Tanzania rebuked by WHO amid suspicion of covering up Ebola cases 

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Is it safe to travel during the coronavirus outbreak? An infectious disease specialist explains.
Passengers wearing breathing masks at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on January 29, 2020. Malaysia barred visitors from the Chinese city of Wuhan and its surrounding Hubei province on January 27. | Mohd Rasfan/AFP via Getty Images Buy a mask? Cancel your trip? No, and probably not. Given the latest news on the coronavirus outbreak centered in China, it’s no surprise that there’s fear about the spread of the disease and concernsabout the risks of travel. The White House said Wednesday it’s considering banning all flights between the US and China. British Airways announced it would suspend travel to the country. And Australia revealed it’s taking the extraordinary measure of sending returning citizens from Wuhan, the center of China’s outbreak, to a remote island 1,200 miles off the coast of the mainland. There’s still a lot we don’t know about 2019-nCoV, as the virus is known, including all of the symptoms and exactly how it’s spread. But we do know the case toll is rising fast. As of January 29, at least 6,057 people have fallen ill — a huge increase from early January when it looked like there were no more than 40 cases. While the vast majority of these individuals (5,970) are in mainland China, and most (3,554) are concentrated in the outbreak’s epicenter, Hubei province — home to Wuhan — a handful of infected travelers have made their way out of the country. The virus is still spreading in more than 30 Chinese provinces and cities — including Shanghai, Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Beijing. Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering There’s some good news, however. Infectious disease researchers and epidemiologists have a lot of experience in how respiratory viruses like 2019-nCoV can spread and move across borders, when people are most at risk during travel, and how to stay safe. To learn more, I called Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases doctor and professor at the University of Toronto who studies how air travel influences the dynamics outbreaks — including the new coronavirus infection. I asked him some of our (perhaps paranoid) travel questions, and got a lot of reassurance. Here’s our conversation, edited for clarity and brevity. Julia Belluz Is it safe to travel by air right now? Isaac Bogoch I break this down into a few different pieces: When we think about travel, there’s the destination you’re going to and whether you can pick up the virus in that destination. Then there’s [the travel part]: When I’m on my way to that destination, am I at risk of acquiring the infection? On the first part, currently we have an epidemic in China. And specifically, in Hubei province. The risk of acquiring this infection outside of Hubei and, truly, outside of China is remarkably low. We can count the number of people who never had exposure to Hubei or China, who were infected by this virus, on one or two hands. So currently the risk of acquiring this infection outside of the epicenter of the epidemic is incredibly small. So if people are traveling [anywhere outside of China] your risk is close to zero percent. Julia Belluz What about getting it in a place outside of China where there are cases, like Thailand, Germany, or Canada? Isaac Bogoch To date, there’s something like 70 international cases. And again, we can still count the number of people who have acquired this infection without having been to China on one or two hands. So the risk of travel currently is extraordinarily low outside of the areas where this epidemic is ongoing. That includes areas where there have been exported cases — Thailand, Japan, France, Cambodia. In the same breath, this is a dynamic situation. We need to obviously keep ourselves informed and updated on how this evolves because travel recommendations and warnings will also evolve as this either continues to spread or comes under better control. That’s a key point as well. Julia Belluz What about getting the virus from other travelers on your way to your destination? Isaac Bogoch There has been some work looking into the risk of acquiring infectious diseases through air travel. The people at greatest risk of acquiring a respiratory infection through air travel is still extraordinarily low — but the risk goes up if you’re in close proximity to a person [with a respiratory disease]. That means if someone is sitting next to an infected person — and usually within about two meters, so one or two rows up or behind. Within that radius, there’s clearly variables that would place certain people at greater risk — like closer proximity, or the longer the duration of exposure coupled with the degree of transmissibility the person has. So if the person has very, very mild symptoms and is not coughing, the likelihood of someone in that radius getting that infection is really low. And people farther away have a lower probability of getting that infection as well. The people at greatest risk are the people sitting next to the infected traveler. And even people sitting beside that person still have a relatively low chance of getting the infection. Julia Belluz But I’m still worried about airports and other transit hubs. What should I do to protect myself? Like, should I buy some face masks? Isaac Bogoch The fact that people are wearing masks — No. 1, it’s not helpful and No. 2, it’s overly alarmist. If someone has a respiratory infection, masks are helpful at stopping spread. But if people are uninfected wearing a little flimsy mask, it is not going to significantly reduce their risk of acquiring this infection. With or without this outbreak, hand hygiene is always important, not just for this coronavirus, for viruses such as influenza