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Net neutrality activists, not hackers, crashed the FCC’s comment system

An unprecedented flood of citizens concerned about net neutrality is what took down the FCC’s comment system last May, not a coordinated attack, a report from the agency’s Office of the Inspector General concluded. The report unambiguously describes the “voluminous viral traffic” resulting from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight segment on the topic, along with some poor site design, as the cause of the system’s collapse. Here’s the critical part: The May 7-8, 2016 degradation of the FCC’s ECFS was not, as reported to the public and to Congress, the result of a DDoS attack. At best, the published reports were the result of a rush to judgment and the failure to conduct analyses needed to identify the true cause of the disruption to system availability. Rather than engaging in a concerted effort to understand better the systematic reasons for the incident, certain managers and staff at the Commission mischaracterized the event to the Office of the Chairman as resulting from a criminal act, rather than apparent shortcomings in the system. Although FCC leadership preemptively responded to the report yesterday, the report itself was not published until today. The OIG sent it to TechCrunch this morning, and you can find the full document here . The approximately 25 pages of analysis (and 75 more of related documents, some of which are already public) relate specifically to the “Event” of May 7-8 last year and its characterization by the office of the Chief Information Officer, at the time David Bray. The investigation was started on June 21, 2017. The subsequent handling of the event under public and Congressional inquiry is not included in the scope of this investigation.

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U.S. adults now spend nearly 6 hours per day watching video

If you’ve been wondering why every major media platform has been doubling down on its video efforts in recent months, Nielsen’s new report has the answer. According to the firm’s research, U.S. adults are now spending almost 6 hours per day on video, on average. That includes time spent watching both live and time-shifted TV, watching videos in an app or mobile website on a smartphone or tablet, watching video over a TV-connected device like a DVD player, game console or internet device such as Roku, and watching videos on a computer. That data on video viewing was collected during the first quarter of 2018 – and accounts for a sizable chunk of the 11 hours per day Americans spend listening to, watching, reading or otherwise interacting with media. The nearly six hours of video (5:57) of video viewed daily represents an 11 minute increase in video consumption over the prior quarter, with 6 of those 11 minutes from from TV-connected devices. Notably, traditional media platforms still account for a lot of this media consumption, with adults spending the most time on TV and radio. The former reaches 88 percent of U.S. adults on a weekly basis, and the latter reaches 92 percent. Live and time-shifted TV, in particular, eats up the most time, with adults watching an average of 4 hours and 46 minutes per day on this type of media. However, the research does indicate some growth in streaming TV, as evidenced by an increase in time spent on “TV-connected” devices, like game consoles, Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and others. Time spent on these devices is up by 5 minutes per day to reach 40 minutes total, with 26 of those minutes devoted to internet-connected devices and 14 to game consoles. Younger people, not surprisingly, are embracing digital platforms and internet-connected devices much more quickly than older demographics, Nielsen also notes. Those aged 18-34 now spend 43 percent of their time consuming media on digital platforms (phones, tablets, computers), with around a third of that time taking place on smartphones. Their share of TV-connected usage (14%) is also double that of total adults (18+) and seven times as much as adults over the age of 65, the report says

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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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Report: Amazon will publish toy catalog this holiday to fill Toys ‘R Us void

Enlarge (credit: Amazon ) Amazon's move into retail meatspace has largely hinged around opening (or acquiring ) brick-and-mortar stores. But this holiday, the online retailer will reportedly try something different: printed catalogs. As in, a massive, holiday-themed catalog dedicated entirely to toys—to conveniently fill the void left behind by the recently shuttered Toys 'R Us chain in the United States. Bloomberg, citing "people who asked not to be named," reported on Wednesday that Amazon's toy-specific catalog will be mailed to "millions" of Amazon shoppers' homes and will also be given away for free at Whole Foods locations. While the report compared this catalog to similar holiday toy catalogs from Toys 'R Us, Target, and other big-box retailers, it did not confirm whether Amazon's planned book will be as big as those 100-plus-page catalogs. The report also didn't clarify if or how the book will include price information, since the site hinges so largely on dynamic pricing and Prime-exclusive deals. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Audit of NHS Trust’s app project with DeepMind raises more questions than it answers

