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After Uvalde shooting, tech companies tout their solutions. But do they work? | Technology

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After the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas , an all-too-familiar question emerged: how do we prevent such horror from happening again? A handful of companies have said they have tech solutions that could help.

They included the drone firm Axon , which promoted a remotely operated Taser device to be deployed in schools. EdTech companies, including Impero Software, said their student surveillance services could flag warning signs and help prevent the next attack.

The companies are part of a thriving school security industry, one that has grown to $3.1bn in 2021 from just $2.7m in 2017, according to market research firm Omdia. The Security Industry Association, which counts more than 400 companies targeting kindergarten and elementary schools among its members, has spent nearly $2m on lobbying since 2010, according to OpenSecrets.org. Gun safety legislation passed by Congress last week included more than $300m to bolster the Stop School Violence Act, a federal grant program created after the Parkland shooting to fund school security that was endorsed by the industry group.

But gun control advocates, teachers’ groups and tech watchdogs are skeptical increased spending on hi-tech security measures will help curb gun violence in American schools, and in some cases may even cause more harm to students.

“We are all weeping for the children lost in Uvalde, but some tech execs are chomping at the bit to make money off this tragedy,” said Rewan Al-Haddad, campaign director at tech watchdog SumOfUs, adding that some of the solutions “aren’t just unhelpful, they are actively harmful”.

Days after the Uvalde shooting, Arizona-based drone company Axon announced the development of a remotely operated Taser drone system “as part of a long-term plan to stop mass shootings”.

A computer-drawn image shows a yellow drone with a camera and the word ‘Taser’ on the side.
A Taser drone system, as shown in this computer-generated rendering, by Axon Enterprise was put on hold after it received backlash. Photograph: AP

The publicly traded company develops weapon products for military, law enforcement and civilians and has a market cap of $6.87bn. It claims its technology has saved 266,000 lives, but the announcement of its Taser drone created a maelstrom of backlash – leading nine people to resign from Axon’s advisory board and the company to pause the project indefinitely.

“In light of feedback, we are pausing work on this project and refocusing to further engage with key constituencies to fully explore the best path forward,” said Rick Smith, Axon’s founder and CEO, in an online statement.

The use of drones in police forces has been on the rise in recent years, with at least 1,172 police departments nationwide in possession of the unmanned aerial devices. College campus police have used drones in the past to monitor crowds at large events and assess traffic accidents – but the new Axon drone represents a potential new frontier for weaponized devices that advocates found concerning.

More common than drones on campus is surveillance technology. The number of public schools deploying video surveillance systems has risen from 20% in 1999 to 83% in 2017, according to survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Thousands of American school districts, have contracted with tech companies to track students’ activities on school-issued computers, including to monitor what students search for and what websites they visit.

Impero Software, a company that pitched its own technology directly in response to the Uvalde news, promises to monitor kindergarten through 12th grade students and flag warning signs such as searching for information on weapons

Impero and similar companies use artificial intelligence to monitor all content students type in official school email accounts, chats or documents 24 hours a day. A student who types “how to kill myself” into a search on a school computer could have police immediately called to their home, for example.

Yet despite the growing adoption of security tools in schools across the US, the number mass shootings at schools has remained relatively constant throughout the past 30 years and reached an unprecedented high at secondary schools in the past five years.

A study conducted by researchers at Washington University and Johns Hopkins found that surveillance responses to gun violence within kindergarten through 12th grade school systems “have not stopped the increasing frequency of their occurrence, but have instead increased racial and ethnic disparities in multiple forms of discipline”.

A white dome-shaped camera is mounted to the corner of a red brick building.
Schools have steadily adopted security tools, such as surveillance cameras, despite mass shootings remaining constant. Photograph: Shafkat Anowar/AP

“I am hearing more and more that schools are starting to look like prisons, and that makes young people feel more like suspects than students,” said Odis Johnson, a professor at Johns Hopkins who co-authored the study.

The presence of surveillance technology increases the capacity for schools to identify and discipline students for less serious offenses, Johnson explained, leading to more arrests of and legal action against children, particularly of students of color. Non-white students are also being surveilled in higher numbers: Johnson’s research showed Black students are four times more likely to attend a high- versus low-surveillance school.

“Educators have fought for safe and welcoming schools for decades, so of course we want commonsense security and safety measures. But that’s a far cry from efforts to turn schools into armed fortresses or make them operate like hi-tech prisons,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “That undermines the education of our kids who need safe places to play and just exist – that’s why we want fewer, not more, guns on campuses.”

The Uvalde shooting, Weingarten said, was a tragic example of the limits of such tools. The district had already been using a student social media monitoring tool called Social Sentinel since 2019 and alerted parents just minutes after the shooting through an emergency response app called Raptor Technologies. Robb elementary was, what’s known in the education sector, as a “hardened” school, where digital and physical security technology are deployed.

