Games, News, Tech

Gaming faces is #MeToo moment

Game developers are highlighting sexual harassment in the industry after several people accused colleagues and peers of assault and abuse. Many women came forward and shared their experiences online, after a developer posted a blog alleging she was raped by a colleague.

The allegations cannot be detailed for legal reasons. But the wave of posts has been compared to the “me too” movement, which exposed harassment in the film industry.

“Video games are having a #metoo moment. The toxicity from fans has been well documented for years but the toxic, abusive, predatory behavior between developers has mostly been spoken in whispers between trusted friends,” said media critic and writer Anita Sarkeesian.

“I’m in awe of the bravery of those who have spoken up today.” The “me too” movement took off after a number of women accused film executive Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, abuse or rape. Mr Weinstein denies the charges.

#TimesUp

The current wave of allegations from within the games industry started on Monday after one developer posted a detailed account of rape and abusive behavior by a former colleague. It was followed by several accounts of sexual harassment from other developers.

Many women described being groped or grabbed at industry networking events. Others said men had tried to lure them to hotel rooms with the promise of work opportunities or collaborations. Some of the accounts detail long periods of emotional manipulation and abuse by senior colleagues.

Many of those posting said they felt “dehumanized” by the experiences, which had a lasting effect on their mental health. The allegations have been made shortly before the Pax West gaming conference, which will see thousands of indie game developers head to Seattle, Washington, on 30 August.

The “Times Up” campaign group, which fights sexual harassment, called the actions described in the posts as “disturbing” and “unconscionable”. “This should be a moment of reckoning for the industry. This culture of sexual harassment, gas-lighting and retaliation cannot go on any longer,” the group said.

News, Tech

Pinterest to direct vaccine searches to health sites

Pinterest users searching for vaccine-related information will be directed to results from “public health organisations”. Last year, the social platform stopped showing results for vaccine searches to tackle the spread of misinformation.

Social media companies are facing increasing scrutiny over how they moderate content on their sites. In recent months, other firms including Facebook have taken some steps to address vaccine misinformation.

Under the new policy, Pinterest said searches for “measles,” “vaccine safety” and other related health terms will return results from public health bodies including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centres for Disease Control and the WHO-established Vaccine Safety Net.

“We’re taking this approach because we believe that showing vaccine misinformation alongside resources from public health experts isn’t responsible,” the firm said in a statement.

“As we continue to tackle health misinformation, we remove it and the accounts that spread it from our service,” Pinterest said. The firm also said it won’t show ads, comments or recommendations on results pages for vaccine searches.

Content crackdown

The WHO said anti-vaccine views were a “top 10 global health threat” in 2019. The volume of anti-vaccine sentiment on social media has risen in recent years, sparking concern that it is having a negative impact on immunization rates in some countries.

In recent months, some platforms have taken steps to counter false information about vaccines. The move in February followed protests from companies who discovered their adverts were running alongside the controversial videos. In a statement in March, Facebook said it was working to “tackle vaccine misinformation… by reducing its distribution and providing people with authoritative information on the topic”.

The company said measures to be taken included rejecting ads with misinformation about vaccines and not showing misleading content on hashtag pages. Instagram – which is owned by Facebook – said in May it would block hashtags being used to spread “verifiably false” information about vaccinations.

News, Politics

Hong Kong protests: Huge crowds rally peacefully

Organisers say 1.7 million people turned out at Sunday’s pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong, amid increasingly severe warnings by Beijing. Police put the figure much lower at 128,000, counting only those at an officially sanctioned rally.

Activists and police have clashed over the past 11 weeks, but this weekend’s protest remained peaceful. The protests were sparked by a controversial extradition bill, which has since been suspended.

They have now morphed into a broader movement demanding democratic reform and an investigation into alleged police brutality. The protest’s organisers, the Civil Human Rights Front, were denied authorisation for a march through the city, but police allowed a pre-approved demonstration in the city’s Victoria Park.

