Facebook

European Lawmakers Asked Mark Zuckerberg Why They Shouldn't Break Up Facebook (theverge.com) 218

European lawmakers questioned Mark Zuckerberg in Brussels today for almost an hour and a half, asking him to address concerns about the Cambridge Analytica data leak and Facebook's potential monopoly. German MEP Manfred Weber asked whether the Facebook CEO could name a single European alternative to his "empire," which includes apps like WhatsApp and Instagram in addition to Facebook. "I think it's time to discuss breaking up Facebook's monopoly, because it's already too much power in only one hand," said Weber. "So I ask you simple, and that is my final question: can you convince me not to do so?" Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt then chimed in and asked whether Facebook would cooperate with European antitrust authorities to determine whether the company was indeed a monopoly, and if it was, whether Facebook would accept splitting off WhatsApp or Messenger to remedy the problem. The Verge reports: The panel's format let Zuckerberg selectively reply to questions at the end of the session, and he didn't address Verhofstadt's points. Instead, he broadly outlined how Facebook views "competition" in various spaces. "We exist in a very competitive space where people use a lot of different tools for communication," said Zuckerberg. "From where I sit, it feels like there are new competitors coming up every day" in the messaging and social networking space. He also said that Facebook didn't hold an advertising monopoly because it only controlled 6 percent of the global advertising market. (It's worth noting: this is still a huge number.) And he argued that Facebook promoted competition by making it easier for small businesses to reach larger audiences -- which is basically unrelated to the question of whether Facebook itself is a monopoly.
Advertising

Should T-Mobile Stop Claiming It Has 'Best Unlimited Network'? (arstechnica.com) 54

An anonymous reader writes: Speed isn't everything, or is it? According to a report from Ars Technica, the National Advertising Division (NAD) says T-Mobile should stop claiming that is has "America's Best Unlimited Network" because it needs to prove it also has the widest geographic coverage and best reliability. T-Mobile is saying that speed outweighs all other factors.

"T-Mobile's claim is based on data from Ookla and OpenSignal, which offer speed-testing apps that let consumers test their wireless data speeds," reports Ars Technica. "Both Ookla and OpenSignal have issued reports saying that T-Mobile's speeds were higher than Verizon's, AT&T's, and Sprint's. The OpenSignal tests also gave T-Mobile an edge over rivals in latency and 4G signal availability." T-Mobile "did not provide evidence that its network is superior in providing talk and text mobile services or in providing high-speed data more reliably or to a greater coverage area," the industry group's announcement said.

Businesses

Amazon's New Marketplace Appstore Connects Sellers To Software (cnet.com) 6

Amazon is creating another app store, but it's not for consumers. From a report: Instead, the online retail giant will for the first time put its seal of approval on a bunch of third-party apps intended for professional sellers with its new Marketplace Appstore. It launches to sellers starting Monday, the company said. CNET reported on plans for the app store earlier this month. The new app store, which will be available in North America through Amazon's main hub for sellers called Seller Central, will include tools to handle pricing, inventory, advertising and other needs for pro sellers. The app store will be introduced to sellers slowly to ensure a smooth rollout. "Many developers have innovated and created applications that complement our tools and integrate with our service," Amazon said in a statement Monday. "We created the Marketplace Appstore to help businesses more easily discover these applications, streamline their business operations, and ultimately create a better experience for our customers."
Google

Google Sued For 'Clandestine Tracking' of 4.4 Million UK iPhone Users' Browsing Data (theguardian.com) 32

Google is being sued in the high court for as much as $4.3 billion for the alleged "clandestine tracking and collation" of personal information from 4.4 million iPhone users in the UK. From a report: The collective action is being led by former Which? director Richard Lloyd over claims Google bypassed the privacy settings of Apple's Safari browser on iPhones between August 2011 and February 2012 in order to divide people into categories for advertisers. At the opening of an expected two-day hearing in London on Monday, lawyers for Lloyd's campaign group Google You Owe Us told the court information collected by Google included race, physical and mental heath, political leanings, sexuality, social class, financial, shopping habits and location data.

Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing Lloyd, said information was then "aggregated" and users were put into groups such as "football lovers" or "current affairs enthusiasts" for the targeting of advertising. Tomlinson said the data was gathered through "clandestine tracking and collation" of browsing on the iPhone, known as the "Safari Workaround" -- an activity he said was exposed by a PhD researcher in 2012. Tomlinson said Google has already paid $39.5m to settle claims in the US relating to the practice. Google was fined $22.5m for the practice by the US Federal Trade Commission in 2012 and forced to pay $17m to 37 US states.

