Taylor Swift’s social media a blank space

Taylor Swift, one of the most popular celebrities on social media, has wiped all her accounts, sending fans into a frenzy over whether the pop singer has been hacked, is preparing to launch a new album, or about to reinvent herself.

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On Friday Swift, who has 85 million Twitter followers and 102 million Instagram followers, deleted all of her Instagram photos, her posts on Tumblr, and removed her avatar from her Facebook page where all postings prior to December 2015 were missing.

The Blank Space singer also deleted years of Twitter posts, and her official website showed just a black screen.

“I’m scared to go to sleep thanks to Taylor Swift like what if she drops a new song,” tweeted an anxious fan called Anu using the handle @shadesoftaylor.

Taylor’s publicist did not return calls for comment, but the development follows a busy two weeks for Swift, who earlier this month ended a six month absence from the public spotlight to testify at a high-profile groping trial in Denver, Colorado.

Swift, 27, was on Monday awarded the symbolic $US1 in damages that she had sought after a federal jury in Denver found that a radio DJ had grabbed her bottom while posing for a photo with her in 2013.

Her unflinching testimony describing the incident was applauded by fans and women’s rights groups for highlighting the issue of sexual assault. Swift later made a donation to the sexual violence campaign and support group Joyful Heart Foundation.

Some fans speculated on Friday that Swift, whose last album was the best-selling 1989 in 2014, may be clearing out her accounts before releasing new music.

Others wondered if she had been hacked, while some thought the country-turned-pop star might be planning an image makeover.

Usually ubiquitous on social media and red carpets, Swift largely dropped out of public view earlier this year after a highly publicised but short-lived 2016 summer fling with British actor Tom Hiddleston, and feuds with Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Katy Perry.

Germany can teach US how to mitigate hate

Given Germany’s grim history as the home of National Socialism and its efforts to atone for its genocidal past, it may seem surprising far-right extremists who glorify a dead Nazi official are allowed to march.

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Police in Berlin have given far-right extremists permission to hold a 500-person strong rally commemorating the death of Adolf Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess in the city’s western district of Spandau.

There is, however, a catch.

Organisers they can march, but they’re not allowed to glorify Hess, who died at Spandau prison 30 years ago.

The neo-Nazis are allowed to bring banners: but only one for every 50 participants.

Military music is strictly forbidden, unless a court overturns that rule before Saturday’s march.

Such restrictions are common in Germany and rooted in the experience of the pre-war Weimar Republic, when opposing political groups would try to forcibly interrupt their rivals’ rallies, resulting in frequent bloody street violence, said Sven Richwin, a Berlin lawyer.

The exact rules differ according to the circumstances, but police in Germany generally try to balance protesters’ rights to free speech and free assembly against the rights of counter-demonstrators and residents, he said.

“Anything intimidating is ‘verboten,”‘ Richwin told The Associated Press on Friday.

The rules mean that shields, helmets and batons carried by far-right and Neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville last weekend wouldn’t be allowed in Germany. Openly anti-Semitic chants would prompt German police to intervene, although efforts would be made to detain specific individuals rather than to stop an entire rally, said Richwin.

Left-wing groups expect about 1000 people to attend counter-protests on Saturday in Spandau.

Hess, who received a life sentence at the Nuremberg trials for his role in planning World War II, died on August 17, 1987. Allied authorities ruled his death a suicide, but Nazi sympathisers have long claimed he was killed.

In 2014, residents and former far-right extremists got donors to pledge 10 euros ($A15.75) toward a Nazi rehab program for every meter that the Hess supporters marched. The stunt and similar ones elsewhere in Germany have since collected tens of thousands of euros to help people leave Germany’s neo-Nazis scene.

New police boss after Damond shooting

Minneapolis City Council members have unanimously confirmed a new police chief after his predecessor was ousted following an officer’s fatal shooting of an Australian woman who had called 911 for help.

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Medaria Arradondo, a 28-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, became the city’s first black police chief in a vote that was greeted by lengthy applause.

The Minneapolis native told council members he was determined to serve “the 400,000 bosses that I’m responsible for”.

Arradondo, 50, replaces Janee Harteau, who stepped down after the mayor asked for her resignation following the July 15 shooting of Justine Damond.

Damond had called police to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. She was fatally shot as she approached the responding squad car in the alley. Investigators said Damond was unarmed when she was shot once in the stomach by Officer Mohamed Noor.

His partner, Matthew Harrity, told investigators that he was startled by a loud noise right before Damond approached their police SUV. Noor has declined to be interviewed by investigators.

The state’s investigation of Damond’s death continues.

A spokeswoman for the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation declined Friday to give any detailed update.

Neither officer’s body camera was switched on at the time of Damond’s shooting, drawing widespread criticism of the department.

Harteau was absent from the city for several days following the shooting, and was forced out just a day after her return. Mayor Betsy Hodges said she had lost confidence in the chief.

Anger in Barcelona over lax security

Spanish authorities are under fire from shocked Barcelona residents and holiday makers for not better protecting the city’s most famous thoroughfare against a deadly van attack in the heart of a packed tourist haunt.