Protesters march to demand democracy and political reform, in Hong Kong, August 18, 2019

One of the marchers, named as Mr Wong, told the BBC’s Lam Cho Wai at the scene: “We have been fighting for more than two months, but our government has no response at all. We could just come out again and again.” Large crowds also marched in the nearby areas of Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Wan Chai in defiance of the police ban.

Media captionHow Hong Kong got trapped in a cycle of violence

A spokesman for the Hong Kong government said that although the demonstrations were generally peaceful, they had seriously affected traffic and caused much inconvenience. He added that it was “most important to restore social order as soon as possible”.

Reinvigorated faith in the cause

Stephen McDonell, BBC News, Hong Kong

The push to drive Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement in a more peaceful direction this weekend seems to have worked. From toddlers to the elderly, protesters turned out to join a massive rally. Entire families were seen dressed in black getting soaked together when the heavens opened and driving rain struck the city.

These demonstrations wanted to draw again on a wide pool of public support after shocking images of escalating violence here caused many to rethink the direction of the pro-democracy push. When it was announced inside an already full Victoria Park that underground train stations had been closed because too many people were flooding in trying to reach the rally, there was a huge cheer from the crowd.

Today has reinvigorated people’s faith in this cause and, at the moment, made it feel like a decent proportion of this city’s population are preparing to keep fighting right up to 2047, when Hong Kong is due to lose its special status and become a Chinese city like all others.

How have recent protests unfolded?

The violence has intensified in the past few weeks, and police have frequently fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Last weekend activists occupied the airport, leading to hundreds of flights being cancelled. There were further clashes with police on Tuesday.

Media caption The BBC’s Stephen McDonell observed the new quick-moving tactics of police against protesters on Saturday

The turmoil has plunged one of Asia’s leading financial centres into crisis. Many businesses remained closed on Sunday amid fears of further violence.

What is Beijing saying?

The Chinese government hardened its rhetoric following the airport unrest, condemning it as “behaviour that is close to terrorism”. It was the second time in a week that Chinese officials had publicly likened the protests to terrorist activity.

Some observers believe that the repeated use of such language suggests that China is losing patience with the protesters and signals that an intervention by Beijing is increasingly likely.

Thousands of armed police have been stationed across the border in Shenzhen. “If Hong Kong’s situation deteriorates to a point uncontrollable by the Hong Kong government, the central government will not sit by and watch,” Chen Wen of the Chinese embassy in London told BBC Radio 4.

“We have enough powers and enough solutions to quell any unrest within the limit of basic law.” US President Donald Trump warned on Sunday that if China were to carry out a Tiananmen Square-style crackdown on the protesters, it would make a trade deal between Washington and Beijing “a very hard thing to do”.

What is the movement about?

It was sparked by a bill that would allow extradition from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland. Critics argue that the proposal would undermine the territory’s judicial independence and could be used to target those who speak out against the Chinese government.

Victoria park protest
Image captionSunday’s protest began in Victoria park

The former British colony has a special status, with its own legal system and judiciary, and rights and freedoms not seen in mainland China. The bill – announced by the government in February – was suspended following mass rallies in June. But the protesters want it withdrawn altogether.

Their current demands are:

  • Complete withdrawal of the extradition bill
  • The withdrawal of the “riot” description used about the 12 June protests
  • An amnesty for all arrested protesters
  • An independent inquiry into alleged police brutality
  • Universal suffrage in elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive (the city’s leader), and Legislative Council.

Some also want the resignation of Carrie Lam, the current chief executive, whom they view as a puppet of Beijing.

News

China warns Hong Kong protesters not to ‘play with fire

China has issued a strong warning to Hong Kong’s protesters, saying their attempts “to play with fire will only backfire”. A spokesman for China’s top policy office on Hong Kong told protesters not to “underestimate the firm resolve [of] the central government”.

Hong Kong has seen nine consecutive weeks of anti-government protests. On Monday, a call for a general strike caused severe disruption, and more than 200 flights were cancelled. Protesters want an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, the complete withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill, and the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam.

