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To Keep Trump From Violating Its Rules…Facebook Rewrote the Rules

After Trump’s infamous “the shooting starts” post, Facebook deputies contacted the White House “with an urgent plea to tweak the language of the post or simply delete it,” the article reveals, after which Trump himself called Mark Zuckerberg. (The article later notes that historically Facebook makes a “newsworthiness exception” for some posts which it refuses to remove, “determined on a case-by-case basis, with the most controversial calls made by Zuckerberg.”) And in the end, Facebook also decided not to delete that post — and says now that even Friday’s newly-announced policy changes still would not have disqualified the post:
The frenzied push-pull was just the latest incident in a five-year struggle by Facebook to accommodate the boundary-busting ways of Trump. The president has not changed his rhetoric since he was a candidate, but the company has continually altered its policies and its products in ways certain to outlast his presidency. Facebook has constrained its efforts against false and misleading news, adopted a policy explicitly allowing politicians to lie, and even altered its news feed algorithm to neutralize claims that it was biased against conservative publishers, according to more than a dozen former and current employees and previously unreported documents obtained by The Washington Post. One of the documents shows it began as far back as 2015…

The concessions to Trump have led to a transformation of the world’s information battlefield. They paved the way for a growing list of digitally savvy politicians to repeatedly push out misinformation and incendiary political language to billions of people. It has complicated the public understanding of major events such as the pandemic and the protest movement, as well as contributed to polarization. And as Trump grew in power, the fear of his wrath pushed Facebook into more deferential behavior toward its growing number of right-leaning users, tilting the balance of news people see on the network, according to the current and former employees…

Facebook is also facing a slow-burning crisis of morale, with more than 5,000 employees denouncing the company’s decision to leave Trump’s post that said, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” up… The political speech carveout ended up setting the stage for how the company would handle not only Trump, but populist leaders around the world who have posted content that test these boundaries, such as Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Narendra Modi in India…

“The value of being in favor with people in power outweighs almost every other concern for Facebook,” said David Thiel, a Facebook security engineer who resigned in March after his colleagues refused to remove a post he believed constituted “dehumanizing speech” by Brazil’s president.

Facebook Knows It Encourages Division

A Facebook team had a blunt message for senior executives. The company’s algorithms weren’t bringing people together. They were driving people apart. “Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.” That presentation went to the heart of a question dogging Facebook almost since its founding: Does its platform aggravate polarization and tribal behavior? The answer it found, in some cases, was yes.

Facebook had kicked off an internal effort to understand how its platform shaped user behavior and how the company might address potential harms. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg had in public and private expressed concern about “sensationalism and polarization.” But in the end, Facebook’s interest was fleeting. Mr. Zuckerberg and other senior executives largely shelved the basic research, according to previously unreported internal documents and people familiar with the effort, and weakened or blocked efforts to apply its conclusions to Facebook products. Facebook policy chief Joel Kaplan, who played a central role in vetting proposed changes, argued at the time that efforts to make conversations on the platform more civil were “paternalistic,” said people familiar with his comments.

How Google Ruined the Internet

Remember that story about the Polish dentist who pulled out all of her ex-boyfriend’s teeth in an act of revenge? It was complete and utter bullshit. 100% fabricated. No one knows who wrote it. Nevertheless, it was picked up by Fox News, the Los Angeles Times and many other publishers. That was eight years ago, yet when I search now for “dentist pulled ex boyfriends teeth,” I get a featured snippet that quotes ABC News’ original, uncorrected story. Who invented the fidget spinner? Ask Google Assistant and it will tell you that Catherine Hettinger did: a conclusion based on poorly-reported stories from The Guardian, The New York Times and other major news outlets. Bloomberg’s Joshua Brustein clearly demonstrated that Ms. Hettinger did not invent the low friction toy. Nevertheless, ask Google Assistant “who really invented the fidget spinner?” and you’ll get the same answer: Catherine Hettinger.

In 1998, the velocity of information was slow and the cost of publishing it was high (even on the web). Google leveraged those realities to make the best information retrieval system in the world. Today, information is free, plentiful and fast moving; somewhat by design, Google has become a card catalog that is constantly being reordered by an angry, misinformed mob. The web was supposed to forcefully challenge our opinions and push back, like a personal trainer who doesn’t care how tired you say you are. Instead, Google has become like the pampering robots in WALL-E, giving us what we want at the expense of what we need. But, it’s not our bodies that are turning into mush: It’s our minds.

