Friday, February 14, 2020

Job Announcement of the day

The UK has a new finance minister and it is none other than Rishi Sunak,  the 39-year-old son-in-law of Infosys founder Narayana Murthy—married to his daughter Akshata. Before he entered politics in 2014, Sunak was co-founder of a 1-billion pound global investment firm. He will become part of what is already referred to as the most "desi Cabinet in UK history"—which includes Alok Sharma, Priti Patel and Goan-origin Suella Braverman. Also: adorable Sunak w/ doggie pic on his Insta.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Indians losing their online privacy

The government has been readying a new set of rules to govern social media and messaging platforms. The latest news reports indicate that these may entirely dismantle our right to online privacy.


What’s this about? Back in December, the government published a controversial draft of the Information Technology Act’s Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules—and drew immediate outrage from privacy activists and big tech companies.  A new Bloomberg report indicates that the final bill will be published at the end of the month—and likely become law. 


What do these rules say? The government plans to establish a separate set of rules to govern messaging and social media platforms. According to Bloomberg, the government will now be able to force WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok to reveal users’ identities and information—without having to produce a warrant or judicial order. 


What does that mean? This bit of news has to be seen in context of the draft published in 2018, which also proposed:

  • These companies will have to comply with any complaint from a law enforcement agency—and trace and report the information demanded within 72 hours.
  • In the case of WhatsApp, it will have to trace the origin of any forwarded content and to disable that user's access within 24 hours. 
  • Social media platforms also have to develop a user ID verification program—kinda like the blue tick on Twitter. But mercifully, that is not mandatory for users, but an option they can choose.


But, more importantly: The Week reports that the government has a whole new ace up its sleeve: social media companies may also be required to verify the identities of their users. And they have to create a database of mobile numbers of all active users.


Wow, is there more? These rules dovetail neatly with the recent data privacy bill that governs any information you share with a third party—be it a credit card, e-commerce or social media company.  The government can now access and analyse your data without your consent as long as it is “satisfied that it is necessary or expedient” for purposes such as “preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence.” (See our explainer here)


What’s the justification for all this? The government on various occasions has offered a number of reasons. One is, of course, national security—and the need to crack down on terrorist networks that operate via messaging apps. Two, child sex abuse. Such content is widely distributed and consumed, especially on WhatsApp in India. Three, fake news—such as those related to child abduction—that has led to a number of lynchings.


So this is really going to happen? WhatsApp issued a statement this week saying it will “not compromise on security because that would make people less safe.” In the past there has been a clear divide between Indian and global tech companies. While the likes of Reliance Jio, Sharechat and Hike are a-okay with the new rules, Facebook, Google and Twitter have vehemently opposed them as a violation of the right to privacy as recognised by the Supreme Court. FYI: The Court is already reviewing a number of petitions related to online privacy, and is expected to weigh in once the final rules are published.


The big picture: Taken together, these measures will strip end-to-end encryption—which guarantees total privacy—offered by WhatsApp, Messenger and other messaging apps. So the government can access any message you send and personal information you share. Since there are no requirements for a judicial order or warrant, law enforcement agencies can make these requests at a whim. Plus: Indians will also lose their right to anonymity on social media platforms such as Twitter. 

Learn more: The Bloomberg report is available without a paywall on Yahoo News. The Week reports on the creation of a database of user numbers. TechCrunch has the WhatsApp angle. Read our explainer on the data privacy bill. Indian Express lays out the rules included in the 2018 draft version.

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making zero plans for Valentine's Day

Your viral outbreak update is here: Latest tally: 1,370 dead, over 60,000 infected. Plus: 

  • How does it feel to be quarantined on the cruise ship Diamond Princess—currently stranded in a Japanese port? NPR offers a poetic piece on passengers who are making “life-long friends.” 
  • Al Jazeera paints a grimmer picture: “While news reports are focused mostly on the 2,670 passengers of the ill-fated ship, its 1,100 crew members are on the front line, as they race against time to contain the spread of the virus inside the ship, keeping the vessel clean, while continuing to serve the passengers who have been confined mostly to their cabins.”
  • At least 219 passengers and crew have been infected. Crew members "feel unsafe and helpless,” and are desperate to be rescued. Indian crew members recently issued a video-taped SOS to PM Modi. 
  • Plus: A video diary of life in a quarantine centre in Britain. Patients are forbidden from socialising, must wear face masks to answer doors, microwave their own meals and clean rooms with wipes. 
  • Meanwhile, a passenger aboard a Bangkok-Delhi SpiceJet flight was suspected of having contracted the coronavirus. The passenger was quarantined by the Airport Health Organisation after the plane landed at Delhi airport.


