Privacy

How Email Open Tracking Quietly Took Over the Web (wired.com) 104

Brian Merchant, writing for Wired: There are some 269 billion emails sent and received daily. That's roughly 35 emails for every person on the planet, every day. Over 40 percent of those emails are tracked, according to a study published last June by OMC, an "email intelligence" company that also builds anti-tracking tools. The tech is pretty simple. Tracking clients embed a line of code in the body of an email -- usually in a 1x1 pixel image, so tiny it's invisible, but also in elements like hyperlinks and custom fonts. When a recipient opens the email, the tracking client recognizes that pixel has been downloaded, as well as where and on what device. Newsletter services, marketers, and advertisers have used the technique for years, to collect data about their open rates; major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter followed suit in their ongoing quest to profile and predict our behavior online. But lately, a surprising -- and growing -- number of tracked emails are being sent not from corporations, but acquaintances. "We have been in touch with users that were tracked by their spouses, business partners, competitors," says Florian Seroussi, the founder of OMC. "It's the wild, wild west out there." According to OMC's data, a full 19 percent of all "conversational" email is now tracked. That's one in five of the emails you get from your friends. And you probably never noticed.
Facebook

Former Facebook Exec Says Social Media is Ripping Apart Society (theverge.com) 365

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Verge: Another former Facebook executive has spoken out about the harm the social network is doing to civil society around the world. Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels "tremendous guilt" about the company he helped make. "I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works," he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business, before recommending people take a âoehard breakâ from social media. Palihapitiya's criticisms were aimed not only at Facebook, but the wider online ecosystem. "The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we've created are destroying how society works," he said, referring to online interactions driven by "hearts, likes, thumbs-up." "No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it's not an American problem -- this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem." Also read: Sean Parker Unloads on Facebook 'Exploiting' Human Psychology
IOS

Top iOS Apps of 2017: Bitmoji Beats Snapchat, YouTube, and Facebook Messenger (cnn.com) 27

An anonymous reader quotes CNN: Apple has unveiled its list of most downloaded iOS apps of the year, and topping the list is free custom emoji app Bitmoji... Bitmoji soared to the top of the list, thanks to an integration with Snapchat. (Snapchat's parent company acquired Bitmoji last year for an unknown amount)... Users must download the Bitmoji app to use it with Snapchat.

Fittingly, the main Snapchat app took second place, despite a tough year on Wall Street that was attributed to slow user growth. Snapchat was the most downloaded app of 2016. Google's YouTube took the number three spot this year, while Facebook's Messenger and Instagram placed fourth and fifth, respectively.

The Internet

EU Urges Internet Companies To Do More To Remove Extremist Content (reuters.com) 78

Internet groups such as Facebook, Google's YouTube and Twitter need to do more to stem the proliferation of extremist content on their platforms, the European Commission said after a meeting on Wednesday. From a report: Social media companies have significantly boosted their resources to take down violent and extremist content as soon as possible in response to growing political pressure from European governments, particularly those hit by militant attacks in recent years. But Julian King, EU security commissioner, said that while a lot of progress had been made, additional efforts were needed. "We are not there yet. We are two years down the road of this journey: to reach our final destination we now need to speed up our work," King said in his closing speech at the third meeting of the EU Internet Forum, which brings together the Commission, EU member states, law enforcement and technology companies. The EU has said it will come forward with legislation next year if it is not satisfied with progress made by tech companies in removing extremist content, while a German online hate speech law comes into effect on Jan. 1.
Facebook

Facebook and YouTube Are Full of Pirated Video Streams of Live NFL Games (cnbc.com) 231

Pirated video streams of televised National Football League games are widespread on Facebook and on Google's YouTube service, CNBC has found. From a report: Using technology from these internet giants, thousands of football fans were able to watch long segments of many contests free of charge during the league's Week 13 schedule of games last Thursday and Sunday. Dozens of these video streams, pirated from CBS and NBC broadcasts, featured ads from well-known national brands interspersed with game action. This online activity comes as the league struggles with declining ratings that have been blamed variously on player protests during the national anthem and revelations about former players suffering from a brain disease caused by concussions. Yet this illegal distribution of NFL content may also be crimping the league's viewer numbers.
Businesses

