Facebook Suspends Donald Trump's Data Operations Team For Misusing People's Personal Information (theverge.com) 146

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Facebook said late Friday that it had suspended Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), along with its political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, for violating its policies around data collection and retention. The companies, which ran data operations for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential election campaign, are widely credited with helping Trump more effectively target voters on Facebook than his rival, Hillary Clinton. While the exact nature of their role remains somewhat mysterious, Facebook's disclosure suggests that the company improperly obtained user data that could have given it an unfair advantage in reaching voters. Facebook said it cannot determine whether or how the data in question could have been used in conjunction with election ad campaigns.

In a blog post, Facebook deputy general counsel Paul Grewal laid out how SCL came into possession of the user data. In 2015, Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge, created an app named "thisisyourdigitallife" that promised to predict aspects of users' personalities. About 270,000 people downloaded it and logged in through Facebook, giving Kogan access to information about their city of residence, Facebook content they had liked, and information about their friends. Kogan passed the data to SCL and a man named Christopher Wylie from a data harvesting firm known as Eunoia Technologies, in violation of Facebook rules that prevent app developers from giving away or selling users' personal information. Facebook learned of the violation that year and removed his app from Facebook. It also asked Kogan and his associates to certify that they had destroyed the improperly collected data. Everyone said that they did. The suspension is not permanent, a Facebook spokesman said. But the suspended users would need to take unspecified steps to certify that they would comply with Facebook's terms of service.


Facebook Says It is Sorry For Suggesting Child Sex Videos in Search (cnet.com) 47

Facebook issued an apology on Friday after offensive terms appeared in the social network's search predictions late Thursday. From a report: When users typed "videos of" into the search bar, Facebook prompted them to search phrases including "videos of sexuals," "videos of girl sucking dick under water" and, perhaps most disturbingly, "video of little girl giving oral." Shocked users reported the problem on Twitter, posting screenshots of the search terms, which also included multiple suggestions relating to the school shooting in Florida last month. The social network appeared to have fixed the problem by Friday morning.

China To Bar People With Bad 'Social Credit' From Planes, Trains (reuters.com) 161

China says it will begin applying its so-called social credit system to flights and trains and stop people who have committed misdeeds from taking such transport for up to a year. From a report: People who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains, according to two statements issued on the National Development and Reform Commission's website on Friday. Those found to have committed financial wrongdoings, such as employers who failed to pay social insurance or people who have failed to pay fines, would also face these restrictions, said the statements which were dated March 2. It added that the rules would come into effect on May 1.

EU Wants To Require Platforms To Filter Uploaded Content (Including Code) (github.com) 104

A new copyright proposal in the EU would require code-sharing platforms like GitHub and SourceForge to monitor all content that users upload for potential copyright infringement. "The proposal is aimed at music and videos on streaming platforms, based on a theory of a 'value gap' between the profits those platforms make from uploaded works and what copyright holders of some uploaded works receive," reports The GitHub Blog. "However, the way it's written captures many other types of content, including code."

Upload filters, also known as "censorship machines," are some of the most controversial elements of the copyright proposal, raising a number of concerns including: -Privacy: Upload filters are a form of surveillance, effectively a "general monitoring obligation" prohibited by EU law
-Free speech: Requiring platforms to monitor content contradicts intermediary liability protections in EU law and creates incentives to remove content
-Ineffectiveness: Content detection tools are flawed (generate false positives, don't fit all kinds of content) and overly burdensome, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that might not be able to afford them or the resulting litigation
Upload filters are especially concerning for software developers given that: -Software developers create copyrightable works -- their code -- and those who choose an open source license want to allow that code to be shared
-False positives (and negatives) are especially likely for software code because code often has many contributors and layers, often with different licensing for different components
-Requiring code-hosting platforms to scan and automatically remove content could drastically impact software developers when their dependencies are removed due to false positives
The EU Parliament continues to introduce new proposals for Article 13 but these issues remain. MEP Julia Reda explains further in a recent proposal from Parliament.

