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APIs: The Unsung Heroes of our Connected World

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What is an API?

APIs: The Unsung Heroes of our Connected World

Connected digital platforms improve our lives in many ways. We use social network profiles to log onto apps and websites, third-party payment systems while online shopping, and we share our activity data from devices like Fitbit. How do all these platforms work together so seamlessly?

It’s all done through a technology known as Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

As today’s infographic from Raconteur demonstrates, thousands of APIs are allowing companies to work together and share data in powerful ways.

Here are the four main business models that use APIs:

Business ModelDescriptionExample Companies
API is the ProductThe API itself is the primary source of revenueAmazon Web Services, Skype
API Projects the ProductAllows partners and third-parties to integrateeBay, Spotify
API Promotes the ProductAdvertises your product, shares data to generate interestAmazon, Vimeo, Netflix
API Powers the ProductA channel to drive new data / content onto platformFacebook, YouTube, Twitter

How Do APIs Work?

An API is essentially a messenger that delivers a request to the provider you’re requesting it from, and then delivers the response back to you. Here are some of real-world examples:

Travel Sites – If you are using a travel site (e.g. Travelocity, Expedia), APIs are what allow that site to “talk to” airline databases to generate results to your query. Without an API, there would be no way for travel websites to aggregate flight and hotel quotes in real time.

Advertising – If you are a marketer, you are likely using a service to manage your campaigns in one place. Social platforms like Twitter have an API for ads that allows for integration between their platform and selected advertising solutions. This keeps marketers from having to log in to every single social website to manage their campaigns.

Apps – Say you open up a weather app on your iWatch. That app needs to get its information from a source, typically a website like weather.com. Apple could scrape information off the website, but APIs allow a more standardized, stable approach for requesting information. This way, weather.com can dictate the structure of information requests to facilitate the seamless flow of information.

Next time you’re cursing the weather forecast on your phone, remember the hero who fetched the information for you.

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Maps

Mapped: The State of Facial Recognition Around the World

Mass surveillance is becoming the status quo. This map dives into the countries where facial recognition technology is in place, and how it’s used.

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Mapping The State of Facial Recognition Around the World

View the high resolution version of this infographic by clicking here.

From public CCTV cameras to biometric identification systems in airports, facial recognition technology is now common in a growing number of places around the world.

In its most benign form, facial recognition technology is a convenient way to unlock your smartphone. At the state level though, facial recognition is a key component of mass surveillance, and it already touches half the global population on a regular basis.

Today’s visualizations from SurfShark classify 194 countries and regions based on the extent of surveillance.

Facial Recognition StatusTotal Countries
In Use98
Approved, but not implemented12
Considering technology13
No evidence of use68
Banned3

Click here to explore the full research methodology.

Let’s dive into the ways facial recognition technology is used across every region.

North America, Central America, and Caribbean

In the U.S., a 2016 study showed that already half of American adults were captured in some kind of facial recognition network. More recently, the Department of Homeland Security unveiled its “Biometric Exit” plan, which aims to use facial recognition technology on nearly all air travel passengers by 2023, to identify compliance with visa status.

Facial Recognition North America Map

Perhaps surprisingly, 59% of Americans are actually in favor of implementing facial recognition technology, considering it acceptable for use in law enforcement according to a Pew Research survey. Yet, some cities such as San Francisco have pushed to ban surveillance, citing a stand against its potential abuse by the government.

Facial recognition technology can potentially come in handy after a natural disaster. After Hurricane Dorian hit in late summer of 2019, the Bahamas launched a blockchain-based missing persons database “FindMeBahamas” to identify thousands of displaced people.

South America

The majority of facial recognition technology in South America is aimed at cracking down on crime. In fact, it worked in Brazil to capture Interpol’s second-most wanted criminal.

Facial Recognition South America Map

Home to over 209 million, Brazil soon plans to create a biometric database of its citizens. However, some are nervous that this could also serve as a means to prevent dissent against the current political order.

Europe

Belgium and Luxembourg are two of only three governments in the world to officially oppose the use of facial recognition technology.

Facial Recognition Europe Map

Further, 80% of Europeans are not keen on sharing facial data with authorities. Despite such negative sentiment, it’s still in use across 26 European countries to date.

The EU has been a haven for unlawful biometric experimentation and surveillance.

—European Digital Rights (EDRi)

In Russia, authorities have relied on facial recognition technology to check for breaches of quarantine rules by potential COVID-19 carriers. In Moscow alone, there are reportedly over 100,000 facial recognition enabled cameras in operation.

Middle East and Central Asia

Facial recognition technology is widespread in this region, notably for military purposes.

Facial Recognition Middle East and Central Asia Map

In Turkey, 30 domestically-developed kamikaze drones will use AI and facial recognition for border security. Similarly, Israel has a close eye on Palestinian citizens across 27 West Bank checkpoints.

