Facebook

Facebook Says It Can't Guarantee Social Media is Good For Democracy (reuters.com) 87

Facebook said on Monday that it could offer no assurance that social media was on balance good for democracy, but noted that it was trying what it could to stop alleged meddling in elections by Russia or anyone else. From a report: The sharing of false or misleading headlines on social media has become a global issue, after accusations that Russia tried to influence votes in the United States, Britain and France. Moscow denies the allegations.

Facebook, the largest social network with more than 2 billion users, addressed social media's role in democracy in blog posts from a Harvard University professor, Cass Sunstein, and from an employee working on the subject. "I wish I could guarantee that the positives are destined to outweigh the negatives, but I can't," Samidh Chakrabarti, a Facebook product manager, wrote in his post. Facebook, he added, has a "moral duty to understand how these technologies are being used and what can be done to make communities like Facebook as representative, civil and trustworthy as possible."

Facebook

Facebook VP Says Company Won't Use Experts To Fix Fake News Because It is Worried About Criticism (theoutline.com) 113

Joshua Topolsky, writing for The Outline: According to Axios reporter Ina Fried, the vice president of global communications, marketing, and public policy (phew!) at Facebook shook off suggestions that the network should use outside media literacy watch dogs as opposed to outsourcing its "fake news" problem to a "statistically representative" group of its own users. While speaking at the tech conference DLD (Digital Life Design) in Munich, he revealed that the real motivation behind the company's decision was one based almost entirely on optics. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as the company has been totally ignorant and outrageously slow in accepting responsibility for what has been a disaster for its users. While Twitter is turning to media literacy groups such as Common Sense Media and the National Association for Media Literacy for solutions to its own troll and fake news epidemic, Facebook continues to cower behind a broken concept that the company is a neutral platform where all of its participants are equally weighted.
United Kingdom

Facebook Reopens Probe Into Russian Involvement in Brexit (techcrunch.com) 261

An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: Facebook has said it will conduct a wider investigation into whether there was Russian meddling on its platform relating to the 2016 Brexit referendum vote in the UK. Wednesday its UK policy director Simon Milner wrote to a parliamentary committee that's been conducting a wide-ranging enquiry into fake news -- and whose chair has been witheringly critical of Facebook and Twitter for failing to co-operate with requests for information and assistance on the topic of Brexit and Russia -- saying it will widen its investigation, per the committee's request. Though he gave no firm deadline for delivering a fresh report -- beyond estimating "a number of weeks".

It's not clear whether Twitter will also bow to pressure to conduct a more thorough investigation of Brexit-related disinformation. At the time of writing the company had not responded to our questions either. At the end of last year committee chair Damian Collins warned both companies they could face sanctions for failing to co-operate with the committee's enquiry -- slamming Twitter's investigations to date as "completely inadequate", and expressing disbelief that both companies had essentially ignored the committee's requests... Independent academic studies have suggested there was in fact significant tweet-based activity generated around Brexit by Russian bots."

Theresa May has said Russia's attempts to "sow discord" in the West could not go unchallenged, and warned Vladimir Putin, "We know what you are up to."

Facebook's response complained that a new investigation "requires detailed analysis of historic data by our security experts, who are also engaged in preventing live threats to our service."
Twitter

Twitter Says It Exposed Nearly 700,000 People To Russian Propaganda During Election (theverge.com) 298

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Twitter this evening released a new set of statistics related to its investigation on Russia propaganda efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including that 677,775 people were exposed to social media posts from more than 50,000 automated accounts with links to the Russian government. Many of the new accounts uncovered have been traced back to an organization called the the Internet Research Agency, or IRA, with known ties to the Kremlin. The data was first presented in an incomplete form to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee last November, which held hearings to question Facebook, Google, and Twitter on the role the respective platforms and products played in the Russian effort to help elect President Donald Trump. Twitter says it's now uncovered more accounts and new information on the wide-reaching Russian cyberintelligence campaign.

"Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period," writes Twitter's public policy division in a blog post published today. "Because we have already suspended these accounts, the relevant content on Twitter is no longer publicly available."