Reddit Is Bringing Promoted Posts To Its Mobile Apps (marketingland.com) 43

Reddit is reportedly launching native promoted posts for its mobile apps. "The company said in an email to advertisers that its apps are the most popular way its 330 million monthly active users access Reddit content on mobile, and they now account for 41 percent of time spent on Reddit across all platforms," reports Marketing Land. "Logged-in app users also spend 30 percent more time per day than users who log in from desktop, and 80 percent of app users don't access Reddit on desktop, according to the company." From the report: In-app promoted posts will have all the elements of a standard Reddit post, including upvotes, downvotes and comment threads. The native mobile ads will also include comments, which was not possible before on the mobile ads. Native promoted posts will be available on iOS starting Monday, March 19, and will roll out to Android in the coming weeks.

Sri Lanka Accuses Facebook of Failing To Control Hate Speech That Contributed To Deadly Riots (theguardian.com) 73

The Sri Lankan government is accusing Facebook of failing to control rampant hate speech that it says contributed to anti-Muslim riots last week that left three people dead and the country under a state of emergency. The accusations come after the country blocked Facebook and several other platforms last week in an effort to prevent the spread of hate speech. The Guardian reports: On Thursday Fernando, along with the Sri Lankan prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and communications officials, will meet a Facebook team that has flown to Colombo. The Sri Lankans will demand a new, faster system for taking down posts flagged as a national security risk by agencies in the country. "Facebook is not reacting as fast as we have wanted it to react," Fernando said. "In the past it has taken various number of days to review [flagged posts] or even to take down the pages." On Tuesday he highlighted a tweet from a user who claimed to have reported a Facebook post in the Sinhala language that read "Kill all Muslims, don't even let an infant of the dogs escape." The user claimed he received a reply six days later saying the post did not contravene a specific Facebook community standard. The extremist leader Amith Weerasinghe, who was arrested last week in Kandy after being accused of helping to instigate the violence, had amassed nearly 150,000 followers on his Facebook page before it was taken down last week.

Facebook Quietly Hid Webpages Bragging of Ability to Influence Elections (theintercept.com) 81

Sam Biddle, reporting for The Intercept: When Mark Zuckerberg was asked if Facebook had influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, the founder and CEO dismissed the notion that the site even had such power as "crazy." It was a disingenuous remark. Facebook's website had an entire section devoted to touting the "success stories" of political campaigns that used the social network to influence electoral outcomes. That page, however, is now gone, even as the 2018 congressional primaries get underway.

In the wake of a public reckoning with Facebook's unparalleled ability to distribute information and global anxiety over election meddling, bragging about the company's ability to run highly effective influence campaigns probably doesn't look so great. Facebook's "success stories" page is a monument to the company's dominance of online advertising, providing examples from almost every imaginable industry of how use of the social network gave certain players an advantage. "Case studies like these inspire and motivate us," the page crows.


Facebook Has Turned Into a Beast in Myanmar, UN Says (bbc.com) 94

UN investigators have accused Facebook of playing a "determining role" in stirring up hatred against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. From a report: One of the team probing possible acts of genocide said Facebook had "turned into a beast." About 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Myanmar's military launched an operation in August against "insurgents" in Rakhine state. Facebook has said there is "no place for hate speech" on its platform. "We take this incredibly seriously and have worked with experts in Myanmar for several years to develop safety resources and counter-speech campaigns," a Facebook spokeswoman told the BBC.

The UN's Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar announced the interim findings of its investigation on Monday. During a press conference the chairman of the mission, Marzuki Darusman, said that social media had "substantively contributed to the level of acrimony" amongst the wider public, against Rohingya Muslims. "Hate speech is certainly, of course, a part of that," he added.


