Advertising

Russia Reportedly Bought Thousands of Facebook Ads Sought To Stress Racial Divisions (thehill.com) 202

According to The Washington Post, Russia government actors bought Facebook advertisements during the 2016 election cycle that sought to exploit and divide based on hot-button racial issues. Some of the ads promoted civil rights groups such as Black Lives Matter, while others criticized them in an effort to sow division. The Hill reports: Facebook is handing over some 3,000 ads to congressional investigators as part of probes into the Kremlin's alleged effort to influence the outcome of last year's presidential election. Other ads allegedly highlighted Hillary Clinton's support among Muslim women and promoted anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant messages. Facebook didn't comment on the story, but did refer to a statement earlier this month from its chief privacy officer, Alex Stamos: "Rather, the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the idealogical spectrum -- touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights."
Social Networks

Instagram Now Has 800 Million Monthly, 500 Million Daily Active Users (cnbc.com) 24

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Instagram said Monday that it's added another 100 million monthly users. That brings the photo-sharing app to 800 million monthly active users, up from 700 million in April, according to Carolyn Everson, vice president of global marketing solutions at Facebook, who spoke at an Advertising Week event in New York City. Five hundred million of those are daily active users, the company said. That means that Instagram is still ahead of rival Snap in terms of users, based on Snap's last report. Snap said in August that it had 173 million daily active users. Time spent watching video on Instagram is up more than 80 percent year over year, the company also said on Monday, and four times as many videos are being produced every day on Instagram compared with a year ago.
Government

President Donald Trump and His Daughter Ivanka To Unveil a New Federal Computer Science Initiative With Major Tech Backers (recode.net) 246

From a report: President Donald Trump will issue a new directive Monday to supercharge the U.S. government's support for science, tech, engineering and mathematics, including coding education, three sources familiar with the White House's thinking told Recode. To start, Trump is set to sign a presidential memorandum at the White House later today that tasks the Department of Education to devote at least $200 million of its grant funds each year to so-called STEM fields, as the administration seeks to train workers for high-demand computer-science jobs of the future. And on Tuesday, Trump's daughter and advisor, Ivanka, is expected to head to Detroit, where she will join business leaders for an event unveiling a series of private-sector commitments -- from Amazon, Facebook, Google, GM, Quicken Loans and others -- meant to boost U.S. coding and computer-science classes and programs, the sources said.
Communications

Microsoft and Facebook Just Built a 4,000-Mile Cable Across the Pacfic Ocean (popularmechanics.com) 150

An anonymous reader quotes Popular Mechanics: Microsoft, Facebook and global telecommunication infrastructure company Telxius have completed the Marea subsea cable, the world's most technologically advanced undersea cable. The Marea crosses the Atlantic Ocean over 17,000 feet below the ocean's surface, connecting Virginia Beach with Bilbao, Spain. Over 4,000 miles (6,600 kilometers) long and weighing nearly 10.25 million pounds (4.65 million kilograms), the Marea can transmit up to 160 terabits of data per second, which Microsoft notes is "more than 16 million times faster than the average home internet connection, making it capable of streaming 71 million high-definition videos simultaneously."
The undersea cable -- about 1.5 times the diameter of a garden hose -- contains eight pairs of fiber optic cables encircled by copper, a protective layer of hard plastic, and then waterproof coating. Its 4,000-mile route had to avoid everything from earthquake zones to active volcanoes.

Cables under the Atlantic Ocean carry 55% more data than cables under the Pacific, Microsoft writes, adding that "the project highlights the increasing role of private companies in building the infrastructure of the future."
Open Source

Facebook Relents, Switches React, Flow, Immuable.js and Jest To MIT License (theregister.co.uk) 50

An anonymous reader quotes the Register: Faced with growing dissatisfaction about licensing requirements for some of its open-source projects, Facebook said it will move React, Jest, Flow, and Immutable.js under the MIT license next week. "We're relicensing these projects because React is the foundation of a broad ecosystem of open source software for the web, and we don't want to hold back forward progress for nontechnical reasons," said Facebook engineering director Adam Wolff in a blog post on Friday. Wolff said while Facebook continues to believe its BSD + Patents license has benefits, "we acknowledge that we failed to decisively convince this community"... Wolff said the updated licensing scheme will arrive next week with the launch of React 16, a rewrite of the library designed for more efficient operation at scale.
Facebook was facing strong criticism from the Apache Software Foundation and last week Wordpress.com had announced plans to move away from React.

