Social Networks

Reddit Bans Subreddits Related To Selling Guns, Drugs, Sex, and More ( 148

New submitter cornholed writes: Yesterday, Reddit updated their Content Policy forbidding transactions for certain goods and services. From the formal announcement on Reddit: "As of today, users may not use Reddit to solicit or facilitate any transaction or gift involving certain goods and services, including: firearms, ammunition, or explosives; drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, or any controlled substances (except advertisements placed in accordance with our advertising policy); paid services involving physical sexual contact; stolen goods; personal information; falsified official documents or currency." Bloomberg has an interesting write-up on how Reddit is wading into the gun control debate. See this post on Reddit for a full-list of all subreddits banned. "Reddit has been something of a Wild West for users building communities by curating and commenting on content in subreddits," reports Bloomberg. "Sometimes, as in the case with gun sales, marketplaces emerge in the course of conversations within specific communities. With Reddit's increased popularity -- the site is the sixth-most-visited in the world -- has come introspection and stricter content guidelines. The company recognizes its responsibility for having provided a platform for hate groups to flourish and, more recently, the possibility that Russian propaganda on the site may have played a role in influencing the 2016 presidential election."

Mozilla Pulls Advertising from Facebook ( 80

An anonymous reader shares a report: Mozilla is not happy with Facebook. Not happy at all. Having already started a petition to try to force the social network to do more about user privacy, the company has now decided to withdraw its advertising from the platform. The organization is voting with its money following the misuse of user data by Cambridge Analytica, as it tries to force Facebook into taking privacy more seriously. Mozilla says that it is not happy to financially support a platform that does not do enough to protect user privacy. But the company is not severing ties completely. It says that advertising is being "paused" and that if the right steps are taken by Facebook "we'll consider returning."

Facebook Under Pressure as EU, US Urge Probes of Data Practices ( 67

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced calls on Monday from U.S. and European lawmakers to explain how a consultancy that worked on President Donald Trump's election campaign gained access to data on 50 million Facebook users. From a report: Facebook's shares fell more than 7 percent, wiping around $40 billion off its market value, set for their biggest drop since September 2012, as investors worried that new legislation could damage the company's lucrative advertising business. "The lid is being opened on the black box of Facebook's data practices, and the picture is not pretty," said Frank Pasquale, a University of Maryland law professor who has written about Silicon Valley's use of data. Lawmakers in the United States, Britain and Europe have called for investigations into media reports that political analytics firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested the private data on more than 50 million Facebook users to support Trump's 2016 presidential election campaign. Further reading: An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News reveals how Cambridge Analytica secretly campaigns in elections across the world. Bosses were filmed talking about using bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers.

Ubuntu Community Considers a Crowd-Sourced Promo Video ( 40

Slashdot reader Beacon11 writes that "Alan Pope, a community advocate for Ubuntu, has requested comments and ideas regarding the creation of a crowd-sourced promo video that, in 30 seconds, conveys that Ubuntu is for everyone." Alan Pope writes: So for example you might see a woman on a train typing an article, a guy in an office creating a presentation, a kid on the sofa playing a game with a controller on their TV, someone watching a film, someone developing code, kids playing with robots, a farmer planning animal feeding. You get the idea...

So I'd really like to do this as a shared community project, with video clips submitted by Ubuntu users from around the world, perhaps even taking in a landmark or two here and there. I'd expect the video to represent the diversity of users, and variety of activities people are able to do with Ubuntu.

Though they're currently just discussing its feasibility, Alan writes that "I think if we work together we could make something amazing."

Amazon Is Hiring More Developers For Alexa Than Google Is Hiring For Everything ( 80

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gadgets Now: Amazon is hiring 1,147 people just for its Alexa business. To put this number in perspective, it has to be mentioned that this number is higher than what Google is hiring for technical and product roles across its Alphabet group of companies including YouTube and Waymo. According to a report published in Forbes, Amazon is hiring engineers, data scientists, developers, analysts, payment services professionals among others. The Forbes report cites information released by Citi Research in association with It's clear that Amazon is betting big on the smartphone speaker market if the hiring numbers are to go by. It was the first major company to come with a smart speaker and has almost 70% market share in the U.S. Google has been making in-roads with Google Home devices but still has a lot of catching up to do. The Citi report further mentions that other notable areas where Amazon is hiring are devices, advertising and seller services. Amazon is looking at hiring a total of about 1,700 employees for other divisions.

