The Howard Blockchain Lab Wants To Bring Cryptocurrency Education to HBCUs

The growing world of blockchain has made its way to Howard University with the help of a team of current students and alumni.

Howard Blockchain Lab was founded in 2017 by Yohannes Ghebreyesus and Alston Clark, now graduates of the university, and computer science major, Johan Greene, after students on the campus began wondering about blockchain’s many uses.

The lab organizes events, meetups, and informational sessions to teach students and people in the greater Washington, D.C.-area about the uses of blockchain and cryptocurrency.

“The semester was just starting and there was a buzz on campus about cryptocurrency,” Clark said. 

That year, Ghebreyesus created a group chat with students around campus who were interested in learning about cryptocurrencies. Greene, in a separate venture, was building a team of students who wanted to be on the engineering side of blockchain.

“Watching these two make moves on opposite sides of the campus let me know that there was a movement about to start,” Clark said.

Weeks later, the group began offering workshops and meetups to educate students on initial coin offerings, Bitcoin, Ethereum and more. Clark said he was surprised, but happy to see so many students at Howard Blockchain Lab’s first event. Last fall, the team hosted a workshop on Solidity in Howard’s Inclusive Innovation Incubator.

“Having so many students there and eager to learn was a beautiful thing to see,” Clark said.

According to the Ibinex Global Cryptocurrency Report Market, only 8 percent of Americans plan on owning cryptocurrency in the future. Crypto ownership in the U.S. is led by millennials — 17.2 percent of the age group owns alternative coins. Generation X follows with 8.7 percent of the group owning cryptocurrency.

According to the report, most Americans decided to buy cryptocurrency based on independent research, a coin’s social media presence, news reports and whether their peers profited from the coin.

Since its creation, Howard Blockchain Lab has partnered with blockchain software ConsenSys and Blockchain at Berkeley, a student-run organization hoping to be the “blockchain hub of East Bay.”

Ghebreyesus, the president of Howard Blockchain Lab, said the team is now working to expand to other historically black colleges and other universities.

“We strongly believe that this space will have as large an effect as the internet has had on the world,” Ghebreyesus said. “Getting more minorities involved — sooner rather than later — would be extremely advantageous for our collective future.”


Twitter Says That Protected Tweets For Android Users Were Exposed For Years

Twitter users with Androids were in for an unpleasant surprise when the platform notified them that a bug in its system made their “protected tweets” accessible for years.

On January 17, Twitter said in a blog post that Android users’ tweets were exposed if “certain account changes were made.”

The company said that Android users who changed their email address associated with their accounts between November 3, 2014, and January 14, 2019 were vulnerable to the bug.

Web users and iOS users were not impacted by the bug.

Twitter apologized in the blog post and encouraged users to review their privacy settings to ensure the settings reflect their preferences. Twitter did not say how many users had been affected.

“We are providing this broader notice through the Twitter Help Center since we can’t confirm every account that may have been impacted,” the company said.

This is the latest bug in a string of social media platform mishaps and now the Irish Data Protection Commission is investigating the matter. The company is also under investigation by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for data-collection issues.

Twitter’s privacy mishaps are part of a bigger trend in the tech industry over the past several months.

In December, a bug on Facebook gave third-party apps too much access to users’ photos and may have impacted up to 6.8 million users in total. Earlier this month, a TechCrunch report revealed that hackers hijacked dormant Twitter accounts in an attempt to spread Islamic State propaganda.


Snoop Dogg Invests in Klarna, A Swedish VC Firm

Rap icon, Snoop Dogg is investing in Klarna, a Swedish online payment platform. Klarna is now one of Europe’s largest banks and provides payment solutions for shoppers across 100,000 retailers in 14 countries. The unicorn is valued at more than $2.5 billion.

“I’ve been looking for an opportunity to expand my tech investment portfolio to Europe and seeing the way Klarna operates and how they challenge the status quo, I think it’s a match made in heaven,” Snoop Dogg said in a press release. 

Snoop is set to be the face of the company’s latest “Smoooth Dogg” advertising campaign.