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Thirteen people were killed on Thursday afternoon when a van driven by a suspected Islamist militant mounted a pedestrian walkway running down Las Ramblas avenue in central Barcelona, mowing down crowds strolling along the boulevard.

It was the latest in a series of such attacks that have killed more than 100 people across Europe in 13 months. In the worst, a truck killed 86 people in Nice last July.

“It was practically bound to happen over here, especially after what happened in Nice,” said Gabriel Rabarte, 50, a security guard at a shopping centre just off the Ramblas. “They should have put some (bollards) there, or something.”

Residents and workers said they had long feared the area could be a target for attacks and questioned why authorities in the city and police had not permanently installed bollards or barriers to stop vehicles from attempting to mow down pedestrians.

Others said authorities had to balance security needs with protecting tourism – a sector sensitive to an overly visible police presence – and preserving the life-style of residents.

Spanish authorities have previously placed concrete blocks to secure vulnerable areas, and Barcelona had temporarily taken such steps in some central avenues during New Year celebrations.

The city had also banned large trucks from accessing central areas in that period, as had Madrid.

In spite of the security concerns many in Barcelona shrugged off fears of attack to pay their respects to victims on Friday.

By midday thousands of people had returned the Ramblas area, gathering in a nearby square, chanting “We are not afraid”.

Police were inspecting backpacks and handbags belonging to people trying to access the area as a precaution.

China’s smart city plan to boost surveillance

In the west of Beijing there’s a convenience store which isn’t run by staff, but by artificially intelligent digital technology.

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The ‘Eatbox’ shop is located in a busy shopping centre and is no bigger than a shipping crate.

First-time customers use their phone to scan a barcode by the entrance, then upload a selfie to the stores database. In less than a minute the customer’s face is registered online, and they may enter by standing in front of the entrance.

A facial recognition system unlocks the door, allowing the customer to enter.

Chosen goods are then scanned and paid for by mobile phone. If a customer fails to pay the exit door will refuse to open.

A man stands in front of the unmanned store’s entrance, which becomes unlocked via facial recognition.SBS News

Shopper Hu Guanxiong says it’s more efficient than ordinary stores.

“The whole shopping experience is very quick. You choose your items, pay and go. There’s no long wait, or worrying about cash.” 

Now similar technology is being applied to entire cities. China plans to transform 500 urban centres into “smart cities” by the end of this year.

“Smart cities use the latest technologies to understand, catch and capture complex urban data, and structure it in such a way that it can provide leaders and citizens with more insight, and allow them to make better decisions,” explains Walter Fang, the Executive Vice President of iSoftstone, a Beijing-based computer company designing smart city systems for the government.

Under China’s smart cities plan data relating to everything from city administration, to waste management and transport and pollution tracking, will be centralised and accessible by the government through an ‘intelligent operations centre’ – a room with massive screens detailing useful and searchable information.

“In the past, all this information collected through different cameras, different sensors or detectors were like silos of information. For example traffic or weather data. This information becomes most value when it’s integrated,” said Mr Fang.

A crucial aspect of the smart cities plan is improving public security via the installation of networks of ‘smart cameras’.

Beijing Tech start-up SenseTime develops surveillance cameras which not only identify individuals, but also tracks their whereabouts throughout the city, and alerts police to suspicious behaviour.

“Around the world there are about 250 million security cameras, and previously these were all monitored by a person. But our technologies can surpass human accuracy in facial recognition and object classification,” said SenseTime CEO Xu Li.

“So our cameras can better identify ‘persons of interest’ to help city management.”

Beijing-based Bloomberg technology correspondent David Ramli says the Chinese government wants to install as many smart cameras as possible to reduce the burden on public security bodies.

“This let’s them track as many people as possible with fewer men and less money.”

SenseTime’s ‘Smart cameras’ can identify individual traits and detect suspicious behaviour.SBS News

There are an estimated 100 million CCTV cameras installed throughout China. Surveillance is so pervasive, online users can watch livestream feeds from cameras around the country.

“Many people in China are very understanding of the need for surveillance, and even find It comforting. But those who are against it, ie. dissidents and others, probably don’t like the fact they’re being watched on every single street corner,” said Mr Ramli.

Murong Xuecun is one of them. The writer’s work was banned on the mainland 2013 after he criticised the government online. He believes smart cities simply allow governments to use big data to monitor and control its citizens.

Writer Murong Xuecun believes he’s been under surveillance since criticising the government online in 2011.SBS News

“The 21st century Chinese big brother has more powerful tools and more sophisticated methods, and the way we are being watched is changing,” said Mr Murong.

“Not only are our actions spied on, but using big data they’re able to know things that we ourselves have forgotten a long time ago. In this way the freedom and privacy of Chinese citizens has been ignored.”

He says his email and phone are likely tapped, and worries about being watched.

“At first it affected me a lot. Even at home I always look around suspecting that there might be cameras secretly installed. To live in China you have to be adaptable and get used to these constant anxieties. Gradually I’m getting used to it,” said Mr Murong.

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