Thailand to require

face scans for SIM cards

BANGKOK (AFP): Face-scans or fingerprints will be needed to buy SIM cards in Thailand from next month as the kingdom tries to crack down on electronic fraud and encourage mobile banking. The new biometric system - which follows similar requirements in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan - will begin on December 15, according to the telecoms regulator. “We’re entering the digital age, our money now is linked to mobile services. By doing this, trust in mobile banking or payment systems will be improved,” said Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC). “Some people used fake ID to register their SIM cards, which created a problem,” he added, assuring users their privacy would be protected.

The face and fingerprint scans will be matched to government data linked to Thai national ID cards.

Tourists will also be required to have face-scans checked against their passport photos.

Thailand launched a pilot scheme in June in its insurgency-torn ‘Deep South’, where ethnic Malay rebels have used mobile phones to trigger bombs.

“After a trial in the most concerned areas of the country, people liked it, especially the security officials,” Korkij Danchaivichit, the NBTC’s deputy secretary-general, told AFP.

The lack of regulation in Thailand’s SIM card market was highlighted in June when police arrested three Chinese men who had managed to buy nearly 400,000 Thai SIM cards for a “click farm” operation.

The trio told officers they were hired by Chinese companies to boost “likes” for a number of products through the hundreds of smartphones they had hooked up to a computer.




Puerto Rico population to drop 14pc after hurricane

MIAMI (AFP): Puerto Rico’s population is set to decrease by 14 percent to 2.9 million inhabitants by 2019 due to an exodus of residents fleeing the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in September, a study has found. The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York estimated in a report released last month that about 114,000 to 213,000 Puerto Rican residents will leave the island annually “as a result of Hurricane Maria.” Between 2017 and 2019, the US territory stands to lose 470,335 residents, it added. “In the decade prior to Hurricane Maria, net migration from Puerto Rico to the United States amounted to approximately half a million, which represented a loss of ten percent of the island’s population,” said report authors Edwin Melendez and Jennifer Hinojosa.




Mammals gave up night

life only after dino doom

PARIS (AFP): The earliest mammals were night creatures which only emerged from the cover of darkness after the demise of the daytime-dominating dinosaurs, researchers said Monday. This would explain why relatively few mammals follow a daytime-active or “diurnal” lifestyle today, and why most that do still have eyes and ears more suitable for living by night. “Most mammals today are nocturnal and possess adaptations to survive in dark environments,” study co-author Roi Maor of the Tel Aviv University told AFP. “Monkeys and apes (including humans) are the only diurnal mammals that have evolved eyes that are similar to the other diurnal animals like birds or reptiles. Other diurnal mammals have not developed such profound adaptations.”



Surf’s up for startups

at Web Summit 2017

LISBON (AFP): The next generation of Internet giants gather this week in Portugal for four days of tech-fuelled networking, nights out and - for the first time this year - surfing of the offline variety. Web Summit, which likes to promote itself as “the Davos for geeks” and provides a platform for startups to hook up with venture capitalists and hear about new trends from industry leaders such as Facebook, will see around 60,000 tech experts convene in Lisbon, where participants will look to catch a break either in or out of the water. “Lisbon is kind of the surf capital of Europe, so not going surfing would be a very significant missed opportunity,” said Web Summit CEO Paddy Cosgrave.  Around 250 participants arrived in the Portuguese capital ahead of Tuesday’s official start to enjoy some of Europe’s best waves.

Mircea Baldean, founder and CEO of Canada-based startup MeetVibe, said he was looking forward to the networking opportunities at the event.

“It’s my first time in Lisbon, my first time surfing and my first time at Web Summit... as an entrepreneur you have to be ready to do new things every day.”

But the event isn’t all beach shorts and wipeouts: there’s serious money up for grabs with some of the world’s largest tech firms scouting for the next big app or technology in which to invest.

Organisers claim that around a third of startups who display their products at the Web Summit find a donor within 12 months.

“We’ve got 1,500 of the most active investors from around the world and a sample of 2,000 really high potential startups,” said Cosgrave.

Speakers at this year’s event include former US President Al Gore, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and former olympian and campaigner Caitlyn Jenner - as well as representatives from Internet giants such as Amazon and app-based behemoths Uber and Tinder.

The stakes are high: organisers say one fifth of all venture capital invested in the last three years went to firms that participated in Web Summit - accounting for tens of billions of euros.

But they are also open about its out-of-hours approach to networking, and hope relationships forged in the bars and restaurants of Lisbon can go on to power the next waves of online innovation.

“The truth is a lot of the best relationships are built over dinner, over long walks in the city and other social activities. So we put a huge emphasis on what happens after 5 pm,” said Cosgrave.

For Michael Memeteau, a founder of an energy startup who will be acting as an unofficial guide for one of the after-hours “pub crawls”, it’s the social aspect that makes Web Summit so popular.

“The thing is to keep some energy for the night, as the quality of exchanges is better,” he said. “In fact I’m only going to go to three of the actual talks.”

Tommy Otzen, CEO of Danish start up Kubo Robot and winner of last year’s Web Summit “Pitch” competition to find the best new firm, said his company received a one-million-euro investment off the back of the conference.

“Our success at last year’s Web Summit was what triggered that relationship, because we got a lot of media attention,” he said.




Group-B strep blamed for nearly 150,000 baby deaths

WASHINGTON (AFP): A bacterial infection found in one in five pregnant women worldwide is responsible for an estimated 147,000 stillbirths and infant deaths each year, and a vaccine is urgently needed, researchers said. The study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases is the first comprehensive look at the impact of Group B Streptococcus infection (GBS), which is estimated to live harmlessly in the intestinal tracts of up to a third of all adults. When a pregnant woman carries the bacteria, it can pass to her fetus via the amniotic fluid, or during birth as the infant passes through the vaginal canal. Babies and fetuses are particularly vulnerable because their immune systems are not strong enough to fight the multiplying bacteria.

If untreated, GBS can lead to meningitis and septicemia, which can be deadly. Babies that survive may develop cerebral palsy, or permanent sight and hearing problems.

There is no vaccine available to prevent GBS, although work is in progress to develop one.

The findings, led by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, estimated that out of 410,000 GBS cases every year, there will be at least 147,000 stillbirths and infant deaths globally.

The greatest burden was seen in Africa, which experiences 54 percent of infections and 65 percent of stillbirths and infant deaths from GBS, said the report, released at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in Baltimore.

The top five countries where pregnant women are infected are India (2,466,500) China (1,934,900), Nigeria (1,060,000), the United States (942,800) and Indonesia (799,100), according to the report.

Researchers said the scale of the problem merits more urgency.

“These disease burden estimates highlight the importance of perinatal infection prevention,” said co-author Johan Vekemans, medical officer of the Initiative for Vaccine Research at the World Health Organization.

“It is now essential to accelerate the GBS vaccine development activities. The technical feasibility is estimated to be high.”

If a vaccine is developed that is at least 80 percent effective and reaches 90 percent of women, it could potentially prevent 231,000 cases of infant and maternal GBS, said the report.

Currently, women with GBS are given antibiotics during labor to reduce the chance of it passing to their baby.

But there are problems with this approach, said co-author Joy Lawn, professor of maternal, reproductive and child health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“Antibiotics currently prevent an estimated 29,000 cases of early-onset Group B Streptococcal disease per year, almost all in high-income settings,” she said.

“However, this approach may be difficult in low-income settings where many births take place at home,” she added.

“In addition, giving antibiotics to 21.7 million women may contribute to antimicrobial resistance - a major global health crisis.”