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Amazon Launches Trial of Pay-by-Palm Device

Need to pay for some groceries? No problem, just wave your palm. That could be the new mode of payment at Amazon Go stores if current trials of its new technology in Seattle, Washington, are successful.   The technology, known as Amazon One, is a “free, contactless service that lets you use your palm to pay, enter or identify yourself,” according to its website. The product, which is undergoing trials at two Go stores in Seattle, will allow customers to enter their credit card details and cell phone number and scan their palm or palms for distinct details such as “surface area, lines and ridges as well as subcutaneous features such as vein patterns” on a biometric device. The individual palm details are then used to create a customer’s unique palm signature, and Amazon is counting on that to protect customer information. The e-commerce company assures customers that the Amazon One device does not store information. “We treat your palm signature just like other highly sensitive personal data and keep it safe using best-in-class technical and physical security controls,” according to the website.  Once sign-up is complete, customers can purchase goods and services with their palm prints by hovering over the payment device. It will also allow customers to use their palms as a form of ID, which allows them to enter Go stores without a code. If customers change their minds about using the service, Amazon says it will completely delete their information. “Amazon will permanently delete your palm signature from Amazon’s systems after completion of any remaining transactions,” the website says. “Your Amazon One ID will also be automatically deleted if you do not interact with an Amazon One device for two years.” Amazon says it hopes to replicate the technology in all of its Go stores after its pilot use in Seattle and that it looks forward to other retailers signing up for the service.  

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Reggaeton Redemption: Balvin, Bunny Top Latin Grammy Nods

At last year’s Latin Grammy Awards, popular reggaeton and Latin trap musicians such as J Balvin, Bad Bunny and Ozuna were dismissed in the show’s top categories. This year, they dominate.
Balvin scored a whopping 13 nominations for the 2020 Latin Grammys, including two nominations for album of the year and two for record of the year. The Latin Academy announced Tuesday that Bad Bunny and Ozuna are behind Balvin with nine and eight nominations, respectively.
Balvin has a chance to win his first album of the year prize — a category with 10 contenders — thanks to his fifth solo album “Colores” and “Oasis,” his collaborative project with Bad Bunny. Other nominees include Bad Bunny’s sophomore release “YHLQMDLG” as well as albums from Ricky Martin, Carlos Vives, Jesse & Joy, Kany García, Natalia Lafourcade, Camilo and Fito Paez.
For record of the year, which also has 10 nominees, contenders include popular hip-hop-flavored Latin songs that have dominated the Latin music charts and earned hundreds of millions plays on streaming services, with some even reaching the billion-mark on YouTube, including Karol G and Nicki Minaj’s global hit “Tusa” and “China” by Anuel AA, Daddy Yankee, Karol G, Ozuna and Balvin. Other nominees include Balvin’s “Rojo” and Bad Bunny’s “Vete.”
“Tusa” is the sole Latin trap nominee in the song of the year category, where 11 tracks are in contention. It’s a departure for Karol G, who didn’t receive a single nomination last year and was part of the group of uber-successful Latin trap and reggaeton artists who were dissed in top categories like album, song and record of the year.
This year, the Colombian performer who was named best new artist in 2018 has four nominations, including two shared with Minaj. Karol G’s fiance, Puerto Rican rapper-singer Anuel AA, marked a major breakthrough this year as a first-time nominee. He scored seven nominations, including a bid for best new artist.
“Over the last year, we continued engaging in discussions with our members to improve the awards process and actively encouraged diverse Latin music creators to join and participate,” Latin Academy President and CEO Gabriel Abaroa Jr. said in a statement, calling this year’s nominees “a group that reflects the constant evolution of Latin music.”
As a result of last year’s debacle social media exploded as Latin artists posted images of the Grammy logo with a large red “X” across it, with words on the image reading in Spanish: “Without reggaeton, there’s no Latin Grammys.” Balvin even skipped the live show and Bad Bunny, who won best urban music album during the telecast, told the audience: “With all due respect, reggaeton is part of the Latin culture.”
To honor Latin rap and reggaeton performers, the Latin Grammys added new categories this year, including best reggaeton performance and best rap/hip-hop song.
Balvin’s 13 nominations includes several categories where he will compete with himself: Outside of album and record of the year, he’s a double nominee in the best urban music album, best urban fusion/performance and best reggaeton performance categories. Ozuna and Bad Bunny will also compete with themselves in several categories.
Others who scored multiple nominations include Juanes, Martin, Alejandro Sanz, Camilo, Carlos Vives, Kany García and Residente, the most decorated winner in the history of Latin Grammys. Rosalía, who won album of the year last year and became the first solo female performer to win the top honor since Shakira’s triumph in 2006, earned four nominations this year.
Apart from Minaj’s two nominations, other popular American artists who will compete for awards include rapper Travis Scott (best short form music video for “TKN” with Rosalía); jazz master Chick Corea and his Spanish Heart Band (best Latin jazz/jazz album for “Antidote”); DJ-producer Diplo (best urban song for “Rave de Favela” ); and rapper Tyga (best reggaeton performance for “Loco Contigo” with DJ Snake and Balvin). Justin Bieber’s right-hand songwriter, Jason Boyd aka Poo Bear, earned an album of the year nomination for his work on Jesse & Joy’s “Aire (Versión Día).”
The 21st annual Latin Grammy Awards will air live on Nov. 19 on Univision. The nominees in the 53 categories were selected from more than 18,000 entries. Songs and albums released between June 1, 2019 through May 31, 2020 were eligible for nomination.
 

