China

Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument (cnet.com) 62

Abstract of a study: The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called "50c party" posts vociferously argue for the government's side in political and policy debates. As we show, this is also true of the vast majority of posts openly accused on social media of being 50c. Yet, almost no systematic empirical evidence exists for this claim, or, more importantly, for the Chinese regime's strategic objective in pursuing this activity. In the first large scale empirical analysis of this operation, we show how to identify the secretive authors of these posts, the posts written by them, and their content. We estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year. In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime's strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. From a CNET article, titled, Chinese media told to 'shut down' talk that makes country look bad: Being an internet business in China appears to be getting tougher. Chinese broadcasters, including social media platform Weibo, streamer Acfun and media company Ifeng were told to shut down all audio and visual content that cast the country or its government in bad light, China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television posted on its website on Thursday, saying they violate local regulations. "[The service providers] broadcast large amounts of programmes that don't comply with national rules and propagate negative discussions about public affairs. [The agency] has notified all relevant authorities and ... will take measures to shut down these programmes and rectify the situation," reads the statement.
Facebook

Facebook Has a New Mission: Bring the World Closer Together (cnn.com) 104

Facebook CEO believes the company's primary purpose is a social one -- the same it has had for year -- but he's ready to update this mission for the first time. From a report: "We used to have a sense that if we could just do those things, then that would make a lot of the things in the world better by themselves," Zuckerberg told CNN Tech. "But now we realize that we need to do more too. It's important to give people a voice, to get a diversity of opinions out there, but on top of that, you also need to do this work of building common ground so that way we can all move forward together." The company even has a new mission statement: "To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together." This marks the first time the company has overhauled its mission, which had previously been "to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." Zuckerberg believes he has just the tool for the job: Facebook Groups, which are now used by a billion people. "A lot of what we can do is to help create a more civil and productive debate on some of the bigger issues as well," Zuckerberg told CNN Tech.
Privacy

California May Restore Broadband Privacy Rules Killed By Congress and Trump (arstechnica.com) 85

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A proposed law in California would require Internet service providers to obtain customers' permission before they use, share, or sell the customers' Web browsing history. The California Broadband Internet Privacy Act, a bill introduced by Assembly member Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) on Monday, is very similar to an Obama-era privacy rule that was scheduled to take effect across the US until President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress eliminated it. If Chau's bill becomes law, ISPs in California would have to get subscribers' opt-in consent before using browsing history and other sensitive information in order to serve personalized advertisements. Consumers would have the right to revoke their consent at any time. The opt-in requirement in Chau's bill would apply to "Web browsing history, application usage history, content of communications, and origin and destination Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of all traffic." The requirement would also apply to geolocation data, IP addresses, financial and health information, information pertaining to minors, names and billing information, Social Security numbers, demographic information, and personal details such as physical addresses, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers.
Android

Mozilla Launches Privacy-Minded 'Firefox Focus' Browser For Android (venturebeat.com) 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat: Mozilla today launched a new browser for Android. In addition to Firefox, the company now also offers Firefox Focus, a browser dedicated to user privacy that by default blocks many web trackers, including analytics, social, and advertising. You can download the new app now from Google Play. Because Google isn't as strict as Apple, Android users can set Firefox Focus as their default browser. There are many use cases for wanting to browse the web without being tracked, but Mozilla offers a common example: reading articles via apps "like Facebook." On iOS, Firefox Focus is basically just a web view with tracking protection. On Android, Firefox Focus is the same, with a few additional features (which are still "under consideration" for iOS):
  • Ad tracker counter -- Lists the number of ads that are blocked per site while using the app.
  • Disable tracker blocker -- For sites that are not loading correctly, you can disable the tracker blocker to fix the issues.
  • Notification reminder -- When Firefox Focus is running in the background, a notification will remind you so you can easily tap to erase your browsing history.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Launches New AI Progress Measurement Project (eff.org) 48

Reader Peter Eckersley writes: There's a lot of real progress happening in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and also a lot of hype. These technologies already have serious policy implications, and may have more in the future. But what's the ratio of hype to real progress? At EFF, we decided to find out.

Today we are launching a pilot project to measure the progress of AI research. It breaks the field into a taxonomy of subproblems like game playing, reading comprehension, computer vision, and asking neural networks to write computer programs, and tracks progress on metrics across these fields. We're hoping to get feedback and contributions from the machine learning community, with the aim of using this data to improve the conversations around the social implications, transparency, safety, and security of AI.

