the 10 Female Tech Founders to Watch in Africa.

5. Baratang Miya, GirlHype CEO

Baratang Miya is the founder and CEO of GirlHype – Women Who Code, a not-for-profit that provides programming and app development training for girls and young women.

A self-taught coder, she has been sharing her skills and experiences with women and girls through her leadership at GirlHype.

Through GirlHype’s programmes, women and girls learn to code and create solutions, with fun, hands-on opportunities to get engaged with science, engineering, technology, arts and maths (STEAM).

Although she focuses on getting women into STEAM, Miya understands that this is about building women’s self-efficacy and confidence to work in tech or beyond.

By Vicky Sidler for BusinessTech 

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My Office News Ⓒ 2017 - Designed by A Collective


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