"Wolff said Facebook considered a license change for its other open-source projects, but wasn't ready to commit to anything," the Register adds. "Some projects, he said, will keep the BSD + Patents license."
Social Networks

Facebook Will Share Copies of Political Ads Purchased by Russian Sources With the US Congress (recode.net) 234

An anonymous reader shares a report: Facebook will turn over copies of political ads purchased by Russian sources to congressional lawmakers, who are investigating the country's potential interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Initially, Facebook had only released those ads -- 3,000 of them, valued at about $100,000 -- to Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who is spearheading the government's probe into Russia's actions. Facebook had withheld those details from House and Senate leaders, citing privacy concerns. But the move drew sharp rebukes from the likes of Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has charged in recent days that Facebook may not have done enough to scan its systems for potential Russian influence and to ensure that such foreign purchases -- otherwise illegal under U.S. law -- don't happen again. "After an extensive legal and policy review, today we are announcing that we will also share these ads with congressional investigators," wrote Colin Stretch, the company's general counsel. "We believe it is vitally important that government authorities have the information they need to deliver to the public a full assessment of what happened in the 2016 election."
Advertising

Democrats Ask FEC To Create New Rules To Keep Foreign Influence Off Social Media Ads (thehill.com) 195

Cristina Marcos reports via The Hill: Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to establish new guidelines for online advertising platforms that would prevent foreign spending to influence U.S. elections. The move comes after Facebook provided information to Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the FBI's investigation into Russia's election interference, about Russian ad purchases during the 2016 campaign.

"The recent revelations that foreign nationals with suspected ties to the Russian government sought to influence the 2016 election through social media advertisements are deeply concerning and demand a response," 20 House and Senate Democrats wrote in the letter. "We are fast approaching the 2018 election cycle. As such, it is imperative the Federal Election Commission begin this effort in earnest," they wrote. CNN, which first reported on the Democrats' letter, cited Facebook sources saying they expect Congress may try to require disclaimers on online political ads in the future, similar to political television ads. The Democratic lawmakers suggested that any FEC guidance address how foreign actors can use corporate or nonprofit designations to avoid disclosing political spending; what advertisement platforms can do to prevent foreign campaign activity; and possible changes to disclosure standards for political advertisements.

Businesses

Amazon 'Reviewing' Its Website After It Suggested Bomb-Making Items (nytimes.com) 156

An anonymous reader shares a report: Amazon said on Wednesday that it was reviewing its website after a British television report said the online retail giant's algorithms were automatically suggesting bomb-making ingredients that were "Frequently bought together." The news is particularly timely in Britain, where the authorities are investigating a terrorist attack last week on London's Underground subway system. The attack involved a crude explosive in a bucket inside a plastic bag, and detonated on a train during the morning rush. The news report is the latest example of a technology company drawing criticism for an apparently faulty algorithm. Google and Facebook have come under fire for allowing advertisers to direct ads to users who searched for, or expressed interest in, racist sentiments and hate speech. Growing awareness of these automated systems has been accompanied by calls for tech firms to take more responsibility for the contents on their sites. Amazon customers buying products that were innocent enough on their own, like cooking ingredients, received "Frequently bought together" prompts for other items that would help them produce explosives, according to the Channel 4 News.
AI

Google's AI Boss Blasts Musk's Scare Tactics on Machine Takeover (bloomberg.com) 130

Mark Bergen, writing for Bloomberg: Elon Musk is the most-famous Cassandra of artificial intelligence. The Tesla chief routinely drums up the technology's risks in public and on Twitter, where he recently called the global race to develop AI the "most likely cause" of a third world war. Researchers at Google, Facebook and other AI-focused companies find this irritating. John Giannandrea, the head of search and AI at Alphabet's Google, took one of the clearest shots at Musk on Tuesday -- all while carefully leaving him unnamed. "There's a huge amount of unwarranted hype around AI right now," Giannandrea said at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. "This leap into, 'Somebody is going to produce a superhuman intelligence and then there's going to be all these ethical issues' is unwarranted and borderline irresponsible."
Businesses

