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ShotSpotter: Does it Address the Rising Gunshot Crimes in the US?

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Intelligent solutions like the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data are expanding rapidly. These innovations promote sustainable development practices among nations. Recently, a technology company in the US introduced a technology solution known as ShotSpotter. This gunshot detection system garnered controversies in terms of accuracy and alleged discrimination in the police force. 

Mr. Ralph Clark, chief executive of ShotSpotter Photo: BBC

ShotSpotter chief executive Ralph Clark granted the media access to their operations center to clarify the allegations. They are still working on verifying the accuracy of the system. The systems are reliable because 80-95 percent of gunfire goes unreported, Ralph Clark says. Residents do not report incidents for several reasons. Some people are unsure of the sound, while others think someone had already reported it to 911. Sadly, people sometimes lack trust in the police. 

How Does ShotSpotter Work? 

ShotSpotter founders came up with a system that could address the issues. The company installed microphones in structures around a community. Once a loud bang is detected, a computer system assesses the sound and classifies it as either a gunshot or not. After that, a human analyst reviews the result of the computerized analysis. Every time the algorithm detects a potential gun shot, it makes a “ping” sound. Analysts first listen to the recording themselves and then evaluate the waveform on the computer screen. 

ShotSpotter analyst Ginger Ammon inside the company’s incident review room

Ms. Ginger Ammon, one of the company’s analysts, said that they are using sensors to determine the pattern of gunshots. Once they are sure that it is a gunshot, analysts click a button that dispatches police officers to the crime scene. The company claims that the response time is less than 60 seconds. The scenario is similar to a computer game – based on the usual comments from the public.

Here are some examples of ShotSpotter’s successes:

  1. In April 2017, Kori Ali Muhammad, a black supremacist, started a murderous riot in Fresno, California. Targeting as many white men as possible, he roamed around the suburbs. The police received reports via 911, but they were unclear and delayed. ShotSpotter was able to trace Muhammad’s routes and provided it to the police. With the help of ShotSpotter, Muhammad was caught after murdering three victims in three minutes. Fresno authorities believed without ShotSpotter; he would have killed more. 
ShotSpotter microphone installed with a neighborhood Photo: BBC
  1. The company was successful at convincing the law enforcement department to adopt the technology. Its microphones are installed in over 100 cities across the US. Following the death of George Floyd, people became more interested in ShotSpotter. 
  1. Due to the high cost of placing microphones in an entire city, the company installed microphones in inner-city areas. These are the areas with higher black populations. 

Accuracy Issues 

The group claims that the accuracy level of ShotSpotter is 97 percent. That would mean that the police forces can accurately respond by relying on the ShotSpotter alert system. However, that is according to the owner of this technology solution. The first challenge with the company’s accuracy claim is that it is often hard to tell whether a shot has been fired. Chicago’s Inspector General investigation proved that physical evidence of actual gunshot is found in only 9 percent of ShotSpotter alerts. That means that in 91% of police responses to ShotSpotter, it is difficult to identify if it is a gunshot. As we all know, gunfire sounds pretty similar to a car backfiring or a firecracker. 

So how come that ShotSpotter is almost 100% accurate? The error in detecting the sound that misled incident reports became one of the crucial issues of the company. Critics say that the company has been counting on mere assumptions. Brendan Max, a defense lawyer from Chicago, says that ShotSpotter’s accuracy claims are “marketing nonsense.” Conor Healy, an analyst for video-surveillance research agency IPVM, also doubts the 97% accuracy. It would be fair if ShotSpotter conducted in-depth testing of data to support their claims. They should address the sound detection concerns in the ShotSpotter technology.  

Increasing Firearm-Related Crimes 

Fresno recorded some of California’s worst firearm-related incidents. BBC News reporter James Clayton joined the police on a night-time patrolling around Fresno together with police officer Nate Palomino. Then, a ShotSpotter alert comes through. But, when they reached the scene, no gun casings were found, as well as the absence of other physical evidence. Officer Palomino said that the audio recording sounds like a gunshot. “It may be possible, but it is difficult to prove,” he added. 

Mr. Alyxander Godwin wants to get rid of the ShotSpotter alert system in Chicago. The typical scenario described earlier could lead to discrimination among police officers. If the data generated from the ShotSpotter system is incorrect, it sends officers into uncertain situations. At present, there is no data to back up the company’s methodology. Meanwhile, Max, the lawyer from Chicago, said that the ShotSpotter report should not be used as evidence in court until the company addressed the accuracy concerns. He added that the company should revisit its systems for thorough review and analysis. 

Max suggested that the company should ponder on the capabilities of their human analysts. It connects to how often the algorithm agrees or disagrees with the human analyst. James Clayton of BBC News observed that the analysts might disagree with the data detected by the computer. ShotSpotter analyst Ms. Ginger Ammon admitted the system is just filtering out what we, humans, can see. “I honestly don’t even look at the classification, for I am busy analyzing the sensor patterns,” she added. 

It was an honest admission from the ShotSpotter team. There are instances that technology is only about seeing and knowing – in this case, the computer detects most sounds as gunshots. The ShotSpotter company should look into the more significant role of analysts.

