Egypt frees Jazeera journalist after Qatar thaw

Egypt frees Jazeera journalist after Qatar thaw
Al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, who had been imprisoned since Dec. 23, 2016, was freed by Egypt, a security source said Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 05 February 2021

Egypt frees Jazeera journalist after Qatar thaw

Egypt frees Jazeera journalist after Qatar thaw
  • The 54-year-old was detained in Cairo when he returned for a family holiday

CAIRO: Egypt has freed Al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, a security source said Friday, after four years in jail without trial following the end last month of a rift between the two Arab states.
Hussein, an Egyptian national who had been imprisoned since December 23, 2016, was released on Thursday night, the Egyptian security source told AFP without elaborating.
But Gamal Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said that while the decision to release Hussein had been taken, “he has still not returned home and is still being held.”
The 54-year-old was detained in Cairo when he returned for a family holiday, and was accused of incitement against state institutions and spreading false news.
Qatar’s Al-Jazeera – which has run a daily campaign calling for his liberation – did not immediately confirm his release. It has repeatedly said he was being held “without formal charges nor trial.”
Hussein’s reported release comes two weeks after Egypt and Qatar restored ties, following a three-year Saudi-led freeze on relations with Doha.
Egypt, along with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, followed the lead of Gulf powerhouse Saudi Arabia and cut ties with Qatar in June 2017, alleging it backed radical Islamist groups and was too close to Riyadh’s rival Iran – claims Doha denied.
Ties were restored following a Gulf summit held in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia last month.
“Releasing Hussein could indicate a sign of goodwill from Cairo to Al Jazeera that it wants a thaw in its relations with the news channel,” said King’s College London assistant professor Andreas Krieg.
“But overall this is more about polishing its terrible human rights record a bit vis-a-vis the (US President Joe) Biden administration,” he said.
“The new tone and priorities in Washington really created fears in Egypt that America will sever relations.”
Egyptian analyst Amr El-Shobaki said Hussein’s release could be linked to rumored plans to review of the status of prisoners in the country.
“There are those ... who believe there should be a change concerning prisoners held in cases related to freedom of expression,” particularly in light of the new US administration, he said.
In May 2019 prosecutors ordered Hussein be released, but a week later he was slapped with another set of charges and ordered to stay in detention.
Al-Jazeera was caught up in a spat between Cairo and Doha after the 2013 military ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, who was backed by Qatar.
Cairo considered it a mouthpiece for Morsi’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement, and access to its website has been blocked in Egypt since 2017.
“For Egypt, Al Jazeera remains the most important nuisance in the relationship with Qatar,” said Krieg.
After Morsi’s ouster, authorities arrested three Al-Jazeera journalists, including Australian Peter Greste, provoking international condemnation.
Faced with accusations similar to those levelled against Hussein, they were released in 2015 after receiving pardons from President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
El-Sisi’s government is regularly accused of crushing all forms of dissent and repressing political opponents.
Under his rule, authorities have jailed thousands of Morsi’s Islamist supporters as well as liberal and secular activists, including popular bloggers, actors, singers and journalists.
The Committee to Protect Journalists had said that as of December 2020, at least 27 journalists were imprisoned in Egypt in relation to their work, including several from Al-Jazeera.
Analysts also linked Hussein’s release to Egyptian hopes of wooing investment.
“It may be purely random timing. But it wouldn’t be surprising if the Egyptian government sought ways to remove barriers to ever greater Qatari investment,” said David Roberts of King’s College London.
Tobias Borck of the Royal United Services Institute noted that the day after the Gulf summit renewing ties with Doha, a Qatari delegation was in Cairo for the inauguration of a Qatari-owned hotel.
“I am not sure to what extent this particular move is part of a thawing in relations,” said Borck.
“But it is rather obvious that Cairo and Doha have been in touch for a while – the opening of the $1 billion St. Regis in Cairo the day after the Al-Ula Summit made that pretty clear.”


