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Empire Partner Foundation Hosts Great Kei Hackathon To Tackle Joblessness

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Tech nonprofit organisation Empire Partner Foundation recently held a historic hackathon to tackle youth unemployment in the Great Kei Municipality, Eastern Cape.

The two-day youth unemployment coding festival was designed to provide participants with the right mindset, tools, and confidence needed to see, assess and shape opportunities for launching new projects and ventures.

Young software developers were guided through a process of creating solutions to self-defined problems in an agile method, where testing the problems and validating solutions were crucial.

Empire Partner Foundation has taken a leading role in tackling youth unemployment through hackathons.

The non-profit organisation has in the last 18 months been preparing youths for employment by supporting them to become self-employed or even growing their businesses to create jobs for others.

The organisation has since 2016 been working with young software developers with scalable ideas to create new solutions using technology that impact social change and increase sustainability.

The foundation’s model is based on focusing, and selecting young software developers with the most promising tech business ideas that are scalable.

With this strategy, Empire Foundation is impacting the young and stimulating youths to tackle socio-economic challenges affecting communities.

The best business ideas and participants will be enrolled in the Empire Foundation business incubator, before being paced in the business accelerator program.

“The Great Kei Unemployment Hackathon served as a historical milestone for us at Empire Partner Foundation: 18 months and 18 hackathons, EPF has journeyed in hosting hackathons from 100% physical to hybrid and now for the first time 100% virtual,” says Jasmine Mokwena, marketing and hackathon coordinator at Empire Foundation.

New Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic Will Enable Youth To Become Future Job Creators

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The pandemic has created a Covid-19-apocalypse of unemployment. In the first quarter of 2021, Statistics South Africa reported these alarming figures for youth unemployment:

• Youth account for 60% of total unemployment
• 46.3% of youth aged 15-43, and over 63% aged 15-24 are unemployed
• 40% of graduates aged 15-24, and 15% of graduates aged 25-34 are unemployed
• 32.4% of youth aged 15-24 are not in employment, education or training
At the same time, the youth population in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to double to over 830 million by 2050, bringing unprecedented opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation.

With this in mind, the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Arica, today launched the Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic (WEC).

The Clinic, based in the Wits School of Business Science, is one of 24 projects in Africa that successfully bid for funding from the inaugural Innovation for African Universities (IAU) programme, a new initiative developed by the British Council’s Going Global Partnerships programme that seeks to support the development of Africa-UK partnerships that can build institutional capacity for universities to develop entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems in selected African countries.

The University of Edinburgh with whom Wits has a long-standing partnership, is the UK partner in the project, together with ecosystem players – the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct and the Africa Circular Economy Network.

“Young entrepreneurs are one of the country’s best hopes in solving the jobs crisis. However, according to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report, South Africa’s Total Entrepreneurial Activity is behind the average of other economies with a GDP per capita of less than $20,000, and one reason is that entrepreneurship as a career trajectory has historically received little support at university level.

“The Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic aims to strengthen the role of universities in the entrepreneurship ecosystem to enable young entrepreneurs to become the future job creators and the drivers of economic development in Africa,” says Dr Rob Venter, Project Leader for the WEC and Senior Lecturer in Management in the Wits School of Business Sciences.

To achieve this, experiential learning and evidence-based management, together with a structured mentorship programme, will help develop senior commerce students to become clinicians who will provide professional and quality business advice to entrepreneurs within the University community and general public. In doing so, the students will develop business acumen and improve their overall employability.

The Clinic will also bring together academic staff, alumni, volunteers, and entrepreneurial business leaders, to develop a culture of and appreciation for entrepreneurship as a viable alternative to employment whilst at the same time provide support to budding entrepreneurs in surrounding communities.

Thinking big

WEC also aims to encourage and develop enterprises that are centered on grand challenges. In particular, entrepreneurial opportunities that address challenges related to climate change and the circular economy will be encouraged.

Towards building an innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem at Wits

Universities have a pivotal role to play in fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship for the good of the world.

“That is why, in celebrating its centenary this year, Wits has identified catalysing innovation and entrepreneurship as one of eight strategic priority areas for the next 100 years,” says Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University.

“Wits’ origins are bed-rocked in the entrepreneurial spirit of the mining revolution in South Africa. A hundred years ago it was this spirit flaming the need for higher education and training that led to the establishment of the University in 1922.”