In other parts of the region, police in the UAE have purchased discreet smart glasses that can be used to scan crowds, where positive matches show up on an embedded lens display. Over in Kazakhstan, facial recognition technology could replace public transportation passes entirely.

East Asia and Oceania

In the COVID-19 battle, contact tracing through biometric identification became a common tool to slow the infection rates in countries such as China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. In some instances, this included the use of facial recognition technology to monitor temperatures as well as spot those without a mask.

Facial Recognition East Asia Oceania Map

That said, questions remain about whether the pandemic panopticon will stop there.

China is often cited as a notorious use case of mass surveillance, and the country has the highest ratio of CCTV cameras to citizens in the world—one for every 12 people. By 2023, China will be the single biggest player in the global facial recognition market. And it’s not just implementing the technology at home–it’s exporting too.

Africa

While the African continent currently has the lowest concentration of facial recognition technology in use, this deficit may not last for long.

Facial Recognition World Map

Several African countries, such as Kenya and Uganda, have received telecommunications and surveillance financing and infrastructure from Chinese companies—Huawei in particular. While the company claims this has enabled regional crime rates to plummet, some activists are wary of the partnership.

Whether you approach facial recognition technology from public and national security lens or from an individual liberty perspective, it’s clear that this kind of surveillance is here to stay.

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Chart of the Week

Zoom is Now Worth More Than the World’s 7 Biggest Airlines

Zoom benefits from the COVID-19 virtual transition—but other industries aren’t as lucky. The app is now more valuable than the world’s seven largest airlines.

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zoom vs major airlines valuation

Zoom Is Now Worth More Than The 7 Biggest Airlines

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have transitioned to working—and socializing—from home. If these trends become the new normal, certain companies may be in for a big payoff.

Popular video conferencing company, Zoom Communications, is a prime example of an organization benefiting from this transition. Today’s graphic, inspired by Lennart Dobravsky at Lufthansa Innovation Hub, is a dramatic look at how much Zoom’s valuation has shot up during this unusual period in history.

The Zoom Boom, in Perspective

As of May 15, 2020, Zoom’s market capitalization has skyrocketed to $48.8 billion, despite posting revenues of only $623 million over the past year.

What separates Zoom from its competition, and what’s led to the app’s massive surge in mainstream business culture?

zoom-search-interest

Industry analysts say that business users have been drawn to the app because of its easy-to-use interface and user experience, as well as the ability to support up to 100 participants at a time. The app has also blown up among educators for use in online learning, after CEO Eric Yuan took extra steps to ensure K-12 schools could use the platform for free.

Zoom meeting participants have skyrocketed in past months, going from 10 million in December 2019 to a whopping 300 million as of April 2020.

Zoom vs. Airlines stock chart

The Airline Decline

The airline industry has been on the opposite end of fortune, suffering an unprecedented plummet in demand as international restrictions have shuttered airports:

The world’s top airlines by revenue have fallen in total value by 62% since the end of January:

AirlineMarket Cap Jan 31, 2020 Market Cap May 15, 2020
Southwest Airlines$28.440B$14.04B
Delta$35.680B$12.30B
United$18.790B$5.867B
International Airlines Group$14.760B$4.111B
Lufthansa$7.460B$3.873B
American$11.490B$3.886B
Air France$4.681B$2.137B
Total Market Cap$121.301B$46.214B

Source: YCharts. All market capitalizations listed as of May 15, 2020.

With countries scrambling to contain the spread of COVID-19, many airlines have cut travel capacity, laid off workers, and chopped executive pay to try and stay afloat.

If and when regular air travel will return remains a major question mark, and even patient investors such as Warren Buffett have pulled out from airline stocks.

Airline% Change in Total Returns (Jan 31-May 15, 2020)
United-72.91%
International Airlines Group-72.16%
American-65.76%
Delta-65.39%
Air France-54.34%
Southwest Airlines-56.35%
Lufthansa-48.08%

Source: YCharts, as of May 15, 2020.

The world has changed for the airlines. The future is much less clear to me about how the business will turn out.

—Warren Buffett

What Does the Future Hold?

Zoom’s recent success is a product of its circumstances, but will it last? That’s a question on the mind of many investors and pundits ahead of the company’s Q1 results to be released in June.

It hasn’t been all smooth-sailing for the company—a spate of “Zoom Bombing” incidents, where uninvited people hijacked meetings, brought the app’s security measures under scrutiny. However, the company remained resilient, swiftly providing support to combat the problem.

Meanwhile, as many parts of the world begin taking measures to restart economic activity, airlines could see a cautious return to the skies—although any such recovery will surely be a “slow, long ascent”.

Correction: Changed the graphics to reflect 300 million daily active “meeting participants” as opposed to daily active users.

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