‘I Asked My Students To Turn In Their Cellphones and Write About Living Without Them’

Rog Srigley, writer who teaches at Humber College and Laurentian University, offered his students extra credit if they would give him their phones for nine days and write about living without them. “What they wrote was remarkable, and remarkably consistent,” he writes. “These university students, given the chance to say what they felt, didn’t gracefully submit to the tech industry and its devices.”

“Believe it or not, I had to walk up to a stranger and ask what time it was. It honestly took me a lot of guts and confidence to ask someone,” Janet wrote. (Her name, like the others here, is a pseudonym.) She describes the attitude she was up against: “Why do you need to ask me the time? Everyone has a cell phone. You must be weird or something.”

Emily went even further. Simply walking by strangers “in the hallway or when I passed them on the street” caused almost all of them to take out a phone “right before I could gain eye contact with them.”

To these young people, direct, unmediated human contact was experienced as ill-mannered at best and strange at worst.

James: “One of the worst and most common things people do nowadays is pull out their cell phone and use it while in a face-to-face conversation. This action is very rude and unacceptable, but yet again, I find myself guilty of this sometimes because it is the norm.” Emily noticed that “a lot of people used their cell phones when they felt they were in an awkward situation, for an example [sic] being at a party while no one was speaking to them.” The price of this protection from awkward moments is the loss of human relationships, a consequence that almost all the students identified and lamented. Without his phone, James said, he found himself forced to look others in the eye and engage in conversation. Stewart put a moral spin on it. “Being forced to have [real relations with people] obviously made me a better person because each time it happened I learned how to deal with the situation better, other than sticking my face in a phone.” Ten of the 12 students said their phones were compromising their ability to have such relationships.

Peter: “I have to admit, it was pretty nice without the phone all week. Didn’t have to hear the fucking thing ring or vibrate once, and didn’t feel bad not answering phone calls because there were none to ignore.” “It felt so free without one and it was nice knowing no one could bother me when I didn’t want to be bothered,” wrote William.

Emily said that she found herself “sleeping more peacefully after the first two nights of attempting to sleep right away when the lights got shut off.”

Stewart: “Actually I got things done much quicker without the cell because instead of waiting for a response from someone (that you don’t even know if they read your message or not) you just called them [from a land line], either got an answer or didn’t, and moved on to the next thing.”

“My students’ experience of cell phones and the social-media platforms they support may not be exhaustive, or statistically representative. But it is clear that these gadgets made them feel less alive, less connected to other people and to the world, and less productive. They also made many tasks more difficult and encouraged students to act in ways they considered unworthy of themselves. In other words, phones didn’t help them. They harmed them.”

Tina’s concluding remarks described it well: “Without cell phones life would be simple and real but we may not be able to cope with the world and our society. After a few days I felt alright without the phone as I got used to it. But I guess it is only fine if it is for a short period of time. One cannot hope to compete efficiently in life without a convenient source of communication that is our phones.” Compare this admission with the reaction of Peter, who a few months after the course in 2014 tossed his smartphone into a river.

“I think my students are being entirely rational when they “distract” themselves in my class with their phones. They understand the world they are being prepared to enter much better than I do. In that world, I’m the distraction, not their phones or their social-media profiles or their networking. Yet for what I’m supposed to be doing—educating and cultivating young hearts and minds—the consequences are pretty dark.”

YouTube’s Top Earner For 2019? An 8-Year-Old Who Made $26M

“An eight-year-old boy who reviews toys on YouTube has been named by Forbes as the platform’s highest earner in 2019,” reports CNN:
Ryan Kaji, whose channel Ryan’s World has 22.9 million subscribers, earned $26 million in 2019 — up $4 million from his earnings in 2018, when he also gained the highest-earning YouTuber spot… Another child, Anastasia Radzinskaya, five, came in third place with earnings of $18 million. Radzinskaya, who was born in southern Russia and has cerebral palsy, appears in videos with her father. According to Forbes, she has 107 million subscribers across seven channels and her videos have been watched 42 billion times….

Dude Perfect — a group of five friends in their thirties who play sports and perform stunts — came in second place, earning $20 million.

YouTube has announced that next year it will stop personalized advertisements on children’s content. This comes after Google agreed to pay $170 million to settle accusations that YouTube broke the law when it knowingly tracked and sold ads targeted to children.