'Bodega' CEO Apologizes, Insists They'll Create More Jobs (cnn.com) 155

Remember those two ex-Googlers who started a company to replace mom-and-pop corner stores with automated vending kiosks? An anonymous reader writes: The company's CEO has now "apologized in the face of mounting outrage," according to CNN. CEO Paul McDonald had shared a vision with Fast Company of a world where centralized shopping locations "won't be necessary" because there'll be a tiny automated one every 100 feet. Within hours McDonald was writing a new apologetic essay insisting he's not trying to replace corner stores, which carry more items and include a human staff who "offer an integral human connection to their patrons that our automated storefronts never will." In fact, he added that "Rather than take away jobs, we hope Bodega will help create them. We see a future where anyone can own and operate a Bodega -- delivering relevant items and a great retail experience to places no corner store would ever open." Promising to review criticism, he added his hope was to "bring a useful, new retail experience to places where commerce currently doesn't exist."
Bodega's CEO sees it as a way to beat Amazon by offering immediate access to popular products, and TechCrunch reports the company has already raised $2.5 million, while Fast Company notes "angel" investments from executives at Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Dropbox.

The company has already begun testing 30 Bodega boxes over the last ten months, and unveiled 50 more boxes last week, with hopes to have over 1,000 by the end of next year.
Social Networks

New Book Argues Silicon Valley Will Lead Us to Our Doom (sandiegouniontribune.com) 202

Long-time Slashdot reader Zorro quotes the San Diego Union-Tribune: To many Americans, large technology firms embody much of what's good about the modern world. Franklin Foer has a different perspective. In his new book, "World Without Mind," the veteran journalist lays out a more ominous view of where Big Tech would like to take us -- in many ways, already has taken us... These firms have a program: to make the world less private, less individual, less creative, less human... Big Tech has imposed its will on the resident population with neither our input nor our permission.
The reviewer summarizes the book's argument as "Once hooked, consumers are robbed of choice, milked for profit, deprived of privacy and made the subjects of stealth social engineering experiments."

Interestingly, Foer was fired from The New Republic in 2014 by its new publisher -- Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes -- and Foer's new book includes strong criticism of the way companies are assembling detailed profiles on their users. "They have built their empires by pulverizing privacy; they will further ensconce themselves by pushing boundaries, by taking even more invasive steps that build toward an even more complete portrait of us."
Facebook

WordPress Ditches ReactJS Over Facebook's Patent Clause (techcrunch.com) 72

An anonymous reader quote TechCrunch: Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of the popular open source web publishing software WordPress, has said the community will be pulling away from using Facebook's React JavaScript library over concerns about a patent clause in Facebook's open source license. In a blog post explaining the decision yesterday, Mullenweg said he had hoped to officially adopt React for WordPress -- noting that Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com which he also founded, had already used React for the Calypso ground-up rewrite of WordPress.com a few years ago, while the WordPress community had started using it for its major Gutenberg core project.

But he said he has changed his mind after seeing Facebook dig in behind the patent clause -- which was recently added to the Apache Software Foundation's list of disallowed licenses... [H]e writes that he cannot, in good conscience, require users of the very widely used open source WordPress software to inherit the patent clause and associated legal risk. So he's made the decision to ditch React.

Facebook can revoke their license if a React user challenges Facebook's patents.
Social Networks

Facebook Shares Details Of Russia-Bought Ads With US Investigators (cnn.com) 232

An anonymous reader quotes CNN: Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team are now in possession of Russian-linked ads run on Facebook during the presidential election, after they obtained a search warrant for the information. Facebook gave Mueller and his team copies of ads and related information it discovered on its site linked to a Russian troll farm, as well as detailed information about the accounts that bought the ads and the way the ads were targeted at American Facebook users, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN. The disclosure, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, may give Mueller's office a fuller picture of who was behind the ad buys and how the ads may have influenced voter sentiment during the 2016 election...

As CNN reported Thursday, Facebook is still not sure whether pro-Kremlin groups may have made other ad buys intended to influence American politics that it simply hasn't discovered yet. It is even possible that unidentified ad buys may still exist on the social media network today.