The demonstrations have frequently ended in violent clashes with police. They are seen as a challenge to Beijing’s authority in the territory – and a reflection of how many Hong Kongers fear that their freedoms are being eroded. The former British colony is part of China but enjoys unique freedoms not seen on the mainland.

What did China say, and why is it significant?

The “radical demonstrations” have pushed Hong Kong “to the verge of a very dangerous situation”, said Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO). He warned the protesters not to “mistake restraint for weakness”.

Attempts to force Ms Lam to resign “will lead nowhere”, he said, adding that the protests had had a “serious impact” on Hong Kong’s economy. It is one of the strongest warnings Beijing has issued over the protests so far. The HKMAO rarely holds news conferences on Hong Kong – but this is its second briefing in two weeks.

Media captionStephen McDonell’s gas mask face visor was smashed by a projectile

Mr Yang said that “radical and violent” forces were at the forefront of the protests, while “some misled but well intentioned” citizens were caught in the middle.

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He accused Western “anti-China forces” and “meddling hands behind the scene” of instigating unrest.

As examples, he cited US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who called the protests “a beautiful sight to behold”, and the UK’s then-foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt who urged an investigation into the use of force by Hong Kong police.

However, a pro-democracy politician, Lam Cheuk-ting, told the BBC there were no “external forces” behind the protests. “It is not a movement organised by any overseas government but the Hong Kong people voluntarily,” he said.

Observers say the protests have largely appeared leaderless and unpredictable, involving “flash mob” style civil disobedience and voting through social media apps.

Could the military get involved?

Media captionThe video shows a soldier using a loudspeaker to warn protesters

While China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has troops stationed in Hong Kong, they are not expected to interfere in local issues – although the law does permit Hong Kong’s government to request their assistance for maintaining public order, or disaster relief.

During the news conference, Mr Yang was asked whether the Chinese military could get involved – but said Beijing was confident that Hong Kong police could restore order.

Last week, China’s army in Hong Kong prompted unease by posting a video of soldiers conducting anti-riot drills on the Chinese social media network Weibo.

What are the protests about?

The rallies began with fears over a proposed bill that would allow suspected criminals to be sent to mainland China to face trial. Critics said it would undermine Hong Kong’s judicial independence and could be used to target those who spoke out against the Chinese government.

The row intensified as police were accused of using excessive force on protesters. Though the bill has now been suspended, demonstrators want it fully withdrawn – and have also been expressing their anger at the police, and demanding an amnesty for protesters accused of rioting.

Police fire tear gas during a protest in the district of Causeway Bay in Hong Kong

How Hong Kong police have responded to protests

  • 568people arrested
  • 1,800rounds of tear gas
  • 300rubber bullets fired

Source: Hong Kong Police Force

The protesters have become more confrontational in recent weeks, with demonstrators arguing that the government has not responded to peaceful rallies. A city-wide strike on Monday crippled transport services and brought the city to a standstill.

About 250 flights were cancelled as airport and airline staff joined the strike. Protests later took place in several districts, with police firing tear gas at demonstrators who rallied into the night, setting fires and besieging police stations.

In one district with a reputation for pro-Beijing sympathies, men wielding long poles clashed with demonstrators before falling back. Police said 148 people, aged between 13 and 63, were arrested during Monday’s protests.

On Monday, Ms Lam gave her first media address in two weeks, warned that Hong Kong was “on the verge of a very dangerous situation”. She also accused activists of using the extradition bill as a cover for their real goal, which was to “destroy Hong Kong”.

Source: BBC News
News, Tech

Swiss drones grounded after crash near playing children

Drones carrying lab samples between hospitals in Switzerland have been grounded after a crash 50 yards from where pre-school children were playing. The drone crashed in woodland after a rope holding its emergency parachute broke, in May, IEEE Spectrum reported.