SXSW: No 'Hot Apps' Anymore But Still a Launchpad For Some Startups (axios.com) 28

South by Southwest is no longer the preferred launchpad for social apps, but it may be for others like Blue Duck, a San Antonio-based transportation company debuting its scooter service this weekend. From a report: Between Twitter's big breakout moment in 2007 and Meerkat's in 2015, SXSW has served as a great marketing opportunity for social apps. But that's ended as consumer trends have shifted and Hollywood and other consumer companies have taken over the festival. Standing outside the Austin Convention Center, co-founder Eric Bell tells me that he came up with the idea out of frustration with his local public transit, and he designed the scooters. For now, the company is self-funded, but he expects to soon raise outside funding.

Twitter Suspends Numerous Popular Accounts That Are Known For Stealing Tweets (buzzfeed.com) 52

An anonymous reader shares a report: Continuing its battle against the "tweetdeckers," Twitter suspended on Friday several popular accounts known for stealing tweets or mass-retweeting tweets into manufactured virality. @Dory, @GirlPosts, @SoDamnTrue, Girl Code/@reiatabie, Common White Girl/@commonwhitegiri, @teenagernotes, @finah, @holyfag, and @memeprovider were among the accounts that got swept up in the purge. Many of these accounts were hugely popular, with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers. In addition to stealing people's tweets without credit, some of these accounts are known as "tweetdeckers" due to their practice of teaming up in exclusive Tweetdeck groups and mass-retweeting one another's -- and paying customers' -- tweets into forced virality. A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on individual accounts, but BuzzFeed News understands the accounts were suspended for violating Twitter's spam policy.

Chinese Police Begin Tracking Citizens With Face-Recognizing Smart Glasses (reuters.com) 107

An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: At a highway check point on the outskirts of Beijing, local police are this week testing out a new security tool: smart glasses that can pick up facial features and car registration plates, and match them in real-time with a database of suspects. The AI-powered glasses, made by LLVision, scan the faces of vehicle occupants and the plates, flagging with a red box and warning sign to the wearer when any match up with a centralized "blacklist".

The test -- which coincides with the annual meeting of China's parliament in central Beijing -- underscores a major push by China's leaders to leverage technology to boost security in the country... Wu Fei, chief executive of LLVision, said people should not be worried about privacy concerns because China's authorities were using the equipment for "noble causes", catching suspects and fugitives from the law. "We trust the government," he told Reuters at the company's headquarters in Beijing.

This weekend while China's President Xi Jinping is expected to push through a reform allowing him to stay in power indefinitely, Reuters reports that the Chinese goverment is pushing the use of cutting-edge technology "to track and control behavior that goes against the interests of the ruling Communist Party online and in the wider world... A key concern is that blacklists could include a wide range of people stretching from lawyers and artists to political dissidents, charity workers, journalists and rights activists...

"The new technologies range from police robots for crowd control, to drones to monitor border areas, and artificially intelligent systems to track and censor behavior online," Reuters reports, citing one Hong Kong researcher who argues that China now sees internet and communication technologies "as absolutely indispensable tools of social and political control."

Reddit Admits Russian Trolls Got Into Website During 2016 Election (vice.com) 343

An anonymous reader quotes a report from VICE News: Reddit says it has identified and removed hundreds of Russian propaganda accounts, a few days after reports revealed that Russian trolls were active on the platform during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In a post Monday, Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman said his site operators had been investigating for awhile and had found a few hundred accounts suspected to be of Russian origin or linked to known sources of Russian propaganda. "Of course, every account we find expands our search a little more," he said, also claiming the "vast majority" of the suspicious accounts were banned back in 2015-2016. An even bigger challenge was the problem of "indirect propaganda," where content produced by accounts now known to be Russian trolls was enthusiastically shared by Trump supporters on subreddits such as r/The_Donald. Reddit's investigation followed a report from The Daily Beast, based on leaked internal data from Kremlin-backed troll farm the Internet Research Agency, that confirmed Russian trolls were active on the site, as well as Tumblr, in their mission to spread disinformation, divide Americans and disrupt U.S. politics. The Washington Post reports that congressional investigators looking into the Russian issue intend to question Reddit and Tumblr over their involvement.
Social Networks

