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Tag Archives: opinion

Google gets slapped $5BN by EU for Android antitrust abuse

Google has been fined a record breaking €4.34 billion (~$5BN) by European antitrust regulators for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system. Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager has tweeted to confirm the penalty ahead of a press conference about to take place. Stay tuned for more details as we get them. Fine of €4,34 bn to @Google for 3 types of illegal restrictions on the use of Android. In this way it has cemented the dominance of its search engine. Denying rivals a chance to innovate and compete on the merits. It’s illegal under EU antitrust rules. @Google now has to stop it — Margrethe Vestager (@vestager) July 18, 2018 In a longer statement about the decision, Vestager said: “Today, mobile internet makes up more than half of global internet traffic. It has changed the lives of millions of Europeans. Our case is about three types of restrictions that Google has imposed on Android device manufacturers and network operators to ensure that traffic on Android devices goes to the Google search engine. In this way, Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine. These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules.” In particular, the EC has decided that Google: has required manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome), as a condition for licensing Google’s app store (the Play Store); made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app on their devices; and has prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps from selling even a single smart mobile device running on alternative versions of Android that were not approved by Google (so-called “Android forks”).

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Undercover report shows the Facebook moderation sausage being made

An undercover reporter with the U.K.’s Channel 4 visited a content moderation outsourcing firm in Dublin and came away rather discouraged at what they saw : queues of flagged content waiting, videos of kids fighting staying online, orders from above not to take action on underage users. It sounds bad, but the truth is there are pretty good reasons for most of it and in the end the report comes off as rather naive. Not that it’s a bad thing for journalists to keep big companies (and their small contractors) honest, but the situations called out by Channel 4’s reporter seem to reflect a misunderstanding of the moderation process rather than problems with the process itself. I’m not a big Facebook fan, but in the matter of moderation I think they are sincere, if hugely unprepared. The bullet points raised by the report are all addressed in a letter from Facebook to the filmmakers. The company points out that some content needs to be left up because abhorrent as it is, it isn’t in violation of the company’s stated standards and may be informative; underage users and content has some special requirements but in other ways can’t be assumed to be real; popular pages do need to exist on different terms than small ones, whether they’re radical partisans or celebrities (or both); hate speech is a delicate and complex matter that often needs to be reviewed multiple times; and so on. The biggest problem doesn’t at all seem to be negligence by Facebook: there are reasons for everything, and as is often the case with moderation, those reasons are often unsatisfying but effective compromises. The problem is that the company has dragged its feet for years on taking responsibility for content and, as such, its moderation resources are simply overtaxed. The volume of content flagged by both automated processes and users is immense and Facebook hasn’t staffed up. Why do you think it’s outsourcing the work? By the way, did you know that this is a horrible job ? Short film ‘The Moderators’ takes a look at the thankless job of patrolling the web Facebook in a blog post says that it is working on doubling its “safety and security” staff to 20,000, among which 6,500 will be on moderation duty. I’ve asked what the current number is, and whether that includes people at companies like this one (which has about 650 reviewers) and will update if I hear back. Even with a staff of thousands the judgments that need to be made are often so subjective, and the volume of content so great, that there will always be backlogs and mistakes.

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Dems and GOP unite, slamming Facebook for allowing violent Pages

