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Digital life encroaches on US ‘quiet zone’ refuge

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Yvonne Wallech loves the digital respite and sense of community in her tiny US town, where cell phone service is effectively barred and outsiders come seeking the shelter of that quiet.

She has internet at her property in Green Bank, West Virginia but as soon as she leaves home — and is not on someone else’s connection — there are no pings, dings or rings.

“Coming here and being able — if you want — to get away from it (internet), there is a certain cleansing that comes to you, that gives you time to clear your mind,” the 59-year-old owner of a gift shop told AFP.

But Green Bank is changing: Wifi is officially discouraged but has become common, property values are climbing and not everyone agrees about what comes next for this seeming digital age refuge that is fraught with complexity.

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Despite its population of under 200 people and remote location among rolling hills, dense forests and farms about four hours’ drive from the US capital Washington, it is a place of international fascination.

That’s because it is home to the over six-decade-old Green Bank Observatory, which requires radio silence to be able to peer deep into space to observe stars and black holes.

To protect the observatory’s work, as well as the operations of a nearby spy installation, the US government created the National Radio Quiet Zone in 1958.

The zone imposes limits and oversight on man made radio waves in the 13,000 square miles (almost 34,000 square kilometers) that surround Green Bank, where restrictions are officially supposed to be tightest on electronic noise makers like WiFi routers.

Locals said wireless internet has become widespread in recent years and that they hadn’t faced any sanctions, despite rules that technically allow violators to be fined $50.

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Even before WiFi’s proliferation, locals got their dose of Netflix or Facebook via hardwired internet connections, yet cell service has remained non-existent under the rules.

– ‘A quieter zone’ –

West Virginia state tourism officials promote this quirk of the area as the “ultimate digital detox”.

“In a world today where we can never go more than a minute or two without hearing the beep or the buzz of a technology device, it is the place you can go to get away from all of this,” said Chelsea Ruby, the state’s secretary of tourism.

It’s a pitch that resonates in the United States, where Pew Research data shows 85 percent of US adults say they have a smartphone and nearly a third report they are “almost constantly” online.

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While visiting Green Bank Observatory, tourist Nancy Showalter was surprised to learn why her phone couldn’t get a signal, but she also said she had quickly come to like the silence.

“You visit, you listen to other people,” said the 78-year-old from Indiana. “I think it’s wonderful. I think more people should do it.”

Not everyone agrees, of course. Green Bank native Patrick Coleman, 69, argued that the lack of cell service is dangerous and needs to end.

“People that live in this area are denied a safety net,” the bed and breakfast owner said, adding a car accident in a remote area could become very serious without the ability to call for help.

He also noted cell service is already available at nearby Snowshoe ski resort, a key economic driver locally that draws floods of tourists in the snowy months.

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As the resort has grown to include high-end lodging, restaurants and shops, property values in surrounding Pocahontas County have by some measures increased at almost triple the national rate over the past decade.

“They may very well want to get a Walmart right here and Kroger’s right here and all the things that they’ve spent their life being used to,” said long-time local George Deike, referring to the influx of outsiders.

“I don’t know whether the whole world has to be like that,” added Deike, who runs an equestrian retreat.

Recent arrival Ned Dougherty came to Green Bank because he was intrigued by its less-connected lifestyle that he had read about in press reports.

“I came here hoping for a quieter zone, a place without WiFi,” the 38-year-old teacher said. “Everybody wishes this was the Shangri La of quiet.”

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But he noted there’s a more direct way to get control of one’s digital life.

“I don’t have to use my phone, no matter where I live,” he said. “It’s not solved by arriving in a zip code. If I want to turn off, I have to do it myself… And I think we all know we should.”

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Ironsource will buy mobile ad and app monetization firm Tapjoy for $400M

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IronSource said it plans to acquire mobile advertising and app monetization company Tapjoy for $400 million.

The deal is part of an ongoing consolidation trend in the mobile marketing ecosystem as growth, active investments, and industry disruption change the status quo of the industry.

Tel Aviv, Israel-based IronSource has become one of the consolidators with acquisitions of other mobile ecosystem companies such as Soomla. Ironsource said the deal will strengthen IronSource’s platform offering for app developers, and is intended to further expand its customer base in games and apps beyond games. More than half of IronSource’s business has been marketing and monetizing games, which account for the bulk of in-app purchases on mobile platforms.