Swiss Post said it would examine all safety procedures before flights resumed and asked drone-maker Matternet to urgently fix a series of issues. In January, another of the drones made an emergency landing in Lake Zurich.

In that case, the emergency parachute deployed correctly. Swiss Post told BBC News: “Safety is our top priority. That’s why Swiss Post is now establishing an expert council. It will examine all processes relating to the risk and safety management of drone flights.

“In due course, we will provide more information on this process, the measures implemented and the resumption of flights. “We rely on Matternet, as our technology partner, and expect the security mechanisms to function.”

Swiss Post has asked the Silicon Valley start-up to:

  • reinforce the parachute ropes with metal braiding
  • have two ropes instead of one
  • make a whistle alerting people to its presence louder

Matternet said: “This is the first time we had a failure on the vehicle’s parachute system. We had never seen a failure like that in the past, neither in our expansive testing nor in commercial operations.

“At Matternet we take the safety of our technology and operations extremely seriously. A failure of the parachute system is a clear failure of our safely mechanisms and we are taking all the appropriate measures to address it.

“We will restart operations once Matternet and Swiss Post, FOCA [the Federal Office of Civil Aviation] and our hospital customers in Switzerland are satisfied that the appropriate mitigations have been applied.”

Swiss Post began trials of laboratory samples being carried by drone back in 2017 and so far has carried out about 3,000 successful flights.

News, Tech

Samsung profits tumble as it warns of ‘challenges’ ahead

Samsung Electronics saw profits plunge in the second quarter as its key chip business faltered, and the firm also warned of “challenges” ahead. The world’s biggest smartphone and memory chip maker said operating profit fell 56% from a year earlier.

The results reflect a broader industry slowdown, weighed down by the US-China trade war. The firm also faces more possible disruption to its chip business due to a trade row between Seoul and Tokyo.

The South Korean firm posted operating profit of 6.6 trillion Korean won ($5.6bn; £4.6bn) for the three months to June, a 56% drop from the 14.87 trillion Korean won posted in the same period a year earlier. The result was in line with company estimates.

In a statement, Samsung said weakness and price falls in the memory chip market continued “despite a limited recovery in demand”. “The company is facing challenges from uncertainties not only in business areas but also from changes in the global macroeconomic environment,” it said.

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Japan recently imposed export curbs on certain industrial materials that Seoul needs to make semiconductors and display screens. The move has raised concerns over the risk the trade spat presents to global technology supplies, and could affect Samsung’s future earnings.

Media caption WATCH: Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy Fold

The company also said it would focus on the launch of new products in the third quarter including its first folding smartphone, which got off to a shaky start. Samsung had to delay the launch of its new foldable smartphone earlier this year following reports of broken screens.

The defects with the device proved a source of embarrassment for the firm, which has seen declining smartphone sales and faces growing competition from rivals including China’s Huawei. Last week, Samsung said the Galaxy Fold will go on sale in September after improvements were made to the smartphone.

News

Nightclub collapse kills two in South Korea

Two people have died and more than 17 were injured, after an internal balcony collapsed at a nightclub in the South Korean city of Gwangju early on Saturday, the local fire service says. Several athletes at the World Swimming Championships were slightly injured, Yonhap news agency reported.

They are from the US, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Italy and Brazil. Two South Koreans were taken to hospital in a serious condition and later died, Yonhap reports. The deceased were 38 and 27, and were not competitors at the championships.

A balcony and staircase inside the Coyote Ugly nightclub collapsed at 02:29 on Saturday (17:29 GMT Friday), while about 370 people were inside. At the time, several water polo teams were at the club, which is near the athletes’ village.

A male diver and a female water polo player from the United States team were slightly hurt. “This is an awful tragedy,” said Christopher Ramsey, head of USA Water Polo. “Players from our men’s and women’s teams were celebrating the women’s world championship victory when the collapse occurred at a public club. “Our hearts go out to the victims of the crash and their families.”

