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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

US colleges are trying to install location tracking apps on students’ phones

Image: Alex Castro / The Verge

Barely over a year ago, we pointed out how dystopian it seemed when Chinese schools added “smart uniforms” to track their students’ attendance. But US colleges are already testing out a similar tactic with a location tracking app, which students are now apparently expected to install on their phones.

I say “apparently” because there’s some confusion over whether the schools are actually forcing this on their students. The Kansas City Star reported that at the University of Missouri, new students “won’t be given a choice” of whether to install the SpotterEDU app, which uses Apple’s iBeacons to broadcast a Bluetooth signal that can help the phone figure out whether a student is actually in a room.

But a university spokesperson told Campus Reform on Sunday that only athletes are technically required to use the app, and a new statement from the university on Monday not only claims that it’s “completely optional” for students, but that the app’s being piloted with fewer than 2 percent of the student body.

What the reports do agree on: the app uses local Bluetooth signals, not GPS, so it’s probably not going to be very useful to track students outside of school. “No GPS tracking is enabled, meaning the technology cannot locate the students once they leave class,” reads part of the university’s statement.

Dozens of schools are trying these apps now

SpotterEDU isn’t just used at the University of Missouri, though — it’s being tested at nearly 40 schools, company founder and former college basketball coach Rick Carter told The Washington Post in December. The Post’s story makes it sound remarkably effective, with one Syracuse professor attesting that classes have never been so full, with more than 90 percent attendance. But that same professor attested that an earlier version of the app did have access to GPS coordinates, if only for a student to proactively share their location with a teacher.

And Spotter isn’t the only company marketing this idea to administrators: another startup, Degree Analytics, uses Wi-Fi signals instead of Bluetooth to serve an additional 19 schools, the Post reports. In September, The New York Times wrote about a similar app from a company called FanMaker that provides “loyalty points” to students who stick around to watch college sports games at the stadium instead of skipping out. That app is in use at 40 schools, the Times wrote.

It doesn’t seem like any of these specific systems are particularly invasive, and it currently sounds like (most) students will be able to opt out. But it also sounds like the idea of tracking students’ locations is being quietly normalized, in a way that smacks of surveillance (compared to how some previous pilot programs attempted to track students equipped with RFID-embedded ID cards).

It’s not unthinkable that future apps might tell schools more about students’ behavior, and that it may become harder to say no.

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Google aims to unify its workplace tools and messaging apps into one service

Photo by Michele Doying / The Verge

Google is working on another communications application, this one for workplaces, that will combine several different platforms it already operates, according to a new report from The Information. This new product is designed to unify different Google services the company sells to businesses, including parts of its G Suite like corporate-grade Gmail and Google Drive.

It would also bundle together the various, somewhat confusing variants of Hangouts. Once a consumer-focused communications platform, Hangouts is now geared toward enterprise customers. It has since been split into Hangouts Meet, a video chat app, and Hangouts Chat, a real-time text-based successor to Gchat. But that means Google may be introducing yet another communications platform, or something similar, into an already confounding ecosystem of existing services.

One Google chat app to rule them all

Just to take stock, Google has Hangouts, the app it is slowly phasing out in favor of Hangouts Chat and Meet, yet all three are coexisting right now after Google delayed the shutdown of the standard Hangouts. Then there’s the consumer stuff, which still includes the consumer version of Hangouts as the above mentioned shutdown pertains only to the G Suite version. (Yes, really.)

That consumer list also includes an RCS-based Android chat app just called Chat and the consumer video chat app Duo. It used to include the Gmail alternative email client Inbox and the mobile chat app Allo, but those two were unceremoniously killed.

Then there’s Android Messages, Google’s custom SMS app that is supposed to be superseded by the RCS-based Chat, and the defunct Gchat, which got replaced by Hangouts a few years back. Oh yeah, and Google Voice still exists, although Google has said in the past that it wants to integrate many of Voice’s features into Hangouts Meet. So Voice may one day go away as well.

As for why Google is planning yet another app, The Information reports that it could be a way for Google to win over enterprise customers who’ve moved all their communication, chat and otherwise, into central collaboration hubs like Microsoft Teams and Slack. Both of those products provide a variety of voice and video-based calling features and also integrate with countless other productivity apps and workplace tools like Dropbox and Salesforce. Google doesn’t yet have something similar as part of G Suite.

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Apple is limiting China travel and has closed one retail store due to coronavirus outbreak

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Apple CEO Tim Cook said on Tuesday that the company began limiting employee travel to China last week amid the coronavirus outbreak, and that Apple has closed one store in mainland China and reduced operating hours for other retail locations.

The announcement is yet more evidence that the virus is affecting the tech industry’s presence in one of its most vital markets, both for sales and manufacturing operations. Numerous other tech companies, including Facebook and LG, are also restricting employee travel to only business critical operations.

Foxconn, one of Apple’s lead supplier, said on Tuesday it did not expect the coronavirus to affect its manufacturing timelines. Yet it was not clear at the time whether Apple had been experiencing any retail slowdowns in the country due to the outbreak or if it planned on adjusting its manufacturing plans separately.

Apple is limiting travel and has shut down at least one retail store in China

Cook made the announcement on a call with investors after Apple’s quarterly earnings release, saying, “We have closed one of our retail stores and a number of channel partners have also closed their storefronts.” Apple says sales in the area around the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak is said to have originated, are low. But it also said that its retail traffic across the country has been negatively affected due to the situation.

Part of the reason for that is that the Chinese government has extended the Lunar New Year holiday, encouraging people to stay home and avoid unintentionally spreading or contracting the virus. Cook said Apple has already accounted for the delay in reopening its production facilities due to the holiday extension. The company’s revenue projections for the upcoming quarter should reflect that, he added.