Facebook Tops List of Best Places To Work -- Again (cnet.com) 102

From a report: If you work at Facebook, count yourself pretty lucky. And not just for the free meals, on-site health care or new-parent benefits. But those things probably factor into the social-networking giant being named the best place to work in 2018 by jobs site Glassdoor. And it's probably been a good experience for a while, seeing how this is the third year in a row Facebook has been atop Glassdoor's list of 100 best places to work. If you don't work at Facebook, there might still be hope for you. Glassdoor said there were 40 newcomers on this year's list, including video game maker Blizzard Entertainment (at No. 28 on the list) and wireless carrier T-Mobile (No. 79). There are also three veterans that have made the list every year since it was introduced 10 years ago, including management-consulting firm Bain & Company (No. 2), search giant Google (No. 5) and Apple (No. 84).
The Almighty Buck

'We Could Fund a Universal Basic Income With the Data We Give Away To Facebook and Google' (thenextweb.com) 583

Tristan Greene reports via The Next Web: A universal basic income (UBI), wherein government provides a monthly stipend so citizens can afford a home and basic necessities, is something experts believe would directly address the issue of unemployment and poverty, and possibly even eliminate hundreds of other welfare programs. It may also be the only real solution to the impending automation bonanza. According to AI expert Steve Fuller, the problem is, giving people money when they lose jobs won't fix the issue, it's a temporary solution and we need permanent ones. Sounds fair, and he even has some ideas on how to accomplish this end: "We could hold Google and Facebook and all those big multinationals accountable; we could make sure that people, like those who are currently 'voluntarily' contributing their data to pump up companies' profits, are given something that is adequate to support their livelihoods in exchange."

It's an interesting idea, but difficult to imagine it's implementation. If the government isn't assigning a specific stipend value, we'll have to be compensated individually by companies. One way to do this, is by emulating the old coal mining company scrip scams of early last century. Employees working for companies would be paid in currency only redeemable at the company store. This basically created a system where a company could tax its own workers for profit. Google, for example, could use a system like that and say "opt-in for $10 worth of Google Play music for free," if they wanted to. Which doesn't help pay the bills when machines replace you at work, but at least you'll be able to voice search for your favorite songs. Another idea is to charge companies an automation tax, but again there's concerns as to how this would be implemented. A solution that combines government oversight with a tax on AI companies -- a UBI funded by the dividends of our data -- may be the best option. To be blunt: we should make Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other such AI companies pay for it with a simple data tax.

Facebook

Health Secretary Hits Out at Facebook's New App, Says 'Stay Away From My Kids' (theguardian.com) 113

Jeremy Hunt has publicly attacked Facebook for releasing a version of its Messenger app aimed at children, and called on the social media company to "stay away from my kids." From a report: The health secretary accused the company of "targeting younger children" after Facebook announced on Monday that it was conducting trials of an app called Messenger Kids in the US, which is designed to be used by pre-teens. He said the company was failing to act responsibly despite having assured the government that it would not target its service at children, who can only use the main social media website if they are over 13.
Businesses

NYTimes Editorial Board: The FCC Wants To Let Telecoms Cash In on the Internet (nytimes.com) 268

The New York Times' Editorial Board writes: The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission wants to let Comcast, Verizon and other broadband companies turn the internet into a latter-day version of cable TV, in which they decide what customers can watch and how much they pay for that content. That's essentially what would happen under the proposal by the chairman, Ajit Pai, to abandon the commission's network neutrality rules, which prevent telecom companies from interfering with how their customers use the internet. Net neutrality prevents those companies from having companies like Amazon pay a fee to get their content delivered more quickly than their rivals', and from having the firms throttle other services and websites, even blocking customer access to, say, Netflix or an online newspaper. Under Mr. Pai's proposal, telecom companies would effectively be allowed to sell you a basic internet plan that might include only limited access to Google and email. For Facebook and Twitter you might need a slightly more expensive deluxe plan. The premium plan might include access to Netflix and Amazon. Oh, and by the way, media businesses eager to gain more users could pay broadband companies to be included in their enhanced basic or deluxe plans. Further reading: Associated Press fact check: Net-neutrality claims leave out key context; The death of the Internet.
Bitcoin