and other respiratory viruses or bacteria that can live on surfaces that are high contact, such as doorknobs, keyboards, and elevator buttons. Julia Belluz So basically, what you’re saying is — unless you’re in China — carry on? Isaac Bogoch Behave normally. Go about your daily life. Take the kids to school. Go to work. Hang out. Do what you’d normally do. I would not change any behavior if you’re outside the epidemic area. Julia Belluz And what if you have to go to China for some reason? Isaac Bogoch It’s extremely important to be aware of the evolving travel recommendations which are changing with the ongoing epidemic. Right now, [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests] avoiding unnecessary travel or reconsider travel to China. Julia Belluz What precautions would you take if you were going to China? Isaac Bogoch I’d just wash my hands. In health care settings, [I’d wear a mask] only if I’m caring for someone with this infection. Julia Belluz I’ve read that the virus can spread even when people aren’t showing symptoms, like the recent case in Germany. What do you make of that? Isaac Bogoch I want to see more data to support the notion that truly asymptomatic people may have transmitted the infection. Even if there have been cases of asymptomatic transmission of this infection — those will be typically rare cases and with just about every other respiratory tract infection known to humankind, those are not the people who are driving an epidemic. Julia Belluz You’ve done some great studies in the last couple of weeks on the cities most at risk for novel coronavirus infections. What’s the big takeaway? Isaac Bogoch We’ve looked at [the question of] if there is more widespread circulation of this virus in China, where is the international exportation of cases [likely to go]. We basically highlight the top 50 destinations from selected cities in China that have significant interconnectivity with Wuhan. Not surprisingly, in the top 50, most are in East Asian and Southeast Asian, and there’s a few European destinations that make — Paris and London, a few North American destinations — New York, San Francisco, LA. Cairo is the only African destination in the top 50. By no means would anybody be surprised if there are more cases exported to Europe and the US. But the places that are going to have the greatest volume and number of infections exported would be to East Asian and Southeast Asian centers.
Trump’s weak arguments against impeachment trial witnesses, explained
President Trump addresses his supporters at a January 2020 rally in New Jersey. | Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Trump falsely claimed the Senate can’t call witnesses and argued a key potential witness can’t be trusted. President Donald Trump has not exactly been clear on whether he believes his Senate impeachment trial should include new witness testimony — he has both publicly endorsed and rejected the idea. But now, as senators consider the witness question in earnest, the president is offering an emphatic argument against calling a former official who looks to be a key witness. He’s also claiming the issue to be moot, making the false assertion that the Senate doesn’t actually have the power to call witnesses at all. Trump began a string of tweets on Wednesday by attacking the credibility of former National Security Adviser John Bolton, a witness under consideration, casting him as a feckless, sycophantic warmonger who frequently made mistakes and who is now looking to cash in by spreading gossip. Trump claimed Bolton “‘begged’ me for a non Senate approved job, which I gave him despite many saying ‘Don’t do it, sir,’” and proceeded to accuse his former official of making a mess of his mandate, in particular complaining about Bolton stating the administration was thinking about following what he called the “Libya model” with North Korea — that is, having North Korea give up its nuclear capabilities for sanctions relief. As Vox’s Alex Ward has pointed out, this statement wasn’t the most helpful; it came at a time when Trump was trying to leverage his then-budding personal relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to achieve the US’s policy goals with respect to North Korea. And Kim, like any leader, did not want to meet the fate of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi following the development of the so-called Libya model: “With American help, the leader was captured by anti-Qaddafi rebels, who then sodomized and killed him.” For a guy who couldn’t get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn’t get approved for anything since, “begged” me for a non Senate approved job, which I gave him despite many saying “Don’t do it, sir,” takes the job, mistakenly says “Libyan Model” on T.V., and..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2020 ....many more mistakes of judgement, gets fired because frankly, if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now, and goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book. All Classified National Security. Who would do this?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2020 Why didn’t John Bolton complain about this “nonsense” a long time ago, when he was very publicly terminated. He said, not that it matters, NOTHING!