In a rare moment of agreement, members of the House Judiciary Committee from both major political parties agreed that Facebook needed to take down Pages that bullied shooting survivors or called for more violence. The hearing regarding social media filtering practices saw policy staffers from Facebook, Google and Twitter answering questions, though Facebook absorbed the brunt of the ire. The hearing included Republican Representative Steve King ask “W hat about converting the large behemoth organizations that we’re talking about here into public utilities ?” The meatiest part of the hearing centered on whether social media platforms should delete accounts of conspiracy theorists and those inciting violence, rather than just removing the offending posts. The issue has been a huge pain point for Facebook this week after giving vague answers for why it hasn’t deleted known faker Alex Jones’ Infowars Page, and tweeting that “We see Pages on both the left and the right pumping out what they consider opinion or analysis – but others call fake news.” Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management Monica Bickert today reiterated that “sharing information that is false does not violate our policies.” As I detailed in this opinion piece, I think the right solution is to quarantine the Pages of Infowars and similar fake news, preventing their posts or shares of links to their web domain from getting any visibility in the News Feed. But deleting the Page without instances of it directly inciting violence would make Jones a martyr and strengthen his counterfactual movement. Deletion should be reserved for those that blatantly encourage acts of violence. Facebook would make a martyr by banning Infowars Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida) asked about how Infowars’ claims in YouTube videos that Parkland shooting’s survivors were crisis actors squared with the company’s policy. Google’s Global Head of Public Policy and Government Relations for YouTube Juniper Downs explained that “We have a specific policy that says that if you say a well-documented violent attack didn’t happen and you use the name or image of the survivors or victims of that attack, that is a malicious attack and it violates our policy.” She noted that YouTube has a “three strikes” policy, it is “demoting low-quality content and promoting more authoritative content,” and it’s now showing boxes atop result pages for problematic searches, like “is the earth flat?” with facts to dispel conspiracies. Facebook’s answer was much less clear. Bickert told Deutch that “We do use a strikes model. What that means is that if a Page, or profile, or group is posting content and some of that violates our polices, we always remove the violating posts at a certain point ” (emphasis mine)

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Russian hackers used bitcoin to fund election interference, so prepare for FUD

The indictment filed today against 12 Russian officials accused of, among other things, hacking the DNC and undermining Hillary Clinton’s campaign also notes that the alleged hackers paid for their nefarious deeds with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. This unsavory application of one of tech’s current darlings will almost certainly be wielded against it by opportunists of all stripes. It is perhaps the most popular and realistic argument against cryptocurrency that it enables anonymous transactions globally and at scale, no exception made for Russian intelligence or ISIS. So the news that a prominent and controversial technology was used to fund state-sponsored cyber attacks will not be passed over by its critics. Department of Justice indicts 12 Russian intelligence officers for Clinton email hacks You can expect bluster on cable news and some sharp words from lawmakers, who will also probably issue some kind of public denouncement of cryptocurrencies and call for more stringent regulation. It’s only natural: their constituencies will hear that Russians are using bitcoin to hack the election systems and take it at face value. They have to say something . But this knee-jerk criticism is misguided and hypocritical for several reasons. First is that it’s not as anonymous and mysterious as critics make out. The details in the indictment actually provide an interesting example (far from the first) of the limits of cryptocurrency’s ability to obscure its users’ activities. The painstaking research of the Special Investigator’s team revealed the approximate amounts and methods involved, and although there is a veneer of anonymity in that addresses are not inherently tied to identities, it is far from impossible to establish ownership. Not that they didn’t try, as the indictment shows: The Defendants conspired to launder the equivalent of more than $95,000 through a web of transactions structured to capitalize on the perceived anonymity of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. They also enlisted the assistance of one or more third-party exchangers who facilitated layers transactions through digital currency exchange platforms providing heightened anonymity.

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As facial recognition technology becomes pervasive, Microsoft (yes, Microsoft) issues a call for regulation

Technology companies have a privacy problem. They’re terribly good at invading ours and terribly negligent at protecting their own. And with the push by technologists to map, identify and index our physical as well as virtual presence with biometrics like face and fingerprint scanning, the increasing digital surveillance of our physical world is causing some of the companies that stand to benefit the most to call out to government to provide some guidelines on how they can use the incredibly powerful tools they’ve created. That’s what’s behind today’s call from Microsoft President Brad Smith for government to start thinking about how to oversee the facial recognition technology that’s now at the disposal of companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple and government security and surveillance services across the country and around the world. In what companies have framed as a quest to create “better,” more efficient and more targeted services for consumers, they have tried to solve the problem of user access by moving to increasingly passive (for the user) and intrusive (by the company) forms of identification — culminating in features like Apple’s Face ID and the frivolous filters that Snap overlays over users’ selfies. Those same technologies are also being used by security and police forces in ways that have gotten technology companies into trouble with consumers or their own staff. Amazon has been called to task for its work with law enforcement, Microsoft’s own technologies have been used to help identify immigrants at the border (indirectly aiding in the separation of families and the virtual and physical lockdown of America against most forms of immigration) and Google faced an internal company revolt over the facial recognition work it was doing for the Pentagon. Smith posits this nightmare scenario: Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the past month without your permission or knowledge. Imagine a database of everyone who attended a political rally that constitutes the very essence of free speech. Imagine the stores of a shopping mall using facial recognition to share information with each other about each shelf that you browse and product you buy, without asking you first. This has long been the stuff of science fiction and popular movies – like “Minority Report,” “Enemy of the State” and even “1984” – but now it’s on the verge of becoming possible. What’s impressive about this is the intimation that it isn’t already happening (and that Microsoft isn’t enabling it). Across the world, governments are deploying these tools right now as ways to control their populations (the ubiquitous surveillance state that China has assembled, and is investing billions of dollars to upgrade, is just the most obvious example). In this moment when corporate innovation and state power are merging in ways that consumers are only just beginning to fathom, executives who have to answer to a buying public are now pleading for government to set up some rails. Late capitalism is weird.

