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Facebook

Facebook Says Humans Won't Write Its Trending Topic Descriptions Anymore (recode.net) 76

Following a former Facebook journalist's report that the company's workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network's Trending Topics section, the company has been in damage control mode. First, the company announced it would tweak its Trending Topics section and revamp how editors find trending stories. Specifically, they will train the human editors who work on Facebook's trending section and abandon several automated tools it used to find and categorize trending news in the past. Most recently, Facebook added political scenarios to its orientation training following the concerns. Now, it appears that Facebook will "end its practice of writing editorial descriptions for topics, replacing them with snippets of text pulled from news stories." Kurt Wagner, writing for Recode: It's been more than three months since Gizmodo first published a story claiming Facebook's human editors were suppressing conservative news content on the site's Trending Topics section. Facebook vehemently denied the report, but has been dealing with the story's aftermath ever since. On Friday, Facebook announced another small but notable change to Trending Topics: Human editors will no longer write the short story descriptions that accompany a trending topic on the site. Instead, Facebook is going to use algorithms to "pull excerpts directly from stories." It is not, however, cutting out humans entirely. In fact, Facebook employees will still select which stories ultimately make it into the trending section. An algorithm will surface popular stories, but Facebook editors will weed out the inappropriate or fake ones. "There are still people involved in this process to ensure that the topics that appear in Trending remain high-quality," the company's blog reads.
Media

Gawker.com To End Operations Next Week (gawker.com) 134

After nearly 14 years of operations, Gawker.com will be shutting down next week, the company's outgoing CEO Nick Denton told the staff Thursday. The decision comes days after Univision said it would buy Gawker Media properties -- Gizmodo, Jezebel, Kotaku etc (but not Gawker.com) -- for a sum of $135 million. The publication is currently in the middle of multiple lawsuits, with billionaire Peter Thiel revealing his clandestine legal campaign against the company. In a blog post, Gawker made the announcement. From the story:Nick Denton, the company's outgoing CEO, informed current staffers of the site's fate on Thursday afternoon, just hours before a bankruptcy court in Manhattan will decide whether to approve Univision's bid for Gawker Media's other assets. Staffers will soon be assigned to other editorial roles, either at one of the other six sites or elsewhere within Univision. Near-term plans for Gawker.com's coverage, as well as the site's archives, have not yet been finalized.
Twitter

Stopping Trolls Is 'Now Life and Death For Twitter', Argues Backchannel (backchannel.com) 637

"This is the year that Twitter's future will be determined," argues Backchannel's editorial director, noting that Twitter's revenue growth is slowing, and "None of the features that cofounder Jack Dorsey has introduced since he returned to the company as CEO last year have succeeded in attracting new users." But Backchannel suggests it's because the trolls "are winning," discouraging new sign-ups and driving existing customers to leave. "We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform, and we've sucked at it for years," Twitter's CEO wrote in an internal memo in 2015. Backchannel argues bluntly that Twitter "has a hate problem." New submitter mirandakatz writes: It's been exactly three years since Twitter first promised to solve its harassment problem. In those three years, the company has made countless such promises, introducing dozens of new "fixes" and even going so far as to ban notorious troll Milo Yiannopoulos last month. But still, abuse on Twitter continues, and stopping it is now critical to the platform's future success...
"Twitter did an excellent job of inventing a digital platform for realtime idea exchange, but it has yet to create the feature that allows the community itself to ferret out the abusers..." writes Backchannel. "And if it cannot figure out how to eradicate the harassers, Twitter's other challenges will remain intractable."
Government

Almost Half Of All TSA Employees Have Been Cited For Misconduct (mercurynews.com) 128

Slashdot reader schwit1 writes: Almost half of all TSA employees have been cited for misconduct, and the citations have increased by almost 30 percent since 2013... It also appears that the TSA has been reducing the sanctions it has been giving out for this bad behavior.
Throughout the U.S., the airport security group "has instead sought to treat the misconduct with 'more counseling and letters that explain why certain behaviors were not acceptable'," according to a report from the House Homeland Security Commission, titled "Misconduct at TSA Threatens the Security of the Flying Public". It found 1,206 instances of "neglect of duty", and also cited the case of an Oakland TSA officer who for two years helped smugglers slip more than 220 pounds of marijuana through airport security checkpoints, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The newspaper adds that "The misconduct ranges from salacious (federal air marshals spending government money on hotel rooms for romps with prostitutes) to downright dangerous (an officer in Orlando taking bribes to smuggle Brazilian nationals through a checkpoint without questioning)." Their conclusion? "The TSA's job is to make airline passengers feel safer and, not incidentally, actually make us safer. It's failing on both."
Businesses