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2020 Trump appeared to argue that the Libya statement was just the beginning of Bolton’s poor judgment and that his hawkish agenda would have led to ruin. That isn’t the best way to smear Bolton — as Ward has noted, Bolton’s hawkishness was common knowledge — but it helps underscore the president’s larger point here: If the Senate were to call Bolton, senators and the public ought to doubt the things he says. And by pointing out that Bolton has a book coming out, Trump seems to suggest that observers should almost expect the former adviser to say incendiary things to boost his sales numbers — and, again, that these things should be taken with a grain of salt. Trump followed his anti-Bolton screed with a pithier argument against witnesses in general, writing, “Witnesses are up to the House, not up to the Senate. Don’t let the Dems play you!” Remember Republicans, the Democrats already had 17 witnesses, we were given NONE! Witnesses are up to the House, not up to the Senate. Don’t let the Dems play you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2020 This is untrue. The House did call 17 witnesses, and those witnesses did give testimony that was so damning as to lead to the president’s impeachment. Republican witness requests were rebuffed because they asked for people who had nothing to do with Trump’s alleged abuses of power, like former Democratic National Committee staffer Alexandra Chalupa (who some conspiracy theorists are convinced helped Ukraine try to meddle in the 2016 election) and people like the whistleblower who helped launch the inquiry — whose anonymity is protected by federal law and whose account was corroborated by the White House. And the Senate can call witnesses. The body has special rules that govern impeachment trial proceedings; Rule VI says, “The Senate shall have power to compel the attendance of witnesses,” and those rules go on to detail how witnesses ought to be treated, how they are to be examined and cross-examined, and what happens if a senator needs to be called as a witness. And we don’t need to reference the rules to know this. Witnesses were called during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial (although they were deposed privately and senators watched their taped testimony). President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial included 45 witnesses. Trump’s arguments aren’t overly persuasive (and the second is outright wrong), but they come at a critical time for Republicans: Support for calling additional witnesses is gaining steam, and it would appear Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is losing control of his caucus on the matter. Momentum for witnesses is growing — and testimony from Bolton could be damning for Trump On Sunday, the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt reported on an excerpt from Bolton’s forthcoming book. That excerpt contained the explosive claim that Trump explicitly told Bolton he was withholding $391 million in military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure that country into investigating Joe and Hunter Biden — an investigation that could benefit the president politically given Biden could well be his rival in the 2020 election. The revelation destroyed a key Republican defense of the president: that although the aid was obviously withheld, and that although Trump and his allies wanted the Bidens investigated, neither Trump nor any high-ranking official had expressly tied the two together as part of a quid pro quo scheme. It wasn’t the strongest defense — given statements like acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s admission of a quid pro quo scheme and other testimony, reporting, and evidence — but it was commonly employed. As Vox’s Aaron Rupar has reported, that led Republicans to adopt a new strategy: to argue that the president may have tried to pressure Ukraine to his political benefit, but that there’s nothing wrong with that. That issue aside, the Times’s reporting also increased calls to have witnesses testify, Bolton in particular. Democrats have wanted new witness testimony since before the trial began, and proposed that a number of figures who refused to testify during the House impeachment inquiry be called. Republican leaders pushed back on that desire, and corralled GOP senators into blocking every Democratic effort to introduce witnesses and new evidence at the trial’s onset. But despite voting with their party on the witness question last week, three moderate Republican senators — Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins — have said they would like to return to the issue at a later date. All have said they’d like to hear from witnesses, including Bolton. And Tuesday, Romney said the Bolton revelations have swayed some of his colleagues who were on the fence. “It’s pretty fair to say John Bolton has relevant testimony,” Romney said. “I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton.” Democrats need at least four senators to join them to pass a resolution on calling witnesses; McConnell held a closed-door session with GOP senators Tuesday evening to assess whether Romney was right. It appeared he was, with reports stating the leader no longer has the votes to block witnesses. It’s in the wake of those reports that Trump posted his latest tweets. Even if witnesses are called, the president is likely to be acquitted, given that Democrats would need at least 20 Republican senators to join them for him to be removed. But it is not in the president’s interest to have new witnesses called, particularly Bolton. As Trump pointed out, he fired the man, and Bolton would seem to have little reason to try to protect the president in his testimony in the manner that, say, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might be were he to be called. During the House impeachment inquiry, Bolton’s legal team suggested he knew some things House lawmakers had not yet uncovered in their hearings, writing that the former official has knowledge of “many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed.” It isn’t clear whether the sum of that knowledge was revealed in the Times report, or if Bolton has more damning things to share. But even if Bolton has now shared all he knows, repeating the allegation he reportedly makes in his book on the Senate floor certainly can’t help the president — and it will make his allies in the Senate appear even more complicit in working to cover up concerning behavior.
