TechKNOW Tomorrow – Closing the Digital Divide with Satellites

Image by NASA via Unsplash.

During the late 1950s, the U.S. and the Soviet Union each began launching satellites as an attempt to spy on the potential enemy. This thankfully deescalated the rising tensions between both countries. It wasn’t long before Canada launched its first satellite in 1962 – the Alouette I – and became the third country worldwide to do so.

Fast forward sixty years. The success of these space flights brought in a new age of satellite launches that continues today. The satellites we launch today, of course, are capable of a lot more than just intercepting communications. They could potentially diminish the digital divide forever.

Satellite Constellations

SpaceX has recently commenced a new project called Starlink, which involves launching satellites into space “that can beam a broadband connection to internet terminals“, which then provide internet to any devices in the area.

Image by SpaceX via Flickr.

Feedback from the program, especially on the consistent speeds available, has been overwhelmingly positive so far. The focus of Starlink is on rural communities that either have slow internet speeds or no available packages at all. In a world where education and work are widely done remotely, the current lack of available internet is unacceptable.

That said, only 120 satellites have been launched at the moment. In order to achieve global coverage, satellite constellations (systems of numerous satellites) will be required. SpaceX has received permission to launch 12,000 satellites into orbit; they’ve already sought permission for another 30,000.

With more engineering, testing, bureaucracy, and orbital trajectories required, it may be some time before those in rural communities obtain the same powerful and affordable internet urban centres have access to.

Risks and Concerns

If we look back to the first satellite launches, they were used as an attempt to spy on the Soviet Union and the U.S. during a tense period in history called the Cold War. While the satellites Elon Musk plans to launch likely won’t be equipped with technology capable of intercepting cell phone calls, they may secretly monitor the data of anyone using them for internet.

Imagine if every internet search you make, website you visit, document you create, and picture you take were transmitted and sold to government agencies – even files you don’t upload online. Today, we already face major data privacy concerns with tech giants like Google and Facebook. This issue could be amplified even further to include everything we do online, whether we’re aware that we’re connected or not.

Image by SpaceX via Unsplash.

Normally, we trust that internet service providers will keep all of this information private. If the idea of satellite coverage is to potentially reach any area of the world, there would likely be a lot more pressure on SpaceX from foreign government agencies to sell the data they collect from us.

Related to the issue of privacy is the fact that SpaceX plans to launch satellites globally. At the moment, it’s safe to say that Musk will hold a monopoly over internet satellite technology for at least a few years. He’s attempting to launch these satellites worldwide, yet his interests are mostly exclusive to the places he has citizenship in: Canada, the U.S., and South Africa. What about the rest of the world? Can we trust a billionaire with their data?

One other concern with these satellites is congestion due to too many simultaneous users. With tens of thousands of satellites, covering billions of people worldwide is just not possible. SpaceX also hasn’t clarified whether networks will suffer from heavy speed slowdowns during peak hours of access (e.g., weekday evenings).

Ultimately, there are some legitimate questions and concerns about foreign policies, data privacy, and a lack of resources in rural communities relating to satellite internet. What we do know is that diminishing the digital divide is finally possible thanks to advances in satellite technology.

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.

TechKNOW Tomorrow – The Beginning of Digital Currency

Image by Bermix Studio via Unsplash.

Last year, Facebook revealed their plans to release a digital currency called Libra. Now that it’s 2021, that currency is set be released at some point this year.

That announcement had some ramifications, unfortunately. Other countries such as China have accelerated their work on their own digital currencies, a race to be the first to release what many expect to be a revolutionary technology.

When a digital currency is released here in North America, physical currencies – bills and change – will slowly be phased out like the penny was many years ago. The U.S. already has a disproportionate amount of power over the global economy. With the removal of physical currency, several issues will inevitably arise.

What About Cryptocurrency?

An argument might be made that digital currencies already exist, so this might not seem like a big deal at all. That’s not exactly true. A digital currency is not the same thing as virtual currency or cryptocurrency. Virtual currency “is a digital representation of value, not issued by a central bank, credit institution or e-money institution, which, in some circumstances, can be used as an alternative to money”. Virtual currencies have no physical means, making them difficult to quantify.