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TikTok Launches US Election Guide

Chinese-owned video sharing platform TikTok says it is creating a guide “to protect against misinformation” during the 2020 U.S. elections. In a blog post Tuesday, the company said its guide would connect “100 million Americans with trusted information about the elections from the National Association of Secretaries of State, BallotReady, SignVote, and more.” “Our The U.S. head office of TikTok is seen in Culver City, California, Sept. 15, 2020.TikTok, which is especially popular with younger people, is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. TikTok has sought to alleviate U.S. concerns over privacy issues by forming a partnership with two U.S. companies, Oracle and WalMart. The deal has not been finalized, and there have been conflicting statements among the parties about how much of the new venture each company would own.  The Trump administration was moving forward to ban TikTok from app stores, but on Sunday, a judge blocked an order to prevent app stores from distributing it.  The judge gave lawyers for TikTok and the administration until Wednesday to meet and propose a schedule for further proceedings in the case.   
 

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Cross-Cultural Music Project Goes Beyond Borders, Politics

Three countries, three musical traditions, one shared dream. Slavalachia is a cross-cultural collaboration of folk musicians from Belarus, Ukraine and the Appalachian region of the US. The project was meant to be just about the music, but then reality got in the way. Mariia Prus has the story.
Camera: Kostiantyn Golubchik  

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Why Facebook Suddenly Closed 155 Accounts Targeting the Philippines