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Why your free software is far from free
Attendees look at the new Apple iPhone 11 Pro in Cupertino, California, on September 10, 2019. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Facebook made a gesture toward transparency this week with the launch of its Off-Facebook Activity tool. This offers users a glimpse into the many ways details of real-world transactions get shared with Facebook, regardless of what you’re doing on the Facebook platform. The tool lets you monitor and (sort of) delete some of the information it collects about this activity. It also serves as a reminder of the frightening amount of information Facebook knows about you. This isn’t a surprisingly revelation — it’s not a revelation at all. Facebook is a free service that allows you to do fun stuff like set up a profile and send messages to friends, and it uses a variety of tools to track your every move both online and off. The social network then uses everything it knows about you (read: more than you’d like) to sell hyper-targeted ads. This business model has been around for decades, and it shows how free software and services are never really free. You’re paying with your data. This week’s Facebook news as well as a number of recent reports about data collection also help us better understand the so-called alternative data industry. There’s a good chance that the free app or software you love is funded by the proceeds of your data. All this business, as you might have already guessed, isn’t always great for your online privacy. What is alternative data? Alternative data refers to data collected from nontraditional sources including web browsing activity and social media posts. The industry revolves around companies exchanging the tidbits of information collected — much of which can be collected through free software and services, including anything from antivirus software to social media. Alternative data companies essentially package this data and resell it to different brokers or mine that data for a wide variety of insights for investment firms. Typically, this focuses on how we spend our money and time. According to industry group AlternativeData, there are currently about 450 alternative data providers. That number has quadrupled in the past decade, and Wall Street is expected to spend about $1.7 billion on alternative data this year. A recent article by Motherboard and PCMag showed how a marketing analytics firm called Jumpshot collects browsing data — data as specific as websites visited and YouTube videos watched — then packages and sells that data to companies and investors wondering how certain products are faring or how consumers behave. The catch is that the data was collected through free antivirus software made by Jumpshot’s parent company, Avast. Users have to opt in to data collection, but the investigation claims many still don’t even realize it’s being collected. The company has long been public about this data acquisition and doesn’t collect names, email addresses, contact details, or location data. Yet, as big as the alternative data industry is becoming, the public knows relatively little about how powerful the information at play can be. Late last year, the New York Times did a deep dive into a gigantic dataset that included 50 billion location pings from more than 12 million American smartphone users. Based simply on research about their locations, the newspaper’s reporters were easily able to connect the anonymized data with real people. Those unsuspecting users included a Microsoft engineer going to a job interview at Amazon as well as a Secret Service agent who spent a lot of time in the West Wing of the White House and at other locations where the president was also present. These companies collecting and using this data isn’t necessarily a problem. The issue lies in how aware people are about what is happening with their data. Most of us don’t read the print before accepting — and that’s by design. Terms of service can be intentionally long and dense. Real transparency — say, ‘in exchange for this free software we are going to log which sites you visit and sell an anonymized version of that data to third parties that use it to see how popular certain products or trends are’ — would certainly turn some people off. But I’d bet it wouldn’t bother everyone. Free, however many asterisks, is a big selling point. These articles reinforce that the existence of such information databases is still surprising to many people. Such data collection has been going on for a long time, but companies’ analysis is getting more sophisticated as our number of digital devices and the amount of potential data they can collect grows. Types of “free” software Free software — and its tradeoffs — have been around as long as software itself. Generally, a free version will come with ads, but it can also come with data collection. Free web services and apps collect loads of data about their users. Data collection isn’t exclusive to free software, either. Paid software companies — and your internet providers and wireless carriers — can also collect and sell information about you. It’s just that, typically, data collection fuels the primary business model for free software and web services. The types of alternative data collection are as myriad as the types of free software, but generally fall into four buckets: web activity, email receipts, credit card transaction data, and geolocation. These kinds of data tend to reveal a startling amount about you. Your web browser and some free software, like Jumpshot’s antivirus