This differs from banks, debit, or credit in that the money you spend has something represent it in the real world. When you spend money on your credit card, for instance, you have to pay that back (with interest). A dollar in your bank account shares the exact same value as a physical dollar.

This is not true for cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin fluctuate dramatically in terms of value, meaning the value they hold isn’t based on the value of a physical dollar. A Bitcoin can be worth thousands of dollars one day… and then next to nothing the next.

Image by Kyle Wiseman via Google.

On top of this, digital currency “is regulated in a centralized location, like a bank. Cryptocurrencies … are governed by the majority of the community”.

The information behind transactions are kept private with digital currencies or cash. Think about it – no one knows where the cash in your hand has been spent in the past. With cryptocurrencies, none of this information is hidden. Anyone can see every transaction made or received.

There’s also less safety involved with these forms of currency. If you have problems with a seller, who are you going to contact to deal with the issue? There’s little chance of getting your money back.

As long as cryptocurrencies are managed by everyone, there will never be a set value and your money will never truly be secure.

Issues with Digital Currencies

Okay, so what’s the big deal with digital currencies, then?, you might be thinking. If they’re regulated and private, doesn’t that mean they’re still safe to use to exchange goods and services? Not quite.

One of the main concerns with digital currencies is that they require an intermediary to perform transactions. This means that your transactions will be even less private than they are through debit or credit. Every transaction you make will be traceable, meaning economic privacy will be next to impossible.

Another issue is in control and the issue of business over government. If a digital currency is launched by Facebook or a similar tech company, a company entirely focused on commercial interests (earning money), elected governments could face instability and drastic changes in policy.

If a currency is controlled by a company instead of the government, how do we know that the various programs created will be in the interests of the people, and not in the interests of shareholders? Free education and hospital visits are things we take for granted.

Without government control over the currency, we could start seeing basic human rights becoming monopolized into expensive services. We’ve already experienced this in university and prescription costs. Privatized control of these industries could potentially lead to increased social inequalities.

Of course, it could be many years before we see physical currencies phased out of existence. For now, we can only speculate on the future of the economy.

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.

App Spotlight – 1Blocker

Advertisements are really frustrating, aren’t they?

On the one hand, they allow us to enjoy a large variety of content found on the internet for free. Videos, news articles, and pictures are readily available for almost anyone to see, all with the benefit of not having to pay for a subscription. On the other hand, many ads can be quite obtrusive, impeding how swiftly we can absorb content or even breaking our immersion with a piece of content entirely. Sometimes it feels like they’re impossible to avoid.

Ever watch a lengthy YouTube video that is interrupted halfway through with two lengthy ads? Try to read an article but had to wait for the webpage to load because of several ads? Obstacles like this can really hamper your experience with the internet, but they don’t necessarily have to. No matter what device you use for your computing, there are several ad blockers out there.

1Blocker

Image by 1Blocker via Tools&Toys.

If you use the Safari app, it likely means that you’re using an Apple device such as an iPhone, iPad, or a Mac. It certainly is nice for browsing the internet, but there aren’t many extensions or plugins available to make the browsing experience better and more personalized for users. This means that Safari is missing the wonderful AdBlock Plus, which prevents ads on numerous websites from ever appearing without sacrificing the speed of your connection.

In response to this, a similar app was developed for Safari users – 1Blocker. 1Blocker has a high number of overwhelmingly positive reviews, meaning it’s a lot more trustworthy than some of the more shady apps out there.

1Blocker prevents most ads from appearing while you watch videos, search for memes, read various blog posts, and anything else you might do on the internet. It also prevents the majority of trackers and cookies from collecting little bits of information about you (e.g., stuff you search for on Google). This should hopefully clear up many of the annoyances you experience while browsing the internet.

Keep in mind that this is not a recommendation to block all ads; if you want to help support your favourite content creator on YouTube or continue reading the news from a specific website, why not turn on ads for those you feel deserve it?

. . .

At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.