“While hardening will make security companies wealthy, it isn’t a panacea for the problem of school shootings,” she said. “We only need to look at Robb elementary in Uvalde, a hardened school, where officers waited more than an hour to engage the shooter.”

Impero Software did not respond to a request for comment.

For many school safety and gun control advocates, the debate around hi-tech security obscures the issue at the core of the school shooting scourge: access to guns is the primary risk factor for such tragedy.

“The only thing that keeps kids safe from mass shootings is making sure people do not have access to weapons of mass destruction that can kill entire classrooms of children in one clip,” said Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union, a non-profit organization representing parents of children in schools.

“We cannot innovate our way out of this,” she added. “The saddest part about this is that it is not whether we know how to solve the problem, it’s whether we have the courage to do what is right by our children.”



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Linux 6.0 debuts, missing some Rusty bits • The Register

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Emperor Penguin Linus Torvalds has released the first release candidate for Linux 6.0, but doesn’t mind what you call it.

“After I had already decided to call this kernel 6.0, a few Chinese developers piped up and pointed out that ‘5.20’ is a more wholesome version of the Western ‘4.20’ internet-famous number,” he wrote in his announcement that Linux 6.0 rc1 has been released.

“4.20” is a reference to a day on which some celebrate marijuana, while “5.20” does likewise for magic mushrooms.

“So if you want to call this ‘Linux 5.20’, go right ahead,” Torvalds wrote.

“Because the kernel version numbers really are entirely made up and have no intrinsic meaning.”

That this week’s release has the 6.0 label is still nice to know, as discussion on the Linux kernel mailing list in recent weeks used 5.20 and 6.0 interchangeably.

As The Register has already reported, the release does not make major changes to the kernel but does include many useful updates – such as more RISC-V support, code to drive Intel’s Gaudi accelerators, and improved ACPI handling.

Torvalds lamented some Rust-enabling code didn’t make it into the release.

“I actually was hoping that we’d get some of the first rust infrastructure, and the multi-gen LRU VM, but neither of them happened this time around,” he mused, before observing “There’s always more releases.”

“This is one of those releases where you should not look at the diffstat too closely, because more than half of it is yet another AMD GPU register dump,” he added, noting that Intel’s Gaudi2 Ai processors are also likely to produce plenty of similar kernel additions.

“The CPU people also show up in the JSON files that describe the perf events, but they look absolutely tiny compared to the ‘asic_reg’ auto-generated GPU and AI hardware definitions,” he added.

The release includes 13,099 changed files, 1,280,295 insertions and 341,210 deletions. Torvalds calculated those numbers “just because I was curious and looked.”

He wants you to be curious too – or at least curious enough to test the kernel, because that’s what release candidates are for and this one contains at least one active bug. ®

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Tinder is the most hated app in Ireland

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Ireland is one of 19 countries worldwide that strongly dislikes Tinder. One in five Tweets by Irish people about all apps are negative.

According to Electronics Hub’s analysis of the most hated apps in the world, Tinder is the most loathed app in Ireland.

Irish people are not alone in their hatred for the dating app. Tinder was the most hated app in 19 countries in total, with Canadians, Americans, Nigerians, Kenyans and our neighbours in the UK also singling it out as their least favourite.

Electronics Hub determined the most hated apps in each country by analysing Twitter data. It processed more than 3m geotagged tweets related to 87 social media, dating, mobile games, entertainment, cryptocurrency and money transfer apps.

Researchers calculated the percentage of tweets about each app that were negative using a sentiment analysis tool which identifies whether a tweet has positive, negative or neutral sentiment.

Infographic of the most hated apps in the world by country.

Click to enlarge and see the most hated apps in the world by country. Infographic: Electronics Hub

Ireland was found to be one of the most negative countries when it came to attitudes towards apps. One in five Tweets posted by Irish people about apps were negative, Electronics Hub found.

Despite Irish people’s professed loathing for Tinder, the dating platform tried to play a role in keeping daters safe in the pandemic. It hooked up with the HSE to promote vaccines by adding badges to users’ profiles.

Tinder was only the second-most hated app in the world, with Roblox taking first place. More than 20 countries said the child-targeted gaming app was their most hated app. Other unpopular apps include Snapchat, Disney and Reddit.

Neighbouring countries tend to dislike similar apps, with the Scandinavians professing a dislike for Reddit and South Americans hating e-commerce apps.

Dating apps, meanwhile, are disliked the world over. In Iraq, 71.4pc of all tweets about Tinder are negative, which is the highest out of any country. A state-by-state breakdown of the most hated apps in North America also found Tinder took the top spot in 21 states.