RK Pachauri has passed away: at the age of 80 after a prolonged illness. In 2007, he received the Nobel prize as the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global body of scientists which offers the most comprehensive assessment of the state of the planet. Once the most famous face of the fight against climate change, his legacy was marred by allegations of sexual harassment—and was forced to step down in disgrace.(Indian Express)


A big, beautiful Gujarati wall for Trump: The state government is scrambling to erect a 400-meter, seven-foot high wall in Ahmedabad. The reason: It doesn’t want President Trump to see slums on his ride from the airport. The story drew lots of mean jibes, including this skewering cartoon. In related news: four US senators—including a prominent Republican Trump supporter—have written a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raising concerns about Kashmir and CAA.


Population control is back on the table: A Rajya Sabha bill introduced by a Shiv Sena MP will punish families with more than two children: “The State shall promote small family norms by offering incentives in taxes, employment, education etc. to its people who keep their family limited to two children and shall withdraw every concession from and deprive such incentives to those not adhering to small family norm, to keep the growing population under control.” In a country that already has a female foeticide problem, what could go wrong? The good news: past attempts to pass such bills have failed. (The Print)


Harvard and Yale have a phoren money problem: The two universities failed to report hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign gifts and contracts as required by law—received from countries such as China and Saudi Arabia. Under US law, educational institutions are required to report all such funds received from foreign sources that exceed $250,000 twice a year. The estimated amount Yale failed to report: $375 million. There is no dollar amount released for Harvard as yet. (Reuters)


Mac owners beware! According to the latest malware report, for the first time ever, there are more reported cases of viruses on Mac computers than Windows machines. Such threats increased by 400% between 2018 and 2019—and there are an average of 11 such threats per Mac device. The somewhat good news: most of it is annoying adware—which does things like redirect searches or load tabs automatically to earn ad revenue. (9to5Mac)


Happy spouse, happy life: New research suggests that having an optimistic partner can help you lead a long and healthy life—and stave off dementia. And that confirms all the other research that suggests optimism is good for you—helping you earn more and making you less likely to have a heart attack. In very much related news: The world’s oldest man is now 112-years old. His secret: "Not to get angry and keep a smile on your face.” (Market Watch)


The ‘Excellent Art History’ Pop Up: Nope, there isn’t a common theme that ties these two, but they are totally worth your time. 


  • First up, a very special treat: Paintings commissioned by patrons of the East India Company in the 18th and 19th centuries. You can read about them over at BBC News
  • Or watch this gorgeous one-minute video
  • Or buy an exquisite coffee-table book featuring the paintings—the accompanying text written by none other than the incomparable William Dalrymple. Best option: do all three.
  • Next, Artsy asks: Why don’t we see more pregnant women in art history? And the answer is fascinating, as are the accompanying paintings. 


Cool stuff we learned on the internet: includes the following:


  • Mel Magazine offers an entertaining read on the body positivity movement among dog owners—who are embracing their pups’ ‘chonky’ bodies. 
  • On the other end of the spectrum, Eating Well takes a closer look at the Sirtfood diet—the one that helped Adele lose insane amounts of weight. But is it healthy?
  • @IndiaArtHistory’s thread weaves a fascinating tale of the famous stone elephants of Red Fort.
  • Also: couples are now attending their own wedding ceremonies via their mobile phone. Don’t believe us? Watch this!
  • Sarojini Naidu’s astonishing and brilliant response to Gandhi-ji’s assassination. Note: this the woman who called him ‘Mickey Mouse.’
  • CNN has a lovely video report on how some designers are working to save the Japanese kimono (which is going the way of the nine-yard sari)—in unexpected ways.
  • explains how yarns created from human skin cells are being woven into ‘human textiles’—and how it can change medical science.


Your daily quota of sunshine items: is extra-long to tide you over for the weekend:


  • This lovely clip of Wendell Rodricks singing 'All of Me'. 
  • The Backstreet Boys singing Sisqo’s ‘Thong Song’ a capella style—in straw hats and eye-blinding stripes. 
  • The happy news that you can now host that wild bachelorette party on a Noida metro coach—at the low, low rate of Rs 5000-10000 per hour.
  • This haunting mouth bow performance by an Aka man in the Central African rainforest.
  • This stunning photo of the humble bougainvillea flower. 
  • You may not care about US basketball player Dwyane Wade, but his explanation of how he and his wife dealt with their 12-year-old trans child is a tribute to parental love. 
  • Imaan Sheikh rewrote Weeknd’s ‘Star Boy’ lyrics… as a hilarious ode to menstruation.
  • Google’s stunning new Earth View collection of super high-res satellite images of some of the coolest places on the planet. You can turn an image into your screensaver, or download the pics to your desktop.
  • The best and wildest looks celebrities wore to New York Fashion Week. 
  • This animated video tribute to Shaheen Bagh.
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