Advertising

Ads Are Coming To Facebook Stories (techcrunch.com) 31

Facebook Stories has reached 150 million daily active users after launching nearly 14 months ago. So what's the next logical step after reaching such a milestone? Advertisements. According to TechCrunch, Facebook Stories will start testing its first ads today in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil. From the report: They're 5- to 15-second video ads users can skip, and while there's no click-through or call to action now, Facebook plans to add that in the coming months. Advertisers can easily extend their Instagram Stories ads to this new surface, or have Facebook automatically reformat their News Feed ads with color-matched borders and text at the bottom. Facebook also plans to give businesses more metrics on their Stories performance to convince them the feature is worth their ad dollars.
The Internet

The Rise of Free Urban Internet (axios.com) 78

Intersection, the Alphabet-backed smart cities startup known for creating free internet kiosks for cities, is pushing to make free internet accessible in as many major cities as possible across the globe. From a report: As more aspects of our daily lives -- from healthcare to communication to travel -- become dependent on internet-connected devices, the concept of providing internet as a public good is becoming more widespread. Intersection is best known for its successful transformation of NYC's 7,500 pay-phones into free internet kiosks that act as hot-spots and advertising space. It's also spreading its programs to cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and even London. The program is entirely funded by advertising that the company sells on LinkNYC internet kiosks, so less densely-populated cities may be a tougher sell.
United Kingdom

London Plans To Ban Junk Food Advertising On Public Transport (bloomberg.com) 175

Junk food advertising could be banned from the entire Transport for London network under proposals announced by Mayor Sadiq Khan, as he tries to tackle rising levels of childhood obesity in the city. From a report: "I want to reduce the influence and pressure that can be put on children and families to make unhealthy choices," Khan said in a statement announcing the proposals to ban advertisements for unhealthy food and drink on London's trains, buses and bus shelters. The mayor also proposed a ban on new hot food takeaway stores opening within 400 meters of schools.

London has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in Europe -- nearly 40 percent of 10-11 year-olds in the capital are overweight or obese, according to the statement. Children from poorer areas are disproportionately affected by the "obesity epidemic," Khan said, adding that young people from Barking and Dagenham in East London are almost twice as likely to be overweight as children from the upmarket Richmond neighborhood.

Businesses

Florida Man Behind 100 Million Robocalls Hit With $120 Million FCC Fine (chicagotribune.com) 145

In a massive strike, the Federal Communications Commission issued a $120 million fine on a massive robocall spoofing operation it deemed a threat to public safety. From a report: The FCC announced Thursday morning that it would leverage the fine against Adrian Abramovich, a Miami man who the commission said made almost 100 million spoofed robocalls over a three-month period at the end of 2016. The FCC argued that Abramovich's operation made the phony calls to trick consumers into answering them and listening to his advertising messages. The fine was based on 80,000 spoofed calls the commission had verified.

A complaint filed by the FCC against Abramovich in June 2017 alleged he had broken the Truth in Caller ID Act -- which prohibits callers from falsifying caller ID information to disguise their identity with intent to harm or defraud -- in perpetrating "one of the largest -- and most dangerous -- illegal robocalling campaigns that the commission has ever investigated."

United States

US Congressmen Reveal Thousands of Facebook Ads Bought By Russian Trolls (mercurynews.com) 309

An anonymous reader writes: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday released about 3,400 Facebook ads purchased by Russian agents around the 2016 presidential election on issues from immigration to gun control, a reminder of the complexity of the manipulation that Facebook is trying to contain ahead of the midterm elections. The ads, which span from mid-2015 to mid-2017, illustrate the extent to which Kremlin-aligned forces sought to stoke social, cultural and political unrest on one of the Web's most powerful platforms. With the help of Facebook's targeting tools, Russia's online army reached at least 146 million people on Facebook and Instagram, its photo-sharing service, with ads and other posts, including events promoting protests around the country...

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said lawmakers would continue probing Russia's online disinformation efforts. In February, Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia and the 2016 election, indicted individuals tied to the IRA for trying to interfere in the presidential race. "They sought to harness Americans' very real frustrations and anger over sensitive political matters in order to influence American thinking, voting and behavior," Schiff said in a statement. "The only way we can begin to inoculate ourselves against a future attack is to see first-hand the types of messages, themes and imagery the Russians used to divide us...."

The documents released Thursday also reflect that Russian agents continued advertising on Facebook well after the presidential election... They marketed a page called Born Liberal to likely supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the data show, an ad that had more than 49,000 impressions into 2017. Together, the ads affirmed the fears of some lawmakers, including Republicans, that Russian agents have continued to try to influence U.S. politics even after the 2016 election. Russian agents also had created thousands of accounts on Twitter, and in January, the company revealed that it discovered more than 50,000 automated accounts, or bots, with links to Russia.