Advertising

Time Warner Will Spend $100 Million On Snapchat Original Shows, Ads (techcrunch.com) 40

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Time Warner and Snap Inc. have announced a new deal that will bring increased ad spending and the development of new made-for-Snapchat shows. People familiar with the deal tell TechCrunch that it is valued at about $100 million spent over the next two years. The newly created shows will span a variety of genres, including scripted drama, daily news shows, documentaries and comedy. The shows will be similar to those already released by other networks on Snapchat, and run 3-5 minutes in a vertical format. Right now there is about one new show airing per day -- this deal will push that to about three news shows per day, varying between the different genres outlined above. Snap will take 50 percent of the ad revenue generated by these shows and the content partners will keep the other half, according to the WSJ.
Social Networks

Supreme Court Rules Sex Offenders Can't Be Barred From Social Media (gizmodo.com) 114

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: In a unanimous decision today, the Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law that prevents sex offenders from posting on social media where children might be present, saying it "impermissibly restricts lawful speech." In doing so, the Supreme Court asserted what we all know to be true: Posting is essential to the survival of the republic. The court ruled that to "foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights." The court correctly noted that "one of the most important places to exchange views is cyberspace." The North Carolina law was ruled to be overly broad, barring "access to what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge."
Facebook

Facebook Exposes Employee Data To Terrorists (theguardian.com) 50

An anonymous reader writes: The Guardian is reporting that Facebook accidentally exposed the personal information of the moderators that remove terrorist content to the groups that posted that very content. From the article it looks like 6 of them actually had their profiles viewed. From the article, "The security lapse affected more than 1,000 workers across 22 departments at Facebook who used the company's moderation software to review and remove inappropriate content from the platform, including sexual material, hate speech and terrorist propaganda."

What are Facebook's responsibilities here?


Censorship

Japan Passes Controversial 'Anti-Conspiracy' Bill (privateinternetaccess.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Virtual Privacy Network Blog, News: Earlier today, after an intentionally rushed consideration process, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe passed a new mass surveillance law conveniently called the "anti-conspiracy bill." With the vague wording of the bill, anyone suspected of planning any of [the 277 acts listed in the bill] could be put under targeted surveillance. Of course, the Japanese government has promised not to overstep their boundaries and emphasized that the new law is only meant to increase security before the 2020 Olympics. Among the noted crimes that would be punishable in Japan under the new anti-terrorism law is copyright violation, which is a criminal offense not a civil offense in Japan. Both the Japanese Bar Association and the United Nation's Special Rapporteur have spoken out against the law, saying that it will severely curtail civil liberties in Japan.

BBC laid out some of the most ridiculous things that someone in Japan can now catch a potentially terrorism-related charge for even planning or discussing on social media the acts of: Copying music; Conducting sit-ins to protest against the construction of apartment buildings; Using forged stamps; Competing in a motor boat race without a license; Mushroom picking in conservation forests; Avoiding paying consumption tax. The stated rationale of the government is that these now-illegal acts, such as copying music to CDs or foraging for mushrooms in conservation forests, could be used to fund terrorist activities. Hence, planning or thinking about them is bad. If this sounds like the Thought Police, that's because it is.

Businesses

Apple Issues $1 Billion Green Bond After Trump's Paris Climate Exit (reuters.com) 168

An anonymous reader shares a report: Apple offered a $1 billion bond dedicated to financing clean energy and environmental projects on Tuesday, the first corporate green bond offered since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement. The offering comes over a year after Apple issued its first green bond of $1.5 billion -- the largest issued by a U.S. corporation -- as a response to the 2015 Paris agreement. Apple said its second green bond is meant to show that businesses are still committed to the goals of the 194-nation accord. "Leadership from the business community is essential to address the threat of climate change and protect our shared planet," said Lisa Jackson, Apple's vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives.
Google

Google Searches Show That America Is Full of Racist and Selfish People (vox.com) 709

gollum123 shares a report by Sean Illing via Vox: "Google is a digital truth serum," Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, author of Everybody Lies , told me in a recent interview. "People tell Google things that they don't tell to possibly anybody else, things they might not tell to family members, friends, anonymous surveys, or doctors." Stephens-Davidowitz was working on a PhD in economics at Harvard when he became obsessed with Google Trends, a tool that tracks how frequently searches are made in a given area over a given time period. As a barometer of our national consciousness, Google is as accurate (and predictive) as it gets. In 2016, when the Republican primaries were just beginning, most pundits and pollsters did not believe Trump could win. After all, he had insulted veterans, women, minorities, and countless other constituencies. But Stephens-Davidowitz saw clues in his Google research that suggested Trump was far more serious than many supposed. Searches containing racist epithets and jokes were spiking across the country during Trump's primary run, and not merely in the South but in upstate New York, Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, rural Illinois, West Virginia, and industrial Michigan.
Facebook

