In today’s Bulldog wrapup of technology and science news:
- Nextdoor.com says it is tackling racial profiling
- France is probing the streaming of a teen’s suicide
- SpaceX capsule returns from space station
- Google bans payday lending ads
- Nextdoor.com makes changes to stop racial profiling on site
A San Francisco-based social media network created to connect neighbors in online communities said it is making changes on how members can report suspicious activity, after a group complained it was being used for racial profiling.
The change comes after some residents in racially diverse Oakland complained the sitethat was created to share recommendations on plumbers or pass along information on used furniture was instead being used to post racially-based warnings about minorities.
In an effort to remedy that, Nextdoor.com will no longer allow immediate postings on its a crime and safety section, said company chief executive Nirav Tolia. Instead, it will require people reporting a crime or warning about a suspicious person to fill out several forms before their post is published.
“If you make it really easy to post anything, people don’t have to think,” Tolia said. “But if you insert these decision points it forces them to think about what they are doing.”
The hope is that the extra steps will force users on the 5-year-old site, which sees 3 million messages in its crime and safety section each day, to think about who they are reporting about and why.
The forms will ask users to detail criminal behavior before they describe a suspect, and will force them to describe the person from head to toe and not just by race. The sitenow also scans for mentions of race that may be offensive. And if a racial profiling post somehow gets through anyway, anyone can flag it for removal.
Last October, Oakland-based Neighbors for Racial Justice complained to city officials that the site created was being used to post the racially-inspired warnings focusing on minorities.
- French teen’s streamed suicide on Periscope leads to inquiry
French authorities have opened an investigation after a teenager allegedly live-streamed video of her suicide on the popular app Periscope.
The local prosecutor said Wednesday the young woman threw herself under a commuter train in the suburban Egly station, south of Paris, after claiming she had been raped by her former boyfriend. The prosecutor’s statement said the woman was born in 1997, so she was 18 or 19.
The teenager, whose name was not released, sent a text message to a friend of her former boyfriend a few hours before she killed herself Tuesday, prosecutor Eric Lallement said.
“In the text message, she mentions violence and a rape that her companion inflicted on her and claims she is ending her days because of the harm that the young man had done to her,” Lallement said.
On Tuesday, the woman spent more than two hours overall on Periscope, divided in five live sessions. The last one lasted 29 minutes and seemed to have been recorded moments before she killed herself, he said.
The teen’s video messages and cellphone have been seized by the police. An autopsy and toxicology and drug tests will be conducted over the next few days.
In her own messages, the woman spoke a lot about her life and her difficult relationship with her former boyfriend, Lallement said.
- SpaceX capsules returns with space station items
A SpaceX capsule returned to Earth on Wednesday with precious science samples from NASA’s one-year space station resident.
Less than six hours after leaving the International Space Station, the Dragon cargo carrier plopped into the Pacific, a few hundred miles off the Southern California coast. SpaceX reported a good splashdown, with three red-and-white striped parachutes slowing the final descent.
The Dragon had been at the station for a month, dropping off supplies as well as an experimental, inflatable room that will pop open in two weeks. It was set free by the station’s big robot arm.
British astronaut Timothy Peake bid farewell to Dragon on behalf of the station’s entire six-man crew.
“Dragon spacecraft has served us well, and it’s good to see it departing full of science,” Peake radioed from 250 miles up. “We wish it a safe recovery back to Planet Earth.”
Nearly 4,000 pounds of items fill the Dragon, including blood and urine samples from astronaut Scott Kelly’s one-year mission. Kelly returned to Earth in March and has since retired from NASA. Researchers will use the medical specimens to study how the body withstands long journeys in space, in preparation for an eventual mission to Mars in the 2030s.
Also on board: a spacesuit that leaked water into an astronaut’s helmet in January, forcing an early end to a spacewalk. Engineers want to examine the suit to see what might have gone wrong.
- Google to ban payday lending ads, calling industry ‘harmful’
Internet giant Google said Wednesday it will ban all ads from payday lenders, calling the industry “deceptive” and “harmful.”
Google’s decision could have as much or even more impact on curtailing the industrythan any move by politicians, as many payday loans start with a desperate person searching online for ways to make ends meet or cover an emergency.
Effective July 13, Google will no longer allow ads for loans due within 60 days and will also ban ads for loans where the interest rate is 36 percent or higher. The industry will join Google’s other banned categories of ads, such as counterfeit goods, weapons, explosives, tobacco products and hate speech.
“Our hope is that fewer people will be exposed to misleading or harmful products,” said David Graff, Google’s director of global product policy, in a blog post that announced the policy change.
The ban would not impact companies offering mortgages, auto loans, student loans, loans for businesses or credit cards, Google said.