San Francisco-based Tapjoy started out as an offerwall company, which enables players to make purchases inside their favorite games by viewing advertising deals. It recently has been offering surveys that people can fill out in exchange for in-app items.

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“Our platform-based approach to serving app developers means we’re able to plug in multiple strategic additions to our software platform to add more value for customers,” said Omer Kaplan, IronSource chief revenue officer, in a statement. “This acquisition follows that strategy, ultimately allowing us to serve our customers in the most beneficial way possible, by growing our SDK footprint, improving our monetization capabilities, and positioning our platform as a deep and integral part of the in-app and in-game economy.”

IronSource said its customers will be able to generate more revenue with greater access to diversified advertiser demand, including through the Tapjoy marketplace. In addition, customers will benefit from complementary technology allowing app developers to enrich their in-game economies.

The acquisition is also intended to increase IronSource’s software development kit (SDK) footprint among both apps and games, growing the company’s scale in the market. In other words, it can reach a lot more developers.

“We are delighted to be joining ironSource, a leading business platform for app developers,” said Jeff Drobick, CEO of Tapjoy, in a statement. “Tapjoy’s technology powers monetization, user acquisition, and customer research for some of the world’s largest brands and app developers, with our SDK integrated on approximately 66,000 apps reaching over 1.6 billion monthly active users. As the App Economy continues to grow, we believe that ironSource is the ideal partner to further leverage our products and expertise for continued growth.”

IronSource said the deal will be financed with cash from the balance sheet. Tapjoy experienced substantial revenue growth and is expected to generate approximately $81 million in net revenues in 2021. Tapjoy is highly profitable and the transaction is accretive to IronSource in 2022. The transaction is expected to close in next six months or so, subject to customary conditions including regulatory approvals.

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The post Ironsource will buy mobile ad and app monetization firm Tapjoy for $400M appeared first on Venture Beat.

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From spy satellites to mobile networks, S.Korea pins space hopes on new rocket

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SEOUL, Oct 15 – South Korea plans to test its first domestically produced space launch vehicle next week, a major step toward jumpstarting the country’s space programme and achieving ambitious goals in 6G networks, spy satellites, and even lunar probes.

If all goes well, the three-stage NURI rocket, designed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) to eventually put 1.5-ton payloads into orbit 600 to 800km above the Earth, will carry a dummy satellite into space on Thursday.

South Korea’s last such booster, launched in 2013 after multiple delays and several failed tests, was jointly developed with Russia.

The new KSLV-II NURI has solely Korean rocket technologies, and is the country’s first domestically built space launch vehicle, said Han Sang-yeop, director of KARI’s Launcher Reliability Safety Quality Assurance Division.

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“Having its own launch vehicle gives a country the flexibility of payload types and launch schedule,” he told Reuters in an email.

MILITARY AND CIVILIAN BENEFITS

It also gives the country more control over “confidential payloads” it may want to send into orbit, Han said.

That will be important for South Korea’s plans to launch surveillance satellites into orbit, in what national security officials have called a constellation of “unblinking eyes” to monitor North Korea.

So far, South Korea has remained almost totally reliant on the United States for satellite intelligence on its northern neighbour.

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In 2020 a Falcon 9 rocket from the U.S. firm Space X carried South Korea’s first dedicated military communications satellite into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NURI is also key to South Korean plans to eventually build a Korean satellite-based navigation system and a 6G communications network.

“The program is designed not only to support government projects, but also commercial activity,” Oh Seung-hyub, director of the Launcher Propulsion System Development Division, told a briefing on Tuesday.

South Korea is working with the United States on a lunar orbiter, and hopes to land a probe on the moon by 2030.

TRIAL LAUNCH

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Given problems with previous launches, Han and other planners said they have prepared for the worst.

The launch day may be changed at the last minute if weather or technical problems arise; the craft will carry a self-destruct mechanism to destroy it if it appears it won’t reach orbit; and media won’t be allowed to observe the test directly.

At least four test launches are planned before the rocket will be considered reliable enough to carry a real payload.

According to pre-launch briefing slides, the rocket’s planned path will take it southeast from its launch site on the south coast of the Korean peninsula, threading its way over the ocean on a trajectory aimed at avoiding flying over Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other major land masses.