Advertising

Placing Election Ads On Google Will Require a Government ID (gizmodo.com) 227

Google announced new policies Friday that will require advertisers to prove they are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident when buying election ads. "Under the new guidelines, Google will ask advertisers -- be they individuals, organizations, or political action committees -- to prove they are who they claim to be," reports Gizmodo. "It will also require the ads to include a clear disclosure of who is paying for it." From the report: The change comes after Google and other social media companies revealed their advertising platforms were abused by foreign actors, including the Russian government-backed troll farm Internet Research Agency, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It also places Google's policies in line with U.S. laws for traditional media that restrict foreign entities from running election ads. Where Google's effort falls short, at least in its current iteration, is the new policies only cover ads featuring candidates running for office. So-called "issue ads" that advocate a certain point of view on hot-button topics are not covered in Google's policies.
Education

Some YouTube Stars Are Being Paid To Sell Academic Cheating (bbc.com) 125

A BBC investigation has found that more than 250 YouTube channels are being paid to sell academic cheating. Specifically, they are promoting EduBirdie, which allows students to buy essays, rather than doing the work themselves. From the report: The BBC Trending investigation uncovered more than 1,400 videos with a total of more than 700 million views containing EduBirdie adverts selling cheating to students and school pupils. EduBirdie is based in Ukraine, but aims its services at pupils and students across the globe. Essay writing services are not illegal, but if students submit work they have paid for someone else to do the penalties can be severe. The company is not just aiming to capture the attention of university students with its advertising. Popular YouTubers, some as young as 12, are being paid to personally endorse the service. In some of the videos YouTubers say if you cannot be bothered to do the work, EduBirdie has a "super smart nerd" who will do it for you. The adverts appear in videos on YouTube channels covering a range of subjects, including pranks, dating, gaming, music and fashion. Following the BBC's investigation, both have now removed videos with EduBirdie adverts from YouTube. A YouTube spokesman told the BBC: "YouTube creators may include paid endorsements as part of their content only if the product or service they are endorsing complies with our advertising policies. We will be working with creators going forward so they better understand that in video promotions must not promote dishonest activity."
AI

AI Is Being Used To Predict Gambling Behavior (theguardian.com) 54

"The gambling industry is increasingly using artificial intelligence to predict consumer habits and personalize promotions to keep gamblers hooked," reports The Guardian, citing industry insiders. "Current and former gambling industry employees have described how people's betting habits are scrutinized and modeled to manipulate their future behavior." From the report: Publicly, gambling executives boast of increasingly sophisticated advertising keeping people betting, while privately conceding that some are more susceptible to gambling addiction when bombarded with these type of bespoke ads and incentives. Gamblers' every click, page view and transaction is scientifically examined so that ads statistically more likely to work can be pushed through Google, Facebook and other platforms. Users unwittingly consent to the use of their data in ways they aren't aware of due to lengthy terms and conditions, enabling their information to legally be used in this way. Last August, the Guardian revealed the gambling industry uses third-party companies to harvest people's data, helping bookmakers and online casinos target people on low incomes and those who have stopped gambling. Despite condemnation from MPs, experts and campaigners, such practices remain an industry norm.
Google

Who Has More of Your Personal Data Than Facebook? Try Google (wsj.com) 151

Facebook may be in the hot seat right now for its collection of personal data without our knowledge or explicit consent, but as The Wall Street Journal points out, "Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend on its sites and apps." From the report (alternative source): It's likely that Google has shadow profiles (data the company gathers on people without accounts) on as at least as many people as Facebook does, says Chandler Givens, CEO of TrackOff, which develops software to fight identity theft. Google allows everyone, whether they have a Google account or not, to opt out of its ad targeting, though, like Facebook, it continues to gather your data. Google Analytics is far and away the web's most dominant analytics platform. Used on the sites of about half of the biggest companies in the U.S., it has a total reach of 30 million to 50 million sites. Google Analytics tracks you whether or not you are logged in. Meanwhile, the billion-plus people who have Google accounts are tracked in even more ways. In 2016, Google changed its terms of service, allowing it to merge its massive trove of tracking and advertising data with the personally identifiable information from our Google accounts.