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An immodest proposal: it’s time for scooter superhighways

“If a problem cannot be solved,” Donald Rumsfeld once wrote, “enlarge it.” I’m not about to praise him for his accomplishments, but he had a pretty good eye for diagnoses. Which takes us to the problem of urban transit. I complained recently that I didn’t care about scooter startups, because I couldn’t imagine cities ever changing in a way which made scooters really work. But lo, the scales have fallen from my eyes. What may seem to be the problem: scooters are useful and fun for many, but discarded scooters are an unsightly mess. What’s actually the problem: cities are ruled by the iron fist of King Car. Even with maximum scooter distribution and zero regulation, the real estate occupied by scooters (and bicycles) will only ever be a vanishingly tiny fraction of a vanishingly tiny fraction of that occupied by roads and parking spaces. The solution, obviously, is to allocate some of the latter to the former. No, not bike lanes. I mean, they have their place, but they’re cramped, they’re difficult to pass in, and their space is still only ever an adjunct to that allotted to the all-devouring demands of King Car.

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Drake is the king of memes

Drake has done it again. And no, we're not talking about him repeatedly smashing Apple Music and Spotify streaming records. We're talking about one of his tracks being turned into meme gold. This time it's the track "In My Feelings" from his new reco...

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Security, privacy experts weigh in on the ICE doxxing

In what appears to be the latest salvo in a new, wired form of protest, developer Sam Lavigne posted code that scrapes LinkedIn to find Immigration and Customs Enforcement employee accounts. His code, which basically a Python-based tool that scans LinkedIn for keywords, is gone from Github and Gitlab and Medium took down his original post . The CSV of the data is still available here and here and WikiLeaks has posted a mirror . “I find it helpful to remember that as much as internet companies use data to spy on and exploit their users, we can at times reverse the story, and leverage those very same online platforms as a means to investigate or even undermine entrenched power structures. It’s a strange side effect of our reliance on private companies and semi-public platforms to mediate nearly all aspects of our lives. We don’t necessarily need to wait for the next Snowden-style revelation to scrutinize the powerful — so much is already hiding in plain sight,” said Lavigne. Doxxing is the process of using publicly available information to target someone online for abuse. Because we can now find out anything on anyone for a few dollars – a search for “background check” brings up dozens of paid services that can get you names and addresses in a second – scraping public data on LinkedIn seems far easier and innocuous. That doesn’t make it legal. “Recent efforts to outlaw doxxing at the national level (like the Online Safety Modernization Act of 2017) have stalled in committee, so it’s not strictly illegal,” said James Slaby, Security Expert at Acronis . “But LinkedIn and other social networks usually consider it a violation of their terms of service to scrape their data for personal use. The question of fairness is trickier: doxxing is often justified as a rare tool that the powerless can use against the powerful to call attention to perceived injustices.” “The problem is that doxxing is a crude tool. The torrent of online ridicule, abuse and threats that can be heaped on doxxed targets by their political or ideological opponents can also rain down on unintended and undeserving targets: family members, friends, people with similar names or appearances,” he said. The tool itself isn’t to blame. No one would fault a job seeker or salesperson who scraped LinkedIn for targeted employees of a specific company.

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Google Podcasts is pretty but basic

Google has a long and disappointing history with podcasts. With Apple and iTunes, they were always an integral part of the experience. For Android, though, it was an afterthought. Google Listen was barely usable, but basically the only option for get...

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Four problems YouTube Music will face in the UK

The worst-kept secret in music is out, and Google has now released YouTube Music and YouTube Premium in 11 more countries. But despite being in the streaming music game for quite a while, the company is almost going to have to start fresh in several...

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