Technology US

Microsoft, Salesforce, and Oracle are working on digital vaccination records

A coalition of health and tech companies, which includes Microsoft, Salesforce, and Oracle, is working on an initiative that aims to make it easier for people to access their COVID-19 vaccination records digitally. As people are beginning to get vaccinated against COVID-19, they may need to prove that they’re vaccinated so that they can return to work, school, or to travel, and having an easily accessible digital vaccination record could help with that. The coalition is calling itself the Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI).

“VCI’s vision is to empower individuals to obtain an encrypted digital copy of their immunization credentials to store in a digital wallet of their choice,” according to a press release. If you don’t want to use a smartphone, you could receive papers with QR codes containing similarly verifiable credentials.

VCI says it is working to make the credentials using the SMART Health Cards specification, which is designed to let people store immunization or lab results in a digital wallet. (More information about the specification is also available on GitHub.)

But VCI’s press release doesn’t provide a timeline as to when organizations administering COVID-19 vaccines will be able to make these records, so it’s unclear when you’ll be able to actually add one to a digital wallet. And with people in the US already receiving paper cards recording when they get their COVID-19 vaccines, it’s unclear how those records would transfer to VCI’s digital standard, if they can at all.

Another hurdle could be getting health centers to participate, as some providers may have more resources to incorporate these credentials into the vaccination process than others would. And there are also ethical questions about whether a person who can prove they are vaccinated should have more freedoms than someone who is not.

VCI isn’t the first coalition to consider a digital COVID-19 vaccination record. Similar efforts are modeling themselves on existing vaccine documents already required by some countries for entry. (These document vaccinations for diseases like yellow fever or polio.) One effort, by Estonia and the World Health Organization, began developing a digital COVID-19 vaccine certificate in October.

Technology US

BMW’s Digital Key Plus will let iPhones unlock the iX from a pocket or bag

BMW has announced an upgraded version of its mobile car key technology dubbed Digital Key Plus. It promises to allow iPhone owners to unlock select BMW cars without having to take out their phones. The feature relies on ultra wideband (UWB) which has been included in Apple’s flagship iPhones since the iPhone 11 thanks to the U1 chip. Digital Key Plus will debut on the all-electric BMW iX which launches later this year in Europe and next year in the US.

The big benefit of Digital Key Plus, according to BMW, is that it uses UWB so it works with an iPhone that’s still in your pocket or bag. In contrast, the current Digital Key system used by Apple and BMW is NFC based, so you have to hold an iPhone (or Apple Watch) near the car’s tag to unlock it. BMW also emphasizes the security of its new UWB approach, noting that it’s resistant to relay attacks that might try and jam or intercept its signal and offers “the greatest possible security.”

At present, only a limited number of iPhones include the U1 chip that offers UWB support. It debuted in the iPhone 11 and was later included in the iPhone 12, but was missing from the budget iPhone SE 2020 that released early last year. The U1 chip was also included on the Apple Watch Series 6, released last year.

Apple built support for digital car keys into iOS with version 13.6 last year, following its announcement at WWDC 2020. MacRumors notes that BMW is currently the only car manufacturer to use the technology, though Business Korea reports that Hyundai has plans to adopt the feature later this year.

There’s a push to make UWB a standard for digital keys. When it announced support for digital car keys in June last year, Apple said it was working on an industry-wide standard that would use its U1 chip. In today’s announcement, BMW says it’s working with Apple and the Car Connectivity Consortium to build UWB support into version 3.0 of the Digital Key specification.

Tech News

Reserve Bank of India Forms Group to Evaluate Digital Lending

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Wednesday formed a working group to look at digital lending in the country, including lending through online platforms and mobile applications, it said in a statement.

“Recent spurt and popularity of online lending platforms/ mobile lending apps has raised certain serious concerns which have wider systemic implications,” the RBI said in its release.

The “Working Group” being set up by RBI will “study all aspects of digital lending activities” in both regulated and unregulated financial sectors, the banking regulator said. The group will comprise both internal and external members.

At least 10 Indian lending apps on Google’s Play Store breached Google rules on loan repayment lengths aimed at protecting vulnerable borrowers, according to a Reuters review of such services and more than a dozen users.