40% of Anti-Vaccine Group’s Funding Came From Wealthy ‘Alternative Health’ Vendor

The nation’s oldest anti-vaccine advocacy group often emphasizes that it is supported primarily by small donations and concerned parents, describing its founder as the leader of a “national, grass roots movement.” But over the past decade a single donor has contributed more than $2.9 million to the National Vaccine Information Center, accounting for about 40 percent of the organization’s funding, according to the most recent available tax records.

That donor, osteopathic physician Joseph Mercola, has amassed a fortune selling natural health products, court records show, including vitamin supplements, some of which he claims are alternatives to vaccines.

In recent years, the center has been at the forefront of a movement that has led some parents to forgo or delay immunizing their children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles. Health officials say falling vaccination rates contributed to the infectious virus sickening more than 1,200 people in the United States this year, the largest number in more than 25 years. Measles outbreaks are surging worldwide, including in Samoa — where nearly 80 people have died since mid-October, the great majority of them young children and infants… The group claimed credit this year for helping to defeat legislation in a dozen states that would have made it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children…

Mercola, whose claims about other products have drawn warnings from regulators, has also given at least $4 million to several groups that echo the anti-vaccine message. His net worth, derived largely from his network of private companies, has grown to “in excess of $100 million,” he said in a 2017 affidavit.

In 2010 Mercola’s site and the anti-vaccination group “launched a website that tracks vaccine-related legislation in every state. The site provides activists with detailed information, including how to sign up for public comment to support or oppose legislation in their state, where to park to attend a public hearing and what color T-shirt to wear to rallies…”

“In 2016, in response to a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission, Mercola refunded nearly $2.6 million to more than 1,300 people who bought tanning beds that he claimed could reduce the risk of skin cancer.”

Facebook, Twitter Shutter Pro-Trump Network That Used AI To Create Fake People and Push Conspiracies

On Friday, Facebook and Twitter shut down a network of fake accounts that pushed pro-Trump messages all while “masquerading” as Americans with AI-generated faces as profile photos.

QIn a blog post, Facebook said that it connected the accounts to a US-based media company called The BL that, it claims, has ties to Epoch Media Group. In August, NBC News first reported that Epoch Media Group was pushing messages in support of President Donald Trump across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Epoch has extensive connections to Falun Gong, an eccentric Chinese spiritual community that has faced significant persecution from the country’s central government. In a statement provided to The Verge, the Epoch Times denied any connection to The BL.

Facebook noted that many of the fake accounts used in the latest campaign employed false profile photos that appeared to have been generated by artificial intelligence. Those accounts would post BL content in other Facebook groups while pretending to be Americans. Pro-Trump messages were often posted “at very high frequencies” and linked to off-platform sites belonging to the BL and The Epoch Times. The accounts and pages were managed by individuals in the US and Vietnam. Facebook said that it removed 610 accounts, 89 Facebook pages, 156 groups, and 72 Instagram accounts that were connected to the organization. Around 55 million accounts followed one of these Facebook pages and 92,000 followed at least one of the Instagram accounts. The organization spent nearly $9.5 million in advertisements, according to Facebook.

The Rise of the Deepfake and the threat to Democracy

Deepfakes posted on the internet in the past two years, has alarmed many observers, who believe the technology could be used to disgrace politicians and even swing elections. Democracies appear to be gravely threatened by the speed at which disinformation can be created and spread via social media, where the incentive to share the most sensationalist content outweighs the incentive to perform the tiresome work of verification.

Last month, a digitally altered video showing Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, appearing to slur drunkenly through a speech was widely shared on Facebook and YouTube. Trump then posted the clip on Twitter with the caption: “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE”. The video was quickly debunked, but not before it had been viewed millions of times; the president did not delete his tweet, which at the time of writing has received nearly 98,000 likes. Facebook declined to take down the clip, qualifying its decision with the statement: “Once the video was fact-checked as false, we dramatically reduced its distribution.”

In response, a team including the artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe two weeks ago posted a video on Instagram, in which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg boasts that he has “total control of billions of people’s stolen data, all their secrets, their lives, their futures”.