Facebook Quietly Hid Webpages Bragging of Ability to Influence Elections ( 83

Sam Biddle, reporting for The Intercept: When Mark Zuckerberg was asked if Facebook had influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, the founder and CEO dismissed the notion that the site even had such power as "crazy." It was a disingenuous remark. Facebook's website had an entire section devoted to touting the "success stories" of political campaigns that used the social network to influence electoral outcomes. That page, however, is now gone, even as the 2018 congressional primaries get underway.

In the wake of a public reckoning with Facebook's unparalleled ability to distribute information and global anxiety over election meddling, bragging about the company's ability to run highly effective influence campaigns probably doesn't look so great. Facebook's "success stories" page is a monument to the company's dominance of online advertising, providing examples from almost every imaginable industry of how use of the social network gave certain players an advantage. "Case studies like these inspire and motivate us," the page crows.


Google Will Ban All Cryptocurrency-related Advertising ( 108

Google is cracking down on cryptocurrency-related advertising. From a report: The company is updating its financial services-related ad policies to ban any advertising about cryptocurrency-related content, including initial coin offerings (ICOs), wallets, and trading advice, Google's director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, told CNBC. That means that even companies with legitimate cryptocurrency offerings won't be allowed to serve ads through any of Google's ad products, which place advertising on its own sites as well as third-party websites. This update will go into effect in June 2018, according to a company post. "We don't have a crystal ball to know where the future is going to go with cryptocurrencies, but we've seen enough consumer harm or potential for consumer harm that it's an area that we want to approach with extreme caution," Scott said.

YouTube, the Great Radicalizer ( 211

Zeynep Tufekci, writing for the New York Times: Before long, I was being directed to videos of a leftish conspiratorial cast, including arguments about the existence of secret government agencies and allegations that the United States government was behind the attacks of Sept. 11. As with the Trump videos, YouTube was recommending content that was more and more extreme than the mainstream political fare I had started with. Intrigued, I experimented with nonpolitical topics. The same basic pattern emerged. Videos about vegetarianism led to videos about veganism. Videos about jogging led to videos about running ultramarathons. It seems as if you are never "hard core" enough for YouTube's recommendation algorithm. It promotes, recommends and disseminates videos in a manner that appears to constantly up the stakes. Given its billion or so users, YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.

This is not because a cabal of YouTube engineers is plotting to drive the world off a cliff. A more likely explanation has to do with the nexus of artificial intelligence and Google's business model. (YouTube is owned by Google.) For all its lofty rhetoric, Google is an advertising broker, selling our attention to companies that will pay for it. The longer people stay on YouTube, the more money Google makes. What keeps people glued to YouTube? Its algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with -- or to incendiary content in general. Is this suspicion correct? Good data is hard to come by; Google is loath to share information with independent researchers. But we now have the first inklings of confirmation, thanks in part to a former Google engineer named Guillaume Chaslot. Mr. Chaslot worked on the recommender algorithm while at YouTube. He grew alarmed at the tactics used to increase the time people spent on the site. Google fired him in 2013, citing his job performance. He maintains the real reason was that he pushed too hard for changes in how the company handles such issues.