“This upcoming launch may be remembered as the hope and achievement of Korean rocketry historically no matter the launch is successful or not,” Han told Reuters.

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SENSITIVE TECHNOLOGY

Space rockets on the Korean peninsula have been fraught with concerns over their potential use for military purposes, leaving South Korea’s efforts lagging more capable programmes in China and Japan.

“Modern rocketry in Korea couldn’t devote its capability much in R&D of rockets because of long-standing political issues,” Han said.

The United States has viewed North Korea’s own satellite launch vehicles as testbeds for nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile technology. A North Korean space launch in 2012 helped lead to the breakdown of a deal with the United States.

“North Korea, of course, will not look favourably on South Korea’s rapidly advancing space capabilities, which are far more technologically advanced than those possessed by the North,” said James Clay Moltz, a space systems expert at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.

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South Korea’s push into space comes as it speeds ahead with its own military ballistic missile systems after agreeing with the United States this year to end all bilateral restrictions on them.

“There is no concern on military applications in NURI launch vehicle development,” said Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at the Korea Aerospace University. Unlike the liquid-fuelled NURI, South Korea’s military missiles use solid fuel, which is better for weapons, he added.

South Korea is not seen as a “threat” by either Russia or China, so it seems unlikely to affect their space programs, which are already highly militarized, Moltz said.

“Many space launch technologies are inherently dual-use,” he said, but noted that he hopes NURI’s development will “not lead to an arms race in space, but instead a safer ‘information race’” where South Korea has better intelligence to head off any future crisis.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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The post From spy satellites to mobile networks, S.Korea pins space hopes on new rocket appeared first on Reuters.

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Go read this investigation into Amazon’s sprawling empire of in-house brands

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It’s no secret that Amazon owns a wealth of in-house brands that sell everything from affordable tech accessories (Amazon Basics) to e-readers (Kindle). But a new investigation from The Markup sheds new light on just how big this empire has gotten, and makes some troubling allegations about the advantages these brands seem to have over third-party competitors selling on Amazon. It’s a fascinating report that’s well worth a read.

For starters, just working out how many brands Amazon owns is a process that required The Markup to analyse public records from the US Patent and Trademark office. According to its reporting, the ecommerce giant has registered or owns over 150 brands, including some where their connection to Amazon isn’t obvious. But more worrying is that some of these brands, as well as others that sell exclusively on Amazon, seem to have no trouble outranking the competition in search results without getting as many positive reviews:

“The Markup found Amazon placed its Happy Belly Cinnamon Crunch cereal, with four stars and 1,010 reviews, in the number one spot ahead of cereals with better and more reviews including Cap’n Crunch (five stars, 14,069 reviews), Honey Bunches of Oats (five stars, 5,205 reviews), and Honey Nut Cheerios (five stars, 11,702 reviews). A vacuum cleaner from Amazon’s exclusive Noisz brand was placed on top, ahead of models from Bissell, Eureka, and Hoover with higher ratings and more reviews. And the Amazon-exclusive Concept 3sneaker from Skechers placed number one, four spots ahead of a similar but not exclusive to Amazon Skechers sneaker with the same star rating but 77 times more reviews.”

One former Amazon employee interviewed by The Markup alleged that the company’s employees have, in the past, used a tactic called “search seeding” to give its own products an advantage over the competition. Although the former employee, JT Meng, said that the practice had stopped by the time he left the company, he said that employees could effectively clone a competitor’s search ranking to give Amazon’s products a boost at launch:

“Meng worked on the launch for Amazon Elements baby wipes, which he said were seeded against similar products from Huggies, Pampers, and others.

Sales spiked so quickly that his team had to stop promoting the Amazon Elements wipes so they didn’t take too much market share, he said.”

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This isn’t the first time we’ve seen allegations about how Amazon’s own brands compete with third-party sellers on its platform (The Wall Street Journal’s reporting from April is a good example). But The Markup’s analysis is notable for the sheer breadth of products analysed, not to mention the empirical data it’s gathered about Amazon’s rankings. The full report is well worth a read alongside the other articles produced as part of its package on Amazon.

The post Go read this investigation into Amazon’s sprawling empire of in-house brands appeared first on The Verge.

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