“Snoop is not only a rap legend, but also a successful businessman, with a genuine interest in tech, retail and e-commerce,” Klarna CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski said in a press release. “Teaming up with one of the smooothest persons alive, opens new doors to Klarna as we grow and develop as a company.”

The rapper joins other artists like Jay-Z in the world of venture capital. Jay-Z’s firm Arrive targets early-stage startups in need of brand assistance and investment capital and raised $20 million in December. Arrive has invested in Robinhood, an investment platform now worth over $5 billion; Delviat, an audio technology company; Ethos, a modern life insurance startup; and Insite Applications, a company focused on location sharing technology.

Other rappers including Nas and Chamillionaire have also had success in venture capital. Nas’ firm, Queensbridge Venture Partners, has invested in Lyft, Casper, Genius, and Dropbox. Chamillionaire joined Upfront Ventures in 2015.

These Are The Top Cities Where Minority Businesses Thrive

Minority-led businesses are thriving in California, according to a recent report from Lending Tree. Four California cities (San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Sacramento) made it to the top 10 list of cities for minority-owned businesses.

Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, which both have significant African American populations, were ranked third and ninth on the top 10 list, respectively.

Photo: Lending Tree

The Midwest is one of the worst regions for minority-owned businesses. Some of the region’s top cities including Cleveland, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Detroit made their way to the bottom of the list. St. Louis came in the last place for the list of 50 cities.

The report cites unregulated suburban development and discriminatory housing practices as factors for its dismal rates in long-term success for minority-owned businesses. Only 27.3 percent of these businesses last more than six years.

Here’s Lending Tree’s full list of cities where minority-led businesses are succeeding.

Microsoft Commits $500 Million For Affordable Housing In Seattle

In an effort to offset the impact the company has had on Seattle’s housing market, Microsoft has pledged $500 million to help build middle and low-income housing in the area, according to the New York Times. 

Host cities for big tech companies have seen their housing markets shift, with many residents being pushed out when they can no longer afford rent and other expenses. Amazon, which is also headquartered in Seattle, recently received backlash from Washington, D.C. and New York City residents after announcing that it is building its joint headquarters in the cities.

According to a report by Zillow, although incomes in some of America’s more expensive housing markets are typically higher than other cities, they have not been able to keep up with housing costs — this puts renters in a bind and increases the risk of homelessness.

New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle are some of the priciest housing markets in the country. People in these areas who typically spend 32 percent of their income on rent can expect a more rapid increase in their chances of homelessness.

Tech companies like Amazon and Salesforce have created initiatives to address the rising homelessness rates in their respective cities, while other companies have gone as far as to build homes for their employees. In November, Airbnb announced its donation of $5 million to help San Francisco’s homeless population after residents voted to implement a “homelessness tax” on big businesses housed in the city.

Microsoft’s $500 million pledge will be split into grants, loans and building projects for Seattle. The company is lending $225 million at subsidized rates to build and repair existing middle-income housing and $250 million to low-income housing. The rest of the money will be used as grants for organizations targeting homelessness in the area.


DNA-Pioneer and Nobel Scientist James Watson Stripped of Titles For Racist Remarks

Nobel scientist James Watson has been stripped of his remaining honorary titles at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory following the racist statements he made during a recent episode of the PBS documentary “American Masters: Decoding Watson.”

During his interview, Watson claimed that genes are the reason for black people’s lack of intelligence.

“Dr. Watson’s statements are reprehensible, unsupported by science, and in no way represent the views of CSHL, its trustees, faculty, staff, or students,” CSHL said in a statement. “The Laboratory condemns the misuse of science to justify prejudice.”

This is not the first time Watson has come under fire for racist and prejudice remarks. In 2007, CSHL removed Watson from his position as Chancellor and from all administrative duties in the lab after an interview in the Sunday Times where he claimed that black people’s genetics make them inferior and less intelligent than white people.

Watson issued an apology after the interview, but CSHL said that his recent comments “reverse the written apology and retraction.”

The lab has since revoked his honorary titles of Chancellor Emeritus, Oliver R. Grace Professor Emeritus, and Honorary Trustee.