Cable Industry Finally Fights Cord Cutting With Fewer Ads ( 106

The cable industry is slowly realizing that more advertisements and higher prices aren't the solution to cord cutting. Karl Bode writes via DSLReports: AT&T and Dish have explored offering cheaper, more flexible streaming alternatives (DirecTV Now and Sling TV, respectively), both understanding that getting out ahead of the cord cutting trend is the right play, even if the net result is making less money from traditional television. And on the broadcasting front, several companies this month made it clear they'll be reducing the ad loads on their programming, since charging users a subscription fee and socking them with endless ads is becoming a dated concept in the cord cutting era. Fox, for example, told the Wall Street Journal this week that the company would be reducing TV ad time in its content to two minutes an hour by 2020. Comcast NBC Universal says it's also following suit, having cut advertising time in its own shows by 10%, and reduced the overall number of advertising during commercial breaks by 20%. Given there's 83 million households still subscribing to traditional cable TV, many cable executives are under the false impression they can keep doubling down on bad ideas without the check coming due. But the data indicates this head in the sand approach simply isn't sustainable. Pay TV providers saw a reduction of more than 500,000 traditional pay TV customers during the fourth quarter, a decline of 3.4% total pay TV customers from the year before. That 3.4% decline was up from the 2% rate during in the fourth quarter of 2016 and a 1% rate of decline one year before that.

The Slow Death of the Internet Cookie ( 97

Sara Fischer, writing for Axios: Over 60% of marketers believe they will no longer need to rely on tracking cookies, a 20-year-old desktop-based technology, for the majority of their digital marketing within the next two years, according to data from Viant Technology, an advertising cloud. Why it matters: Advertising and web-based services that were cookie-dependent are slowly being phased out of our mobile-first world, where more personalized data targeting is done without using cookies. Marketers are moving away from using cookies to track user data on the web to target ads now that people are moving away from desktop. 90% of marketers say they see improved performance from people-based marketing, compared with cookie-based campaigns.

Australia Considers Making It Illegal For ISPs To Advertise Inflated Speeds ( 70

The Australian government is currently considering a bill that would make it illegal for internet service providers to exaggerate speeds, or else face a fine of up to $1 million. "One constituent says he's being charged for a 25 megabit per second download speed and a five megabit per second upload and he's actually getting less than one tenth of that," said Andrew Wilkie, the Member of Parliament who introduced the bill. "In other words, people are getting worse than dial-up speed when they've been promised a whizz-bang, super-fast connection." Motherboard reports: Internet speeds can vary based on how many people are on the network and even the hardware you use, but while we can't expect ISPs to deliver maximum speed 100 percent of the time, previous probes into their performance have shown many ISPs in the U.S. aren't delivering even the minimum advertised speeds a majority of the time for the average user. Under the proposed Australian law, ISPs are simply required to be more transparent about what consumers can expect with a specific plan. Rather than advertising only the maximum speeds, they would have to include typical speeds for the average user, indicate busy periods, and clearly list any other factors that might impact service. The bill was only introduced this week, so it's yet to be seen if it will gain traction.

Snap Said To Skip Bonuses, Combat Morale Slump After Rough Year ( 16

An anonymous reader shares a report: On Wednesday, Snap (parent company of messaging service Snapchat) sent employees a survey asking a broad set of questions to understand what they're happy about, what they want to improve, and what they want to say, anonymously, one year after the company's initial public offering. Grievances will be aired. Just last month, the company reported revenue that beat Wall Street's projections for the first time, causing the stock to surge 47 percent. Internally, the picture isn't as celebratory. The year involved a complete rethinking of the advertising business, an exodus of top executives, a broadly critiqued redesign of the Snapchat photo-sharing application and stiff competition from Facebook's Instagram, leaving the shares close to their IPO price. While Snap topped Wall Street's estimates last quarter, employees were told they didn't beat internal goals -- and wouldn't be getting cash bonuses, according to people familiar with the matter.

Snap's internal targets weren't defined for employees, but that wasn't a surprise at a company where Chief Executive Officer Evan Spiegel tightly controls aspects of the business he cares about -- especially the spread of information, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters. There is a sense among employees that since going public, Snap has only become more beholden to the one shareholder who matters: Spiegel.

The Internet

US House Passes Bill To Penalize Websites For Sex Trafficking ( 190

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Thomson Reuters Foundation News: The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed legislation to make it easier to penalize operators of websites that facilitate online sex trafficking, chipping away at a bedrock legal shield for the technology industry. The bill's passage marks one of the most concrete actions in recent years from the U.S. Congress to tighten regulation of internet firms, which have drawn heavy scrutiny from lawmakers in both parties over the past year due to an array of concerns regarding the size and influence of their platforms. The House passed the measure 388-25. It still needs to pass the U.S. Senate, where similar legislation has already gained substantial support, and then be signed by President Donald Trump before it can become law.