Why Tech Support Is (Purposely) Unbearable 209

HughPickens.com writes: Getting caught in a tech support loop -- waiting on hold, interacting with automated systems, talking to people reading from unhelpful scripts and then finding yourself on hold yet again -- is a peculiar kind of aggravation that mental health experts say can provoke rage in even the most mild-mannered person. Now Kate Murphy writes at the NYT that just as you suspected, companies are aware of the torture they are putting you through as 92 percent of customer service managers say their agents could be more effective and 74 percent say their company procedures prevented agents from providing satisfactory experiences. "Don't think companies haven't studied how far they can take things in providing the minimal level of service," says Justin Robbins, who was once a tech support agent himself and now oversees research and editorial at ICMI. "Some organizations have even monetized it by intentionally engineering it so you have to wait an hour at least to speak to someone in support, and while you are on hold, you're hearing messages like, 'If you'd like premium support, call this number and for a fee, we will get to you immediately.'" Mental health experts say there are ways to get better tech support or maybe just make it more bearable. First, do whatever it takes to control your temper. Take a deep breath. Count to 10. Losing your stack at a consumer support agent is not going to get your problem resolved any faster and being negative in your dealings with others can quickly paint you as a complainer no one wants to work with. Don't bother demanding to speak to a supervisor, either. You're just going to get transferred to another agent who has been alerted ahead of time that you have come unhinged. To get better service by phone, dial the prompt designated for "sales" or "to place an order," which almost always gets you an onshore agent, while tech support is usually offshore with the associated language difficulties. Finally customer support experts recommended using social media, like tweeting or sending a Facebook message, to contact a company instead of calling. You are likely to get a quicker response, not only because fewer people try that channel but also because your use of social media shows that you know how to vent your frustration to a wider audience if your needs are not met.
Social Networks

Internal Docs Show Human Intervention at Almost Every Stage Of Facebook's News Operation (theguardian.com) 215

More evidence has surfaced to support Gawker's two recent reports that claimed editors manipulate the trending news and a few other aspects on Facebook. The Guardian, citing leaked documents it obtained, reports that the topics one sees on Facebook are determined on a number of factors including "engagement, timeliness, Pages you've liked and your location." From the report: But the documents show that the company relies heavily on the intervention of a small editorial team to determine what makes its "trending module" headlines -- the list of news topics that shows up on the side of the browser window on Facebook's desktop version. The company backed away from a pure-algorithm approach in 2014 after criticism that it had not included enough coverage of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in users' feeds. The guidelines show human intervention -- and therefore editorial decisions -- at almost every stage of Facebook's trending news operation, a team that at one time was as few as 12 people.Sam Biddle of Gawker, wrote: Never trust what a company tells you, on/off record -- FB straight up lied to Recode last year. He adds: unless they're under oath a company like Facebook has every incentive to lie about how it operates. It's not illegal to lie to a reporter!"

Update: 05/12 20:49 GMT by M : Facebook has published a blog post in which it explains how Trending Topics on its platform works. The company insists that there is no discrimination against sources of any political origin.
Facebook

Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News (gizmodo.com) 639

Michael Nunez, reporting for Gizmodo: Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network's influential "trending" news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project. This individual says that workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site's users. In other words, Facebook's news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing -- but it is in stark contrast to the company's claims that the trending module simply lists "topics that have recently become popular on Facebook." The revelation comes amid a report on the same publication which claimed that a small group of journalists controlled and decided what should trend on Facebook. Also recently, a leaked screenshot revealed Facebook employees asking whether they should do something to prevent Donald Trump from becoming the president.
The Courts

Are US Courts 'Going Dark'? (justsecurity.org) 163

An anonymous reader writes: Judge Stephen Wm. Smith argues that questions about the government's "golden age of surveillance" miss an equally significant trend: that the U.S. Courts are "going dark". In a new editorial, he writes that "Before the digital age, executed search warrants were routinely placed on the court docket available for public inspection," but after the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, more than 30,000 secret court surveillance orders were given just in 2006. He predicts that today's figure is more than double, "And those figures do not include surveillance orders obtained by state and local authorities, who handle more than 15 times the number of felony investigations that the feds do. Based on that ratio, the annual rate of secret surveillance orders by federal and state courts combined could easily exceed half a million."

Judge Smith also cites an increase in cases -- even civil cases -- that are completely sealed, but also an increase in "private arbitration" and other ways of resolving disputes which are shielded from the public eye. "Employers, Internet service providers, and consumer lenders have led a mass exodus from the court system. By the click of a mouse or tick of a box, the American public is constantly inveigled to divert the enforcement of its legal rights to venues closed off from public scrutiny. Justice is becoming privatized, like so many other formerly public goods turned over to invisible hands -- electricity, water, education, prisons, highways, the military."