In May 2018, a Flemish socialist party called sp.a posted a deepfake video to its Twitter and Facebook pages showing Trump appearing to taunt Belgium for remaining in the Paris climate agreement. The video, which remains on the party’s social media, is a poor forgery: Trump’s hair is curiously soft-focus, while his mouth moves with a Muppet-like elasticity. Indeed, the video concludes with Trump saying: “We all know that climate change is fake, just like this video,” although this sentence alone is not subtitled in Flemish Dutch. (The party declined to comment, but a spokesperson previously told the site Politico that it commissioned the video to “draw attention to the necessity to act on climate change”.)

But James [founder of the YouTube channel derpfakes’ that publishes deepfake videos] believes forgeries may have gone undetected. “The idea that deepfakes have already been used politically isn’t so farfetched,” he says. “It could be the case that deepfakes have already been widely used for propaganda.”

Chinese Newspaper Touts Videogame Where Players ‘Hunt Down Traitors’ in Hong Kong

An online game calling on players to hunt down traitors who seek to separate Hong Kong from China and fuel street violence has reportedly begun to attract players across Chinese mainland social media platforms. The game, “fight the traitors together,” is set against the backdrop of the social unrest that has persisted in Hong Kong. The script asks the player to find eight secessionists hidden in the crowd participating in Hong Kong protests.

Players can knock them down with slaps or rotten eggs until they are captured. Online gamers claim the game allows them to vent their anger at the separatist behavior of secessionists during the recent Hong Kong riots. The eight traitors in the game, caricatured based on real people, include Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, Martin Lee Chu-ming and Joshua Wong Chi-fung, prominent opposition figures who have played a major role in inciting unrest in Hong Kong. There are also traitor figures in ancient China…

In the game, amid a crowd of black-clad rioters wearing yellow hats and face masks, Anson Chan Fang On-sang, another leading opposition figure, carries a bag with a U.S. flag, clutches a stack of U.S. dollars and holds a loudspeaker to incite violence in the streets.

Deepfake Porn Is Total Control Over Women’s Bodies

A lineup of female celebrities stand in front of you. Their faces move, smile, and blink as you move around them. They’re fully nude, hairless, waiting for you to decide what you’ll do to them as you peruse a menu of sex positions. This isn’t just another deepfake porn video, or the kind of interactive, 3D-generated porn Motherboard reported on last month, but a hybrid of both which gives people even more control of women’s virtual bodies. This new type of nonconsensual porn uses custom 3D models that can be articulated and animated, which are then made to look exactly like specific celebrities with deepfaked faces. Until recently, deepfake porn consisted of taking the face of a person — usually a celebrity, almost always a woman — and swapping it on to the face of an adult performer in an existing porn video. With this method, a user can make a 3D avatar with a generic face, capture footage of it performing any kind of sexual act, then run that video through an algorithm that swaps the generic face with a real person’s.

Doctors Are Turning To YouTube To Learn How To Do Surgical Procedures

Some doctors say that medical students and residents are turning to YouTube to fill in gaps in their training. The video-sharing platform hosts tens of thousands of surgery-related videos, and the number keeps climbing every year.

People have livestreamed giving birth and broadcast their face-lifts. One video, which shows the removal of a dense, white cataract, has gone somewhat viral and now has more than 1.7 million views. Others seem to have found crossover appeal with nonmedical viewers, such as a video from the U.K.-based group Audiology Associates showing a weirdly satisfying removal of a giant glob of earwax. Doctors are uploading these videos to market themselves or to help others in the field, and the amount is growing by leaps and bounds. Researchers in January found more than 20,000 videos related to prostate surgery alone, compared with just 500 videos in 2009.

The videos are a particular boon for doctors in training. When the University of Iowa surveyed its surgeons, including its fourth-year medical students and residents, it found that YouTube was the most-used video source for surgical preparation by far. But residents and medical students are not the only ones tuning in. Experienced doctors, like Stanford Hospital’s vascular surgeon Dr. Oliver Aalami said he turned to YouTube recently ahead of a particularly difficult exposure. There’s one problem with this practice that will be familiar to anybody who’s searched YouTube for tips on more mundane tasks like household repairs. How can doctors tell which videos are valid and which contain bogus information?

“[O]ne recent study found more than 68,000 videos associated with a common procedure known as a distal radius fracture immobilization,” the report adds. “The researchers evaluated the content for their technical skill demonstrated and educational skill, and created a score. Only 16 of the videos even met basic criteria, including whether they were performed by a health-care professional or institution. Among those, the scores were mixed. In several cases, the credentials of the person performing the procedure could not be identified at all.”