Four apps were taken down from the Play Store – where the vast majority of Indians download phone apps – after Reuters flagged to Google that they were violating its ban on offering personal loans requiring full repayment in 60 days or less. One of those apps, StuCred, was allowed back on the Google Play store on January 7 after it removed the offer of a 30-day loan. It denied engaging in any unscrupulous practices. The other three apps are 10MinuteLoan, Ex-Money, and Extra Mudra.

In December, RBI had issued a public notice about lending apps, warning some engaged in “unscrupulous activities,” such as charging excessive interest rates and fees, but no direct action has been taken so far.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

What will be the most exciting tech launch of 2021? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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Technology US

Western Digital doubles the storage in its portable SSDs to 4TB

Western Digital is doubling the maximum storage size of several of its portable SSDs to 4TB. Previously, Western Digital’s SSD lineup maxed out at 2TB.

The 4TB storage configuration will be available under Western Digital’s My Passport and WD_Black black brands, along with its subsidiary SanDisk’s Extreme series. All of the products will also include a five-year warranty.

Starting at $680, Western Digital’s My Passport SSD, which received a model refresh last August, promises up to 1050MB/s read speeds and 1000MB/s write speeds.

Western Digital’s Black P50 Game Drive SSD is great for console gamers looking for an external device to store their games.
Image: Western Digital

Western Digital’s Black P50 Game Drive SSD 4TB configuration will retail for $750 and include read and write transfer speeds of up to 2000MB/s. This external SSD is compatible with PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles.

But buyer beware: if you are looking to buy this as an external SSD to supplement the storage on your PS5 or Xbox Series X / S, there are a few caveats. It can connect to the PS5, but you can only store PS4 games. And while it will work on the Xbox Series X / S, this game drive is not compatible with the next-gen console’s SSD expansion output to take full advantage of the next-gen hardware. Currently, the one SSD that takes full advantage of the Series X / S’s hardware is Seagate’s Expansion Card, which only comes in 1TB.

Both the SanDisk Extreme and Extreme Pro received a model refresh last September.
Image: SanDisk

The SanDisk Extreme’s 4TB configuration will cost $700 and promises transfer speeds of up to 1050MB/s read and 1000MB/s write. An even faster option, the 4TB Extreme Pro, will cost $900 and delivers both read and write transfer speeds of up to 2000MB/s.

Western Digital says all of these products are expected to launch “later this calendar quarter” on its website and the Western Digital website.

Tech News

Donald Trump Sees Digital Downfall in US Capitol Violence Aftermath

Donald Trump faced quite a lot of backlash following violent protest at the US Capitol by Trump supporters. The event, that disrupted the Electoral College debate and lead to the death of five people, was said to have been instigated by Trump’s social media messages ever since the November presidential election. As a result, Trump’s social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat have been removed, right-leaning social media app Parler has been suspended from Google Play, and pro-Trump subreddit ‘r/DonaldTrump’ has been blocked by Reddit.

Donald Trump’s digital presence has been cut down significantly after protests at Capitol Hill by his supporters. On January 7, during the Electoral College Debate, a large group of Trump supporters stormed the building and entered the Senate chamber where election results were being certified. The protests have been blamed on Trump’s tweets and posts on various social media platforms where he claimed that the November 3 election was rigged and stolen from him. He had also urged his supporters to march on the Capitol.

Following the US Capitol violence, Trump’s social media handles on Facebook and Instagram were indefinitely banned for inciting violence against a democratically-elected government. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg put out a statement announcing the ban on Trump’s accounts and said, “The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden.”

Twitter then shared a blog post where it announced that the @realDonaldTrump account has been permanently suspended “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Trump still had access to the presidential @POTUS and @WhiteHouse accounts. However, a new report from The Verge states that his tweets from these accounts are being deleted. This was confirmed by BuzzFeed executive editor Mat Honan on Twitter. Not just that, the Twitter account of Gary Coby, the digital director for Trump’s 2020 campaign, has also been suspended.

Snapchat also locked Trump out of the photo-sharing platform amid concerns of his dangerous rhetoric. During the siege of Capitol Hill, Trump released a video on social media in which he repeated the false claim of election fraud and told the mob “we love you,” and went on to ask them to go home. YouTube removed the video in line with its policy barring claims challenging election results.

Parler, the app that became home to right-leaning social media users after Donald Trump supporters urged Twitter users to join the platform, has been suspended from Google Play for having posts inciting violence. Apple gave the app 24 hours to remove all objectionable content and submit a detailed moderation plan.