Zoom to settle US privacy lawsuit for $85 mn

Use of video platforms including Zoom, Slack, Microsoft, and Google increased significantly due to the coronavirus pandemic. (File/AFP)
Use of video platforms including Zoom, Slack, Microsoft, and Google increased significantly due to the coronavirus pandemic. (File/AFP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Zoom to settle US privacy lawsuit for $85 mn

Use of video platforms including Zoom, Slack, Microsoft, and Google increased significantly due to the coronavirus pandemic. (File/AFP)
  • Zoom agrees to settle a US privacy lawsuit for $85 million whereby Zoom was charged with breaching privacy of users
  • Zoom will also improve its security practices despite denying wrongdoing

SAN FRANCISCO: Zoom, the videoconferencing firm, has agreed to settle a class-action US privacy lawsuit for $85 million, it said Sunday.
The suit charged that Zoom’s sharing of users’ personal data with Facebook, Google and LinkedIn was a breach of privacy for millions.
While Zoom denied wrongdoing, it did agree to improve its security practices.
The settlement needs to be approved by US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California.
A Zoom spokesman told AFP: “The privacy and security of our users are top priorities for Zoom, and we take seriously the trust our users place in us.
“We are proud of the advancements we have made to our platform, and look forward to continuing to innovate with privacy and security at the forefront.”
The settlement will set up a “non-reversionary cash fund of $85 million to pay valid claims, notice and administration costs, Service Payments to Class Representatives, and any attorneys’ fees and costs awarded by the Court,” according to the preliminary settlement.
All class members are eligible for payment, it said.
Those who paid for an account can receive 15 percent of the money they paid to Zoom for their core subscription during that time or $25, whichever is greater; while those who did not pay for a subscription can make a claim for $15.
As the coronavirus pandemic closed offices due to health risks and companies shifted to working online, use of video and collaboration platforms hosted by companies including Zoom, Slack, Microsoft, and Google rocketed.
But Zoom’s rapid growth came with pressure to deal with security and privacy as the platform faced scrutiny from rising usage.


Twitter launches competition to find biases in its image-cropping algorithm

The winners will receive cash prizes ranging from $500 to $3,500 and will be invited to present their work at a workshop. (File/AFP)
The winners will receive cash prizes ranging from $500 to $3,500 and will be invited to present their work at a workshop. (File/AFP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Twitter launches competition to find biases in its image-cropping algorithm

The winners will receive cash prizes ranging from $500 to $3,500 and will be invited to present their work at a workshop. (File/AFP)
  • Twitter launches competition for computer researchers and hackers to identify biases in its image-cropping algorithm
  • The competition is part of a wider effort across the tech industry to ensure artificial intelligence technologies act ethically

LONDON: Twitter Inc. said on Friday it will launch a competition for computer researchers and hackers to identify biases in its image-cropping algorithm, after a group of researchers previously found the algorithm tended to exclude Black people and men.
The competition is part of a wider effort across the tech industry to ensure artificial intelligence technologies act ethically.
The social networking company said in a blog post that the bounty competition was aimed at identifying “potential harms of this algorithm beyond what we identified ourselves.”
Following criticism last year about image previews in posts excluding Black people’s faces, the company said in May a study by three of its machine learning researchers found an 8 percent difference from demographic parity in favor of women, and a 4 percent favor toward white individuals.
Twitter released publicly the computer code that decides how images are cropped in the Twitter feed, and said on Friday participants are asked to find how the algorithm could cause harm, such as stereotyping or denigrating any group of people.
The winners will receive cash prizes ranging from $500 to $3,500 and will be invited to present their work at a workshop hosted by Twitter at DEF CON in August, one of largest hacker conferences held annually in Las Vegas.


Russia opens case against WhatsApp for violating personal data law

A day earlier, a Russian court fined Google 3 million roubles for violating personal data legislation. (File/AFP)
A day earlier, a Russian court fined Google 3 million roubles for violating personal data legislation. (File/AFP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Russia opens case against WhatsApp for violating personal data law

A day earlier, a Russian court fined Google 3 million roubles for violating personal data legislation. (File/AFP)
  • Russia launches lawsuit against Whatsapp for violating personal data law and failing to localize data of Russian users

MOSCOW: Russia on Friday launched administrative proceedings against Facebook’s WhatsApp for what it said was a failure to localize data of Russian users on Russian territory, the Interfax news agency reported.
There was no immediate comment from Facebook.
A day earlier, a Russian court fined Alphabet Inc.’s Google 3 million roubles for violating personal data legislation and registered administrative proceedings against Facebook and Twitter for the same offense.
The cases are part of a wider spat between Russia and Big Tech, with Moscow routinely fining social media giants for failing to remove banned content and seeking to compel foreign tech firms to open offices in Russia.
WhatsApp could be fined between 1 million and 6 million roubles ($13,700 to $82,250), Interfax reported, citing court documents. A court date has not yet been set.


VOX Cinemas launches Middle East’s first interactive experience

VOX Cinemas launches Middle East’s first interactive experience
Updated 02 August 2021

VOX Cinemas launches Middle East’s first interactive experience

VOX Cinemas launches Middle East’s first interactive experience
  • The new approach to watching films will launch in UAE and KSA on Aug. 5

DUBAI: Majid Al-Futtaim’s VOX Cinemas is introducing CTRL, the region’s first interactive movie experience, which lets the audience decide how the plot of the movie unfolds.

