Head of WhatsApp to Leave Company

The head of popular messaging service WhatsApp is planning to leave the company because of a reported disagreement over how parent company Facebook is using customers’ personal data. 

WhatsApp billionaire chief executive Jan Koum wrote in a Facebook post Monday, “It’s been almost a decade since (co-founder) Brian (Acton) and I started WhatsApp, and it’s been an amazing journey with some of the best people. But it is time for me to move on,” he said.

Koum did not give a date for his departure.

The Washington Post reported Monday that Koum is stepping down because of disagreements over Facebook’s attempts to use the personal data of WhatsApp customers, as well as efforts to weaken the app’s encryption. 

Action left the company last fall and since then has become a vocal critic of Facebook, recently endorsing a #DeleteFacebook social media campaign.

The Post, citing people familiar with internal WhatsApp discussions, said Koum was worn down by the differences in approach to privacy and security between WhatsApp and Facebook.

When WhatsApp agreed to the company’s sale to Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion, it said WhatsApp would remain an independent service and would not share its data with Facebook. 

However, 18 months later, Facebook pushed WhatsApp to change its terms of service to give the social network access to the personal data of WhatsApp users. 

WhatsApp is the largest messaging service in the world with 1.5 billion monthly users. However, Facebook has been struggling to find ways to make enough money from the app to prove its investment was worth the cost. 

Facebook has faced intense criticism since March when news broke that the personal data of millions of Facebook users had been harvested without their knowledge by Cambridge Analytica, a British voter profiling company that U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign hired to target likely supporters in 2016.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress earlier this month and apologized for inadequately protecting the data of millions of social media platform users. 

Facebook also recently announced it would allow all its users to shut off third-party access to their apps and said it would set up “firewalls” to ensure users’ data was not unwittingly transmitted by others in their social network.

Some members of Congress said Facebook’s actions to rectify the situation did not go far enough and have called for greater regulation of the internet and social media.

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Paper Plane Protesters Urge Russia to Unblock Telegram App

Thousands of people marched through Moscow, throwing paper planes and calling for authorities to unblock the popular Telegram instant messaging app on Monday.

Protesters chanted slogans against President Vladimir Putin as they launched the planes – a reference to the app’s logo.

“Putin’s regime has declared war on the internet, has declared war on free society… so we have to be here in support of Telegram,” one protester told Reuters.

Russia began blocking Telegram on April 16 after the app refused to comply with a court order to grant state security services access to its users’ encrypted messages.

Russia’s FSB Federal Security service has said it needs access to some of those messages for its work, that includes guarding against militant attacks.

In the process of blocking the app, state watchdog Roskomnadzor also cut off access to a slew of other websites.

Telegram’s founder, Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, called for “digital resistance” in response to the decision and promised to fund anyone developing proxies and VPNs to dodge the block.

More than 12,000 people joined the march on Monday, said White Counter, a volunteer group that counts people at protests.

“Thousands of young and progressive people are currently protesting in Moscow in defense of internet freedom,” Telegram’s Durov wrote on his social media page.

“This is unprecedented. I am proud to have been born in the same country as you. Your energy changes the world,” Durov wrote.

Telegram has more than 200 million global users and is ranked as the world’s ninth most popular mobile messaging service.

Iran’s judiciary has also banned the app to protect national security, Iranian state TV reported on Monday.

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State TV: Iran’s Judiciary Bans Using Telegram App

Iran’s judiciary has banned the popular Telegram instant messaging app to protect national security, Iran’s state TV reported Monday.

“Considering various complaints against Telegram social networking app by Iranian citizens, and based on the demand of security organizations for confronting the illegal activities of Telegram, the judiciary has banned its usage in Iran,” TV reported.

The order was issued days after Iran banned government bodies from using Telegram, which is widely used by Iranian state media, politicians, companies and ordinary Iranians.

A widespread government internet filter prevents Iranians from accessing many sites on the official grounds that they are offensive or criminal.

But many Iranians evade the filter through use of VPN software, which provides encrypted links directly to private networks based abroad, and can allow a computer to behave as if it is based in another country.

“The blocking of Telegram app should be in a way to prevent users from accessing it with VPN or any other software,” Fars said. The app had over 40 million users in Iran.

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ISS to Get a New Commander and AI Assistant

On June 6, a few months short of its 20th birthday, the International Space Station or ISS, is scheduled to receive its newest crew, including the new commander, German astronaut Alexander Gerst. While Gerst and other members of his team are undergoing rigorous training in NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Airbus engineers are preparing the first personal assistant to fly to the space. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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A Unique Window on Being Queer in Nigeria

“Whenever I was with her, I was open. I could talk … my sexuality does not define who I am.” 