Rescue team at Coyote Ugly nightclub, Gwangju, South Korea 27 July 2019
Image captionRescuers were soon on the scene at the club

“We were just dancing and then the next minute we dropped five or six metres and everyone started rushing out of the club after that,” New Zealand’s men’s water polo captain Matt Small told Radio Sport. It was “business as usual and then it literally collapsed beneath our feet,” he added.

Members of the Australian water polo team were also in the club. “All Australian players are safe and escaped without injury,” a statement from Water Polo Australia said. The 2019 Fina World Swimming Championships end on Sunday. “Fina deeply regrets the situation and sends its best wishes to any victims of this accident.” said a statement from the world swimming body.

News

Russia protests: Thousand arrests at Moscow rally

Police in Moscow have detained more than 1,000 people at a rally, in one of the biggest crackdowns in years. Demonstrators were dragged away from the city hall as security forces used batons against the crowd.

People were protesting against the exclusion of opposition candidates from local polls. The opposition say they were barred for political reasons.

Some of the candidates banned from standing in the 8 September election had been detained earlier. Officials disqualified about 30 people, saying they had failed to collect enough valid signatures to stand.

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At least 1,074 arrests were made at the banned rally, officials say, while monitors reported 1,007 detentions. Moscow’s Mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, has called the demonstration a “security threat”, and promised to maintain public order.

Anger is widespread among opposition supporters at the way the city is run and the ruling United Russia party. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, was jailed for 30 days on Wednesday after calling for Saturday’s unapproved demonstration.

Mr Putin was on a trip to the Baltic Sea on Saturday for a dive in a submersible. “There are a lot of problems on Earth, so to diminish their amount one has to go up and deep down,” he remarked.

What happened this Saturday?

Last Saturday, more than 20,000 Russians took to the streets, demanding fair elections, and dozens were arrested. It is unclear how many people turned up for the new unauthorised rally on 27 July but the numbers seem to have been sharply down. According to police, about 3,500 people gathered, including about 700 journalists.

Police detain a protester in Moscow, 27 July
Image captionRiot police detained hundreds of protesters on Saturday

Police in riot gear pushed back the crowd from barriers surrounding the mayor’s office in central Moscow, hauling off detainees to police stations. A number of protesters could be seen bleeding while at least two members of the security forces reportedly received eye injuries from pepper spray.

A powerful message to the regions?

No -one was under any illusion that the large gathering would impress authorities into letting people express themselves peacefully. This rally went very much the same way others have done – arbitrary detentions, standoffs, crowds breaking off into the side streets.

The question is whether the anger over not being able to nominate a candidate – even for lower-level, city elections – would galvanise Muscovites into bigger, sustained expressions of dissent. After all, there are lots of residents not happy with the way Moscow government and Mayor Sobyanin run the city, or respond to popular concerns.

Police detain a protester in Moscow, 27 July

Certainly, the would-be candidates, most of them seasoned anti-Putin activists, are hoping that the resentment will linger. That is exactly why policy handlers in the Kremlin are desperate to put a lid on it.

With both Mr Putin’s ratings falling and the United Russia party deeply unpopular, chanting crowds in the capital may send a very powerful message to other regions preparing to hold their elections.

How did we get here?

Local elections usually attract little attention in Russia. The Moscow authority does not control the city’s budget or choose key official appointments, and previous votes have passed without major protests or press interest.

But this year some Muscovites are infuriated at what they see as brazen attempts to disqualify independent politicians from running.

Lyubov Sobol
Image captionLyubov Sobol is one of the opposition candidates barred from standing

Candidates were asked to collect 5,000 signatures to stand. This limit was made even harder to match because a signature “means volunteering one’s personal information for the government’s database of opposition supporters”, democracy activist Vladimir Kara-Murza wrote in the Washington Post.

Many candidates managed to meet the threshold but the electoral commission ruled some signatures ineligible, saying they were unclear or the addresses provided were incomplete, and barred the candidates from taking part.