Man Sentenced to Death For Blasphemous Facebook Comments In Pakistan (gizmodo.com) 464

In what is believed to be "the first time the death penalty had been awarded in a case related to social media," a 30-year-old man in Pakistan has been sentenced to death for blasphemy in comments made on Facebook. Gizmodo reports: The prosecutor told The Times of India that Taimoor Raza was arrested "after playing blasphemous and hate speech material on his phone on a bus stop in Bahawalpur, where a counter-terrorism officer arrested him and confiscated his phone." It was the material on Raza's phone that led to his arrest. The Guardian reports that the accused's brother said Raza "indulged in a sectarian debate on Facebook with a person, who we later come to know, was a [counter-terrorism department] official with the name of Muhammad Usman." Raza's defense attorney told The Guardian the initial charges were limited to "insulting remarks on sectarian grounds," which carries a maximum two-year jail sentence, but that "derogatory acts against prophet Muhammad," which carry a death sentence, were added later. According to The Times of India, Raza will be able to appeal the ruling to the Pakistani High Court and the Supreme Court. Facebook said in a statement: "We are deeply saddened and concerned by the death sentence served in Pakistan for a Facebook post. Facebook uses powerful systems to keep people's information secure and tools to keep their accounts safe, and we do not provide any government with direct access to people's data. We will continue to protect our community from unnecessary or overreaching government intervention."
Education

Wisconsin Speech Bill Might Allow Students To Challenge Science Professors (arstechnica.com) 437

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: There have been some well-publicized incidents in which student groups or other protesters have interfered with scheduled appearances by right-wing speakers at U.S. universities. In response, a number of states have considered "campus free speech" bills based on model legislation produced by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank. Different bills introduce specific penalties for students who shout down the speech of others and prevent college administrators from disinviting speakers, to give two examples. One such bill is being debated in Wisconsin. Faculty and university officials in the state are concerned about what else might be prevented by the bill's overly vague language, according to the local Cap Times. As often happens with bills relevant to science education, the debate has also elicited some rather bizarre comments from the bill's sponsors. The trouble comes from this section of the bill: "That each institution shall strive to remain neutral, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day, and may not take action, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day in such a way as to require students or faculty to publicly express a given view of social policy." While the bills' scope is focused on public events involving invited speakers, there are a couple key questions here. University officials want to know how far this requirement "to remain neutral" extends. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has spoken out against proposed bans on stem cell research on campus. Would the university run afoul of this law if it did so again?
Government

'COVFEFE Act' Would Make Social Media a Presidential Record (thehill.com) 322

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) introduced legislation Monday to classify presidential social media posts -- including President Trump's much-discussed tweets -- as presidential records. The Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement (COVFEFE) Act, which has the same acronym as an infamous Trump Twitter typo last month, would amend the Presidential Records Act to include "social media." Presidential records must be preserved, according to the Presidential Records Act, which would make it potentially illegal for the president to delete tweets. "President Trump's frequent, unfiltered use of his personal Twitter account as a means of official communication is unprecedented. If the President is going to take to social media to make sudden public policy proclamations, we must ensure that these statements are documented and preserved for future reference. Tweets are powerful, and the President must be held accountable for every post," said Quigley in a statement. Most people took the "covfefe" tweet to be a typo, although press secretary Sean Spicer told the media that the term was used intentionally. "The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant," he said.
Operating Systems

Skype Retires Older Apps for Windows, Linux (techcrunch.com) 121

An anonymous reader writes: The newest version of the Skype app takes a big hat-tip from social media platforms like Snapchat and Facebook's Messenger with its newest features, adding a Stories-like feature called Highlights, a big selection of bots to add into chats and a longer plan to upgrade group conversations with more features. Now, as part of the effort to get people to use the new Skype more, the company is also doubling down on something else: Skype is trying to get users off of older versions of Skype. As part of that push, the Microsoft-owned company has sent out messages to users this week noting that it will be retiring a host of older iterations on July 1. Those who are still using them after that day will likely no longer be able to sign on. Skype app won't work on the follow OS versions: Android 4.0.2 and lower, BlackBerry OS 7.1 and lower, iOS 7 and lower, Linux (Linux users must upgrade to Skype for Linux Beta), Mac OS X 10.8 and lower, Symbian OS, Skype mobile for Verizon, Skype on 3, Skype on TV, Windows 10 task-based app, Windows Phone 8.1 and lower, and Windows RT.
Facebook