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‘A sweatshop in the UK’: how the cost of living crisis triggered walkouts at Amazon | Industrial action

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Amazon workers say they are working in a “sweatshop” as safety concerns and worries about the cost of living crisis have triggered walkouts at warehouses around the country.

The Observer has spoken to four staff involved in the walkouts, who work at three Amazon warehouses, including Tilbury in Essex, where protests began on 4 August. All say they will struggle to survive this winter with pay rise offers between 35p and 50p an hour – far less than the rate of inflation, which is currently at 9.4%.

The workers, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals from Amazon, said they were speaking out to highlight how the firm’s ultra-cheap, ultra-convenient, super-fast delivery model works.

Amazon employs more than 70,000 people in the UK, adding 25,000 staff in 2021 alone. Many work at the company’s 21 fulfilment centres, where some workers say they are asked to carry out long, physical shifts, with difficult targets, for low pay.

Starting pay in Amazon warehouses will shortly be increasing to between £10.50 and £11.45 per hour, depending on location. An Amazon spokesperson said this was a 29% increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to staff since 2018. They said it is also augmented by a comprehensive benefits package worth thousands of pounds a year, and a company pension plan.

But staff say it is too low for the type of work being done and given the current economic crisis, especially at a company that just posted $121bn (£100bn) in revenues in the second quarter of 2022 alone.

“When we heard the news, it was shocking,” said one worker at Amazon’s warehouse in Tilbury. “It’s ridiculous. Inflation is [forecast to reach] 13%, and our salary increases barely 3%.” The worker rents a house with her husband for £1,350 a month without bills. “My salary is £1,600. … I’m lucky I’m married, otherwise I’d be homeless.”

Some staff are seeking a pay rise of £2 an hour from the tech giant.

Hundreds of Amazon employees stop working over disputed pay rise – video

Another worker at Amazon’s warehouse in Tilbury said they were “petrified” about how they would survive this winter. “We had a scenario recently where someone was living in [an] Amazon [warehouse],” he said. “If I’m honest, I can probably see that happening again.

“I can see people staying in the canteen all the time because they can’t afford to go home.”

The worker is protesting against the poor pay offer, as well as conditions that lock staff in cages for entire shifts at the warehouses, from where they pick items to be delivered to customers. (Amazon says the workstations are to protect workers from moving robotics.)

“It’s a Chinese sweatshop in the UK,” said the second worker at Tilbury. “It’s how they set up their model.”

The worker has struggled with his mental health while working for the company. “I’ve realised how bad Amazon is for my mental health,” he said. “The anxiety of going into work, knowing you’ve got to do the same stuff day in, day out, is horrible.”

That concern is echoed by a worker at an Amazon facility near Bristol, who has worked there with his wife for three years. “It was good initially,” the worker said. “There was a lot of safety consciousness, and the targets were pretty reasonable. But now they’re just pushing it higher and higher, and exploiting people.”

Around 100 Amazon staff at Bristol staged a sit-in at the company canteen on 10 August – action for which they say they were docked pay by management at the site. “The vast majority of people went back to work at that point, because at the end of the day, as much as they want to fight for it, they have to think about themselves financially.”

The Bristol warehouse worker says that managers used to stop employees from lifting heavy items from bins on high shelves in the warehouse without a ladder. “If you overstretched yourself for 10 hours, you’d end up with a bad neck and a bad back,” he said.

That has subsequently changed as staff said they felt pressured to meet ever-escalating demand. Staff pushing carts around the warehouse used to be limited to using one cart at a time for safety reasons; now it is claimed managers turn a blind eye to staff pulling two carts at once. “They don’t say nothing because all they care about is getting the work done as fast as possible,” he said. “Safety just goes out the window.”

He says he has personally lifted items weighing up to 25kg by himself, despite rules saying anything heavier than 15kg should be lifted by two people.

A worker at an Amazon facility in the north-west of England said that managers at his warehouse similarly ignored rules around not running on site and lifting down heavy items from high areas in an attempt to meet targets, which at his site require two items to be picked every minute.

Amazon declined to respond to specific claims.

Martha Dark, director at Foxglove, a non-profit organisation working to highlight issues within tech companies that supports Amazon workers, said: “None of the workers we’re supporting wanted to protest.

“They’re desperate and can’t survive on these wages. Meanwhile, Amazon threatens to dock pay and send workers to HR for revealing the truth about life in the warehouse.”

She added: “Amazon needs to respect workers’ rights to organise, stop penalising people who are fighting to survive and provide a real pay rise now.”

Two workers said they plan to leave the company because of the conditions and pay. However, some hope to stay put – to change things.

“If a lot of us who are experienced leave Amazon at this point they’ll get a new group of people in who they can mould into this depressing way of work,” said the Bristol worker. “That’s the problem.”

This article was amended on 14 August 2022. Inflation is at 9.4%, not 13% as stated in an earlier version; the latter is a forecast rate.

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