Additionally, Apple is providing care kits to employees in the Wuhan area, regularly taking the temperature of employees to check for fever and flu-like symptoms indicative of the virus, and aggressively cleaning retail stores and offices.

Original Article ©Copyrights

How Iran’s Soleimani became a US target

He commanded an army of militias across the Middle East.

On January 3, 2020, a US airstrike outside Baghdad, Iraq, killed several Iraqi and Iranian military officials. One of them was arguably the second most important person in Iran, Qassem Soleimani. His killing set off several days of huge demonstrations throughout the Middle East and an Iranian retaliatory missile strike on a US military base in Iraq.

Soleimani became an immensely powerful figure by commanding Iran’s elite Quds Force, a group of soldiers and spies tasked with spreading Iranian influence outside of its borders. They achieved this by partnering with and supporting militias throughout the Middle East. At the time of his killing, Soleimani had orchestrated a vast array of militias that stretched from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq.

This episode of Vox Atlas explains why Iran created the Quds Force, how they use proxy militias, and how Soleimani took the strategy to a new level.

You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. Subscribe for the latest.

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Jared Kushner, architect of Trump’s Middle East peace plan, still doesn’t get it

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at a press conference with President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on January 28, 2020, in Washington, DC. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Kushner’s main talking point on the peace deal highlights the whole problem with it.

Senior White House adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner spent three years working on the Trump administration’s newly released Israel-Palestine peace plan. Yet the main talking point he’s using to sell the proposal reveals the fundamental problem at the heart of the plan itself: the administration’s tacit endorsement of Israel’s continued illegal settlements in Palestinian territory.

In multiple interviews right after the administration released its proposal on Tuesday, Kushner said Israel’s rapid growth — in other words, the settlements — are precisely why Palestinian leaders should make a deal now.

“If we don’t do this today, at the rate at which Israel is growing, I think that it will never be able to be done,” Kushner told Al Jazeera. “So we see this as the last chance for the Palestinians to have a state.”

He didn’t misspeak, which we know because he repeated this same talking point over an hour later. “This is something that we inherited, the situation where Israel continues to grow and grow,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Jared Kushner on the new Middle East peace plan: "It was very, very difficult to draw these lines... This is something we inherited."

— Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) January 28, 2020

Let’s be clear about what this means: The White House’s lead staffer for finding a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine stalemate says Israel’s growth is basically unstoppable. For that reason, he claims, Palestine has no choice but to strike a deal.

It’s an astounding thing for Kushner to say. Israel restrains itself from extending its settlements into the West Bank unless it feels it has tacit American approval. Kushner’s plan and his statements will likely serve as a green light to Israeli leadership to expand those settlements. They may explain why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wants a vote on Sunday to annex 30 percent of the West Bank.

That could make a fraught issue so much worse.

Why settlements make a peace deal harder to reach

About 500,000 Israelis live in the settlements, of which there are about 130 scattered around the West Bank. Roughly 75 percent of settlers live on or near the West Bank border with Israel. Some of the settlements are vast communities that house tens of thousands of people and look like suburban developments. Some look like hand-built shanty outposts.

Settlements create what Israelis and Palestinians call “new facts on the ground.” Palestinian communities are split apart and their connection to the land weakened, while Jewish communities put down roots in territory meant for Palestinians.

In effect, it shrinks the area of land left available for any future Palestinian state to exist on and chops it up into pieces, destroying its potential viability as a real, contiguous state. For some settlers, this is the point: They want the West Bank fully incorporated as Israeli territory and are trying to make that happen.

A “conceptual map” of Palestine released as part of Kushner’s proposal shows he wants some of those settlements to remain where they are (they’re the flecks of beige interspersed among the blueish green parts).

Instead of coming up with a plan that would see those settlers relocated or finding some other solution, Kushner’s plan just takes the huge chunk of land where most of the settlements are located and gives it to Israel. In return, Palestinians get some pockets of land far away in the desert on the border with Egypt and not much else.

A map of proposed territory for Israel and Palestine.White House

Which means one of two things: either Kushner doesn’t know how sensitive this issue is, or he doesn’t care and is using it as a cudgel against Palestinians. It’s hard to know which one is worse.

Original Article ©Copyrights

Trump releases Middle East peace plan for Israel-Palestine

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take part in an announcement of Trump’s Middle East peace plan at the White House on January 28, 2020. | Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The proposal attempts to solve the intractable problems between Israelis and Palestinians that have stymied US administrations for decades.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday released his long-awaited Middle East peace plan. Speaking at the White House alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump outlined his “vision for peace, prosperity, and a brighter future for Israelis and Palestinians.”

The proposal, masterminded by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, attempts to solve the intractable problems between Israelis and Palestinians that have stymied both Democratic and Republican administrations for decades.

It redraws the region’s current borders, defines the future of Jewish settlements in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory, lays out the conditions under which a future Palestinian state could be created, and addresses Israel’s myriad security concerns.

What it doesn’t do is provide a “right of return” for displaced Palestinians to their ancestral homes in Israel, allow for a sovereign state of Palestine to form a military that it could use to threaten Israel (or to defend itself against Israel), or give Palestinians any meaningful part of Jerusalem as its capital.

In fact, it essentially ignores all of the Palestinians’ desires, as the plan was drafted with no input from the Palestinian side.

For that reason, most analysts predicted the deal would be dead on arrival. But that doesn’t mean it won’t still have potentially dramatic consequences for Israelis, Palestinians, and many others in the Middle East.

Original Article ©Copyrights