Furthermore, r/DonaltTrump – a subreddit on popular social media platform Reddit – that was the unofficial pro-Trump forum has also been banned, as pointed out by Axios reporter Sara Fischer on Twitter.

What will be the most exciting tech launch of 2021? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.


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LA begins issuing digital vaccine verification for Apple Wallet

Los Angeles is launching a digital iPhone receipt for COVID-19 vaccinations, which could one day become a ‘vaccine passport’ that would be required for such activities as airline travel and live concerts.

The plan being rolled out this week will see Los Angeles County partner with tech firm Healthvana to issue the digital verifications, which can be put in an Apple Wallet or the Android equivalent, Bloomberg reported.

The project is initially aimed at ensuring that people who get the first shot of the approved Pfizer or Moderna vaccines also get the required booster shot, including through follow-up notifications.

But the digital receipt could also be used ‘to prove to airlines, to prove to schools, to prove to whoever needs it,’ that a person has been vaccinated, Healthvana CEO Ramin Bastani told Bloomberg.

But critics fear it marks the emergence of a vaccine surveillance state, where digital ‘passports’ are required for everything from flying on a plane to going to the movies. 

Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Elliot Ibanez, left, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine given by LAFD paramedic Anthony Kong on Monday. LA county will soon begin issuing digital proof of vaccination, raising the prospect of a new ‘vaccine passport’ system

The plan being rolled out this week will see Los Angeles County partner with tech firm Healthvana to issue the digital verifications, which can be put in an Apple Wallet (stock photo)

The plan being rolled out this week will see Los Angeles County partner with tech firm Healthvana to issue the digital verifications, which can be put in an Apple Wallet (stock photo)

LA’s vaccine receipts come as the county has emerged as the latest U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, topping 7,000 Covid hospitalizations for the first time Monday.

Health officials hope that digital records can help streamline the complex two-step vaccination process, ensuring that no doses go to waste on people who fail to get the required booster shot.

 But privacy groups have warned of the potential future effects of a ‘data grab’ of medical information by government and private companies.

‘This great moment of hope must not be seen opportunistically as yet another data grab,’ the advocacy group Privacy International said in a statement. 

‘The deployment of vaccines, and in particular any ‘immunity passport’ or certificate linked to the vaccination, must respect human rights,’ the group added.

In May, the ACLU wrote: ‘Any immunity passport system endangers privacy rights by creating a new surveillance infrastructure to collect health data. It is one thing for an employee to voluntarily disclose their COVID-19 status to an employer on a one-off basis. But it is another for that information to be collected and retained, either by the government or by private companies offering immunity certifications.

‘The existing legal framework may not be sufficient to prevent this information from being shared, especially if it is held by private entities.’

A ‘vaccine passport’ system would also raise questions about what to do with people who have natural antibodies to the virus after recovering from an infection.

The vaccines currently being administered in the U.S. are also currently not approved for anyone under the age of 16, because of the lack of clinical data for that age group, raising questions about how children would be treated under a passport regime.

Critics fear it marks the emergence of a dystopian vaccine surveillance state, where digital 'vaccine passports' are required for everything from flying on a plane to going to the movies

Critics fear it marks the emergence of a dystopian vaccine surveillance state, where digital ‘vaccine passports’ are required for everything from flying on a plane to going to the movies

And as vaccination has proceeded much more slowly than the federal government had projected, with little more than two million shots administered to date, a passport system raises concerns about a two-tiered society that shuts out those who have been unable to access the vaccine.  

The ACLU wrote: ‘As tempting as immunity passports may be for policymakers who want a quick fix to restart economic activity in the face of widespread suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, they present both public health and civil rights concerns that cannot be overlooked. 

‘Immunity passports incentivize vulnerable people to contract the disease, and raise the prospect of another hierarchical system, separating us into two categories — those with COVID-19 immunity, who are given preferential access to employment, housing, or public accommodations — and those without. 

‘This division would likely worsen existing racial, disability, and economic disparities in America and lead people struggling to afford basic necessities to deliberately risk their health.’

Privacy International have said: ‘Until everyone has access to an effective vaccine, any system requiring a passport for entry or service will be unfair. The vaccine is a public health exercise, and must not be a new discriminator.’ 