Google uses, among other things, our browsing and search history, apps we've installed, demographics like age and gender and, from its own analytics and other sources, where we've shopped in the real world. Google says it doesn't use information from "sensitive categories" such as race, religion, sexual orientation or health. Because it relies on cross-device tracking, it can spot logged-in users no matter which device they're on. Google fuels even more data harvesting through its dominant ad marketplaces. There are up to 4,000 data brokers in the U.S., and collectively they know everything about us we might otherwise prefer they didn't -- whether we're pregnant, divorced or trying to lose weight. Google works with some of these brokers directly but the company says it vets them to prevent targeting based on sensitive information. Google also is the biggest enabler of data harvesting, through the world's two billion active Android mobile devices.

Facebook

Silicon Valley Investors Wants to Fund a 'Good For Society' Facebook Replacement (calacanis.com) 216

Silicon Valley angel investor Jason Calacanis just announced the "Openbook Challenge," a competition to create a replacement for Facebook.

"Over the next three months, 20 finalists will compete for seven $100,000 incubator grants," explains long-time Slashdot reader reifman. "Their goal is to find startups with a sustainable business model e.g. subscriptions, reasonable advertising, cryptocurrency. etc. And they want it to be 'good for society.'"

Jason Calacanis writes: All community and social products on the internet have had their era, from AOL to MySpace, and typically they're not shut down by the government -- they're slowly replaced by better products. So, let's start the process of replacing Facebook... We already have two dozen quality teams cranking on projects and we hope to get to 100...

This is not an idea or business plan competition. We're looking for teams that can actually build a better social network, and we'll be judging teams primarily based upon their ability to execute... Keep in mind, that while ideas really matter, Zuckerberg has shown us, execution matters more.

Calacanis has even created a discussion group for the competition...on Facebook. And his announcement includes a famous quote from Mark Zuckerberg.

"Don't be too proud to copy."
Social Networks

Kaspersky Lab Banned From Advertising on Twitter Because of Its Alleged Ties With Russian Intelligence Agencies (cyberscoop.com) 45

An anonymous reader shares a report: Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab has been banned from advertising on Twitter due to its allegedly close and active ties between the company and Russian intelligence agencies, according to the social network. The ban is the latest blow in an ongoing saga for Kaspersky, which includes two ongoing legal battles with the U.S. government. Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of Kaspersky Lab, took to Twitter on Friday to condemn the ban. A Twitter spokesperson reiterated that the "decision is based on our determination that Kaspersky Lab operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices."
Yahoo!

Yahoo's New Privacy Policy Allows Data-Sharing With Verizon (cnet.com) 38

"Yahoo is now part of Oath and there is a new Privacy and Terms contract..." warns long-time Slashdot reader DigitalLogic. CNET reports: Oath notes that it has the right to read your emails, instant messages, posts, photos and even look at your message attachments. And it might share that data with parent company Verizon, too... When you dig further into Oath's policy about what it might do with your words, photos, and attachments, the company clarifies that it's utilizing automated systems that help the company with security, research and providing targeted ads -- and that those automated systems should strip out personally identifying information before letting any humans look at your data. But there are no explicit guarantees on that.
The update also warns that Oath is now "linking your activity on other sites and apps with information we have about you, and providing anonymized and/or aggregated reports to other parties regarding user trends." For example, Oath "may analyze user content around certain interactions with financial institutions," and "leverages information financial institutions are allowed to send over email."

Oath does offer a "Privacy Controls" page which includes a "legacy" AOL link letting you opt-out of internet-based advertising that's been targeted "based on your online activities" -- but it appears to be functioning sporadically.

CNET also reports that now Yahoo users are agreeing to a class-action waiver and mutual arbitration. "What it means is if you don't like what the company does with your data, you'll have a hard time suing."
United States

Trump Signs Law Weakening Shield For Online Services (vice.com) 188

President Donald Trump has signed a new law aimed at curbing sex trafficking. From a report: The bill -- a mashup of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which is commonly referred to as the latter -- passed Congress in March. It makes websites liable for what users say and do on their platforms, and many advocacy groups have come out against the bill, saying that it undermines essential internet freedoms.

It could be months -- or as late as January 2019 -- before FOSTA is enacted and anyone could be charged under the law. But even in the days immediately after the bill passed in Congress, platforms started scrambling to proactively shut down forums or whole sites where sex trafficking could feasibly happen. Fringe dating websites, sex trade and advertising forums, and even portions of Craigslist were taken down in the weeks following, while companies like Google started strictly enforcing terms of service around sexual speech.
Commenting on the development, EFF said, "As we've already seen, this bill silences online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users."
Democrats

Democratic Senators Propose 'Privacy Bill of Rights' To Prevent Websites From Sharing Or Selling Sensitive Info Without Opt-In Consent (arstechnica.com) 136