Businesses

How To Tame the Tech Titans (economist.com) 182

dryriver shares an opinion piece from The Economist: Not long ago, being the boss of a big Western tech firm was a dream job. As the billions rolled in, so did the plaudits: Google, Facebook, Amazon and others were making the world a better place. Today these companies are accused of being BAADD -- big, anti-competitive, addictive and destructive to democracy. Regulators fine them, politicians grill them and one-time backers warn of their power to cause harm. Much of this techlash is misguided. The presumption that big businesses must necessarily be wicked is plain wrong. Apple is to be admired as the world's most valuable listed company for the simple reason that it makes things people want to buy, even while facing fierce competition. Many online services would be worse if their providers were smaller. Evidence for the link between smartphones and unhappiness is weak. Fake news is not only an online phenomenon.

But big tech platforms, particularly Facebook, Google and Amazon, do indeed raise a worry about fair competition. That is partly because they often benefit from legal exemptions. Unlike publishers, Facebook and Google are rarely held responsible for what users do on them; and for years most American buyers on Amazon did not pay sales tax. Nor do the titans simply compete in a market. Increasingly, they are the market itself, providing the infrastructure (or "platforms") for much of the digital economy. Many of their services appear to be free, but users "pay" for them by giving away their data. Powerful though they already are, their huge stockmarket valuations suggest that investors are counting on them to double or even triple in size in the next decade. There is thus a justified fear that the tech titans will use their power to protect and extend their dominance, to the detriment of consumers (see article). The tricky task for policymakers is to restrain them without unduly stifling innovation.

Facebook

Facebook Will Now Ask Users To Rank News Organizations They Trust (recode.net) 139

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Recode: Facebook is doing a very un-Facebooky thing: It's going to start declaring that some news sources you see in your Facebook feed are better than others, and act accordingly. But Facebook being Facebook, it's going about it in the most Facebooky way possible: It's going to rely on users -- not the super-smart people who work at Facebook -- to figure out which of those sources are better. Mark Zuckerberg says the move is part of an effort to prioritize "news that is trustworthy, informative, and local," within the network and suggests that there will be more announcements to come. The one he describes today will prioritize what kind of news sources pop up in your Facebook News Feed, and will reward ones that Facebook thinks are "broadly trusted," based on user polls, so it can "build a sense of common ground." Facebook is also using today's news to refine last week's roll-out: Zuckerberg says the previously announced changes will reduce the amount of news stories people see in their feed to 4 percent, down from 5 percent.
Education

Tim Cook: 'I Don't Want My Nephew on a Social Network' (theguardian.com) 93

Tim Cook, speaking at Harlow college in Essex, shared his views on the limits on technology and social media he feels should be imposed on kids. He said: "I don't believe in overuse [of technology]. I'm not a person that says we've achieved success if you're using it all the time," he said. "I don't subscribe to that at all." Even in computer-aided courses, such as graphic design, technology should not dominate, he said. "There are are still concepts that you want to talk about and understand. In a course on literature, do I think you should use technology a lot? Probably not." The 57-year old chief executive, who took the reins at Apple after the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, said the company cared deeply about children outside the classroom. "I don't have a kid, but I have a nephew that I put some boundaries on. There are some things that I won't allow; I don't want them on a social network."
Communications

Why People Dislike Really Smart Leaders (scientificamerican.com) 663

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: Intelligence makes for better leaders -- from undergraduates to executives to presidents -- according to multiple studies. It certainly makes sense that handling a market shift or legislative logjam requires cognitive oomph. But new research on leadership suggests that, at a certain point, having a higher IQ stops helping and starts hurting. The researchers looked at 379 male and female business leaders in 30 countries, across fields that included banking, retail and technology. The managers took IQ tests (an imperfect but robust predictor of performance in many areas), and each was rated on leadership style and effectiveness by an average of eight co-workers. IQ positively correlated with ratings of leader effectiveness, strategy formation, vision and several other characteristics -- up to a point. The ratings peaked at an IQ of around 120, which is higher than roughly 80 percent of office workers. Beyond that, the ratings declined. The researchers suggest the "ideal" IQ could be higher or lower in various fields, depending on whether technical versus social skills are more valued in a given work culture. The study's lead author, John Antonakis, a psychologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, suggests leaders should use their intelligence to generate creative metaphors that will persuade and inspire others -- the way former U.S. President Barack Obama did. "I think the only way a smart person can signal their intelligence appropriately and still connect with the people," Antonakis says, "is to speak in charismatic ways."
Security