Kayla Ingram, a first-year Ph.D. student in the Biochemistry, Cellular, and Molecular Biology program at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said that CSHL’s move is a step in the right direction and that Watson’s comments highlight a larger problem in today’s sciences.

“Much of what science was founded on was of the abuse of ‘disposable’ black bodies,” Ingram said. “The amount of scientific experiments performed, illegally, without informed consent, or systematically in a way that disproportionately targets people of color has been happening for centuries now, is admittedly scary.”

Watson and his partner Francis Crick are known for discovering the double-helix structure of DNA. The two won a Nobel Prize in 1962 for their work, which was based on the research of chemist Rosalind Franklin.

Former Intel Exec Aicha Evans Named As New CEO Of A Robo-Taxi Startup

Zoox, the autonomous taxi startup in Silicon Valley, just named Intel’s former Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Aicha Evans as its new CEO.

Zoox focuses on autonomous mobility, and since starting in 2014, the company has raised more than $750 million.

The startup currently has 700 employees, and its most recent hire is expected to take the company to new heights.

“I’m thrilled to join Zoox and challenge the status quo with an autonomous mobility system built from the ground up,” Evans said in a statement. “Mobility is approaching a major inflection point, and Zoox has set itself apart from entrenched players as the only company creating a solution purpose-built to meet the needs of a fully autonomous future.”

Evans spent 12 years at Intel before making the switch to Zoox.

“Aicha is an accomplished business leader and a strategic thinker with the right mix of skills to help turn Zoox’s ambitious vision into a reality,” said Zoox Executive Chairman Carl Bass.

Zoox has previously had CEO issues. The company’s board fired its six-year CEO Tim Kentley-Klay in August and Bass served in his position until Evans’ appointment.

Evans begins her position on February 26.

YouTube Updates Policies Following #BirdBox Challenge

Things have gotten so bad with the #BirdBox Challenge that YouTube has updated its policies to explicitly prohibit pranks that could cause harm to people.

“Content that encourages violence or dangerous activities that may result in serious physical harm, distress or death violates our harmful and dangerous policy, so we’re clarifying what this means for dangerous challenges and pranks,” a YouTube employee said in a blog post. “YouTube is home to many beloved viral challenges and pranks, but we need to make sure what’s funny doesn’t cross the line into also being harmful or dangerous.”

In December, the #BirdBox Challenge went viral after the Netflix original of the same name was viewed by thousands of people. People have posted videos doing a range of activities while blindfolded including reenacting scenes from the movie and driving — which has obvious safety concerns.

Netflix even stepped in to stop people from participating in the challenge.

Previous viral challenges have also caused issues for brands and challenge participants. YouTube’s newest policies aim to stop users from harming themselves through pranks and other challenges. Last year’s Tide Pod Challenge went viral after YouTubers filmed themselves eating the product, getting many people sick.

YouTube is giving users a grace period on content that violates its Community Guidelines—users will not receive a strike for their content, but it will be removed.

This Company Is Using AI To Track Down Users Who Share Passwords on Streaming Platforms

The days of sharing Netflix and Hulu passwords could soon be coming to a end.

At the annual CES convention in Las Vegas, software company Synamedia revealed its artificial intelligence tracker that helps streaming services find users who are sharing account information. The company is using AI to geo-locate users who could be sharing passwords. The technology analyzes whether one account is being used in multiple locations at the same time and flags the streaming service.

According to a report from CNBC, 35 percent of millennials share passwords, which could be causing streaming companies to miss out on millions of dollars. For Gen X and Baby Boomers, password sharing rates are estimated at 19 percent and 13, respectively.

CNBC also reported that Netflix announced it is increasing its prices by 13 to 18 percent.  It is unclear whether the pricing has been impacted by product costs or users sharing passwords.

According to The Verge, the software is already being tested in a number of places and Synamedia’s CTO Jean-Marc Racine says the buzz around the technology shows how much the streaming world is changing:

“Racine notes that increased demand for Synamedia’s services is evidence that the new streaming video market is maturing. At the beginning of a service’s life, he says, companies don’t tend to care about password sharing since it’s an organic way to introduce new users to the service. “But after a while, there is a growing concern about piracy, and [companies] want to ensure they’re maximizing their revenue.’”