These words are from a new book, “She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak.”

The new book, released this week, is a collection of interviews with two dozen women. It offers an unprecedented window into what it means to be a queer woman in Nigeria, where homosexuality is illegal.

Intimate interviews

The book recounts a series of intimate interviews with 25 lesbian Nigerian women of various religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“I’m really nervous and I’m also nervous about the reception of Nigerians to the book,” Woman A, as she asked to be referred to, told VOA.

Woman A, one of the women featured in the book, said most queer Nigerian women are like her, living in the closet.

In 2014, Nigeria banned same-sex marriage. The law is far-reaching. It also bans any cohabitation or public displays of affection, like kissing or hand holding, between same-sex partners. Anyone who breaks the law could face up to 14 years in prison. 

There is also a 10-year prison sentence for anyone who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs or organizations.

Human Rights Watch said with the law, Nigeria effectively criminalized being LGBTQ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.

That’s what makes this book so groundbreaking.

One woman reveals she lives with her partner in Abuja, which is illegal. She says it’s nice to wake up in the morning and have a cup of tea ready for her. Another woman speaks with anguish about the religious dilemma she faces being queer and Christian in Nigeria. 

Azeenarh Mohammed, one of the book’s editors, helped capture the one-on-one interviews. She said discussions of homosexuality in Africa focus on men. Lesbians have been excluded.

“There was an erasure of them. We said they really need to be heard and the reason why they hadn’t been heard is because the mic had not been passed to them. So we tried to do that with the book to let them be heard in their own voice with their own words,” Mohammed told VOA.

Bracing for a backlash

The book has garnered buzz on social media. Many people say they’re worried that homosexual lifestyles may become normalized in Nigerian society. Others say they have already pre-ordered the book in anticipation.

The book was published and released in the U.K., but the book’s editors say it will soon be available in Nigeria. They are bracing for backlash. In the past, the Nigerian government has banned controversial art, including books.

“Personally I’m curious, and I’m definitely going to read this book. To hear that there’s women talking about the fact that they’re queer and what they want to do is get with other women I think, to even be talking about it, I’m excited that we’re talking about it. I think this book is needed,” said Rosemary Ajuka, a feminist and media professional based in the Nigeria’s business hub of Lagos.

The book’s release comes as authorities in Kenya ban the new film by celebrated Kenyan director Waniru Kahiu. The film, called “Rafiki,” is a coming-of-age story about two girls falling in love. It will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the first feature-length Kenyan film ever to do so.

“Inxeba,” another controversial film won six South African Film and Television Awards in March, despite campaigns to ban it by community groups and political leaders. The film portrays two boys developing a sexual attraction for each other while participating in a cultural rite of passage ceremony for young men from the Xhosa ethnic group. The film was removed from some cinemas in the South Africa.

Optimistic but cautious

An oft-repeated sentiment is that homosexuality is un-African.

“Which is ridiculous, before just look at Nigeria for instance,” Mohammed said. “Homosexuality and queer identity is portrayed in the cultures of many ethnic groups and even across Africa, there is evidence that pre-dates colonialism that people were involved in same-sex romantic relationships.”

She said she’s hopeful that attitudes will change.

Asked what impact their book may have in Nigeria, Woman A is cautious.

“I wish someday I will be able to live openly, but until then…”

Until then, she said, she will keep living “in the closet.” 

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Parenting of the Future? Pick an Embryo

The future of parenting may see a big change as scientists and ethicists have a startling prediction about how children will be conceived in the future. Thanks to biomedical advances, parents may be able to choose a child from hundreds of embryos based on their DNA profile. Faith Lapidus reports.

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China Rapidly Expanding its Technology Sector

If you want your technology sector to expand rapidly, it pays to have strong support from the government, easy access to bank loans and a large market, hungry for your products. All this is available in China, where technology companies are expanding at a rapid pace — making other countries, including the U.S. — a bit uneasy. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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America’s Best Crafts Spotlighted at Smithsonian Show

The Smithsonian Craft Show is wrapping up this weekend, highlighting works from artists across the United States. From Washington, VOA’s Jill Craig has more.

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Comedian Draws Laughs, Gasps at Correspondents’ Dinner

If President Donald Trump isn’t comfortable being the target of jokes, comedian Michelle Wolf gave him and others plenty of reasons to squirm Saturday night.