“It is only fitting that in its Centenary, Wits is returning to its roots by creating space, offering knowledge, and commitment to help foster entrepreneurship that is desperately needed for the country to address burgeoning poverty and unemployment levels,” says Vilakazi.

The Clinic is one of the first initiatives aligned with Wits’ recently approved Strategic Plan for Innovation. As part of this strategic plan Wits has set up the Wits Innovation Centre (WIC) that will coordinate all innovation-related activities at the University. A R50 million endowment was also received to establish the Angela and David Fine Chair in Innovation. Wits’ Director for Innovation Strategy, Professor Barry Dwolatzky, says “the WIC and WEC are both part of a key drive to create an innovation and entrepreneurship mindset at Wits as we enter our second century”.

Reducing Your Risk When All Your Information Is Out There

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Anyone who uses banking and financial services, social media, mobile apps or has retail accounts has shared their personal information far and wide across digital systems. Preventing identity theft and protecting yourself against scams has become more difficult in this new environment.

It is virtually impossible to avoid having personal data circulating in the digital realm.

Social media and messaging platforms, web browsers and mobile apps already have access to vast amounts of data about each user. You can choose not to use social media or digital tools to avoid this, but it is not very practical to do so, and would exclude you from some of the modern digital conveniences. Even if you did so, your data would still reside in the digital realm through banking accounts, utilities, loans and more. As we saw in high profile hacks like the TransUnion breach, there is no guarantee that your information is safe with major enterprises like these either.

A report by Clario entitled the Big Brother Brands report noted that brands can collect data including your name, date of birth and email address, through to your weight and height, pets, hobbies and preferences. Brands you do business with may also have access to your payment information, bank card details, geographic location and movements, purchasing history, family contacts and more.

The report ranked Facebook and Instagram as brands with the most information about users, including face, environment and product recognition, contacts, voice data recognition, access to your image library and language. But other brands like Google, Uber, TikTok, Spotify and Twitter also have access to vast amounts of data about users.

This data is generally gathered to make apps and services more efficient and relevant, or to tailor marketing. But in the wrong hands, this data makes people very vulnerable. Because our personal information is such a hot commodity, we need to be even more vigilant about how it could be used for identity theft, or to defraud us through phishing. It is important to remember that social engineering is much easier if an adversary has a great deal of background information about you: for example, you might believe your bank is calling you if they know your ID number, account number, address and other personal details. You could then be tricked into sharing your one-time PIN and have money stolen as a result.

As an individual, you need to be aware that our information is being traded not only by marketers, but also by adversaries. We cannot control a large company being hacked, or if Facebook changes its terms and conditions, but we can protect ourselves by being mindful of the fact that people could be trying to trick us by using legitimate information against us.

I recommend basic precautionary measures such as not using the same password across multiple accounts, not clicking on suspicious links and never sharing your one-time PIN or banking PIN code with a caller. Consumers should also check their credit score and credit card statements frequently to pick up potential cases of identity theft or fraud.

  • Anna Collard, SVP Content Strategy & Evangelist at KnowBe4 Africa

SA’s FinTech Player Bitventure Buys EasyDebit

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Johannesburg based FinTech company, Bitventure, a provider of state-of-the-art real-time automated verification and payment solutions, has acquired industry leading smart payment provider EasyDebit. The acquisition is set to bolster the company’s efforts to protect businesses against fraud while facilitating payment collections to increase cashflow and optimise onboarding processes.

Bitventure CEO Junior Biola points out that fraud has become a growing concern in the post-pandemic world. “With online commerce growing significantly, cybercrime and fraud has become a real challenge for many companies. Consider, for example, that according to the 2022 PWC Global Economic Crime and Fraud survey, 46% of companies interviewed have experienced some form of fraud or other economic crime within the past two years.” he says.

The problem isn’t limited to organisations. In fact, South Africa’s Insurance Crime Bureau (SAICB) has found that the incidence of impersonation fraud has grown by 337% in 2020.

Bitventure’s identity, biometric and bank account verification services help clients to reduce their onboarding risk and increase revenue by identifying fraudsters before they become customers. Through its acquisition of EasyDebit, Bitventure is able to provide clients with full credit lifecycle solutions, from onboarding to payment collections.