Other studies are finding that YouTube’s algorithm is highly ranking videos where the technique isn’t optimal.

College Students Say Ditching Their Smartphones For a Week Changed Their Lives

It was part of a college course intended to break the powerful addiction of smartphones… an Adelphi University course called “Life Unplugged” where students did the unthinkable one week ago — handed over their smartphones. “I’m freaking out, I could probably cry right now,” one student said. It was a bold experiment to recognize today’s compulsive relationships with ever present devices. Seven days later, “who’s excited they’re getting their phones back today?” Professor Donna Freitas asked.

Gone were the nerves and the shakes. “Everything is perfect right now. I’m having a lot better relationships… it’s a stress free environment no pressure about social media,” Jacob Dannenberg said.

“I think it’s really refreshing and relaxing… I was able to fall asleep a lot easier,” student Adrianna Cigliano.

They managed to find their way, even without GPS for a week. “I just had to take the same route everywhere,” one student joked. They were also more productive. “Doing homework was 100 percent easier. I got it done faster, I was in the zone,” Cigliano said.

Prof. Freitas says it’s important for everyone to assess their addiction. “Are the conveniences worth it because the drawback are pretty significant,” Freitas said. “The face that no one can focus, that my students can’t sleep… They feel bad about themselves because of social media, the list goes on and on.”

Nearly Half of Parents Worry Their Child Is Addicted To Mobile Devices, Study Finds

According to a new survey from Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey, 47% of parents worry their child is addicted to their mobile device. By comparison, only 32% of parents say they’re addicted themselves. USA Today reports: Half of parents also say they are at least somewhat concerned about how mobile devices will affect their kids’ mental health. Nearly one in five say they’re “extremely” or “very” concerned. According to the survey, 89% of parents believe it’s up to them to curb their children’s smartphone usage. The survey conducted between Jan. 25 and Jan. 29 included a sample of 4,201 adults, including 1,024 parents with children under age 18. Data was weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the U.S. for adults over 18, based on Census data. Many devices and services feature parental controls, but some parents may not be aware they exist. The Common Sense-SurveyMonkey survey found 22% of parents did not know YouTube — which has faced scrutiny over how easy it is for kids to find inappropriate videos — offered parental controls. Also, 37% have not used the controls before. Among parents surveyed who say their kids watch YouTube videos, 62% said their kids have seen inappropriate videos on the site. Most, or 81%, said it’s the parents’ job to prevent kids from seeing these videos.

Study of Over 11,000 Online Stores Finds ‘Dark Patterns’ on 1,254 sites

A large-scale academic study that analyzed more than 53,000 product pages on more than 11,000 online stores found widespread use of user interface “dark patterns” — practices meant to mislead customers into making purchases based on false or misleading information.

The study — presented last week at the ACM CSCW 2019 conference — found 1,818 instances of dark patterns present on 1,254 of the ~11K shopping websites (~11.1%) researchers scanned. “Shopping websites that were more popular, according to Alexa rankings, were more likely to feature dark patterns,” researchers said. But while the vast majority of UI dark patterns were meant to trick users into subscribing to newsletters or allowing broad data collection, some dark patterns were downright foul, trying to mislead users into making additional purchases, either by sneaking products into shopping carts or tricking users into believing products were about to sell out. Of these, the research team found 234 instances, deployed across 183 websites.

The Drone Wars Are Already Here

The skies of Syria, Yemen, and Libya swarm with armed and dangerous unmanned aerial vehicles. And the technology is spreading farther and farther afield. Three decades ago, drones were available to only the most technologically developed state military organizations. Today they’re everywhere, being used by weaker states and small military forces, as well as many non-state actors, including Islamic State and al-Qaeda. “We’re seeing a cycle of technological innovation regarding the use of drones and associated systems, and that cycle of techno-tactical adaptation and counter-adaptation will only hasten going forward,” says Raphael Marcus, a research fellow in the department of war studies at King’s College London.

The diffusion of such technology is leveling the playing field, says Marcus, author of Israel’s Long War With Hezbollah: Military Innovation and Adaptation Under Fire. He says that because armies no longer have the monopoly on the use of drones, surveillance technology, precision capabilities, and long-range missiles, other actors in the region are able to impose their will on the international stage. “The parameters have changed,” he says. That’s already leading to greater instability. For example, Hezbollah’s thwarted drone strike in August and increasingly sophisticated and more frequent drone attacks by Hamas raise the risk of another war with Israel; meanwhile, Yemen’s Houthi rebels made an impact on the global price of oil with a strike on Saudi Arabia, using 25 drones and missiles.