An ER worker gets vaccinated for coronavirus last week in Los Angeles. The city is one of the first to begin issuing digital proof of vaccination

An ER worker gets vaccinated for coronavirus last week in Los Angeles. The city is one of the first to begin issuing digital proof of vaccination 

Australian airline Qantas has already announced that it will start requiring coronavirus shots for all passengers on its international flights.

Businesses such as concert venues and live sports, which are desperate to bring back crowds as soon as possible, have also suggested that vaccine passports could jump-start the economy, a stopgap measure until the pandemic is crushed once and for all.  

Last month, Ticketmaster announced that it would be rolling out an option within its digital ticket app that would allow event organizers to require proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test.

The company quickly backpedaled after facing backlash, issuing a statement clarifying that ‘there is absolutely no requirement from Ticketmaster mandating vaccines/testing for future events.’

A number of companies are working on digital vaccination verification systems, including IBM and Clear, a security company that uses biometric technology to confirm people’s identities at airports.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is promoting a vaccine passport called the IATA Travel Pass, which is still under development. 

The system would inform passengers which tests, vaccines and other measures they require before traveling, and provide digital verification of tests and vaccinations to airlines or other authorities.

Heath data faces stringent regulations under federal law, which the companies pursuing vaccine passports all say they are complying with. 

The patchwork of different proposals has also raised fears that vaccine verification systems adopted in one state or country may not be compatible with those elsewhere. 

The Commons Project, in conjunction with The World Economic Forum and a range of public and private partners, hopes to solve that problem with CommonPass, ‘a trusted, globally-interoperable platform.’ 

‘You can be tested every time you cross a border. You cannot be vaccinated every time you cross a border,’ Thomas Crampton, chief marketing and communications officer for The Commons Project, told CNN Business. 

However, Ramin Bastani, the CEO of Healthvana, expressed doubt that any one vaccine verification service would become ubiquitous across the country.

‘It’s not going to be like one credit card you can use across the U.S.,’ he told Bloomberg. ‘Sometimes you can pay cash, sometimes you can use your Apple Wallet.’  


Chinese mum wins Dh2M from Mahzooz digital draw in Dubai

Chinese expat in the UAE Wei Wei who wins Dh2 million from Mahzooz in Dubai, says she will use her winnings to pay for her four-year-old son’s education.
Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A Chinese national became the first millionaire under the rebranded ‘Emirates Loto’, now known as Mahzooz (‘lucky’ in Arabic).

Wei Wei (who preferred not to disclose her full name) is now Dh2 million richer after winning the second-tier rollover prize of Dh2 million in the December 26 draw of Mahzooz, the region’s first approved digital draw.

Wei Wei got five of the winning six combinations: 9-18-24-37-40-45. The second-tier prize became Dh2million after no one got it the previous week (December 19). The first prize, meanwhile, remains at fixed Dh50 million and someone has yet to win it.

For son’s education

Wei Wei, a UAE resident, went to Mahzooz office to claim her prize and said she will use her winnings to pay for her four year-old son’s education and to secure a better future for him. Wei Wei added she will also help her family in China.

“This has been a really hard year for many, and it was no different for our family, so to end it on such an amazing note is very special. In fact, we couldn’t believe it at first but now it has sunk in. We are so happy that we can also help my family in China after the year they had due to COVID-19,” said Wei Wei.

A regular participant of draws in China, Wei Wei recently began trying her luck with Mahzooz and she won on her second entry to the GCC’s only weekly live draw. Wei Wei shared there was no secret formula or tactic in winning. “I told him my husband that we should try Mahzooz. I chose the numbers myself — I simply closed my eyes and chose without thinking of any specific numbers,” she added.

An avid cook who is currently studying finance, Wei Wei said she is relieved to end 2020 on a such a great note for herself, son, and husband, who hails from Wales in UK.

First purchase

As for her first purchase using from the windfall, she said: “I’m going to get a new sofa. But not a leather sofa, leather gets too cold,” she jested, adding: “We love Dubai, and we are thankful to Mahzooz for this life-changing opportunity.”

The next draw is on Saturday (January 2, 2021) at 9pm. Entry price set is still Dh35.


Dubai’s RTA launches region’s first digital nol cards

Dubai: Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and Huawei Consumer Business Group have announced the launch of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s first digital nol card and nol Pay mobile app on Huawei AppGallery. This collaboration is in line with the RTA’s plan to adopt advanced and innovative technologies into Dubai’s transport sector as part of the UAE Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This was announced during a ceremony attended by Pablo Ning, president of Huawei Consumer Business Group in the Middle East and Africa, and Jerry Liu, CEO of Huawei in the UAE.