Revenue collection is gaining increased attention for the same reason, Biola adds, noting that EasyDebit’s suite of products targets these issues directly. With services like DebiCheck and Strike Date Optimisation, the company has established itself as a leader in its field, assisting clients to improve their collection success rates.

Now, with the acquisition of EasyDebit, both companies are poised to enhance their offerings. The move makes sense as there is a natural affinity between EasyDebit and Bitventure.

EasyDebit’s DebiCheck system is used to electronically authenticate a debit order by customers on a once-off basis, reducing the number of debit orders being disputed and thereby increasing revenue. Another offering, Strike Date Optimisation is a once-off process that, through customer information intelligence, identifies the best dates to enact a debit. This allows companies to debit their customers when funds are most likely to be available, thus reducing the risk of failed debits and increasing the success rates of collections. The costs associated with tracking and resubmitting debits is also reduced. These offerings are now supported by Bitventure’s verification services. Bank account verification services operate in real time, matching a potential customer’s provided bank account details with those stored in their bank’s database. Again, this makes it possible to take a proactive stance against fraud, at the same time reducing the risk of non-payment and enhancing the integrity of stored data.

Bitventure
Bitventure

Identity verification, meanwhile, makes it possible to verify customers’ identity, again in real time, using nothing more than an ID number to plug into the database of the Department of Home Affairs along with biometric verification that makes it possible to match a fingerprint to an ID number and retrieve the associated ID photo and personal information. This is an effective way to protect companies against fraud, while allowing them to vet new customers quickly. These services are offered through API integration into existing client IT infrastructure or through an online portal.

Biola explains that the relationship between the two companies spans eight years, creating a firm mutual understanding of each other’s businesses.

The acquisition creates the opportunity for growth, allowing for vertical channel optimisation, with the marriage of two best of breed companies allowing for an increased scope of services and expertise based on their joint product sets.

“We are very pleased to be able to offer our customers enhanced services that will make it easier for companies to collect funds and protect themselves against fraud, ultimately allowing them to operate at their peak,” Biola concludes.

A Three-Pronged Solution To Poor Confidence In Stablecoins

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Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are seen by many as a new form of money. Others query whether these alternative assets truly meet the definition of money from a practical point of view.

‘Money’ is defined by three pillars being: a store of value; a medium of exchange; and as a unit of account.

This latter pillar is the point of contention given the volatility associated with cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. The volatility of cryptocurrencies made it difficult for users to transact in these cryptocurrencies as the price would fluctuate strongly on a second-to-second basis. This exposed holders of cryptocurrency to unacceptable levels of market risk. This concern was responded to with an innovation called a stablecoin.

Stablecoins solved this issue of volatility by being pegged 1:1 to fiat currencies such as the US dollar which consequently gave it a stable value that allowed it to be seen as a unit of account. In essence what was created was a cryptocurrency able to move over the internet through the use of blockchain technology similar to its peers but without the volatility

Two similar yet quite different types of stablecoin were then brought to market. The first was a stablecoin collateralised by fiat currencies held in the bank account of the issuer. The second was an algorithmic stablecoin which holds, buys and sells various underlying cryptocurrencies and by doing this it mimics the US dollar price through this balancing act. However, recently we saw the catastrophic flaw posed by this model, when TerraLuna’s algorithmic stablecoin known as the UST became de-pegged from the US dollar and ultimately led to billions of dollars being wiped off the crypto market in a few days.

This raised the question of whether the simpler method of holding fiat as collateral and issuing stablecoins might not be the better option as opposed to such algorithmic stablecoins. Today’s most prominent US dollar stablecoin known as USDT and created by Tether, is currently the most transacted stablecoin in the world. The business model of Tether is fairly straightforward in that a KYC (Know Your Customer)-verified Tether user – be it an exchange, an individual trader, a business merchant or a trading firm – deposits fiat (US dollar) into Tether’s bank account whereafter Tether issues the customer with USDT tokens issued on existing blockchains such as Ethereum.

STABLECOIN
Wiehann Olivier

Tether then holds these fiat currencies as collateral which provides the primary and secondary holder of the USDT token with the reassurance that their token is actually worth US$1. However, this business model too was not without flaws as Tether was fined US$41 million in 2021 to settle allegations where they falsely claimed their digital tokens were fully backed by real world fiat currencies. So many may well ask – what then is the solution based on what we have learned from these historical events?