The Institute for Strategic Research in Paris has already recommended that NATO and European militaries ready themselves for drone threats in future conflicts. The institute also urged countries to cooperate on a joint research and development strategy to defend against the threat in a report issued in September.

Does that mean that future wars will be automated? “Drones will definitely be taking more important roles in the next few years, but they aren’t about to replace soldiers,” says Ben Nassi, a researcher at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. For that to happen, he says, drones will need longer battery life and the development of a centralized computer command-and-control server that will allow a single person to control a swarm of drones, similar to how individual players manage their militaries in a computer game.

Spain and GitHub Are Blocking an App That Helped Protesters Organize

For the last month, hundreds of thousands of people have joined demonstrations in Spain to voice their objection to the jailing of Catalan separatist leaders and support Catalonian independence. As with almost all modern activist and public protest movements, activists are using social media and apps to communicate with and organize public actions. But this week, in a move that puts the Spanish government on par with censorship-heavy places like China and Russia, the country requested that Github block access to one of those apps, by revoking local access to its Github repository. Github, which is owned by Microsoft, complied with the order.

According to Spanish news outlet El Confidencial, last week the government ordered takedowns of websites and app made by Tsunami Democratic, an activist group organizing protests in the region. To try to keep access to the app download alive, Tsunami Democratic moved the .apk file to Github. But the government shut that down, too, blocking the site in Spain. Motherboard tested the download using a VPN, and the Github repo was blocked from Madrid.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Says He Fears ‘Erosion of Truth’ But Defends Allowing Politicians To Lie in Ads

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview he worries “about an erosion of truth” online but defended the policy that allows politicians to peddle ads containing misrepresentations and lies on his social network, a stance that has sparked an outcry during the 2020 presidential campaign. From a report:

“People worry, and I worry deeply, too, about an erosion of truth,” Zuckerberg told The Washington Post ahead of a speech Thursday at Georgetown University. “At the same time, I don’t think people want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100 percent true. And I think that those tensions are something we have to live with.” Zuckerberg’s approach to political speech has come under fire in recent weeks. Democrats have taken particular issue with Facebook’s decision to allow an ad from President Trump’s 2020 campaign that included falsehoods about former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Sen. Elizabeth Warren responded to Facebook’s decision by running her own campaign ad, satirically stating that Zuckerberg supports Trump for re-election.

Zuckerberg framed the issue as part of a broader debate over free expression, warning about the dangers of social networks, including Facebook, “potentially cracking down too much.” He called on the U.S. to set an example for tailored regulation in contrast to other countries, including China, that censor political speech online. And Zuckerberg stressed Facebook must stand strong against governments that seek to “pull back” on free speech in the face of heightened social and political tensions. Zuckerberg’s appearance in Washington marks his most forceful attempt to articulate his vision for how governments and tech giants should approach the Web’s most intractable problems. The scale of Facebook and its affiliated apps, Instagram and WhatsApp, which make up a virtual community of billions of users, poses challenges for Zuckerberg and regulators around the world as they struggle to contain hate speech, falsehoods, violent imagery and terrorist propaganda on social media.

Google Chief: I’d Disclose Smart Speakers Before Guests Enter My Home

After being challenged as to whether homeowners should tell guests smart devices — such as a Google Nest speaker or Amazon Echo display — are in use before they enter the building, Google senior vice president of devices and services, Rick Osterloh, concludes that the answer is indeed yes. The BBC reports:

“Gosh, I haven’t thought about this before in quite this way,” Rick Osterloh begins. “It’s quite important for all these technologies to think about all users… we have to consider all stakeholders that might be in proximity.” And then he commits. “Does the owner of a home need to disclose to a guest? I would and do when someone enters into my home, and it’s probably something that the products themselves should try to indicate.”

To be fair to Google, it hasn’t completely ignored matters of 21st Century privacy etiquette until now. As Mr Osterloh points out, its Nest cameras shine an LED light when they are in record mode, which cannot be overridden. But the idea of having to run around a home unplugging or at least restricting the capabilities of all its voice- and camera-equipped kit if a visitor objects is quite the ask.