The Future of ShotSpotter Technology 

ShotSpotter had attracted criticism because of the doubtful accuracy of the system. There are cities across the United States where activities are pushing for the cancellation of ShotSpotter contracts. However, the company wants to focus on the cases where they have alerted the police force to gunshot incidents. They want to highlight how the alert system helped in improving response time and saving lives. Moreover, the company is doing well in other places. In Fresno, police chief Paco Balderrama is keen on increasing its coverage, amounting to 1 million US dollars a year.  

The debate about the effectiveness of ShotSpotter continues. People worry about the implications of the technology for community peace and security in America. But the confidence of the people will increase once the tech’s accuracy is reviewed and verified. 

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Here’s Why You Should Download an Ad Blocker Right This Second

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Do you also hate seeing online ads that constantly show you what you’ve recently searched on Google? If you hate seeing these pesky ads, you’re not alone. Even the CIA and other intelligence departments in the United States are not fond of seeing those in their devices. In fact, they use an ad blocker to keep those online ads at bay. If they’re using one, you should use it too.

Senator Urges Tightened Cybersecurity Policies and Use of Ad Blockers

The call to protect the United States from possible cyberattacks comes from Senator Ron Wyden. The senator addresses the letter to Clare Martorana (Federal Chief Information Officer – Office of Management and Budget), urging Martorana to help protect federal networks from surveillance and hacking done by foreign spies and hackers.

His message stems from the situation that hackers can mask malware through online ads. The senator also says in his letter that anyone viewing the ad doesn’t need to click on it. The malware can attack a device, which can do the following:

  • Record conversations
  • Steal data
  • Wipe out data

Considering that the malware can track people’s location and access data, it’s possible that spies are doing the same tactics to intelligence agencies. In turn, intelligence agencies are finding ways to protect themselves from possible malware.

He emphasizes the 2018 National Security Agency recommendation that organizations should “block potentially malicious, internet-based advertisements” in the same letter. A similar recommendation was brought up by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, pointing to federal agencies, in particular.

But the two intelligence agencies don’t require the use of ad blockers in federal departments. However, these two agencies claim there are “enterprise-wide policies and controls” act as their ad-blocking practices. Other cybersecurity practices include “network-based ad-blocking tech” and Domain Name System information.

Other Federal Departments

One federal agency, in particular, was silent on the matter of ad-blocking, and that was the Office of Direction of National Intelligence. However, the Drug Enforcement Agency shared to Vice that they will not reveal if they have cybersecurity strategies in place. But they have noted the cybersecurity recommendations put forward by the two aforementioned intelligence agencies.

Malvertising and Bidding

This will alarm you, but many hackers participate in malvertising. This allows them to attack someone’s computer by planting a malicious ad on an advertising network. However, these hackers may only do this because they have targets. Still, it can be worrying to know that this is happening. But that’s not the only way online criminals or data brokers can get your data.

There’s this thing called “real-time bidding,” and data brokers participate in this event. Companies bid on an ad placement, and one business gets the coveted prime ad spot. However, those who participated may also obtain data, called bidstream data.

Wyden’s letter to the Office of Budget and Management wasn’t the first time he pointed out potential cybersecurity issues. 

He, along with some senators, has written to companies like Google and Twitter. They raise concerns over the ad networks and the potential to use them for surveillance by foreign intelligence agencies. Several tech companies have responded to their letter, and they can confirm that sensitive data is being shared with companies in China, United Arab Emirates, and Russia.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Online Ads?

It can be scary to know that your data can be accessed by anyone, anytime, through online ads. You’re wondering, how can I protect myself?

You can be safe from possible online attacks from online ads by downloading an ad blocker on your browser. Several examples of ad blockers are:

  • AdBlock
  • Adblock Plus
  • uBlock Origin

An alternative to using these ad blockers is to use browsers that have a built-in ad blocker handy. Two of them are Opera and Brave, which you can download for free.

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Crazy Things That Happened in 2021

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Although 2021 would probably go down in history as one of the craziest years in recent times, 2021 is looking like it’s catching up. Here are a few of the crazy things that happened this year:

Capitol Hill Riot (January)

Early January saw a massive riot happen at the US Capitol. Former President Trump was charged with incitement in his impeachment trial in the Senate. This resulted in a mob that was pro-Trump, breaking into the building. This forced members of Congress to evacuate and left five dead.

Battle of the Billionaires (January)

Elon Musk has surpassed Jeff Bezos to become the richest man in the world. This, thanks to the increase in Tesla’s share price giving him a net worth of more than $185 billion. Bezos was the holder of this title but went down with his $184 billion worth.

Trump Impeachment (January)

A call for Former President Trump’s impeachment happened twice this year. Some Democrats and members of the progressive group, The Squad, called for his impeachment. This, after his supporters stormed the US Capitol.

Frigid Weather in Texas (February)

Brutal winter storms ravaged Texas for more than seven days. It caused unprecedented devastation that claimed the lives of at least 26 people.

The Grammys Breaking Records (March)

Records were broken in this year’s Grammys, with Beyonce winning more awards than any in the award-giving body’s history. Along with Megan Thee Stallion, they became the first female artists to win best rap performance, breaking records. BTS also made Grammy history by being the first foreign act to perform solo and the first KPop group to be nominated.