My view favours a threefold solution: one that has a combination of independence, transparency and clear segregation. This solution addresses another potential weakness that has yet to materialise: what if a company issuing these stablecoins is sued resulting in the claimant having equal rights over the collateral alongside the token holders? Effectively if the company would have to declare bankruptcy or enter liquidation as a result of a claim it would lead to a discounted and de-pegged token as the company’s assets would not exceed the liability that should have been collateralised. It is for this reason that reserves of the fiat currency need to be segregated from the business in its entirety to alleviate the risk posed by the day-to-day operations of the token issuer.

Ideally, the issuer of the stablecoin would create a separate legal entity such as a trust whereby the beneficiaries of the trust are the token holders. There would be a mandate that the trust is required to keep a diversified interest-bearing portfolio of fiat-backed funds with various commercial banks to diversify the firm-specific risk. The interest earned should then be used to pay the issuer of the tokens a management fee, keep a predetermined reserve of fiat to cover the expected credit losses of these commercial banks as well as to have an independent auditor issue annual and/or interim audited financial statements and/or monthly or quarterly proof of reserve reports that are available to the public.

Such a segregated and transparent structure with independent confirmation will provide the holders of these stablecoin with security, and the transparency required to trust the issuer and have confidence that their stablecoin will not be de-pegged from the underlying fiat currency.

aYo Looks To The Cloud To Power The Future Of Microinsurance

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African insurtech aYo Holdings has taken the next step in its ongoing technology transformation by rolling out a cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to underpin its ambitious growth plans across the continent.

aYo, which is 100% owned by MTN, has more than 16 million enrolled customers using its microinsurance products across Uganda, Ghana, Zambia and Côte d’Ivoire, with a vision of growing into the largest financial services technology platform in Africa by providing a range of affordable and accessible micro financial services products.

The company’s new Oracle NetSuite ERP system replaces its previous on-premise solution, which was battling to support the needs of a rapidly-scaling business. aYo Chief Financial Officer Adrian Kloke says the implementation will give aYo the control, agility and cost efficiency it needs to support its rapid growth and capture new market opportunities.

“Having one unified cloud-based platform that is agile and flexible for our business needs today will improve our business operations across the entire organisation. NetSuite will also help us standardise operations, enhance business insights and serve our customers more efficiently from a scalability perspective, and ultimately enhance future saleability,” said Kloke.

The implementation was rolled out by Oracle NetSuite Solution Provider, Linked ERP, which has an established track record of helping businesses migrate from legacy software to the NetSuite ERP platform. Kloke said Linked ERP ‘stood head and shoulders’ above other vendors in the space, making them a natural choice for the project.

“By digitising business processes with scalable and secure business management systems, businesses can support greater growth, expansion, and profitability. aYo has implemented a powerful cloud platform that will provide the visibility and control needed to drive growth and build business resilience,” said Linked ERP’s Managing Director, Carel Bouwer.

aYo’s journey to the cloud has already seen the company embark on a wide-ranging overhaul of its technology back end and data management approach. Last year, it transitioned to a cloud data warehousing approach, using Snowflake as a solution, as there was a need to grow and leverage high volumes of customer data more effectively.

“As our customers transition to a world where financial services are easily accessible via mobile phones and transact via apps and other channels, we need to respond with a platform business model that will allow us to scale rapidly while cost-effectively managing material volumes of nano transactions,” said Kloke.

 

How Visionary Scientist Bernie Fanaroff Put African Astronomy On The Map

Recent decades have seen remarkable growth in astronomy on the African continent. Africa enjoys pristine dark skies and vast radio quiet zones, making it the ideal home for many advanced telescopes trained on our galaxy and beyond.

For instance, Namibia hosts the High Energy Spectroscopic System (HESS), which is an impressive gamma-ray telescope. The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) in the small South African town of Sutherland is the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. The MeerKAT telescope in South Africa’s arid and sparsely populated Karoo region is one of the world’s most powerful radio telescopes. It is also one of the precursor telescopes that have been built in preparation for an almighty radio telescope called the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

The SKA is an international mega-science project. Part of it will be built in South Africa and will incorporate MeerKAT. The other part will be built in Western Australia. Construction of the SKA is expected to begin this year.