The concession came at the end of one-on-one interview given to BBC News to mark the launch of Google’s Pixel 4 smartphones, a new Nest smart speaker and other products. You can read the full conversation on the BBC’s article.

Her iPhone Died. It Led To Her Being Charged As a Criminal

Chris Matyszczyk from ZDNet retells the draconian story of a Financial Times writer who wasn’t able to prove she purchased a ticket for the London buses because her phone died (she used Apple Pay), which led to her being charged a criminal. An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from the report:

Today’s witness is Jemima Kelly. She’s a writer for The Financial Times. Please don’t let any personal thoughts about that get in the way of her story. You see, she just experienced a little technological nightmare. A cheery digital convert, she admits she often leaves the house without her wallet. But surely not without her iPhone. Apple Pay is, after all, a contemporary joy. It’s right up there with Tinder in its ability to make your life easier.

Kelly, indeed, hops on London buses and uses Apple Pay to tap her payment instead of buying a ticket the old-fashioned way. Which, as she cheerily described, is easy unless a ticket inspector wanders by. Just after your iPhone’s battery has died. She couldn’t prove that she’d paid, but gave her personal details and assumed there’d be a record of her probity on the transportation company’s computers. But then she was charged with, well, not providing proof of payment. Charged as in would be forced to go to court and to plead guilty or not guilty within 21 days. Here’s where things got (more) awkward. Kelly produced a bank statement that proved she’d paid. The transportation company — Transport For London — insisted this wasn’t enough.

It seems she’d failed another digital task — registering her Apple Pay with Transport For London. She was edging ever closer to criminal status. But did her Apple Pay details need to be registered? Kelly revealed: “They told me, ‘there is no requirement for cards to be registered, the same as paying for any goods and services in a shop’. But it’s not the same, actually; in a shop, you are given a breakdown in the form of a receipt.” So, here she was, contactless and receiptless. Next, she heard that her court case had happened and she’d been found guilty. Oh, and she also owed a fine of around $592.
In the end, Kelly managed to get back to court and persuade the judge to void her conviction, but the process took months.

“Her story, however, aptly describes how the digital world demands our complete and unyielding participation,” writes Matyszczyk. “Digital systems are designed by those who strive for complete perfection and consistency. Which doesn’t describe the human condition at all.” Do you think digitizing everything is a good thing?

Twitter Executive Is Also A British Army ‘Psyops’ Solider

“The senior Twitter executive with editorial responsibility for the Middle East is also a part-time officer in the British Army’s psychological warfare unit,” reports Middle East Eye:
The 77th Brigade uses social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, as well as podcasts, data analysis and audience research to wage what the head of the UK military, General Nick Carter, describes as “information warfare”. Carter says the 77th Brigade is giving the British military “the capability to compete in the war of narratives at the tactical level”; to shape perceptions of conflict. Some soldiers who have served with the unit say they have been engaged in operations intended to change the behaviour of target audiences.

What exactly MacMillan is doing with the unit is difficult to determine, however: he has declined to answer any questions about his role, as has Twitter and the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Responding to the article, the British army told Newsweek their brigade had no relationship with Twitter, “other than using Twitter as one of many social media platforms for engagement and communication.” And Twitter reminded Newsweek that “We proactively publish all tweets and accounts relating to state-backed foreign information operations on the service — regardless of the source. We built this industry-leading archive to promote better public understanding of these threats.”
Despite the assertions of Twitter and the British military, academics and researchers have said the division between the two is not so clear. David Miller — a professor of political sociology in the School for Policy Studies at England’s University of Bristol, who studies propaganda and public relations efforts concerning the British government — is one such academic. He told Newsweek he believes a link is there, adding that it was a “threat to our democracy.”

“I would say I know a good amount about army propaganda and ‘psyops’ operations as they’re called, but what is interesting is how little information we have 77th Brigade,” he said.” I suppose it means that all their work is covert, but what I would like to know is what they exactly are they doing? Are they just tracking accounts or are they trying to influence people’s views? What we do know is that their account itself is hidden by Twitter so we assume they are trying to influence people under the operatives’ own names. And because we know so little about exactly what they’re doing, we have to look elsewhere for clues for example.

The professor also argues that Twitter is deceiving us by “not acting as transparently as it could. If they are working with army personnel in this way, it is extremely damaging to our democracy. Given Twitter’s closure of accounts alleged to be used by foreign governments, it’s a very hypocritical stance of Twitter to take.”