Archives September 27, 2019

Facebook Confirms Its ‘Standards’ Don’t Apply To Politicians

Facebook this week finally put into writing what users — especially politically powerful users — have known for years: its community “standards” do not, in fact, apply across the whole community. Speech from politicians is officially exempt from the platform’s fact checking and decency standards, the company has clarified, with a few exceptions. Facebook communications VP Nick Clegg, himself a former member of the UK Parliament, outlined the policy in a speech and company blog post Tuesday. Facebook has had a “newsworthiness exemption” to its content guidelines since 2016. That policy was formalized in late October of that year amid a contentious and chaotic US political season and three weeks before the presidential election that would land Donald Trump the White House.

Facebook at the time was uncertain how to handle posts from the Trump campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported. Sources told the paper that Facebook employees were sharply divided over the candidate’s rhetoric about Muslim immigrants and his stated desire for a Muslim travel ban, which several felt were in violation of the service’s hate speech standards. Eventually, the sources said, CEO Mark Zuckerberg weighed in directly and said it would be inappropriate to intervene. Months later, Facebook finally issued its policy. “We’re going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest — even if they might otherwise violate our standards,” Facebook wrote at the time.
Facebook by default “will treat speech from politicians as newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard.” It won’t be subject to fact-checking because the company does not believe that it is appropriate for it to “referee political debates” or prevent a politician’s speech from both reaching its intended audience and “being subject to public debate and scrutiny.”

Newsworthiness, Clegg added, will be determined by weighing the “public interest value of the piece of speech” against the risk of harm. The exception to all of this is advertising. “Standards are different for content for which the company receives payment, so if someone — even a politician or political candidate — posts ads to Facebook, those ads in theory must still meet both the community standards and Facebook’s advertising policies,” reports Ars.

Politicians Can Break Our Content Rules, YouTube CEO Says

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said this week that content by politicians would stay up on the video-sharing website even if it violates the company’s standards, echoing a position staked out by Facebook this week.

“When you have a political officer that is making information that is really important for their constituents to see, or for other global leaders to see, that is content that we would leave up because we think it’s important for other people to see,” Wojcicki told an audience at The Atlantic Festival this morning. Wojcicki said the news media is likely to cover controversial content regardless of whether it’s taken down, giving context to understand it. YouTube is owned by Google. A YouTube spokesperson later told POLITICO that politicians are not treated differently than other users and must abide by its community guidelines. The company grants exemptions to some political speech if the company considers it to be educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic in nature.

Uber Stopped Its Own Investigators From Reporting Crimes To the Police

The special investigations team inside Uber, which fields complaints from riders and drivers, is not allowed to escalate those issues to law enforcement or file official police reports “even when they get confessions of felonies,” according to The Washington Post. They are also not allowed to advise victims or potential victims of crimes to seek legal counsel, according to the report, which was based on interviews with “more than 20 current and former investigators” who worked at Uber’s investigations unit in Arizona.

The investigators are also allegedly instructed to “first to protect Uber” and make sure it is “not held liable” for any crimes that are committed by people using the company’s ride-hailing platform. In that vein, the investigators told the paper that even the language they use when communicating with alleged victims is carefully worded to avoid the appearance that Uber is taking a side. The investigators also said they’re not supposed to specifically ask alleged perpetrators about claims against them.

Vimeo Sued For Storing Faceprints of People Without Their Consent

Vimeo is collecting and storing thousands of people’s facial biometrics without their permission or knowledge, according to a complaint filed on September 20 on behalf of potentially thousands of plaintiffs under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).

The suit takes aim at Vimeo’s Magisto application: a short-form video creation platform purchased by Vimeo in April 2019 that uses facial recognition to automatically index the faces of people in videos so they can be face-tagged. BIPA bans collecting and storing biometric data without explicit consent, including “faceprints.” The complaint against Vimeo claims that users of Magisto “upload millions of videos and/or photos per day, making videos and photographs a vital part of the Magisto experience.”

The complaint maintains that unbeknownst to the average consumer, Magisto scans “each and every video and photo uploaded to Magisto for faces” and analyzes “biometric identifiers,” including facial geometry, to “create and store a template for each face.” That template is later used to “organize and group together videos based upon the particular individuals appearing in the videos” by “comparing the face templates of individuals who appear in newly-edited videos or photos with the facial templates already saved in Magisto’s face database.”

The complaint also asserts that Magisto analyzes and face-matches the biometrics of non-Magisto users who happen to appear in the photos and videos, which is a violation of BIPA.