The Winklevoss Twins Are Now Bitcoin Billionaires (theverge.com) 155

The twin brothers who gained notoriety for suing Mark Zuckerberg over the claim that they started Facebook have done remarkably well in the wake of Bitcoin's record gains. From a report: Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss won $65 million from the Facebook lawsuit, and invested $11 million of their payout into Bitcoin in 2013, amassing one of the largest portfolios of Bitcoin in the world -- 1 percent of the entire currency's dollar value equivalent, said the twins at the time. Their slice of the Bitcoin pie is now worth over $1 billion after Bitcoin surged past $10,000 last week to now trade at $11,100, according to CoinDesk. The cryptocurrency has surged over 10,000 percent since the Winklevoss' investment, when one coin traded at around $120.
Facebook

Facebook Launches New Messenger App for Young Kids -- What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (gizmodo.com) 62

More than one billion people use Facebook's Messenger app to communicate every month. Now the social juggernaut is going after the younger audience. On Monday, it announced Messenger Kids, a standalone mobile app designed for children age 13 and under. From a report: The app, Messenger Kids, is a messaging service that gives parents authority over who their kids can chat with. Once a parent adds someone to their child's contact list through the main Facebook app, kids can video chat as well as send photos, videos, and texts, or pick something from "a library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks, and drawing tools," according to Facebook's announcement post. [...] A Facebook spokesperson said in an email to Gizmodo, "We've built automated systems that can detect things like nudity, violence, and child exploitative imagery to help limit that content from being shared on Messenger Kids. We also have blocking and reporting mechanisms, and have a dedicated team of human reviewers that review all content that is reported."
Earth

Silicon Valley Billionaires Award $22 Million in 'Breakthrough Prizes' (theguardian.com) 23

An anonymous reader quote The Guardian: The most glitzy event on the scientific calendar took place on Sunday night when the Breakthrough Foundation gave away $22 million in prizes to dozens of physicists, biologists and mathematicians at a ceremony in Silicon Valley. The winners this year include five researchers who won $3 million each for their work on cell biology, plant science and neurodegenerative diseases, two mathematicians, and a team of 27 physicists who mapped the primordial light that warmed the universe moments after the big bang 13.8 billion years ago. Now in their sixth year, the Breakthrough prizes are backed by Yuri Milner, a Silicon Valley tech investor, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan, Anne Wojcicki from the DNA testing company 23andMe, and Google's Sergey Brin. Launched by Milner in 2012, the awards aim to make rock stars of scientists and raise their profile in the public consciousness. The annual ceremony at Nasa's Ames Research Center in California provides a rare opportunity for some of the world's leading minds to rub shoulders with celebrities, who this year included Morgan Freeman as host, fellow actors Kerry Washington and Mila Kunis, and Miss USA 2017 Kara McCullough...

Life sciences prizewinner, Joanne Chory at the Salk Institute in San Diego, was honoured for three decades of painstaking research into the genetic programs that flip into action when plants find themselves plunged into shade. Her work revealed that plants can sense when a nearby competitor is about to steal their light, sparking a growth spurt in response. The plants detect threatening neighbours by sensing a surge in the particular wavelengths of red light that are given off by vegetation. Chory now has ambitious plans to breed plants that can suck vast quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in a bid to combat climate change. She believes that crops could be selected to absorb 20 times more of the greenhouse gas than they do today, and convert it into suberin, a waxy material found in roots and bark that breaks down incredibly slowly in soil. "If we can do this on 5% of the landmass people are growing crops on, we can take out 50% of global human emissions," she said.