Twitter Exploring Letting Everyone Get a Blue Tick For Verification, CEO Jack Dorsey Says (cnbc.com) 62

An anonymous reader shares a report: Twitter could one day allow everyone to be verified by one of the company's signature blue ticks, according to CEO Jack Dorsey. In a livestream on Periscope, Dorsey said Thursday that opening verification to more people could help to make sure people on the platform are who they say they are. "The intention is to open verification for everyone, and to do it in a way that is scalable where we (Twitter) are not in the way. And people can verify more facts about themselves and we don't have to be the judge or imply any bias on our part," Dorsey said. Twitter introduced the blue checkmark in 2009. It was initially available to public figures such as celebrities, but has since expanded to others like journalists and bloggers. Users need to apply for the blue tick, explaining why they need one.

Fake News Spreads Faster Than True News On Twitter -- Thanks To People, Not Bots (sciencemag.org) 94

A new study shows that people are the prime culprits when it comes to the propagation of misinformation through social networks. Tweets containing falsehoods reach 1,500 people on Twitter six times faster than truthful tweets, the research reveals. Science Magazine reports: The lead author -- Soroush Vosoughi, a data scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge -- and his colleagues collected 12 years of data from Twitter, starting from the social media platform's inception in 2006. Then they pulled out tweets related to news that had been investigated by six independent fact-checking organizations -- websites like PolitiFact, Snopes, and FactCheck.org. They ended up with a data set of 126,000 news items that were shared 4.5 million times by 3 million people, which they then used to compare the spread of news that had been verified as true with the spread of stories shown to be false. They found that whereas the truth rarely reached more than 1000 Twitter users, the most pernicious false news stories routinely reached well over 10,000 people. False news propagated faster and wider for all forms of news -- but the problem was particularly evident for political news, the team reports today in Science. At first the researchers thought that bots might be responsible, so they used sophisticated bot-detection technology to remove social media shares generated by bots. But the results didn't change: False news still spread at roughly the same rate and to the same number of people. By default, that meant that human beings were responsible for the virality of false news.

Scientists Prove That Truth is No Match For Fiction on Twitter (theguardian.com) 194

Researchers find fake news reaches users up to 20 times faster than factual content -- and real users are more likely to spread it than bots. From a report: "Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it," wrote Jonathan Swift in 1710. Now a group of scientists say they have found evidence Swift was right -- at least when it comes to Twitter. In the paper, published in the journal Science, three MIT researchers describe an analysis of a vast amount of Twitter data: more than 125,000 stories, tweeted more than 4.5 million times in total, all categorised as being true or false by at least one of six independent fact-checking organisations. The findings make for unhappy reading. "Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information," they write, "and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends or financial information."

How much further? "Whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1,000 people, the top 1% of false-news cascades routinely diffused to between 1,000 and 100,000 people," they write. In other words, true facts don't get retweeted, while too-good-to-be-true claims are viral gold. How much faster? "It took the truth about six times as long as falsehood to reach 1,500 people, and 20 times as long as falsehood to reach a cascade depth of 10" -- meaning that it was retweeted 10 times sequentially (so, for example, B reads A's feed and retweets a tweet, and C then reads B's feed and retweets the same tweet, all the way to J).


Snap Is Laying Off Around 100 Engineers 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Snap is laying off about 100 engineers -- nearly 10 percent of the team -- CNBC has learned. The company has seen smaller rounds of layoffs in recent months in its marketing, recruiting and content divisions. These layoffs would be Snap's largest yet and the first to hit the company's engineers. The company last month rolled out the redesign of its pioneering photo messaging app. The redesign separated publisher content from content posted by friends and connections. Snap reported roughly 3,000 employees as of the December quarter and said in its first annual filing that it expected "headcount growth to continue for the foreseeable future."