The Free Britney Movement (April)

Pop icon Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship by her father since 2008. In April this year, the hashtag #freebritney gained traction as fans cried for the singer to be free from the legal binding. 

The Friends Reunion (May)

Not really a follow-up to the lives of the Friends character, but a reunion in which the main cast members reminisced about the good ol’ times. The fans were treated to a recreation of the set along with some table reads from scenes that were rehashed. 

Bitcoin Price Plunge (May)

After hitting a record high of $64,829 in mid-April, Bitcoin prices plunged to around $30,000 at one point. All this is in connection with Elon Musk’s Tesla’s suspension of purchase with the cryptocurrency, citing environmental concerns over the mining process.

The End for Keeping Up With The Kardashians (June)

The month of June saw the end of the reality TV show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians. After 20 seasons on the air, the show ends with a two-part reunion special. However, this isn’t the end for the Kardashians-Jenner, as they will star anew in a Hulu reality series later this year.

On another note, the year also saw the divorce of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West after six years of marriage.

All Eyes on Simone Biles (July)

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was held in 2021 due to the pandemic. And on this one, all eyes were on Simone Biles as she has proven that she’s not superhuman after all. The celebrated gymnast withdrew from the team gymnastics finals citing the “twisties” and her efforts to focus on her mental health.

Facebook Name Change (October)

From Facebook to Meta, the rebranding was announced in October in an attempt to own the metaverse. The company says that the new name is reflective of their ambitions that go beyond being a social media platform. CEO Mark Zuckerberg considers the move as a nod to the metaverse, the concept of a three-dimensional version of the internet.

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Wendy’s Might Be In A Ghost Kitchen Near You Soon

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Many industries have had to adjust during the pandemic. Restaurants, in particular, couldn’t accommodate dine-ins because it could further the spread of the coronavirus. But as the United States bounces back from the devastating effects of the pandemic, it’s clear that many businesses want to revert to their pre-pandemic life. But Wendy’s has a different idea in mind.

Before we learn more about Wendy’s plans, know what ghost kitchens are.

What are Ghost Kitchens?

Ghost kitchens are spaces where food operators can prepare and cook their menu and have that food delivered to customers immediately. It’s a low-cost solution allowing many restaurants to take up space in a ghost kitchen without a hitch. It’s unheard of that ghost kitchens would have a dine-in set-up, but there are cases where ghost kitchens allow pick up and takeout.

The rise of ghost kitchens can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ghost kitchens have become a lifesaver for small food operators. Plus, they have made it possible for smaller food operators to become more accessible to the public. After all, delivery apps such as Grubhub, Doordash, or Ubereats have partnered with ghost kitchens. In some cases, these apps own a virtual kitchen.

Cinnabon, Wingstop, The Cheesecake Factory have also taken up space in ghost kitchens. Or, in the case of Inspire Brands (Sonic, Arby’s), some are about to set up their ghost kitchens.

The Wendy’s and Reef Kitchen Partnership

The well-known fast food chain Wendy’s will partner with Reef to open over 700 virtual kitchens by 2023. They plan to open these kitchens across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Their goal by the end of 2021 is to open 50 virtual kitchens. Currently, there are eight test Reef ghost kitchens in Canada. 

Plus, globally, Wendy’s is available in several kitchens as franchises. Reef will also carry the franchise label. In addition, the ghost kitchen company will be the first Wendy’s franchisee in the UK, even if the fast food chain has over 400 restaurants there.

Todd Penegor, CEO of Wendy’s, estimates that they can earn over $1M in sales once their ghost kitchens are up and running. Aside from having more Wendy’s in urban areas, ghost kitchens can provide convenience to areas not serviceable by the fast food chain.

Even before the pandemic hit, the fast food chain had been ahead of the game. Wendy’s chief development officer, Abigail Pringle, said they had already designed a plan to place the fast food chain in ghost kitchens. Their interest in virtual kitchens is based on the low cost to run their restaurant. Plus, having Wendy’s in virtual kitchens can even increase sales.

One disadvantage of having a Wendy’s in ghost kitchens: limited menus. Some products could be available locally.

Reef and Their Permits

As exciting as this partnership will be in the next few years, Reef has been in hot water for the past couple of weeks over their lack of permits. Their New York kitchen has stopped operations temporarily after the Health Department has concluded that it violated health and safety conditions. Other food operators affected in the establishments are Nathan’s Famous and Fuku.  

Such is the case in their Houston kitchen. Health officials in the city also found that Reef has not been operating with licenses that certify health and safety. Plus, there have been cases where permits were shuffled between kitchens.

An ex-operations manager has also divulged that Reef doesn’t have permits for over 50% of their locations.

Investigations done by the health departments of these cities can contribute to further scrutiny of other Reef and ghost kitchens.

Plus, Wendy’s partnering with Reef can affect their operations and goals to meet their target number of kitchens. Still, the fast food chain has over 300+ Reef locations to open up their ghost kitchen.

For other stories, read more here at Owner’s Mag!

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