The Mercury News published a list of all the winners, pointing out they were chosen from more than 11,000 entries (from 178 countries). And Wired notes that the top prize winners get $2 million more than Nobel prize winners.
Education

Should Teachers Get $100 For Steering Kids To Google's 'Hour of Code' Lesson? 89

Tomorrow's "Hour of Code" kick-off event features Melinda Gates, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, and "multiple state governors," reports theodp -- who has some concerns. With Microsoft boasting that nearly 70 million of its Minecraft Hour of Code sessions have been launched, and tech companies pushing coding and their products into classrooms, it's probably no surprise that the 2017 Hour of Code -- organized by tech-bankrolled Code.org -- seems to have presented a too-hard-to-resist branding opportunity for Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon.

And, in what might evoke memories of Dollars for Doctors, some teachers will even be rewarded for steering their kids to Google's Hour of Code lesson. "Thanks to our friends at Google," explains crowdfunding website DonorsChoose.org, "4th-8th grade public school teachers who engage their students in a 'Create your own Google logo' Hour of Code activity can earn a $100 DonorsChoose.org gift code -- and have the opportunity to receive one of five other grand prizes (including $5,000 in DonorsChoose.org credits for your school!)."
Red Hat Software

Understanding the New Red Hat-IBM-Google-Facebook GPL Enforcement Announcement (perens.com) 96

Bruce Perens co-founded the Open Source Initiative with Eric Raymond -- and he's also Slashdot reader #3872. Bruce Perens writes: Red Hat, IBM, Google, and Facebook announced that they would give infringers of their GPL software up to a 30-day hold-off period during which an accused infringer could cure a GPL violation after one was brought to their attention by the copyright holder, and a 60 day "statute of limitations" on an already-cured infringement when the copyright holder has never notified the infringer of the violation. In both cases, there would be no penalty: no damages, no fees, probably no lawsuit; for the infringer who promptly cures their infringement.
Perens sees the move as "obviously inspired" by the kernel team's earlier announcement, and believes it's directed against one man who made 50 copyright infringement claims involving the Linux kernel "with intent to collect income rather than simply obtain compliance with the GPL license."

Unfortunately, "as far as I can tell, it's Patrick McHardy's legal right to bring such claims regarding the copyrights which he owns, even if it doesn't fit Community Principles which nobody is actually compelled to follow."
Bitcoin

Blockchains Are Poised To End the Password Era (technologyreview.com) 129

schwit1 shares a report from MIT Technology Review: Blockchain technology can eliminate the need for companies and other organizations to maintain centralized repositories of identifying information, and users can gain permanent control over who can access their data (hence "self-sovereign"), says Drummond Reed, chief trust officer at Evernym, a startup that's developing a blockchain network specifically for managing digital identities. Self-sovereign identity systems rely on public-key cryptography, the same kind that blockchain networks use to validate transactions. Although it's been around for decades, the technology has thus far proved difficult to implement for consumer applications. But the popularity of cryptocurrencies has inspired fresh commercial interest in making it more user-friendly.

Public-key cryptography relies on pairs of keys, one public and one private, which are used to authenticate users and verify their encrypted transactions. Bitcoin users are represented on the blockchain by strings of characters called addresses, which are derived from their public keys. The "wallet" applications they use to hold and exchange digital coins are essentially management systems for their private keys. Just like a real wallet, they can also hold credentials that serve as proof of identification, says Reed. Using a smartphone or some other device, a person could use a wallet-like application to manage access to these credentials. But will regular consumers buy in? Technologists will need to create a form factor and user experience compelling enough to convince them to abandon their familiar usernames and passwords, says Meltem Demirors, development director at Digital Currency Group, an investment firm that funds blockchain companies. The task calls for reinforcements, she says: "The geeks are working on it right now, but we need the designers, we need the sociologists, and we need people who study ethics of technology to participate."