Through these and other projects, Africa is beginning to emerge as a world leader in astronomy. Many brilliant scientists contribute to this status – but without one, Dr Bernie Fanaroff, the SKA might never have come to South African shores.

We are both astronomers and, in March 2019 launched a podcast, The Cosmic Savannah, to showcase the amazing astronomy and astrophysics coming out of the African continent. When we reached the 50th episode, Bernie was the obvious guest for the landmark occasion.

Who better than Bernie, we thought, to reflect on how the discipline reached this point.

Episode 50: Titans of Astronomy.
The Cosmic Savannah, CC BY-NC-ND121 MB (download)

Globally famous

Fanaroff is one of the key individuals responsible for the current growth and strength of astronomy in South Africa. He is a world-renowned radio astronomer who, while working on his PhD at Cambridge University in the early 1970s, made a breakthrough discovery about radio galaxies. Radio galaxies contain supermassive black holes at their cores which spew out huge jets of plasma and glow at radio wavelengths.

Bernie and his collaborator, a British astronomer named Julia Riley, were some of the first people to examine high-resolution images of such radio galaxies. They noticed that the luminosity of a radio galaxy was closely related to the shape of the plasma jets. This led to what became known as the “Fanaroff-Riley” classification system, still used today, in which galaxies are grouped by their “Fanaroff-Riley” type.

But it took decades for Fanaroff to learn that a classification system had been named partly in his honour. He left the field of astronomy shortly after completing his PhD. Incensed by the poor treatment of workers in apartheid South Africa, he joined the National Union of Metalworkers, eventually becoming its national secretary. He later served in Nelson Mandela’s government, beginning in 1994.

Come 2003, he attended an astronomy conference – and discovered he was world famous. He told us:

One or two people said to me, ‘Are you the Fanaroff of Fanaroff-Riley?’ This was actually news to me. And they said, ‘We thought you were dead! We heard you’d died because nobody’s heard anything of you since, you know, 1974.’ So I said, ‘No, I haven’t died and it is me,’ but it was all a bit of a surprise.

After this, Fanaroff returned to astronomy: he became the project director for South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array Telescope. Both South Africa and Australia were finalists in the bid; in 2012 it was decided by the international SKA consortium that the telescope would be split between both sites.

A long-term vision

Fanaroff and his colleague, Professor Justin Jonas, drove the bid. In our interview, he recalled:

So [Jonas] said, if we’re going to have the world’s largest telescope in South Africa and in Africa, we better develop a community of radio astronomers and engineers who can build it and use it. So we were able to persuade our steering committee that we should start building a precursor.

Some of the dishes that make up the MeerKAT, a precursor to the SKA, in South Africa’s Karoo region.
Mujahid Safodien/AFP via Getty Images

The project quickly became about more than just science: it also drove human capacity development in South African astronomy. At the time of the SKA bid there were only five or six radio astronomers in the country.

He explained:

“We decided very early on that we had to focus on getting the young people into science and making sure that we could develop them. So we put aside money for grants for undergraduate study in physics and engineering, for postgraduate study, for masters and PhD students, for research fellows.”

Ultimately, it was this long-term vision which led to Bernie and his team landing the biggest global scientific project in Africa.

A bright age of astronomy

Thanks to people like Bernie, the future is bright for African astronomy. His message to young researchers, he said on the podcast, is:

I think that you’re actually in a golden age of astronomy and I really envy you and the other young people who are coming into astronomy. Now you’ve got the MeerKAT, but you’ll soon have the SKA, which will be a wonderful telescope.

He added: “You’ll have the (James Webb Space Telescope), which will be a revolutionary optical and infrared telescope. You’ve got all the other new telescopes, the Extremely Large Telescope (in Chile), gamma-ray telescopes. And of course, you’ve now got gravitational wave telescopes. So you’re in a golden age where you’re going to be having so many opportunities.”The Conversation

Daniel Cunnama, Science Engagement Astronomer, South African Astronomical Observatory, South African Astronomical Observatory and Jacinta Delhaize, Lecturer, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

SA Weather Service Warning: Snow, Cold, Wet Weekend

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The South African Weather Service (SAWS) has warned of cold and wet weather in large parts of South Africa from Thursday into the weekend.

“A steep upper-air trough system will develop into a cut-off low-pressure system over the north-western interior of the country by Friday,” said SAWS.