There’s no word on whether Netflix, Hulu or other streaming services will implement Synamedia’s technology; however, the it does highlight a growing problem for streaming companies wanting to increase their amount of paying customers.



Civil Rights Groups Want To Stop Big Tech From Selling Facial Recognition Software To the Government

Facial recognition technology is the latest tool that big tech is racing to perfect and a coalition of 85 civil rights organizations are trying to stop the country’s largest tech companies from selling it to the government.

The groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, Muslim Justice League, Color of Change and the National Immigration Law Center, sent letters today to Google, Microsoft and Amazon urging the companies to not sell their facial recognition technologies to the government.

“History has clearly taught us that the government will exploit technologies like face surveillance to target communities of color, religious minorities, and immigrants,” said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties director for the ACLU of California, in a press release. “We are at a crossroads with face surveillance, and the choices made by these companies now will determine whether the next generation will have to fear being tracked by the government for attending a protest, going to their place of worship, or simply living their lives.”

In January of last year, Google said it “fixed” a flaw in its facial recognition algorithm that misidentified black people as gorillas by blocking the terms “gorilla,” “chimp,” “chimpanzee,” and “monkey.”

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai outlined the tech giant’s AI principles in a blog,  saying the company wanted to avoid creating and reinforcing unfair biases, aimed to be socially beneficial,  and wanted to avoid injury to people.

In a December interview with the Washington Post, Pichai called fears about artificial intelligence legitimate. Google received backlash from its employees last year after the company worked with the Department of Defense to provide AI that could identify buildings and car tags. The company said that it would not sell its facial recognition technology until its dangers were addressed.

“Google has a responsibility to follow its AI principles,” the coalition said in its letter to the company. “Selling a face surveillance product that could be used by the government will never be consistent with these Principles.”

In a December blog post, Microsoft President Brad Smith highlighted some of the opportunities and issues that come with facial recognition technologies.

“Especially in its current state of development, certain uses of facial recognition technology increase the risk of decisions and, more generally, outcomes that are biased and, in some cases, in violation of laws prohibiting discrimination,” Smith said.

Smith also noted that facial recognition technologies bring new intrusions to people’s privacy and the use of AI by governments “can encroach on democratic freedoms.”

In June, more than 100 Microsoft employees protested the company’s working with ICE after the agency was separating children from their parents at the Southwest border. Microsoft’s employees wrote a letter calling for the end of a $19.4 million contract with the agency.

“As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from,
we refuse to be complicit,” the employees said. “We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.”

The coalition commended Microsoft for addressing the issues with facial recognition technology and its work with ICE, but called for more action.

“The dangers of face surveillance can only be fully addressed by stopping its use by governments,” the coalition said in its letter to Microsoft. “This technology provides the government with an unprecedented ability to track who we are, where we go, what we do, and who we know.”

Amazon currently sells its Rekognition product to the American government and has worked law enforcement agencies in the past. The ACLU, along with various other civil rights organizations, sent another letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in May highlighting their concerns over the use of Rekognition on vulnerable communities, protestors and immigrants.

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government. Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom,” the coalition said in its May letter. “In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it.”

Amazon has also pushed for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to use Rekognition, a move that the coalition called “a threat to the safety of community members.”

In September, seven members of Congress sent letters to the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after the ACLU tested Amazon’s face surveillance technology on members of Congress against 25,000 mugshots, which resulted in 28 false matches.  Of those lawmakers mistakenly identified, 39 percent were people of color, including Representatives John Lewis (D-GA), Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL).

Large tech companies have come under fire throughout 2018 for their roles in endangering people of color and other minority groups using facial recognition and 2019 is looking to be the same as civil rights groups continue to highlight issues and technologies that could negatively impact minorities.


Days after the coalition sent its letter to Amazon, the company’s shareholders filed a resolution prohibiting the sale of facial recognition products to governments and law enforcement unless it is determined that “the technology does not cause or contribute to actual or potential violations of civil and human rights” under an independent evaluation.