“It’s 2018 and I’m a woman, so you cannot shut me up,” Wolf cracked, “unless you have Michael Cohen wire me $130,000.”

No, Trump’s personal attorney wasn’t there. And, for the second year, Trump himself skipped the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association, preferring to criticize journalists and others during a campaign-style rally near Detroit.

Wolf, the after-dinner entertainment for the White House press corps and their guests, was surprisingly racy for the venue and seemed more at home on HBO than C-SPAN. After one crass joke drew groans in the Washington Hilton ballroom, she laughed and said, “Yeah, shoulda done more research before you got me to do this.”

​Trump in Michigan

As he did last year, Trump flew to a Republican-friendly district to rally supporters on the same night as the dinner. In Washington Township, Michigan, the president assured his audience he’d rather be there than in that other city by that name.

“Is this better than that phony Washington White House Correspondents’ Dinner? Is this more fun?” Trump asked, sparking cheers.

“I could be up there tonight, smiling, like I love where they’re hitting you, shot after shot. These people, they hate your guts … and you’ve got to smile. If you don’t smile, they say, ‘He was terrible, he couldn’t take it.’ And if you do smile, they’ll say, “What was he smiling about?’”

Wolf’s act had some in the audience laughing and left others in stony silence. A blistering critique of press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was seated just feet away, mocked everything from her truthfulness to her appearance and Southern roots.

Among Wolf’s less offensive one-liners:

“Just a reminder to everyone, I’m here to make jokes, I have no agenda, I’m not trying to get anything accomplished, so everyone that’s here from Congress you should feel right at home.”
“It is kinda crazy that the Trump campaign was in contact with Russia when the Hillary campaign wasn’t even in contact with Michigan.”
“He wants to give teachers guns, and I support that because then they can sell them for things they need like supplies.”

Dimmed star power

The dinner once attracted Oscar winners and other notable performers in film and television as well as celebrities in sports and other high-profile professions. The star power dimmed appreciably last year when the famously thin-skinned Trump, who routinely slammed reporters as dishonest and their work as “fake news,” announced he wasn’t attending. He was the first president to skip the event since Ronald Reagan bowed out in 1981 as he recovered from an assassination attempt.

Unlike last year, when Trump aides also declined to attend, the Trump White House had its contingent, including counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Former administration officials were on hand, such as onetime press secretary Sean Spicer, ex-chief of staff Reince Priebus, former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and political aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman.

At least one Trump antagonist attended — porn star Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti, who tweeted that he and Conway had a “spirited discussion.” And there was comedian Kathy Griffin, who last year posted controversial video of herself holding what appeared to be Trump’s bloody head; she later apologized.

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Jazz Festival Remembers Fats Domino

Fats Domino was a New Orleans musical legend when he died last year, so it’s only fitting that he and his music receive a special send-off this year during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Organizers on Saturday marked the occasion with a jazz funeral as well as a special tribute performance in his honor. 

Al “Lil Fats” Jackson played the classic Domino song Blueberry Hill as crowds gathered at the festival’s ancestor area to remember Domino.

The festival unveiled a painting of Domino sitting at his piano to join the other paintings of luminaries associated with the festival who have died. 

One of Domino’s grandchildren, Angele Green, thanked the crowd for coming.

“In the words of my grandfather, let’s shake, rattle and roll,” she said.

Domino sold more than 110 million records, with hits including Blueberry Hill, Ain’t That a Shame and other standards of rock ‘n’ roll. 

Domino helped change popular music with his steady, pounding piano and easy baritone. Despite his fame, he always stayed loyal to New Orleans. After 2005’s Hurricane Katrina as floodwaters swept the city, he and his family were rescued by boat from his home but he lost three pianos and dozens of gold and platinum records and other memorabilia.

“There are two New Orleans musicians … that changed the music of the whole world. That’s Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino,” festival producer Quint Davis said before the festival, adding that he’d had a “wonderful time” going back and listening to Domino’s music to prepare for the festival.

Carolyn Stark of Ann Arbor, Mich., was part of the crowd. She said she’d seen Domino perform only once but wanted to pay her respects.

“He was so happy when he was playing,” she said, adding that the image had stuck in her memory.

Eather Reynolds of New Orleans said she often drives by the house where Domino lived for a long time in the city’s Lower 9th Ward neighborhood. She grew up listening to his music, which she described as part gospel and part jazz.