Democratic Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today proposed a "privacy bill of rights" that would prevent Facebook and other websites from sharing or selling sensitive information without a customer's opt-in consent. The proposed law would protect customers' web browsing and application usage history, private messages, and any sensitive personal data such as financial and health information. Ars Technica reports: Markey teamed with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to propose the Customer Online Notification for Stopping Edge-provider Network Transgressions (CONSENT) Act. You can read the full legislation here. "Edge providers" refers to websites and other online services that distribute content over consumer broadband networks. Facebook and Google are the dominant edge providers when it comes to advertising and the use of customer data to serve targeted ads. No current law requires edge providers to seek customers' permission before using their browsing histories to serve personalized ads. The online advertising industry uses self-regulatory mechanisms in which websites let visitors opt out of personalized advertising based on browsing history, and websites can be punished by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if they break their privacy promises.

The Markey/Blumenthal bill's stricter opt-in standard would require edge providers to "obtain opt-in consent from a customer to use, share, or sell the sensitive customer proprietary information of the customer." Edge providers would not be allowed to impose "take-it-or-leave-it" offers that require customers to consent in order to use the service. The FTC and state attorneys general would be empowered to enforce the new opt-in requirements. The bill would require edge providers to notify users about all collection, use, and sharing of their information. The bill also requires edge providers "to develop reasonable data security practices" and to notify customers about data breaches that affect them.

Twitter

Twitter Says It Will Comply With Honest Ads Act To Combat Russia Social Media Meddling (theverge.com) 47

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Twitter today pledged to support a proposed Senate bill that would require technology platforms that sell advertising space to disclose the source of and amount of money paid for political ads. Called the Honest Ads Act, the bipartisan bill was first introduced back in October by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). As part of its transparency efforts, Twitter says it's launched a new platform called the Ads Transparency Center, or ATC, that will "go beyond the requirements of the Honest Ads Act and eventually provide increased transparency to all advertisements on Twitter." Twitter says the platform will increase transparency for political and so-called issue ads, which target specific topics like immigration and gun control, by providing even more information on the origin of an ad that is required by the Honest Ads Act. "We have a dedicated team that is fully resourced to implementing the ATC and are committed to launching it this summer," the company states. "Twitter is moving forward on our commitment to providing transparency for online ads. We believe the Honest Ads Act provides an appropriate framework for such ads and look forward to working with bill sponsors and others to continue to refine and advance this important proposal."
Businesses

How Much VR User Data Is Oculus Giving To Facebook? (theverge.com) 60

Facebook owns many other apps and services, including the Oculus virtual-reality platform, which collects incredibly detailed information about where users are looking and how they're moving. Since most of the discussion about how Facebook handles user information is focused on the social network itself, The Verge's Adi Robertson looks into the link between Facebook and Oculus: A VR platform like Oculus offers lots of data points that could be turned into a detailed user profile. Facebook already records a "heatmap" of viewer data for 360-degree videos, for instance, flagging which parts of a video people find most interesting. If it decided to track VR users at a more detailed level, it could do something like track overall movement patterns with hand controllers, then guess whether someone is sick or tired on a particular day. Oculus imagines people using its headsets the way they use phones and computers today, which would let it track all kinds of private communications. The Oculus privacy policy has a blanket clause that lets it share and receive information from Facebook and Facebook-owned services. So far, the company claims that it exercises this option in very limited ways, and none of them involve giving data to Facebook advertisers. "Oculus does not share people's data with Facebook for third-party advertising," a spokesperson tells The Verge.

Oculus says there are some types of data it either doesn't share or doesn't retain at all. The platform collects physical information like height to calibrate VR experiences, but apparently, it doesn't share any of it with Facebook. It stores posts that are made on the Oculus forums, but not voice communications between users in VR, although it may retain records of connections between them. The company also offers a few examples of when it would share data with Facebook or vice versa. Most obviously, if you're using a Facebook-created VR app like Spaces, Facebook gets information about what you're doing there, much in the same way that any third-party app developer would. You can optionally link your Facebook account to your Oculus ID, in which case, Oculus will use your Facebook interests to suggest specific apps or games. If you've linked the accounts, any friend you add on Facebook will also become your friend on Oculus, if they're on the platform.
Oculus does, however, share data between the two services to fight certain kinds of banned activity. "If we find someone using their account to send spam on one service, we can disable all of their accounts," an Oculus spokesperson says. "Similarly, if there's 'strange activity' on a specific Oculus account, they can share the IP address it's coming from with Facebook," writes Robertson. "The biggest problem is that there's nothing stopping Facebook and Oculus from choosing to share more data in the future."

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