Google

Social Media Site Gab Sues Google For Antitrust Violations Following Ban From Play Store (washingtonpost.com) 164

The social media site Gab.ai is accusing Google of violating federal antitrust laws when the tech giant booted Gab from the Google Play Store, according to lawsuit filed this week. From a report: The legal action is the latest salvo in an escalating battle between right-leaning technologists and leaders against Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook and Google. Gab alleges in the lawsuit that "Google deprives competitors, on a discriminatory basis, of access to the App Store, which an essential facility or resource." "Google is the biggest threat to the free flow of information," Gab chief executive Andrew Torba said in a statement. "Gab started to fight against the big tech companies in the marketplace, and their monopolistic conduct has forced us to bring the fight to the courtroom." Alternative source.
Advertising

Facebook Enabled Advertisers To Reach 'Jew Haters' (propublica.org) 253

ProPublica is reporting that Facebook "enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of 'Jew hater,' 'How to burn jews,' or, 'History of why jews ruin the world.'" The organization even went so far as to test these ad categories by paying $30 to target those groups with three "promoted posts" -- in which a ProPublica article or post was displayed in their news feeds. Facebook reportedly approved all three ads within 15 minutes. From the report: After we contacted Facebook, it removed the anti-Semitic categories -- which were created by an algorithm rather than by people -- and said it would explore ways to fix the problem, such as limiting the number of categories available or scrutinizing them before they are displayed to buyers. In all likelihood, the ad categories that we spotted were automatically generated because people had listed those anti-Semitic themes on their Facebook profiles as an interest, an employer or a "field of study." Facebook's algorithm automatically transforms people's declared interests into advertising categories. [ProPublica provides a screenshot of their ad buying process on the company's advertising portal.]

"There are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards," said Rob Leathern, product management director at Facebook. "In this case, we've removed the associated targeting fields in question. We know we have more work to do, so we're also building new guardrails in our product and review processes to prevent other issues like this from happening in the future."

Facebook

Spain Fines Facebook Over Tracking Users Without Consent (tomshardware.com) 41

Spain's Data Protection Authority has issued a 1.2 million euro fine against Facebook after it found three instances when the company collected data without informing users, as required by European Union privacy laws. Tom's Hardware reports: The AEPD found multiple issues with how Facebook gathered data on Spanish users. One of the issues was that Facebook collects data on ideology, sex, and religious beliefs, as well as personal tastes and web surfing habits without informing the users about how that data will be used. A second issue was that Facebook wasn't obtaining specific and informed consent from the users because the data it was offering them about the collection was not sufficiently clear. The company has been tracking both users and non-users of the service through the Like button across the web without informing them about this sort of tracking, nor about what it plans to do with the data. The company has said that the collection is done for advertising purposes before, but some purposes remain secret, according to the Spanish Data Protection Authority. The AEPD said this sort of collection doesn't comply with the EU's data protection regulations.

Finally, the AEPD also noticed that Facebook has not been completely purging the data about users who had already deleted their accounts and that Facebook was making use of accounts' data that have been deleted for more than 17 months. Considering the data that has remained behind is no longer useful for the purpose for which it was collected, the agency considered this another serious infringement of EU privacy laws.

Businesses

Union Power Is Putting Pressure on Silicon Valley's Tech Giants (bloomberg.com) 116

An anonymous reader writes: Organized labor doesn't rack up a lot of wins these days, and Silicon Valley isn't most people's idea of a union hotbed. Nonetheless, in the past three years unions have organized 5,000 people who work on Valley campuses. Among others, they've unionized shuttle drivers at Apple, Tesla, Twitter, LinkedIn, EBay, Salesforce.com, Yahoo!, Cisco, and Facebook; security guards at Adobe, IBM, Cisco, and Facebook; and cafeteria workers at Cisco, Intel, and, earlier this summer, Facebook. The workers aren't technically employed by any of those companies. Like many businesses, Valley giants hire contractors that typically offer much less in the way of pay and benefits than the tech companies' direct employees get. Among other things, such arrangements help companies distance themselves from the way their cafeteria workers and security guards are treated, because somebody else is cutting the checks. Silicon Valley Rising, a coalition of unions and civil rights, community, and clergy groups heading the organizing campaign, says its successes have come largely from puncturing that veneer of plausible deniability. That means directing political pressure, media scrutiny, and protests toward the tech companies themselves. "Everybody knows that the contractors will do what the tech companies say, so we're focused on the big guys," says Ben Field, a co-founder of the coalition who heads the AFL-CIO's South Bay Labor Council. Labor leaders say their efforts have gotten some tech companies to cut ties with an anti-union contractor, intervene with others to ease unionization drives, and subsidize better pay for contract workers. "If you want to get people to buy your product, you don't want them to feel that buying your product is contributing to the evils of the world," says Silicon Valley Rising co-founder Derecka Mehrens, who directs Working Partnerships USA, a California nonprofit that advocates for workers. Tech companies have been image-conscious and closely watched of late, she says, and the coalition is "being opportunistic."
EU

