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Google Project Loon to solve Indian rural internet issues

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Indian government, in collaboration with Google, is doing a trial run to provide internet connectivity to disadvantaged villages under ‘Project Loon’. The project is expected to deliver internet connectivity to places in India which don’t have on ground cyberspace connectivity.

Google’s Project Loon, as per the Google blog on this technology, creates a loop of Super pressure air balloons in the stratosphere with the help of air direction and software algorithm. Beneath each lighter than air layer, balloons are hung.

These balloons travel to places where they are needed by descending or rising into the layer of wind traveling in the wanted direction. Two radio transceivers receive and send data streams.

The Loon project can help India by partnering with telecommunication companies and share cellular spectrum where people will be able to connect to the balloons directly from their computers and phones. The signal would then be passed across the balloon network, and yet again to Earth for global network use.

This technology is expected to be a cheaper solution than installing fibre optic cables or building mobile phone masts across the country, which could be lost in the vicious circle of corruption (hence, increasing the value of product) and infrastructural problems (which already subsist).

People living in areas without any existing internet infrastructure would be directly connected to the internet without any mediating technology. It would thus help them to easily access the information and opportunities of the world-wide web.

At present, Indian entrepreneurs, as well as the government, are foraying into developing user-targeted online education systems.

In this regard, this technology will be able to connect the remotely situated students to easy access of online education centres.

On the other hand, farmers of isolated villages would be able to utilize easy connectivity for learning new cultivating, fertilizing, pest control, weeding and harvesting techniques.

If the Project Loon initiative by Google, in collaboration with the Indian government, falls on the right trajectory, then India would get benefitted by this technology in many ways. The rural and isolated parts of our country could straightforwardly become a part of the ‘Digital India’ campaign.

Most importantly, mere 15% of Indians use the internet at all, according to a new report by the Economic World Forum (WEF). In this age of digitization, Indians would be greatly benefited from projects such as Loon, which can help bridge the information gaps in the areas of agriculture, education and communications.

 

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Google, Apple to Remove Saudi App Allowing Men to Control and Monitor Wives

The app is available in the Saudi version of the Google and Apple online stores.

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Saudi Arabia, Saudi app
FILE - A Saudi woman speaks on the phone in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 2, 2017. VOA

A Saudi Arabian government app that allows men in the country to monitor and control their female relatives’ travel at the click of a button should be removed from Google and Apple’s online stores, a U.S. politician and activists said on Wednesday.

Human rights campaigners argued the tech giants are enabling abuses against women and girls in the ultra-conservative kingdom by hosting the app.

The free Absher app, created by the Saudi interior ministry, allows men to update or withdraw permissions for their wives and female relatives to travel internationally and get SMS updates if their passports are used, said human rights researchers.

The app is available in the Saudi version of the Google and Apple online stores.

Google, Saudi Arabia
The app is available in the Saudi version of the Google and Apple online stores. VOA

“Part of the app’s design is to discriminate against women,” said Rothna Begum, an expert in women’s rights in the Middle East at Human Rights Watch.

“The complete control that a male guardian has is now facilitated with the use of modern technology and makes the lives of men ultimately easier and restricts women’s lives that much more.”

Begum said a few women had turned the app to their advantage by gaining access to their guardian’s phone and changing the settings to grant themselves freedom, but such cases were rare.

Neither Apple nor Google were immediately available for comment. Apple CEO Tim Cook told U.S. public radio NPR yesterday that he had not heard of Absher but pledged to “take a look at it”.

Saudi women must have permission from a male relative to work, marry, and travel under the country’s strict guardianship system, which human rights groups have criticized as abusive.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden has publicly called on both Apple and Google to remove it from their stores, arguing it promotes “abusive practices against women” in a Twitter post.

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations, is ranked 138 of 144 states in the 2017 Global Gender Gap. Pixabay

However, Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a spokesman on the Middle East for women’s rights group Equality Now, raised doubts over whether the companies would take action.

“Power and money talks, unfortunately, without giving any attention to the violations of human rights,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I really hope they take a concrete stand towards removing these apps but I am not really hopeful.”

Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations, is ranked 138 of 144 states in the 2017 Global Gender Gap, a World Economic Forum study on how women fare in economic and political participation, health and education.

Its guardianship system came under fresh scrutiny after Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun fled from her family and was granted asylum in Canada in January.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman indicated last year he favored ending the guardianship system but stopped short of backing its annulment.

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But any moves toward gender equality have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including the arrest and alleged torture of women’s rights activists as well as Muslim clerics. (VOA)