Facebook's VPN Service Onavo Protect Collects Personal Data -- Even When It's Switched Off (medium.com) 67

Security researcher Will Strafach took a look at Onavo Protect, a newly released VPN service from Facebook: I found that Onavo Protect uses a Packet Tunnel Provider app extension, which should consistently run for as long as the VPN is connected, in order to periodically send the following data to Facebook (graph.facebook.com) as the user goes about their day:
When user's mobile device screen is turned on and turned off.
Total daily Wi-Fi data usage in bytes (Even when VPN is turned off).
Total daily cellular data usage in bytes (Even when VPN is turned off).
Periodic beacon containing an "uptime" to indicate how long the VPN has been connected.


Sri Lanka Blocks Facebook, Instagram To Prevent Spread of Hate Speech (lankabusinessonline.com) 123

Sri Lanka has blocked social media websites Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to avoid the spread of hate speech in the country, local media reported on Wednesday. From the report: Even though there is no official confirmation from the authorities, the Cabinet Spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne on Wednesday said the government has decided to block access to certain social media. Telecom Regulatory Commission (TRC) has started to monitor all social media platforms to curb hate speech related to communal riots escalated in Kandy district. Telecommunication service providers (ISPs) have also restricted internet access in Kandy district on the instructions of the TRC.

Silicon Valley Is Over, Says Silicon Valley (nytimes.com) 304

An anonymous reader shares a New York Times report: In recent months, a growing number of tech leaders have been flirting with the idea of leaving Silicon Valley. Some cite the exorbitant cost of living in San Francisco and its suburbs, where even a million-dollar salary can feel middle class. Others complain about local criticism of the tech industry and a left-wing echo chamber that stifles opposing views. And yet others feel that better innovation is happening elsewhere. "I'm a little over San Francisco," said Patrick McKenna, the founder of High Ridge Venture Partners who was also on the bus tour. "It's so expensive, it's so congested, and frankly, you also see opportunities in other places." Mr. McKenna, who owns a house in Miami in addition to his home in San Francisco, told me that his travels outside the Bay Area had opened his eyes to a world beyond the tech bubble. "Every single person in San Francisco is talking about the same things, whether it's 'I hate Trump' or 'I'm going to do blockchain and Bitcoin,'" he said. "It's the worst part of the social network."

[...] Complaints about Silicon Valley insularity are as old as the Valley itself. Jim Clark, the co-founder of Netscape, famously decamped for Florida during the first dot-com era, complaining about high taxes and expensive real estate. Steve Case, the founder of AOL, has pledged to invest mostly in start-ups outside the Bay Area, saying that "we've probably hit peak Silicon Valley." But even among those who enjoy living in the Bay Area, and can afford to do so comfortably, there's a feeling that success has gone to the tech industry's head. "Some of the engineers in the Valley have the biggest egos known to humankind," Mr. Khanna, the Silicon Valley congressman, said during a round-table discussion with officials in Youngstown.


Facebook Asks Users: Should We Allow Men To Ask Children For Sexual Images? (theguardian.com) 386

Alex Hern, writing for The Guardian: Facebook has admitted it was a "mistake" to ask users whether paedophiles requesting sexual pictures from children should be allowed on its website. On Sunday, the social network ran a survey for some users asking how they thought the company should handle grooming behaviour. "There are a wide range of topics and behaviours that appear on Facebook," one question began. "In thinking about an ideal world where you could set Facebook's policies, how would you handle the following: a private message in which an adult man asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures." The options available to respondents ranged from "this content should not be allowed on Facebook, and no one should be able to see it" to "this content should be allowed on Facebook, and I would not mind seeing it." A second question asked who should decide the rules around whether or not the adult man should be allowed to ask for such pictures on Facebook. Options available included "Facebook users decide the rules by voting and tell Facebook" and "Facebook decides the rules on its own."

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