“Widespread rainfall can be expected over the southern and central parts of the country from Thursday onwards, with light snowfalls likely over the mountainous, high-lying areas of the Western and Eastern Cape, spreading to the Lesotho Drakensberg regions by the weekend, where heavier falls are anticipated.”

SAWS said light snowfalls can also be expected over the high-lying ground of south-eastern and eastern Free State.

“24-hour rainfall accumulations of 25 to 35 mm can also be expected over the drought-stricken parts of the Eastern Cape,” warned the weather service.

“Moreover, there is also the possibility of isolated severe storms, accompanied by strong winds and large amounts of small hail over the central and eastern interior.”

SAWS said it will issue detailed radar-based warnings should the need arise.

SA Startup Aims To Grow Africa’s Footprint In AI And Data Labelling

South African tech start-up Enlabeler has closed its funding round with venture capital firms Kingson Capital and E4E Africa, as well as the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

Started in 2019, Enlabeler is a data labeling provider that offers high-quality data services, including data classification, annotation and data labeling for businesses globally. Enlabeler is taking aim at the local youth unemployment crisis by providing contract-based employment and growth opportunities for young unemployed people in South Africa and Kenya.

The spark of inspiration behind Enlabeler was ignited when Founder and CEO (Chief Executive Officer) Esther Hoogstad wrote a research paper on how the SA tech sector could help create digitally enabled micro-jobs for the underutilised youth demographic. In the process, Hoogstad met two enthusiastic entrepreneurs, Pieter Boon and Koen Bonenkamp, in the AI and Data Science industry, which led to the official birth of Enlabeler.

The current leadership team with Ridha Moosa and Pieter van der Merwe – among others – has grown to become a team of domain experts in this field, with both data science and DevOps experience. They are accelerating their innovative footprint to support the labelers with strong tech and operational processes.

Hoogstad expands on the company’s inception: “The global market for AI applications has grown by a CAGR of 38% and is projected to surpass around 1,59 USD billion by 2030. The global data labelling market alone is expected to increase to USD 8.2 billion by 2028. We noticed that worldwide, data scientists and machine learning engineers need high-quality datasets to train and inform their working models. This trend is only recently gaining momentum in South Africa.

Enlabeler
Enlabeler

“Accelerated by COVID-19 and the corresponding lockdown, many companies have been digitising and automating their business processes using ML (Machine Learning). As Enlabeler started working completely remotely during lockdown, we had to develop a robust tech foundation to service clients globally. At the same time, the team had to be inventive in recruiting, selecting and training labellers using online tools. This is now being supported by our permanent team of reviewers and project managers based all over South Africa and Kenya.”

For the layperson, Enlabeler’s services incorporate image and video annotation – or labelling video frames and images to inform ML models and algorithms. ML is a crucial component in AI applications and requires large volumes of trained and untrained datasets that need to be “labelled” by humans to “teach” the machines. The company’s other services include speech and audio transcriptions; translations of video and audio content to local languages to increase market reach; text classification, and sentiment analysis. All of which give Enlabeler a distinct advantage over global competitors.

Kingson Capital’s Ross Jenvey says, “We see many pitch decks from various tech start-ups, but Enlabeler stood out for its multi-pronged potential. That is, the company has a selection of highly-innovative services with vast commercial possibilities; plus, it offers immense scope for employment growth in the most underserviced local population group – young, often unskilled or unqualified job seekers.”

Kingson Capital’s Gladwyn Leeuw says, “With Enlabeler, we see the beginning of a future where technology creates widespread employment opportunities on the African continent. We hope to shatter the perception of technology as a force that adversely affects job creation or ‘replaces’ human elements. Rather, technology has the potential to create a whole new generation of African tech professionals, leveraging innovation to grow the continent’s economic footprint and boost every individual’s earning potential in the long-term.”

“To create earning opportunities that South Africans from low-income households need to support themselves and their families, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation invests in organizations that provide training for placement in in-demand jobs or connections to livelihood earning opportunities at scale. This new funding partnership allows Enlabeler to expand on its ability to provide training and enabling infrastructure to more labellers throughout the country, removing the barriers to earning faced by many,” says Ona Meyer, program manager, youth employment, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

Facebook Dating Was Set To Take Over The Market – Instead It Was Dead In The Water

Facebook Inc, now called Meta, announced its dating application, Facebook Dating, in May 2018. There was real excitement, with people expecting a revolutionary dating app that would soon beat Tinder.