app, can track everything you do on the web: which sites you visit, what you search, what you buy, and so forth. Meanwhile, some free email clients, in exchange for using their email service, monitor your inbox for things like receipts to get an idea of user spending. Several alternative data companies buy anonymized credit card data from sources like personal finance apps to get more detailed information about how and where people are spending money. The apps on your phone, from your weather provider to your coupon saver, can sell location data to third parties to see what stores people visit and how long they spend there. Generally this data doesn’t include any obvious personally identifiable information. But as you may know, it can be pretty easy to figure out who someone is if you have a few pieces of information about them. When you use Google’s free suite of services like Gmail, Maps or YouTube, Google collects information about you in order to target you with ads. You can actually go into your Google settings and see what Google thinks it knows about you — details as specific as the types of books you like to your personal grooming preferences. But that’s usually not the full extent of the transaction. Google and data hoarders also collect information about consumer behavior in aggregate, which they can sell to interested parties. As many have put it before: If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Why divulging all your data could be dangerous It certainly feels creepy to know that seemingly every detail about your behavior can be tracked in some way. Our sense of privacy, not to mention the definition of privacy itself, is in constant flux, while advances in artificial technology and machine learning mean that data mining and analysis are becoming increasingly precise and powerful. That said, we don’t yet know all the ways that divulging so much data could be dangerous. There is the very real possibility that companies will abuse their access to your data. Think of Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting firm that harvested data on 87 million Facebook profiles without their permission in an effort to help Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The incident led to billions of dollars in fines for Facebook but also served as a jarring wakeup call for internet users everywhere that their personal data could be used in unwanted ways. And when companies fail to properly steward your data, it leaves you and your information open to hacks. Credit reporting agency Equifax in 2017 exposed the confidential financial information of 143 million customers to hackers. A Yahoo data breach a year earlier affected 500 million accounts, and the incident was later tied to Russian hackers. These are obviously just a couple of examples, and the list keeps growing. Perhaps what’s most terrifying is that we can’t anticipate what advertisers, hackers, governments, tech companies, or anyone who gets their hands on our highly sensitive data, will ultimately do with it. An increasing amount and variety of information about us — our health, our behavior, even our emotions — are being tracked, and it’s so far unclear how the many entities that can access this information will use it. Most likely, the rapid growth in artificial intelligence will make seemingly benign information incredibly valuable and possibly dangerous, when it’s combined with other information or analyzed to new purposes. How to avoid getting more than what you didn’t pay for One way to protect yourself against giving away too much data includes reading the terms of service, but most of us don’t do that. Fewer than one in 10 Americans say they always read a privacy policy before agreeing to it, while more than one-third say they never read it, according to a Pew Research survey. That’s because these documents are long and dense, so even if you do read them they’re hard to understand. One thing you can do that doesn’t involve as much legalese is to be proactive about monitoring and limiting the amount of personal data being collected. Frequently companies are somewhat transparent about their data collection, and many like Google, Facebook, and Amazon offer tools in your account settings — typically under some sort of “privacy” banner — that help you understand what data they’re collecting about you. Sometimes, you can even opt out of certain kinds of data collection. There’s also a slew of privacy-conscious software, like the suite of tools from Duck Duck Go, which limit tracking. There are numerous privacy browser extensions that can shield you from ads and tracking, including Privacy Badger, uBlock Origin, AdBlock Plus, Ghostery, and Noscript. A number of paid software versions don’t delve into data collection at all. Of course, paying for otherwise free software does turn privacy into a luxury good. Case in point: Apple markets itself as a privacy-centric tech company, one that doesn’t collect and sell data about its users. Apple products also carry a higher price tag than many competitors. You can buy a cheaper phone or tablet from Google or Amazon, but you might also be selling some access to your personal data. The thing to remember is that none of these companies are giving you free stuff out of the goodness of their hearts. At the very least, they are going to try to recoup the money they made creating the service you’re using and hosting it on their service. In all likelihood, they’re trying to make a lot of money, because capitalism. Your privacy is simply the currency helping them get there. Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.