Several major internet companies, including Alphabet Inc's Google and Facebook Inc, had been reluctant to support any congressional effort to dent what is known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a decades-old law that protects them from liability for the activities of their users. But facing political pressure, the internet industry slowly warmed to a proposal that gained traction in the Senate last year, and eventually endorsed it after it gained sizable bipartisan support. The legislation is a result of years of law-enforcement lobbying for a crackdown on the online classified site, which is used for sex advertising. It would make it easier for states and sex-trafficking victims to sue social media networks, advertisers and others that fail to keep exploitative material off their platforms.


Israel-Based Vendor Cellebrite Can Unlock Every iPhone, including the Current-Gen iPhone X, That's On the Market: Forbes ( 146

Cellebrite, an Israel-based company, knows of ways to unlock every iPhone that's on the market, right up to the iPhone X, Forbes reported on Monday, citing sources. From the report: Cellebrite, a Petah Tikva, Israel-based vendor that's become the U.S. government's company of choice when it comes to unlocking mobile devices, is this month telling customers its engineers currently have the ability to get around the security of devices running iOS 11 . That includes the iPhone X, a model that Forbes has learned was successfully raided for data by the Department for Homeland Security back in November 2017, most likely with Cellebrite technology.

The Israeli firm, a subsidiary of Japan's Sun Corporation, hasn't made any major public announcement about its new iOS capabilities. But Forbes was told by sources (who asked to remain anonymous as they weren't authorized to talk on the matter) that in the last few months the company has developed undisclosed techniques to get into iOS 11 and is advertising them to law enforcement and private forensics folk across the globe. Indeed, the company's literature for its Advanced Unlocking and Extraction Services offering now notes the company can break the security of "Apple iOS devices and operating systems, including iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, iPad Pro and iPod touch, running iOS 5 to iOS 11." Separately, a source in the police forensics community told Forbes he'd been told by Cellebrite it could unlock the iPhone 8. He believed the same was most probably true for the iPhone X, as security across both of Apple's newest devices worked in much the same way.


The Car of the Future Will Sell Your Data ( 241

Picture this: You're driving home from work, contemplating what to make for dinner, and as you idle at a red light near your neighborhood pizzeria, an ad offering $5 off a pepperoni pie pops up on your dashboard screen. Are you annoyed that your car's trying to sell you something, or pleasantly persuaded? From a report: Telenav, a company developing in-car advertising software, is betting you won't mind much. Car companies -- looking to earn some extra money -- hope so, too. Automakers have been installing wireless connections in vehicles and collecting data for decades. But the sheer volume of software and sensors in new vehicles, combined with artificial intelligence that can sift through data at ever-quickening speeds, means new services and revenue streams are quickly emerging. The big question for automakers now is whether they can profit off all the driver data they're capable of collecting without alienating consumers or risking backlash from Washington. "Carmakers recognize they're fighting a war over customer data," said Roger Lanctot, who works with automakers on data monetization as a consultant for Strategy Analytics. "Your driving behavior, location, has monetary value, not unlike your search activity."

Salon Magazine Mines Monero On Your Computer If You Use an Ad Blocker ( 314

dryriver shares a report from BBC: News organizations have tried many novel ways to make readers pay -- but this idea is possibly the most audacious yet. If a reader chooses to block its advertising, U.S. publication Salon will use that person's computer to mine for Monero, a cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin. Creating new tokens of a cryptocurrency typically requires complex calculations that use up a lot of computing power. Salon told readers: "We intend to use a small percentage of your spare processing power to contribute to the advancement of technological discovery, evolution and innovation." The site is making use of CoinHive, a controversial mining tool that was recently used in an attack involving government websites in the UK, U.S. and elsewhere. However, unlike that incident, where hackers took control of visitors' computers to mine cryptocurrency, Salon notifies users and requires them to agree before the tool begins mining.