A third party audit of a controversial patient data-sharing arrangement between a London NHS Trust and Google DeepMind appears to have skirted over the core issues that generated the controversy in the first place. The audit ( full report here ) — conducted by law firm Linklaters — of the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust’s acute kidney injury detection app system, Streams, which was co-developed with Google-DeepMind (using an existing NHS algorithm for early detection of the condition), does not examine the problematic 2015 information-sharing agreement inked between the pair which allowed data to start flowing. “This Report contains an assessment of the data protection and confidentiality issues associated with the data protection arrangements between the Royal Free and DeepMind . It is limited to the current use of Streams, and any further development, functional testing or clinical testing, that is either planned or in progress. It is not a historical review,” writes Linklaters, adding that: “It includes consideration as to whether the transparency, fair processing, proportionality and information sharing concerns outlined in the Undertakings are being met.” Yet it was the original 2015 contract that triggered the controversy, after it was obtained and published by New Scientist, with the wide-ranging document  r aising questions over the broad scope of the data transfer ; the legal bases for patients information to be shared; and leading to questions over whether regulatory processes intended to safeguard patients and patient data had been sidelined  by the two main parties involved in the project. In  November 2016  the pair scrapped and replaced the initial five-year contract with a different one — which put in place additional information governance steps. They also went on to roll out the Streams app for use on patients in multiple NHS hospitals  — despite the UK’s data protection regulator, the ICO, having instigated an investigation into the original data-sharing arrangement. And just over a year ago  the ICO concluded that the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust had failed to comply with Data Protection Law in its dealings with Google’s DeepMind. The audit of the Streams project was a requirement of the ICO. Though, notably, the regulator has not endorsed Linklaters report. On the contrary, it warns that it’s seeking legal advice and could take further action. In a statement  on its website, the ICO’s deputy commissioner for policy, Steve Wood, writes: “We cannot endorse a report from a third party audit but we have provided feedback to the Royal Free. We also reserve our position in relation to their position on medical confidentiality and the equitable duty of confidence. We are seeking legal advice on this issue and may require further action.” In a section of the report listing exclusions, Linklaters confirms the audit does not consider: “The data protection and confidentiality issues associated with the processing of personal data about the clinicians at the Royal Free using the Streams App.” So essentially the core controversy, related to the legal basis for the Royal Free to pass personally identifiable information on 1.6M patients to DeepMind when the app was being developed, and without people’s knowledge or consent, is going unaddressed here.

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Photos on social media can predict the health of neighborhoods

The images that appear on social media – happy people eating, cultural happenings, and smiling dogs – can actually predict the likelihood that a neighborhood is “healthy” as well as its level of gentrification. From the report : So says a groundbreaking study published in Frontiers in Physics, in which researchers used social media images of cultural events in London and New York City to create a model that can predict neighborhoods where residents enjoy a high level of wellbeing — and even anticipate gentrification by 5 years. With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, the model could help policymakers ensure human wellbeing in dense urban settings. The idea is based on the concept of “cultural capital” – the more there is, the better the neighborhood becomes. For example, if there are many pictures of fun events in a certain spot you can expect a higher level of well-being in that area’s denizens. The research also suggests that investing in arts and culture will actively improve a neighborhood. “Culture has many benefits to an individual: it opens our minds to new emotional experiences and enriches our lives,” said Dr. Daniele Quercia. “We’ve known for decades that this ‘cultural capital’ plays a huge role in a person’s success. Our new model shows the same correlation for neighborhoods and cities, with those neighborhoods experiencing the greatest growth having high cultural capital. So, for every city or school district debating whether to invest in arts programs or technology centers, the answer should be a resounding ‘Yes!'” The Cambridge-based team looked at “millions of Flickr images” taken at cultural events in New York and London and overlaid them on maps of these cities

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Scooter startup Lime is reportedly raising $250M led by Uber investor GV

It’s scooters all the way down this morning, with Lime also reportedly raising $250 million in a funding after a new Delaware filing this morning indicated that competitor Bird authorized the sale of up to $200 million in shares . GV (formerly Google Ventures) is leading this round, according to the report by Axios , as the massive land grab for a stake in the scooter wars continues to heat up — whether that’s funding or actual scooters piling up on the sidewalk. Both companies have faced pushback from some city regulators (probably on the basis of tripping over them and falling on your face), but it still means the venture community is still salivating over potentially the next major mode of metropolitan transportation. Most venture investors in the Valley argue scooters make sense for short trips throughout areas that are just too far to be considered a trek, but too close that it would be a waste of time and money to call a rideshare like Uber or Lyft. Given that Uber exposed a massive hole for easier transportation in major metropolitan areas — and potentially replacing cars in those areas — getting into the next big transportation revolution is more than tempting enough for firms like GV (which is also an investor in Uber). Lime was previously reported to be seeking up to $500 million in funding and was taking meetings with some major firms in Silicon Valley over the past few weeks. It might not get that, but a $250 million influx might be plenty to try to continue to ramp up its business and get more rides on board. Axios is reporting that Lime has told investors users have taken 4.2 million rides and each scooter gets 8 to 12 rides per day. Still, while it’s not $500 million, there’s plenty of interest in the on-demand scooter business — challenges of keeping them charged and intact included — that Bird has authorized the sale of up to $200 million in new shares at a $1 billion valuation just months after its previous round. So it might not be surprising if this, too, ends up as kind of a rolling process where Lime eventually gets all the capital it sought.

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