“But you could feel it in your soul,” she said. 

The tribute concert Saturday featured various members of Domino’s band who are still playing, as well as special musical guests like Bonnie Raitt and Jon Batiste.

The jazz funeral featured the Tornado Brass Band as well as three of the city’s social aid and pleasure clubs.

Domino is also featured on this year’s festival poster.

“He’s with us everywhere,” said Davis.

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Remembering Fats Domino: Funeral, Concert on Jazz Fest Day 2

Fats Domino was a New Orleans musical legend when he died last year so it’s only fitting that his death – and his music – receive a special send-off this year during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Organizers Saturday will mark the occasion with a jazz funeral as well as a special tribute performance in his honor.

Festival producer Quint Davis says there are two New Orleans musicians who “changed the music of the whole world.” One was Louis Armstrong and the other was Fats Domino.

The tribute concert Saturday will feature various members of Domino’s band who played with him. Special musical guests include Bonnie Raitt and Jon Batiste.

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Can a River Model Save Eroding Mississippi Delta?

Thousands of years of sediment carried by the Mississippi River created 25,000 square kilometers of land, marsh and wetlands along Louisiana’s coast. But engineering projects stopped the flow of sediment and rising seas thanks to climate change have made the Mississippi Delta the fastest-disappearing land on earth. Louisiana State University researchers created the river system in miniature to try to stop the erosion and rebuild the delta. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from Deborah Block.

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Genetics Help Spot Food Contamination

A new approach for detecting food poisoning is being used to investigate the recent outbreak of E.coli bacteria in romaine lettuce grown in the U.S. state of Arizona. The tainted produce has sickened at least 84 people in 19 states. The new method, used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, relies on genetic sequencing. And as Faiza Elmasry tells us, it has the potential to revolutionize the detection of food poisoning outbreaks. VOA’s Faith Lapidus narrates.

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Roycroft Campus: Where U.S. Craftsmanship Was Born

The Arts and Crafts movement began in Britain and flourished in Europe at the turn of the 19th century. It stood for traditional crafts and against mass-produced goods that were popular in the United States at the time. But Americans too joined the movement and established the Roycroft Campus, which continues to represent and support true American arts and crafts. Olga Loginova of VOA’s Russian Service visited the campus in New York state.

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Filmfest DC Brings International Films to the Capital

Filmfest DC is celebrating its 32nd year in the nation’s capital, by showcasing 80 films from 45 different countries to a politically savvy international audience. But the festival provides more than just entertainment. Over the years, the festival has become a cultural and economic force for a city known around the world for its bipartisan politics. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

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Critic of Burundi’s Leader May Use ‘Surprise’ Cannes Platform

When the 71st Cannes Film Festival opens in France next month, the jury will include a Burundian songwriter and singer who by her own admission, has nothing to do with films.

“It was a big surprise for me. First of all, I have no connection with that world of cinema. I was surprised that they chose me,” Khadja Nin told VOA’s Central Africa Service.  “This event is one of the biggest in the world and to be part of that prestigious jury is of course for me a great honor in a way.”

Nin does have great connections to the world of music, having won wide acclaim for albums stretching back to the 1990s.  That was likely her ticket to Cannes, where organizers strive to include personalities from the worlds of music and art as well as film.

Nin studied music at an early age, before leaving her home country to go to Europe some 40 years ago. Her albums are a mix of occidental pop music, African and afro-Cuban rhythms.

Criticize Nkurunziza?  Maybe.

Although she thinks the festival isn’t the best place to talk about the politics of Burundi, she would not shy away of speaking about it, if an opportunity arose.

“I have to see how it goes. I have no idea what will happen there. It is my first time in Cannes. Of course, I will take any opportunity to talk about my country and people,” she said.

Burundi has been plagued by deadly political violence since President Pierre Nkurunziza successfully sought a disputed third term in 2015. Hundreds have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled the country.


Nin has been an outspoken critic of Nkurunziza’s regime.

“He decided to go for a third term and that is one thing. The second thing is: In Burundi they still kill, they still torture they still rape and that cannot continue,” said Nin.

She says she won’t stop speaking out until the end of the crisis.

“We will sit down the day that stops. That is our mission. We cannot let these people kill our children, rape our sisters and mothers. That is not possible for us,” Nin said.

“This is my goal. Really my goal. It is a full time job for me, at this moment.”