Mohammed Al Mudharreb, CEO, Corporate Technology Support Services Sector of RTA, Dubai, said: “The new RTA nol Pay app works with Huawei Wallet to enable residents in the emirate to quickly pay for their public transport journeys — and any facility that uses nol cards — from their Huawei smartphones.”

The nol Pay app provides users with the flexibility to purchase tickets on all of RTA’s transportation services, from Dubai Metro up to waterbus, Tram and more. This new app also aligns with our overall digital transformation strategy to adopt technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution into Dubai’s transport sector.”

Pablo Ning, president of Huawei Consumer Business Group, Middle East and Africa, said: “We are proud to be working with RTA as it continues its journey to adopt digital technology into the services it offers. The exclusive launch of the RTA Digital nol cards on Huawei smartphones represents a milestone achievement and is the first of its kind in the region. By partnering with esteemed entities like RTA, we look forward to continuing to support the innovation agenda of the UAE government.”


Measures in place to safeguard UAE’s digital infrastructure: National Cybersecurity Council

Illustrative image.
Image Credit: Shutterstock

Abu Dhabi: The National Cybersecurity Council said it is constantly monitoring the digital infrastructure and systems of the country, and is taking all precautions and procedures necessary to safeguard the UAE’s digital infrastructure, stop cyberattacks and ensure quick recovery.

The Council called upon all organisations in the government and private sectors to follow the guidelines issued by UAE security teams in order to respond to this type of attacks.

The Council also advises to promptly apply necessary updates to the systems and take all measures that would protect all networks.

The Council has invited all entities to reach out to the national computer emergency response team (aeCERT) or relevant security teams.

Cyberattacks have witnessed an unprecedented development and have become more complex and frequent.

A case in point involves SolarWinds which has dominated the news headlines as the most recent victim of advanced cyberattacks. A malicious code was implanted in an update for SolarWinds Orion, which resulted in a series of cyber incidents for the entities that downloaded the update worldwide.

“The Cybersecurity Council would like to note its acknowledgement of the SolarWinds attack. The Council has proactively worked on the case in collaboration with relevant entities in the UAE. It has been shown that some UAE-based entities were attacked, and as such necessary measures were taken to deal with these incidents and secure constituencies,” said the statement.

Technology US

The microwave’s ‘add 30 seconds’ button offers an escape from cold digital precision

The microwave is a cooking tool designed around precision. Punch in how long you need your food to heat up in a microwave, and that’s what it will do; no more, and no less.

But for all the exactitude that governs the microwave — and that the microwave tries to impose on our food and our cooking — the reality is that things can’t be so neatly stuffed into a convenient digital box. Life isn’t binary, so many microwaves feature an “add 30 seconds” button to give us humans the wiggle room we need within the otherwise unbendable numbers of the countdown clock.

It’s a button that stands in almost caveman-y opposition to the intended functionality. Instead of calculating the perfect amount of time to reheat or cook your food, it turns out that the best way to actually use a microwave in real life is to just force it to turn on and keep going until you think that the food is ready. And if it’s not? Well, you just add 30 seconds more.

Microwaves are almost omnipresent in kitchens nowadays and are comparatively high tech compared to a stovetop range or an oven, which have been largely unchanged in their basic functions for centuries. The basic technology is simple: microwaves bounce radio waves to agitate the water molecules in your food in turn creating heat, thus transforming your leftover pasta or frozen dinner into a quickly accessible feast.

When you’re cooking with an oven or an open flame on your stove, there’s an element of unpredictability baked in. Sometimes that batch of cookies will need an extra minute; sometimes your eggs burn because you overestimated how long they would take to cook. It’s hard to put most recipes or food items into an exact, scientific box.

And yet, that’s what we try to do with the microwave. It’s not a coincidence that most food destined for the microwave is premade: usually something that comes from a box, complete with specific timing and directions, or leftovers pulled from the fridge, the remnants of a prior meal being zapped into a specter of its former self.

But the “add 30 seconds” button is a crack in the cold digital armor of the microwave, an area of control that lets users go beyond their allotted time, to sneak in a few more seconds to achieve the perfect results. It’s a reminder that life isn’t always exact or predictable, and that time is on your side.

Because sometimes, a few extra seconds can make all the difference.