The judge's conclusion? "Over the last 40 years, secrecy in all aspects of the judicial process has risen to literally unprecedented levels. "
Encryption

Top Security Experts Say Anti-Encryption Bill Authors Are 'Woefully Ignorant' (dailydot.com) 90

blottsie writes from a report on the Daily Dot: In a Wall Street Journal editorial titled "Encryption Without Tears," Sens. Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein pushed back on widespread condemnation of their Compliance with Court Orders Act, which would require tech companies to provide authorities with user data in an "intelligible" format if served with a warrant. But security experts Bruce Schneir, Matthew Green, and others say the lawmakers entirely misunderstand the issue. "On a weekly basis we see gigabytes of that information dumped to the Internet," Green told the Daily Dot. "This is the whole problem that encryption is intended to solve." He added: "You can't hold out the current flaws in the Internet as a justification for why the Internet shouldn't be made secure." "These criticisms of Burr and Feinstein's analogy emphasize an important point about digital security: The differences between the levels of encryption protecting certain types of data -- purchase records on Amazon's servers versus photos on an iPhone, for example -- lead to different levels of risk," writes Eric Geller of the Daily Dot.
Education

Schools Are Helping Police Spy On Kids' Social Media Activity (orlandosentinel.com) 215

schwit1 shares this excerpt from an article in The Washington Post: Schools in Florida are renewing a program that monitors their students' social media activity for criminal or threatening behavior, although it has caused some controversy since its adoption last year. The school system in Orange County, where Orlando is located, recently told the Orlando Sentinel that the program, which partners the school system with local police departments, has been successful in protecting students' safety, saying that it led to 12 police investigations in the past year. The school district says it will pay about $18,000 annually for SnapTrends, the monitoring software used to check students' activity. It's the same software used by police in Racine, Wisconsin, to track criminal activity and joins a slew of similar social media monitoring software used by law enforcement to keep an eye on the community.

SnapTrends collects data from public posts on students' social media accounts by scanning for keywords that signify cases of cyberbullying, suicide threats, or criminal activity. School security staff then comb through flagged posts and alert police when they see fit.

Government

DC Metro Closes For Emergency Safety Inspection (nbcwashington.com) 110

McGruber writes with NBC's report that Washington, DC's Metrorail system has been completely shut down for at least 29 hours, so crews can check 600 underground jumper cables: A problem with those jumper cables caused a fire at the McPherson Square station early Monday and was also the cause of a fatal smoke incident in January, 2015, that killed one person and injured others. The safety checks could have been delayed until the weekend or conducted at night over about six days, officials said. But if the system were kept open, a public announcement about the risk would have to be made. That would have put passengers, and Metro, in the awkward position of publicly acknowledging that it was operating despite being aware of a potentially deadly safety problem. Metro also would have been liable in the case of any crashes or calamities. The shutdown prompted the Washington Post to publish an editorial titled It's official: Metro is a national embarrassment."
Security

One Solution to MITRE's Overworked CVE System: Build a New One (helpnetsecurity.com) 47

An anonymous reader writes: For the last 17 years, the American not-for-profit MITRE Corporation has been editing and maintaining the list of Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs). According to a number of researchers, MITRE has lately been doing a lousy job when it comes to assigning these numbers, forcing researchers to do without them or to delay public disclosure of vulnerabilities indefinitely. The problem is getting worse by the day, and the situation has spurred Kurt Seifried, a "Red Hat Product Security Cloud guy" and a CVE Editorial Board member, to create a complementary system for numbering vulnerabilities.
Graphics

Microsoft Losing Ground On Windows Store and UWP For Gaming 209

Vigile writes: Microsoft has big plans to try and merge the experiences of the Xbox One and Windows for gaming but the push back from the community and from major developers and personalities is mounting. Earlier this week PC Perspective posted a story that detailed the controversy around DX12 performance analysis without an exclusive full screen mode, changes to multi-GPU configurations and even compatibility issues with variable refresh that crop up from games from the Windows Store. Microsoft's only official response so far as been that it is listening to feedback and plans to address it with upcoming changes. Now today, Epic's Tim Sweeney has posted an editorial at The Guardian with an even more dramatic tone, saying that UWP (Unified Windows Platform) "can, should, must and will, die..." Clearly the stakes are being placed in the ground and even damage control from Phil Spencer on Twitter isn't likely to hold back angry PC users.
Bitcoin

It's Time To Kill the $100 Bill, Says Larry Summers 558

HughPickens.com writes: The NYT has an interesting editorial on why getting rid of big bills will make it harder for criminals to do business and make it easier for law enforcement to detect illicit activity. That's why officials in Europe and elsewhere are proposing to end the printing of high-denomination bills. According to a recent paper from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, a stack of 500-euro notes worth $1 million weighs just five pounds and can be carried in a small bag, whereas a pile of $20 bills worth $1 million would weigh 110 pounds and would be much more difficult to move around. Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary and former adviser to President Obama, has argued that the United States should get rid of the $100 bill. "The fact that in certain circles the 500 euro note is known as the "Bin Laden" confirms the arguments against it," says Sanders. "Technology is obviating whatever need there may ever have been for high denomination notes in legal commerce."