Other jury members

Other 2018 Cannes jury members include Australian actress and producer Cate Blanchett, Chinese actor Chang Chen, American writer, director, producer Ava DuVernay, French director Robert Guédiguian  and French actress Léa Seydoux, American actress Kristen Stewart, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve and Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev.

The 71st Festival de Cannes runs from May 8 to 19.

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Social Media Stars Redefining Beauty

For the latest beauty and makeup trends, those in the know are ditching fashion magazines and logging on to social media. YouTube and Instagram influencers are redefining beauty standards. And as Tina Trinh reports, the industry is taking notice.

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Top 5 Songs for Week Ending April 28

We’re locking down the five most popular songs in the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles chart, for the week ending April 28, 2018.

For the second straight week, we welcome a Hot Shot Debut … this time at No. 1.

Number 5: BlocBoy JB Featuring Drake “Look Alive”

BlocBoy JB and Drake spend another week in fifth place with “Look Alive.”

Drake just delivered on a promise to students at Miami Senior High School. Earlier this year, he donated $25,000 to the school, while also promising the school new uniforms that he designed himself. This week, Drake previewed the new designs on Instagram … and you can see them by going on our Facebook page, VOA1TheHits.


Number 4: Post Malone & Ty Dolla $ign “Psycho”

Post Malone dips a notch to No. 4 with “Psycho,” featuring Ty Dolla $ign.

Ty is not the only guest appearing on Post’s “Beerbongs & Bentleys” album, out April 27. The set will feature 18 songs, with other guest stars being Swae Lee, 21 Savage, Nicki Minaj, and G-Eazy and YG.

Number 3: Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line “Meant To Be”

While Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line slip a slot to third place with “Meant To Be,” it remains the top song on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart for a 20th week. It’s only the third single to last that long at No. 1.

Sam Hunt held the title for 34 weeks with “Body Like A Back Road,” while Florida Georgia Line was in the driver’s seat for 24 weeks with “Cruise.”


Number 2: Drake “God’s Plan”

Drake ends his 11-week run at No. 1, as “God’s Plan” slips to second place. It lasted a respectable 11 weeks, but now it’s your runner-up.

Drake is accustomed to dominating chart records, but J Cole just stole some of his thunder. J. Cole racked up 64.5 million streams in the 24 hours after releasing his new album “KOD.” This is the most 24-hour album streams on Apple Music, eclipsing Drake’s previous record with “Views.”

Number 1: Drake “Nice For What”

Drake shouldn’t feel too bad, though, because he just replaced himself atop the Hot 100. “Nice For What” is your Hot Shot Debut in first place. Furthermore, Drake is the only artist to have both songs debut at No. 1 …proving he’s in a class by himself.

What will Drake do next? Join us in seven days and we’ll see for ourselves.

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Here We Go Again: ABBA Records First New Songs in 35 Years

Mamma Mia! The members of ABBA announced Friday that they have recorded new material for the first time in 35 years.

The Swedish pop supergroup said it had recorded two new songs, including one titled “I Still Have Faith in You.”

The news was announced in an Instagram statement from Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskog.

ABBA won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with “Waterloo” and had a sequin-spangled string of hits including “Dancing Queen” and “Take a Chance on Me” before splitting up in 1982.

The band’s statement said the members reunited to plan a virtual tour featuring digital avatars, and decided to go back into the studio.

ABBA said “it was like time had stood still and that we had only been away on a short holiday. An extremely joyous experience!”

“I Still Have Faith in You” is due to be performed by the group’s holograms in a December TV special broadcast by the BBC and NBC. There was no word on when the second track will be released.

Ulvaeus revealed earlier this month that digitally created virtual band members — “Abbatars” — would perform in a television show in 2018, followed by a tour in 2019 or 2020.

The band members have performed together just once since the 1980s, at a private party in 2016, and have long said they will never tour live together again.

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Anti-harassment Campaign Unrolled for Cannes Film Festival

Participants at the Cannes Film Festival will be given fliers warning “Proper Behavior Required” as part of an anti-sexual harassment campaign at the May 8-19 event.

The top women’s rights official for the French government announced Friday that she reached a deal with Cannes organizers for the campaign. It will include written warnings urging appropriate behavior and a hotline for victims and witnesses to report abuse.

Secretary of State for Women’s Affairs Marlene Schiappa noted that Cannes is one of the places where disgraced Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein allegedly raped and harassed women.

Schiappa’s office says the French government is urging other upcoming festivals and events to join the effort.

Film festivals have been soul-searching since the Weinstein scandal, rewriting codes of conduct and redoubling gender equality efforts.

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