'Text Bomb' Is Latest Apple Bug (bbc.com) 60

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: A new "text bomb" affecting Apple's iPhone and Mac computers has been discovered. Abraham Masri, a software developer, tweeted about the flaw which typically causes an iPhone to crash and in some cases restart. Simply sending a message containing a link which pointed to Mr Masri's code on programming site GitHub would be enough to activate the bug -- even if the recipient did not click the link itself. Mr Masri said he "always reports bugs" before releasing them. Apple has not yet commented on the issue. On a Mac, the bug reportedly makes the Safari browser crash, and causes other slowdowns. Security expert Graham Cluley wrote on his blog that the bug does not present anything to be particularly worried about -- it's merely very annoying. After the link did the rounds on social media, Mr Masri removed the code from GitHub, therefore disabling the "attack" unless someone was to replicate the code elsewhere.
Crime

Facebook Is a 'Living, Breathing Crime Scene,' Says Former Tech Insider (nbcnews.com) 144

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: With more than 2 billion users, Facebook's reach now rivals that of Christianity and exceeds that of Islam. However, the network's laser focus on profits and user growth has come at the expense of its users, according to one former Facebook manager who is now speaking out against the social platform. "One of the things that I saw consistently as part of my job was the company just continuously prioritized user growth and making money over protecting users," the ex-manager, Sandy Parakilas, who worked at Facebook for 16 months, starting in 2011, told NBC News. During his tenure at Facebook, Parakilas led third-party advertising, privacy and policy compliance on Facebook's app platform. "Facebook is a living, breathing crime scene for what happened in the 2016 election -- and only they have full access to what happened," said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google. His work centers on how technology can ethically steer the thoughts and actions of the masses on social media and he's been called "the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience" by The Atlantic magazine.

In response to the comments, Facebook issued a statement saying it is a "vastly different company" from when it was founded. "We are taking many steps to protect and improve people's experience on the platform," the statement said. "In the past year, we've worked to destroy the business model for false news and reduce its spread, stop bad actors from meddling in elections, and bring a new level of transparency to advertising. Last week, we started prioritizing meaningful posts from friends and family in News Feed to help bring people closer together. We have more work to do and we're heads down on getting it done."

Bitcoin

Bitcoin Watchers Running Out of Explanations Blame Slump on Moon (bloomberg.com) 156

If regulatory concerns aren't enough to explain Bitcoin's 50 percent slump from its record high reached last month, how about blaming it on the moon? An anonymous reader writes: The Lunar New Year, which marks the first day of the year in the Chinese calendar, is being cited by some as contributing to Bitcoin's slump as Asian traders cash out their cryptocurrencies to travel and buy gifts for the holiday that starts Feb. 16 this year. The festivity is celebrated not just in China, but in other Asian countries including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea and Thailand. "The January drop is a recurring theme in cryptocurrencies as people celebrating the Chinese New Year, aka Lunar New Year, exchange their crypto for fiat currency," said Alexander Wallin, chief executive officer of trading social network SprinkleBit in New York. "The timing is about four to six weeks before the lunar year, when most people make their travel arrangements and start buying presents."
Social Networks

Twitter Hits Back Again at Claims That Its Employees Monitor Direct Messages (techcrunch.com) 160

From a report on TechCrunch: Twitter is pushing back against claims made by conservative activist group Project Veritas that its employees monitor private user data, including direct messages. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a Twitter representative said "we do not proactively review DMs. Period. A limited number of employees have access to such information, for legitimate work purposes, and we enforce strict access protocols for those employees." Last week, Project Veritas, which produces undercover sting operations that purportedly expose liberal biases at media companies and other organizations, posted footage that appeared to show Twitter engineers claiming that teams of employees look at users' private data. One engineer seemed to say that Twitter can hand over President Donald Trump's data, including deleted tweets and direct messages, to the Department of Justice.
Music

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive? (bbc.co.uk) 477

dryriver writes: The BBC has posted a very interesting article that investigates whether people claiming all over the internet that "pop music just isn't what it used to be" are simply growing old, or if there actually is objective science capable of backing up this claim of a "steady decline in music quality." The findings from five different studies are quoted; the findings from the fourth study is especially striking:


1. Pop music has become slower -- in tempo -- in recent years and also "sadder" and less "fun" to listen to.
2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word "I" in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s. These people were not from a particular aging demographic at all -- all age groups polled, including 18-29 year olds, appear to feel unanimously that the 2010s are when pop music became worst. This may explain a rising trend of young millennials, for example, digging around for now 15-30 year-old music on YouTube frequently. It's not just the older people who listen to the 1980s and 1990s on YouTube and other streaming services it seems -- much younger people do it too.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

Conclusion: There is some scientific evidence backing the widely voiced complaint -- on the internet in particular -- that pop music is getting worse and worse in the 2000s and the 2010s. The music is slower, melodically simpler, louder, more repetitive, more "I" (first-person) focused, and more angry with anti-social sentiments. The 2010s got by far the most music quality down votes with 42% from people polled on which decade has produced the worst music since the 1970s.

Google

Google's Museum App Finds Your Fine Art Doppelganger (engadget.com) 66

The latest update to the Google Arts & Culture app now lets you take a selfie, and using image recognition, finds someone in its vast art collection that most resembles you. It will then present you and your fine art twin side-by-side, along with a percentage match, and let you share the results on social media. Engadget reports: The app, which appears to be unfortunately geo-restricted to the United States, is like an automated version of an article that circulated recently showing folks standing in front of portraits at museums. In many cases, the old-timey people in the paintings resemble them uncannily, but, other than in rare cases, that's not the case at all with Google's app. Google matched me with someone who doesn't look like me in the slightest, a certain Sir Peter Francois Bourgeois, based on a painting hanging in Dulwich Picture Gallery. Taking a buzz around the internet, other folks were satisfied with their matches, some took them as a personal insult, and many were just plain baffled, in that order.
Privacy

India To Add Facial Authentication For Its Aadhaar Card Security (reuters.com) 20

India will build facial recognition into its national identity card in addition to fingerprints after a series of breaches in the world's biggest biometric identification programme, the government said on Monday. From a report: A local newspaper reported this month that access to the "Aadhaar" database which has identity details of more than 1 billion citizens was being sold for just $8 on social media. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which issues the identity cards, said it would add face recognition software as an additional layer of security from July. Card holders will be required to match their photographs with that stored in the data base for authentication in addition to fingerprints and iris scans, the agency said in a statement.
Cellphones

Fake 'Inbound Missile' Alert Sent To Every Cellphone in Hawaii (chicagotribune.com) 227

"Somebody sent out a false emergency alert to all cell phones in Hawaii saying, 'BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL'," writes Slashdot reader flopwich, adding "Somebody's had better days at work." The Associated Press reports: In a conciliatory news conference later in the day, Hawaii officials apologized for the mistake and vowed to ensure it will never happen again. Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi said the error happened when someone hit the wrong button. "We made a mistake," said Miyagi. For nearly 40 minutes, it seemed like the world was about to end in Hawaii, an island paradise already jittery over the threat of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea...

On the H-3, a major highway north of Honolulu, vehicles sat empty after drivers left them to run to a nearby tunnel after the alert showed up, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. Workers at a golf club huddled in a kitchen fearing the worst... The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but that didn't reach people who aren't on the social media platform. A revised alert informing of the "false alarm" didn't reach cellphones until 38 minutes later, according to the time stamp on images people shared on social media.

EU

Is Finland's Universal Basic Income Trial Too Good To Be True? (theguardian.com) 534

It was one year ago that Finland began giving money to 2,000 unemployed people -- roughly $652 a month (€560 or £475). But have we learned anything about universal basic incomes? An anonymous reader quotes the Guardian: Amid this unprecedented media attention, the experts who devised the scheme are concerned it is being misrepresented. "It's not really what people are portraying it as," said Markus Kanerva, an applied social and behavioural sciences specialist working in the prime minister's office in Helsinki. "A full-scale universal income trial would need to study different target groups, not just the unemployed. It would have to test different basic income levels, look at local factors. This is really about seeing how a basic unconditional income affects the employment of unemployed people."