Facebook’s deletion of accounts targeting the Philippines from bases in China shows that the U.S. internet giant wants a better reputation in Southeast Asia after letting things slide in the past, say analysts who follow the case. On September 22, Facebook said it had removed 155 of its own accounts and six Instagram accounts for violating an internal policy against “foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity.” The accounts originated in China and focused “primarily on the Philippines and Southeast Asia more broadly” as well as on the United States, Facebook says. Facebook’s move will endear it to Filipinos, who use the service so fervently that it has become a de facto official homepage for businesses and government agencies but who also worry that it has become too permissive, scholars say.    For Facebook, “it’s more from a kind of a PR point of view – I do this at a particular time, somehow, it’s seen as positive and I can say, ‘look, I have done this,’” said James Gomez, regional director at the Bangkok-based think tank Asia Center. Operators of the deleted accounts had posted in Chinese, English and Tagalog about naval activity in the South China Sea as well as Philippine politics and tried to cover up their identities, Facebook said.  China and the Philippines dispute sovereignty over a tract of the sea that’s rich in fisheries as well as undersea energy reserves. China has the upper hand militarily, frustrating officials in Manila and fanning debate there over whether the Philippines should ask Washington for more help. The connection to Facebook goes back to 2015, when the California-based service joined domestic mobile service provider Smart Communications to offer an app that allowed free access to 24 heavily used mobile sites.The thumbs-up Like logo is shown on a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., April 14, 2020. Facebook’s long-awaited oversight board is set to launch in October 2020.But Facebook has made eyes roll in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries by allowing relatively unfettered access by politicians, hate-speech spreaders and purveyors of fake news, Gomez said.   “We would welcome that there is self-governance on the part of Facebook,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Metro Manila-based advocacy group Institute for Political and Electoral Reform. “There was a lot of that [problematic material] in the past up till now.”’ Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte maintains an “online army” that was reportedly paid to pack Facebook with supportive material in the name of “grassroots activists”, Southeast Asian news outlet New Mandala reported in 2017, a year after Duterte took office.   Filipinos are starting now to eye the 2022 presidential election, motivating Facebook to clean up so it can avoid criticism, said Eduardo Araral, a Filipino and associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s public policy school.  Some of the shuttered accounts carried “content supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte and Sara Duterte’s potential run in the 2022 Presidential election,” Facebook said, referring to the current leader’s daughter. Presidents can serve just one term in the Philippines. “They have to be active in showing Facebook is no longer used or can no longer be used as a platform for inauthentic behavior,” Araral said. Duterte has pursued friendship with China despite the maritime dispute, but common Filipinos remain leery of Beijing’s designs for the surrounding seas. About 74 million people use Facebook in the Philippines, where the total population stands near 109 million. Facebook’s statement says 276,000 accounts followed one or more or 11 deleted Facebook Pages belonging to businesses. The service took down those pages along with the 155 non-business accounts. Facebook said that about 5,500 people followed one of more of the closed-down Instagram accounts. Facebook has removed accounts in Singapore and Myanmar as well, as both countries approached political milestones, Gomez said.  In 2018, for example, a U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights mission found that Facebook had helped spread “hate” speech against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar that has struggled to get along with the country’s government. Facebook took down a page authored by senior Myanmar military officials — a long-time nemesis of the Rohingya — after the U.N. findings appeared. 

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Local Developer Creates Air Monitoring App

There are all kinds of apps that rate the air quality of your home inside and outside. But one young programmer has created one that has taken off in his native Macedonia. Now it’s also expanding worldwide. VOA`s Jane Bojadzievski reports.

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Federal Judge Postpones Trump Ban on Popular App TikTok

A federal judge on Sunday postponed a Trump administration order that would have banned the popular video sharing app TikTok from U.S. smartphone app stores around midnight. A more comprehensive ban remains scheduled for November, about a week after the presidential election. The judge, Carl Nichols of the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia, did not agree to postpone the later ban. The ruling followed an emergency hearing Sunday morning in which lawyers for TikTok argued that the administration’s app-store ban would infringe on First Amendment rights and do irreparable harm to the business. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump declared that TikTok was a threat to national security and that it must either sell its U.S. operations to American companies or be barred from the country. TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is scrambling to firm up a deal tentatively struck a week ago in which it would partner with Oracle, a huge database-software company, and Walmart in an effort to win the blessing of both the Chinese and American governments. In the meantime, it is fighting to keep the app available in the U.S. Judge Nichols did not explain his reasoning publicly, instead filing his judicial opinion under seal. Initially, both the U.S. government’s brief in the case and the entire Sunday morning hearing were also to be sealed, although the court later relented.The U.S. head office of TikTok is seen in Culver City, California, Sept. 15, 2020.In arguments to Judge Nichols, TikTok lawyer John Hall said that TikTok is more than an app, saying it functions as a “modern day version of a town square.” “If that prohibition goes into effect at midnight, the consequences immediately are grave,'” Hall said. “It would be no different than the government locking the doors to a public forum, roping off that town square” at a time when a free exchange of ideas is necessary heading into a polarized election.  TikTok lawyers also argued that a ban on the app would affect the ability of tens of thousands of potential viewers and content creators to express themselves every month and would also hurt its ability to hire new talent. In addition, Hall argued that a ban would prevent existing users from automatically receiving security updates, eroding national security.  Justice Department lawyer Daniel Schwei said that Chinese companies are not purely private and are subject to intrusive laws compelling their cooperation with intelligence agencies. The Justice Department has also argued that economic regulations of this nature generally are not subject to First Amendment scrutiny.  “This is the most immediate national security threat,” Schwei argued. “It is a threat today. It is a risk today and therefore it deserves to be addressed today even while other things are ongoing and playing out.” Schwei also argued that TikTok lawyers failed to prove the company would suffer irreparable business harm. The Justice Department laid out its objections to TikTok’s motion for a temporary injunction in a brief under seal, but it was unsealed in redacted form to protect confidential business information. Trump set the process in motion with executive orders in August that declared TikTok and another Chinese app, WeChat, threats to national security. The White House says the video service is a security risk because the personal information of its millions of U.S. users could be handed over to Chinese authorities. Trump has given tentative approval to a proposed deal in which Oracle and Walmart could initially own a combined 20% of a new U.S. entity, TikTok Global. But Trump also said he could retract his approval if Oracle doesn’t have “total control” of the company; the president did not explain what he meant by that. The deal remains unfinalized, and the two sides have also appeared at odds over the corporate structure of TikTok Global. ByteDance said last week that it will still own 80% of the U.S. entity after a financing round. Oracle, meanwhile, put out a statement saying that Americans “will be the majority and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.” Government-owned media in China have criticized the deal as bullying and extortion. ByteDance said Thursday it has applied for a Chinese technology export license after Beijing tightened control over exports last month in an effort to gain leverage over Washington’s attempt to force an outright sale of TikTok to U.S. owners.  China’s foreign ministry has said the government will “take necessary measures” to safeguard its companies but gave no indication what steps it can take to affect TikTok’s fate in the United States. TikTok is also asking a federal court to declare Trump’s Aug. 6 executive order unlawful. The Chinese firm said the president doesn’t have the authority to take these actions under the national-security law he cited; that the ban violates TikTok’s First Amendment speech rights and Fifth Amendment due-process rights; and that there’s no authority for the restrictions because they are not based on a national emergency. 