AI

Stephen Hawking: 'I Fear AI May Replace Humans Altogether' (wired.co.uk) 281

dryriver writes: Wired magazine recently asked physicist Stephen Hawking what he thinks of everything from AI to the Anti Science Movement. One of the subjects touched on was the control large corporations have over information in the 21st Century. In Hawking's own words: "I worry about the control that big corporations have over information. The danger is we get into the situation that existed in the Soviet Union with their papers, Pravda, which means "truth" and Izvestia, which means "news". The joke was, there was no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia. Corporations will always promote stories that reflect well on them and suppress those that don't." And since this is Slashdot, here's what Stephen Hawking said about Artificial Intelligence: "The genie is out of the bottle. We need to move forward on artificial intelligence development but we also need to be mindful of its very real dangers. I fear that AI may replace humans altogether. If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that will outperform humans."
Facebook

Facebook Judge Frowns on Bid To Toss Biometric Face Print Suit (bloomberg.com) 39

Facebook faced a skeptical judge over its second request to get out of a lawsuit alleging its photo scanning technology flouts users' privacy rights. From a report: "The right to say no is a valuable commodity," U.S. District Judge James Donato said Thursday during a hearing in San Francisco. The case concerns the "most personal aspects of your life: your face, your fingers, who you are to the world." The owner of the world's largest social network faces claims that it violated the privacy of millions of users by gathering and storing biometric data without their consent. Alphabet's Google is fighting similar claims in federal court in Chicago.
Businesses

Prepare for the New Paywall Era (theatlantic.com) 263

Alexis C. Madrigal, writing for The Atlantic: If the recent numbers are any indication, there is a bloodbath in digital media this year. Publishers big and small are coming up short on advertising revenue, even if they are long on traffic. [...] In a print newspaper or a broadcast television station, the content and the distribution of that content are integrated. The big tech platforms split this marriage, doing the distribution for most digital content through Google searches and the Facebook News Feed. And they've taken most of the money: They've "captured the value" of the content at the distribution level. Media companies have no real alternative, nor do they have competitive advertising products to the targeting and scale that Facebook and Google can offer. Facebook and Google need content, but it's all fungible. The recap of a huge investigative blockbuster is just as valuable to Google News as an investigative blockbuster itself. The former might have taken months and costs tens of thousands of dollars, the latter a few hours and the cost of a young journalist's time. That's led many people to the conclusion that supporting rigorous journalism requires some sort of direct financial relationship between publications and readers. Right now, the preferred method is the paywall. The New York Times has one. The Washington Post has one. The Financial Times has one. The Wall Street Journal has one. The New Yorker has one. Wired just announced they'd be building one. (Editor's note: CNN is building a paywall, too.) Many of these efforts have been successful. Publications have figured out how to create the right kinds of porosity for their sites, allowing enough people in to drive scale, but extracting more revenue per reader than advertising could provide.
Facebook

Snapchat Is Becoming the Anti-Facebook (qz.com) 47

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Snap announced today (Nov. 29), that it was rolling out a redesign for Snapchat that's intended to separate users' feeds between their friends from the brands that publish content on the app. Founder and CEO Evan Spiegel published an op-ed in Axios this morning about the direction that social media has taken over the last few years, where content from brands and influencers has been given the same weight and placement as content from friends and loved ones in users' feeds. Spiegel also took to YouTube, for the second time in about two years, to explain how the new Snapchat works.

The new structure seems like a positive move. It's sort of solidifying the app, which turned down $3 billion from Facebook in 2013, as the "anti-Facebook." Facebook has muddled the line between content, news about friends, and pure internet garbage to the point where it's become nearly impossible for the average user to know what's important, or even true -- on purpose. Snapchat is reaffirming the value of staying connected to your friends, and enjoying news and entertainment content, but showing that the two activities should not be the same thing. Whether this restructuring will convince more people to start using Snapchat, however, is unclear.

Facebook

Facebook's New Captcha Test: 'Upload A Clear Photo of Your Face' (wired.com) 302

An anonymous reader shares a report: Facebook may soon ask you to "upload a photo of yourself that clearly shows your face," to prove you're not a bot. The company is using a new kind of captcha to verify whether a user is a real person. According to a screenshot of the identity test shared on Twitter on Tuesday and verified by Facebook, the prompt says: "Please upload a photo of yourself that clearly shows your face. We'll check it and then permanently delete it from our servers." The process is automated, including identifying suspicious activity and checking the photo. To determine if the account is authentic, Facebook looks at whether the photo is unique.

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