While UBI tends often to be associated with progressive politics, Finland's trial was launched -- at a cost of around €20m (£17.7m or $24.3 million) -- by a centre-right, austerity-focused government interested primarily in spending less on social security and bringing down Finland's stubborn 8%-plus unemployment rate. It has a very clear purpose: to see whether an unconditional income might incentivise people to take up paid work. Authorities believe it will shed light on whether unemployed Finns, as experts believe, are put off taking up a job by the fear that a higher marginal tax rate may leave them worse off. Many are also deterred by having to reapply for benefits after every casual or short-term contract... According to Kanerva, the core data the government is seeking -- on whether, and how, the job take-up of the 2,000 unemployed people in the trial differs from a 175,000-strong control group -- will be "robust, and usable in future economic modelling" when it is published in 2019.

Although the experiment may be impacted by all the hype it's generating, according to the Guardian. "One participant who hoped to start his own business with the help of the unconditional monthly payment complained that, after speaking to 140 TV crews and reporters from as far afield as Japan and Korea, he has simply not been able to find the time."
Government

Will Facial Recognition in China Lead To Total Surveillance? (washingtonpost.com) 122

schwit1 shares a new Washington Post article about China's police and security state -- including the facial recognition cameras allow access to apartment buildings. "If I am carrying shopping bags in both hands, I just have to look ahead and the door swings open," one 40-year-old woman tells the Post. "And my 5-year-old daughter can just look up at the camera and get in. It's good for kids because they often lose their keys." But for the police, the cameras that replaced the residents' old entry cards serve quite a different purpose. Now they can see who's coming and going, and by combining artificial intelligence with a huge national bank of photos, the system in this pilot project should enable police to identify what one police report, shared with The Washington Post, called the "bad guys" who once might have slipped by... Banks, airports, hotels and even public toilets are all trying to verify people's identities by analyzing their faces. But the police and security state have been the most enthusiastic about embracing this new technology.

The pilot in Chongqing forms one tiny part of an ambitious plan, known as "Xue Liang," which can be translated as "Sharp Eyes." The intent is to connect the security cameras that already scan roads, shopping malls and transport hubs with private cameras on compounds and buildings, and integrate them into one nationwide surveillance and data-sharing platform... At the back end, these efforts merge with a vast database of information on every citizen, a "Police Cloud" that aims to scoop up such data as criminal and medical records, travel bookings, online purchase and even social media comments -- and link it to everyone's identity card and face.

Social Networks

Snapchat's Big Redesign Bashed In 83 Percent of User Reviews (techcrunch.com) 113

The new Snapchat redesign that jams Stories in between private messages is not receiving a whole lot of praise. "In the few countries including the U.K., Australia, and Canada where the redesign is widely available, 83 percent of App Store reviews (1,941) for the update are negative with one or two stars, according to data by mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower," reports TechCrunch. "Just 17 percent, or 391 of the reviews, give it three to five stars." From the report: The most referenced keywords in the negative reviews include "new update," "Stories," and "please fix." Meanwhile, Snapchat's Support Twitter account has been busy replying to people who hate the update and are asking to uninstall it, noting "It's not possible to revert to a previous version of Snapchat," and trying to explain where Stories are to confused users. Hopes were that the redesign could boost Snapchat's soggy revenue, which fell short of Wall Street earnings expectations in Q3 and led to a loss of $443 million. The redesign mixes Stories, where Snapchat shows ads but which have seen stagnation in sharing rates amidst competition from Instagram Stories, into the more popular messaging inbox, where Snapchat's ephemeral messaging is more differentiated and entrenched.
Facebook

Facebook Overhauls News Feed in Favor of 'Meaningful Social Interactions' (theguardian.com) 95

Facebook said late Thursday it will begin to prioritize posts in the News Feed from friends and family over public content and posts from publishers. The company will also move away from using "time spent" on the platform as a metric of success and will instead focus on "engagement" with content, such as comments. From a report: The social media platform will de-prioritize videos, photos, and posts shared by businesses and media outlets, which Zuckerberg dubbed "public content," in favor of content produced by a user's friends and family. "The balance of what's in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do -- help us connect with each other," Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post announcing the change. "We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren't just fun to use, but also good for people's well-being."

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