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Alexie, Pilkey Books Among Most ‘Challenged’ of Past Decade

Toni Morrison is on the list. So are John Green and Harper Lee. And John Steinbeck and Margaret Atwood. All wrote books that were among the 100 most subjected to censorship efforts over the past decade, as compiled by the American Library Association.  Sherman Alexie’s prize-winning “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” came in at No. 1, followed by Dav Pilkey’s “Captain Underpants” picture book series and Jay Asher’s young adult novel “Thirteen Reasons Why.” Objections raised by parents and other community members have ranged from explicit language and depictions of drug use in Alexie’s novel to Asher’s theme of suicide.  “A lot of the books on the list also reflect a growing trend in recent years to challenge books by people of color and books from the LGBTQ community,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the library association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Examples include Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” about a Black girl raped by her father; Alex Gino’s “George,” about a transgender child; and Justin Richardson’s and Peter Parnell’s picture book about two gay penguins, “And Tango Makes Three.”The list was announced Monday as the library association prepares to mark its annual Banned Books Week.Green’s debut novel, “Looking for Alaska,” was ranked fourth, with others in the top 10 including E.L. James’ explicit blockbuster “50 Shades of Grey,” Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel “Drama” and Lauren Myracle’s “Internet Girls” series.  As with its yearly snapshots of most challenged books, the ALA defines a challenge as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.” The list is based on news reports and on accounts submitted from libraries and others in the local community, although the ALA believes many challenges go unreported. The association does not formally count the number of times books are removed from a library shelf or from a school reading list.The decade list overall is a mixture of old standards such as Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and more recent works such as Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and Suzanne Collins’ multimillion selling “The Hunger Games,” which has been accused of being anti-family and promoting violence. Others included were Atwood’s Dystopian classic “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.”  Most of the books are fiction, but the list also includes such nonfiction works as Jeanette Walls’ memoir about growing up with dysfunctional parents, “The Glass Castle,” and “Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl,” which has faced challenges for the Jewish girl’s emerging sexual feelings and physical changes as she and her family hide from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II. Frank was 15 when she was captured in 1944, and she died in a concentration camp the following year.  “There are actually two lines of objections to the Anne Frank diary,” Caldwell-Stone said. “One line is about her physical attraction to a boy (Peter Schiff, whom she met in school) and there were also objections that it was inappropriate for someone 12 years old to learn about the Holocaust. It was too much of a downer. It was not uplifting to young people.”

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