And it is no wonder, when you consider the size of the company, its technical capabilities, and most importantly the large volume of data that Facebook has collected about its users. After all, research shows that Facebook knows us better than our mums, so why wouldn’t it live up to its goal of creating “meaningful relationships”?

But four years later, it hasn’t taken over the market – most people have simply forgotten about it. Numerous reports claim the dating app practically doesn’t function. Facebook’s own data suggest not many people use the service – about 300,000 in New York, compare with the claimed 3 million Bumble users in New York.

As an online dating technology researcher, I had an eye on Facebook Dating since its announcement. But as I never heard anything about its market success, it took me a while to look into it. Now, I think I have a good idea why the app failed.

My experiment

When I activated my Facebook Dating profile (out of a pure academic curiosity), I was overwhelmed by the number of very attractive profiles that I was exposed to in the first few hours. I started pressing “like”, soon receiving “match” notifications, meaning people had also “liked” me.

My own research shows that receiving a positive signal on a dating app for a male heterosexual user is a rather rare event. Nevertheless, my phone didn’t stop buzzing for hours. But I started checking the profiles and soon realised this was too good to be true – with the matches seemingly out of my league.

To see what was going on, I started chatting. I didn’t have ethics clearance from my university for full-on research, therefore I made it clear on my profile I was there just for chatting.

But writing a couple of messages to one person, I got a phone number and an invitation to take things to WhatsApp. My past work has shown this usually happens after at least 20 messages and within three to four days. This was light-speed-dating – according to science.

Within a few hours, I had a long list of attractive matches who all wanted to talk to me “about interesting things” – not on the app, but on WhatsApp. Interestingly, nobody sent me an Irish number (often UK or Polish), even though they all lived in Ireland, supposedly.

They all wanted to chat about interesting things on WhatsApp.

Things got even more weird quickly. Not only did the text messages look very similar, but also the profile names including Lily, Sandra and Miriam gradually turned to Tomasz, Moises and Andrew, as I continued liking and matching on the app. When I asked “Andrew” from Japan if “her” name is common for girls in Japan, she said it’s her German name. Tomasz, aka Diana, said it’s her ex-boyfiriend’s name and Moises didn’t reply.

At this point, I started to suspect that I was dealing with an organised phishing campaign with the goal of having my phone number via a WhatsApp chat combined with my name, and heaven knows what would come next.

A rather unconventional naming convention.

If there is one social network company who could verify the authenticity of its users, it would be Facebook/Meta. The wealth of data that we have shared with the app makes it very easy for them to verify the accounts. In fact, we rely on Facebook athentication system to login to many other services and apps, including Tinder and Bumble.

Why then didn’t Facebook bother to remove all these fake profiles?

Trouble on the horizon

Facebook Dating coincided with all sorts of scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica one, and parliamentary questioning. Maybe an invasive use of personal data for matching purposes would have raised more angry voices. It seems the original vision for Facebook Dating may have been dead in the water before it was properly launched.

The rather primitive design of the app suggests that there was little attempt to compete with the existing dating apps. Your experience would be similar to your experience on Tinder ten years ago.

It seems most likely intentional that Meta allows fake accounts to lurk around Facebook Dating. There are simply aren’t many real users. If the fake accounts are removed the app practically becomes empty and Facebook wants us to see many profiles to stay around the app a bit longer.

So what can we learn from all this? It might be hard for users to detect fake accounts on dating apps immediately, therefore it is important not to share your phone number, and other private information before a level of trust is built. Eager invitations to take things to the next level, generic profile descriptions and rather inconsistent replies to your messages could be all bad signs to be ware of.

For the first time since its launch in 2004, the number of Facebook users stopped growing this past quarter. And as many of us are speculating, this may be a reason why the company has chosen to change its name to separate Meta from Facebook, the social network, and attempt to focus on other areas, such as the metaverse. So perhaps the failure of Facebook Dating was an early sign that Facebook’s problems ran deep.

The Conversation approached Meta for a comment but didn’t get a reply.The Conversation

Taha Yasseri, Associate Professor, School of Sociology; Geary Fellow, Geary Institute for Public Policy, University College Dublin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.