The new interactive experience will launch in the UAE and Saudi Arabia on Aug. 5.

The innovation from VOX Cinemas is in partnership with entertainment and tech company, Kino Industries, a global leader in interactive cinema and consumer content. Its proprietary technology, CtrlMovie, enables filmmakers to create interactive films and provides the platform to distribute them to movie theaters as well as home entertainment and mobile devices.

“We are incredibly excited to partner with Kino Industries and launch the Middle East’s first interactive movie, which puts the audience in control of countless adaptable storylines,” said Toni El Massih, chief content officer, VOX Cinemas.

The first interactive movie to be screened through CTRL is the action thriller “Late Shift,” the world’s first interactive feature-length film, which enables the audience to decide the fate of the lead character and the course of the movie using an app-based voting system.

The movie has multiple storylines consisting of 180 decision points and seven alternative endings. The audience typically makes 40 to 50 choices throughout the movie. The technology aggregates the votes from the audience and chooses the most popular option.

“Late Shift” was directed and co-written by Tobias Weber, award-winning filmmaker and co-founder of Kino Industries, and Michael Robert Johnson, who wrote Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes.” The critically acclaimed movie has won several awards including the 2018 BAFTA Cymru Award.

“Using pioneering technology, CTRL seamlessly combines the realism and production values of film with the interactivity of a videogame to create a new dimension of engagement,” El Massih said.

“Having sold out at the Beijing International Film Festival in less than five minutes, I have no doubt that this unique and exhilarating participatory experience will prove hugely popular with cinemagoers in the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Daily screenings of “Late Shift” will take place at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. (Sunday to Thursday) and 5 pm, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. (Friday and Saturday) at VOX Cinemas at Mall of the Emirates, Yas Mall, City Center Mirdif, City Center Al Zahia, The Galleria Al Maryah Island and Wafi City in the UAE.

The experience will also be rolled out across select VOX Cinemas in Saudi Arabia.


AlUla features on Samsung’s global content platforms

AlUla features on Samsung’s global content platforms
Updated 02 August 2021

AlUla features on Samsung’s global content platforms

AlUla features on Samsung’s global content platforms
  • AlUla, in northwest Saudi Arabia, is known for its exceptional natural and cultural heritage

RIYADH: Saudi heritage and cultural destination AlUla are being featured on Samsung’s television lineup around the world this year.

The high-profile exposure on the electronic giant’s global content platforms comes as part of an agreement between Samsung and the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU).

AlUla, in northwest Saudi Arabia, is known for its exceptional natural and cultural heritage and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra, abandoned Hijaz railway station, AlUla Old Town, and Elephant Rock formation are all currently featuring on Samsung’s new ambient 2021 TV app with five artworks and four cinemagraphs.

The AlUla images are also being showcased in demo mode at 20,000 retail outlets in 62 countries around the world.

Additionally, Samsung Galaxy phone owners will be able to choose from AlUla’s stunning desert landscapes including aerials views of the 20-kilometer green oasis and Nabataean tombs, as wallpaper.

The agreement forms part of an ongoing activity between the RCU and Samsung, which is to include a photography competition launched by a group of Samsung influencers who will be visiting AlUla this summer to take pictures through Samsung’s #withGalaxy lens.

With travel starting to resume around the world as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions are eased, Phillip Jones, the RCU’s chief management and marketing officer, said the timing was perfect.

“As an unexplored destination to most people around the world, the exposure that AlUla will achieve through our initiatives with Samsung is unprecedented. We are excited to work with such an innovative brand and hope to continue developing interesting ideas as the past of AlUla connects with the future of tech,” he added.

Hyung Bin Joo, managing director of Samsung Saudi, said: “At the forefront of Saudi Vision 2030, AlUla is a destination with captivating sceneries and a deep-rooted heritage.

“Samsung’s collaboration with AlUla enables our consumers around the world to experience AlUla, Saudi Arabia’s hidden gem, on our latest Samsung TVs with ambient mode.”

AlUla has already received considerable regional and international recognition through events such as Extreme E which staged its first race there. Additionally, the RCU’s film department has signed agreements to shoot three flicks in the governorate — an American and two Saudi movies.

Jones said: “We know people are itching to travel and we also know that as a new and unexpected destination with vast open spaces and deep rich heritage and culture, AlUla will be an exciting prospect for many.”