Opposition groups say the authorities had no reason to rule them ineligible – claims that electoral officials denied. “We have no reason to doubt our experts,” commission member Dmitry Reut said, according to media reports.

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Mr Navalny, who addressed the crowds last Saturday, is not one of the candidates, although he stood in Moscow’s mayoral elections in 2013 and won 27% of the vote in a result he disputed.

Ella Pamfilova, the head of the electoral commission, said the protests would not change their decisions. “It doesn’t matter, not even a bit of it,” she said, dismissing the demonstrations as “political”.

The authorities banned this Saturday’s rally on the grounds that there were threats of violence against the commission.

Police then raided the homes of several opposition politicians, and called them in more for questioning.

What’s been the reaction?

Election candidate and opposition leader Dmitry Gudkov tweeted that the council had “died under Putin”. “The last illusion that we are able to participate legally in politics has disappeared.”

Some newspapers also denounced the raids. Novaya Gazeta ran the headline Moscow City Terror on Friday, while Vedomosti said authorities were using force to suppress the protest “having failed to counter it with political means”.

After a wave of police searches & detention of opposition activists in Moscow, one Russian paper today claims that “political terror in Russia is flourishing” & warns that “one day the terror will rebound on those who started it.”

Russian government paper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, however, accused the opposition of “blackmail” and “an unacceptable attitude to the statutes of law”.

Political analyst Abbas Gallyamov told BBC Russian that the official response was designed to dissuade people from taking part. Any mass action would suggest the opposition had taken the initiative from the government.

Some believe the demonstrations could actually benefit the local authorities by reducing turnout. “Young opposition supporters will not come to the polls, while the older generation whom the authorities are counting on vote out of habit,” Denis Volkov, an expert at independent think tank Levada Center, told the BBC. “The authorities will orient themselves towards them.”

News

Russi Taylor: Minnie Mouse voice actress dies aged 75

Russi Taylor, the voice of Disney’s Minnie Mouse for more than 30 years, has died aged 75. The actress died in Glendale, California on Friday, the Walt Disney Company has said. Since 1986, Taylor provided voice-overs for animated TV series, films and theme parks featuring Mickey Mouse’s high-pitched and giggly partner Minnie.

She also played characters in The Simpsons, including Bart’s dorky classmate Martin. Mirroring the character she played, Taylor married Wayne Allwine, the voice of Mickey until his death in 2009.

Wayne Allwine and Russi Taylor at the Disney Legends ceremony in 2008
Image captionWayne Allwine and Russi Taylor attend the Disney Legends ceremony in 2008

Bob Iger, Disney’s chairman and chief executive, paid tribute to Taylor in a statement released on Saturday. “For more than 30 years, Minnie and Russi worked together to entertain millions around the world – a partnership that made Minnie a global icon and Russi a Disney Legend beloved by fans everywhere,” said Mr Iger.

“We take comfort in the knowledge that her work will continue to entertain and inspire for generations to come.”

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Taylor, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 4 May 1944, was picked from 200 candidates to play Minnie at an audition in 1986. When visiting Disneyland as a girl, Taylor said she met Walt Disney – the first voice of Minnie and Mickey.

“At one point during our chat, he asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up, and I said, ‘I want to work for you!’ So he said, ‘Okay!’ And now I do!,” Taylor is quoted as saying by Disney. Taylor married Allwine in 1991, and they remained “as inseparable as their animated counterparts until Wayne’s death”, Disney said.

Media captionMinnie Mouse was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2018

Named a Disney Legend in 2008, Taylor said she hoped whoever succeeded her and her husband “love the characters as much as we do”. Before Taylor, other voice actors who played Minnie included Marcellite Garner (in the 1930s), Thelma Boardman (in the 1940s) and Ruth Clifford (in the 1940s and 50s).

As well as Disney characters, Taylor also lent her voice to roles on other classic TV animated series like TaleSpin, The Little Mermaid, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command and Kim Possible. “I never wanted to be famous,” she said. “The characters I do are famous, and that’s fine for me.”