EU Set To Demand Internet Firms Act Faster To Remove Illegal Content (reuters.com) 60

Companies including Google, Facebook and Twitter could face European Union laws forcing them to be more proactive in removing illegal content if they do not do more to police what is available on the Internet. From a report: The European Union executive outlines in draft guidelines reviewed by Reuters how Internet firms should step up efforts with measures such as establishing trusted flaggers and taking voluntary measures to detect and remove illegal content. Proliferating illegal content, whether because it infringes copyright or incites terrorism, has sparked heated debate in Europe between those who want online platforms to do more to tackle it and those who fear it could impinge on free speech. The companies have significantly stepped up efforts to tackle the problem of late, agreeing to an EU code of conduct to remove hate speech within 24 hours and forming a global working group to combine their efforts remove terrorist content from their platforms.
Facebook

The Fake News Machine: Inside a Town Gearing Up for 2020 (cnn.com) 225

CNN has a story on Veles, riverside town in Macedonia, which back in the day was known to make porcelain for the whole of Yugoslavia. But now, as an investigation by the news outlet has found, it makes fake news. Veles has become home to dozens of website operators who churn out bogus stories designed to attract the attention of Americans. Each click adds cash to their bank accounts. From the report: The scale is industrial: Over 100 websites were tracked here during the final weeks of the 2016 U.S. election campaign, producing fake news that mostly favored Republican candidate for President Donald Trump. One of the shadowy industry's pioneers is a soft-spoken law school dropout. Worried that his online accounts could be shut down, the 24-year-old asked to be known only as Mikhail. He takes on a different persona at night, prowling the internet as "Jesica," an American who frequently posts pro-Trump memes on Facebook. The website and Facebook page that "Jesica" runs caters to conservative readers in the U.S. The stories are political -- and often wrong on the facts. But that doesn't concern Mikhail. "I don't care, because the people are reading," he said. "At 22, I was earning more than someone [in Macedonia] will ever learn in his entire life." He claims to have earned up to $2,500 a day from advertising on his website, while the average monthly income in Macedonia is just $426. The profits come primarily from ad services such as Google's AdSense, which place targeted advertisements around the web. Each click sends a little bit of cash back to the content creator. Mikhail says he has used his profits to buy a house and put his younger sister through school. [...] That site was blocked a few months ago after Facebook and Google started cracking down on fake news sites. Mikhail is now retooling his operation, with his sights set firmly on the 2020 presidential election.
Google

Google Accused of Trying To Patent Public Domain Technology (bleepingcomputer.com) 101

An anonymous reader shares a report: A Polish academic is accusing Google of trying to patent technology he invented and that he purposely released into the public domain so companies like Google couldn't trap it inside restrictive licenses. The technology's name is Asymmetric Numeral Systems (ANS), a family of entropy coding methods that Polish assistant professor Jarosaw (Jarek) Duda developed in the early 2000s, and which is now hot tech at companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook, mostly because it can improve data compression from 3 to 30 times. Duda says that Google is now trying to register a patent that includes most of the ANS basic principles. Ironically, most of the technology described in the patent, Duda said he explained to Google engineers in a Google Groups discussion from 2014. The researcher already filed a complaint, to which WIPO ISA responded by calling out Google for not coming up with "an inventive contribution over the prior art, because it is no more than a straightforward application of known coding algorithms." A Google spokesperson refused to comment, and the mystery remains surrounding Google's decision to patent something that's in the public domain since 2014.

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