Facebook Wants To Spy On People Using Their Phone's Camera and Analyze Facial Emotions (thesun.co.uk) 104

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Sun: The social network applied for a patent to capture pictures of a user through their smartphone. The creepy designs, which date back to 2015, were discovered by software company CBI Insight, which has been analyzing Mark Zuckerberg's "emotion technology." Patent documents contain illustrations showing a person holding a smartphone with a camera taking a picture from which "emotion characteristics" like smiling or frowning are detected. If the person appears to like what they're seeing, Facebook could place more of the same type of content in front of them. Patents don't always make it through to the end product, so it's not clear whether Facebook will bring out this new feature. Researchers at CBI Insights warned that the plans could put a lot of people off using the service. Facebook appears to have tested out similar technology to work out which emoji to send to people using a selfie.
Businesses

Airbnb Announces Its Plan To House 100,000 People In Need (backchannel.com) 139

New submitter mirandakatz writes: Airbnb has just unveiled its Open Homes Platform, a home-sharing site for hosts motivated by goodwill instead of profits -- and for guests motivated by need rather than wanderlust. Specifically, Airbnb is going to begin by connecting refugees with hosts in Canada, France, Greece, and the United States. Ultimately, refugees will be just one group that the site aims to help: Site visitors can also nominate other groups of people for temporary placements, and the platform will expand to include them eventually. At Backchannel, Jessi Hempel dives into the home-sharing platform's latest effort, and places it in the context of the company's broader business strategy.
Twitter

The Public Is Growing Tired of Trump's Tweets, Says Voter Survey (arstechnica.com) 489

President Donald Trump is the tweeting president. His @realDonaldTrump handle has 31.8 million followers and "35K" tweets. While the president claims to use Twitter to "get the honest and unfiltered message out," many Americans aren't so fond of his favored form of communication. According to a new voter poll (PDF), the public is growing tired of Trump's tweets. Ars Technica reports: A Morning Consult, Politico survey published Wednesday found that 69 percent of voters who took the online survey said they thought Trump tweets too much. That's up from 56 percent from December, months before Trump took office. The survey said that 82 percent of Democrats polled thought Trump tweets too much, up from 75 percent in December. Republicans came in at 53 percent saying the president used Twitter too often, an 11-percent increase from December. Overall, 57 percent of voters who took the survey said Trump's tweets are hurting his presidency. Another 53 percent said his Twitter use undermines U.S. standing in the world. The poll found that 51 percent of all voters said Trump's tweets imperiled national security. What do you think of Trump's tweets? Do you think they are getting old, or do you find them particularly useful?
Security

Russian Malware Communicates Using Britney Spears's Instagram Account (welivesecurity.com) 54

JustAnotherOldGuy writes: A key weakness in malicious software is the "Command and Control" (C&C) system -- a central server that the malware-infected systems contact to receive updates and instructions, and to send stolen data. Anti-malware researchers like to reverse engineer malicious code, discover the C&C server's address, and then shut it down. Turla is an "advanced persistent threat" hacking group based in Russia with a long history of attacking states in ways that advance Russian state interests. A new analysis by Eset shows that Turla is solving its C&C problems by using Britney Spears' Instagram account as a cut-out for its C&C servers. Turla moves the C&C server around, then hides the current address of the server in encrypted comments left on Britney Spears's image posts. The compromised systems check in with Spears' Instagram whenever they need to know where the C&C server is currently residing.
Facebook

Facebook Unveils New Tools To Help Elected Officials Reach Constituents (techcrunch.com) 52

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Facebook this year has launched a number of features that make it easier for people to reach their government representatives on its social network, including "Town Hall," and related integrations with News Feed, as well as ways to share reps' contact info in your own posts. Today, the company is expanding on these initiatives with those designed for elected officials themselves. The new tools will help officials connect with their constituents, as well as better understand which issues their constituents care about most. Specifically, the social network is rolling out three new features: constituent badges, constituent insights, and district targeting. Constituent badges are a new, opt-in feature that allow Facebook users to identify themselves as a person living in the district the elected official represents. A second feature called Constituent Insights is designed to help elected officials learn which local news stories and content is popular in their district, so they can share their thoughts on those matters. The third new feature -- District Targeting -- is arguably the most notable. This effectively gives elected officials the means of gathering feedback from their constituents through Facebook directly, using either posts or polls that are targeted only towards those who actually live in their particular district. That means the official can post to Facebook to ask for feedback from constituents about an issue, and these posts will only be viewable by those who live in their district.

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