Facebook Plans To Use US Mail To Verify IDs of Election Ad Buyers ( 123

Facebook will start using postcards sent by U.S. mail later this year to verify the identities and location of people who want to purchase U.S. election-related advertising on its site, a senior company executive said on Saturday. From a report: The postcard verification is Facebook's latest effort to respond to criticism from lawmakers, security experts and election integrity watchdog groups that it and other social media companies failed to detect and later responded slowly to Russia's use of their platforms to spread divisive political content, including disinformation, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The Courts

Judge Won't Let FCC's Net Neutrality Repeal Stop Lawsuit Alleging Charter Throttled Netflix ( 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hollywood Reporter: [I]n the first significant decision referring to the repeal [of net neutrality] since FCC chairman Ajit Pai got his way, a New York judge on Friday ruled that the rescinding of net neutrality rules wasn't relevant to an ongoing lawsuit against Charter Communications. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed the lawsuit almost exactly a year ago today. It's alleged that Charter's Spectrum-TWC service promised internet speeds it knew it couldn't deliver and that Spectrum-TWC also misled subscribers by promising reliable access to Netflix, online content and online games. According to the complaint, the ISP intentionally failed to deliver reliable service in a bid to extract fees from backbone and content providers. When Netflix wouldn't pay, this "resulted in subscribers getting poorer quality streams during the very hours when they were most likely to access Netflix," and after Netflix agreed to pay demands, service "improved dramatically." This arguably is the kind of thing that net neutrality was supposed to prevent. And Charter itself pointed to the net neutrality repeal in a bid to block Schneiderman's claims that Charter had engaged in false advertising and deceptive business practices. New York Supreme Court Justice O. Peter Sherwood isn't sold.

He writes in an opinion that the FCC's order "which promulgates a new deregulatory policy effectively undoing network neutrality, includes no language purporting to create, extend or modify the preemptive reach of the Transparency Rule," referring to how ISPs have to disclose "actual network performance." And although Charter attempted to argue that the FCC clarified its intent to stop state and local governments from imposing disclosure obligations on broadband providers that were inconsistent with FCC's rules, Sherwood notes other language from the "Restoring Internet Freedom Order" how states will "continue to play their vital role in protecting consumers from fraud, enforcing fair business practices... and generally responding to consumer inquiries and complaints."


To Fight Fatal Infections, Hospitals May Turn to Algorithms ( 4

The technology used by Facebook, Google and Amazon to turn spoken language into text, recognize faces and target advertising could help doctors combat one of the deadliest killers in American hospitals. From a report: Clostridium difficile, a deadly bacterium spread by physical contact with objects or infected people, thrives in hospitals, causing 453,000 cases a year and 29,000 deaths in the United States, according to a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Traditional methods such as monitoring hygiene and warning signs often fail to stop the disease. But what if it were possible to systematically target those most vulnerable to C-diff? Erica Shenoy, an infectious-disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jenna Wiens, a computer scientist and assistant professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, did just that when they created an algorithm to predict a patient's risk of developing a C-diff infection, or CDI. Using patients' vital signs and other health records, this method -- still in an experimental phase -- is something both researchers want to see integrated into hospital routines. The CDI algorithm -- based on a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning -- is at the leading edge of a technological wave starting to hit the U.S. health care industry. After years of experimentation, machine learning's predictive powers are well-established, and it is poised to move from labs to broad real-world applications, said Zeeshan Syed, who directs Stanford University's Clinical Inference and Algorithms Program.

YouTube CEO: Facebook Should 'Get Back To Baby Pictures' ( 119

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki won't divulge her biggest fear about competing with Facebook, but she will give them some free advice. From a report: "They should get back to baby pictures," Wojcicki said Monday at the Code Media conference in Huntington Beach, California. Video has been an obsession for Facebook, as it tries to swipe the most advertising dollars migrating off television before YouTube can get them. Facebook has been aggressively advancing the number of clips and live streams that bubble up to the top of your News Feed and has rolled out a central hub for TV-like programming called Watch. "You always have to take competition seriously. You don't win by looking backwards; you win by looking at your customers and looking forward," she said.

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