Critics who oppose such changes say the big bills make it easier for people to keep their savings in cash, especially in countries with negative interest rates. Some people also prefer not to conduct transactions electronically because they fear security breaches. According to Sanders the idea of removing existing notes is a step too far but a moratorium on printing new high denomination notes would make the world a better place. "The United States stopped distributing $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 bills in 1969," concludes the NYT editorial. "There are now so many ways to pay for things, and eliminating big bills should create few problems."
Encryption

Why Are Apple's Competitors Staying Silent On the iPhone Unlocking Fight? 301

erier2003 writes: A court order forcing Apple to help the FBI access a terrorism suspect's iPhone has drawn responses from leading tech companies, newspaper editorial boards, and security experts. But one major faction is staying largely silent: the computer and smartphone manufacturers who compete with Apple for business and could be subject to similar orders in the future if the company loses its high-profile case. Silicon Valley software firms have universally backed Apple in its fight against the Justice Department, which won a ruling Tuesday from a California magistrate judge compelling Apple to design custom software to bypass security features on an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. But Apple's hardware competitors are staying on the sidelines.
Power

Gambling State Says the Solar Gamble Is Over 298

New submitter mdnuclear writes: In a strange echo of the depressed oil economy SolarCity recently announced a layoff of a quarter of its workforce as the apparent result of the Nevada PUC's decision to phase solar net-metering customers down from retail to wholesale per kWh. A scathing editorial in the WSJ last December took both solar leasing companies and their financial underwriters to task, calling net metering a "regressive political income redistribution in support of a putatively progressive cause."

Wednesday the PUC fronted a possible compromise, 'grandfathering' existing net metering customers to their current rates to create a third caste of energy consumers, those who had been in the right place at the right time — for awhile. One who had paid $22k into solar lamented, "I'm not happy; my wife isn't happy, we could have done something else with that money." Like many who leave Vegas, perhaps they should have. But this begs the real question... are net-metering schemes ultimately 'right' or 'wrong' for the grid?
Social Networks

The Power of Crowds and "Human Computation" (vice.com) 155

An anonymous reader writes with this Vice article about the power of crowds when it comes to solving complex problems. "Forget artificial intelligence: The key to solving the world's most complex problems could be human-machine collaboration. That's the rallying cry of researchers who penned an editorial in the journal Science championing "human computation"—systems that combine the talents of computers and humans. The authors claim these systems could ultimately tackle issues such as climate change and geopolitical conflict, all without the existential risks posed by true AI and the technological singularity.

Authors Pietro Michelucci and Janis Dickinson imagine a system that would provide a technical framework for ideas to be shared, analyzed, and revised until the best bubble to the top; Michelucci envisages it as a 'dynamic Wikipedia.' The idea would be to develop our understanding of real-world issues online, and test potential solutions in this computational space, then applying new knowledge back in the real world so as to actually effect some change. 'Imagine something like the game SimCity, but a thousand times more detailed, and then link in real-time sensors attached to the internet,' said Michelucci. 'The more faithful that model of the real world becomes, the more accurate it would be for testing out solutions and predicting outcomes.'"
The Media

Montana Newspaper Plans To Out Anonymous Commenters Retroactively (washingtonpost.com) 246

HughPickens.com writes: Eugene Volokh reports at the Washington Post that in a stunning policy shift, The Montana Standard, a daily newspaper in Butte, Montana, has decided to replace commenters' pseudonyms with their real names. "The kicker here is that the change is retroactive," writes Paul Alan Levy. "Apparently unwilling to part with the wealth of comments that are already posted on its web site under the old policy, but also, apparently, unwilling to configure its software so that comments posted before the new policy is implemented remain under the chosen screen names, the Standard announces that past comments will suddenly appear using the users' real names unless users contact the paper no later than December 26 to ask that their comments be removed." In a November 12 editorial outlining the new real-name policy, the newspaper said, "We have encountered consistent difficulty with posts that exceed the bounds of civil discourse — as have many sites where comments from anonymous posters are allowed."

The paper's new policy has proven controversial among readers. "This is the end of open and honest comments on this site," wrote one user, who goes by the name BGF. "It is easy to put your name to your comments if you are retired. But it is another thing altogether if you have to worry about upsetting your peers and bosses at work." The newspaper editor, David McCumber, says he has extensively investigated the feasibility of configuring the newspaper's software to keep comments posted before the new policy is implemented under the chosen screen names. He says he was told by his content-management software experts that such a configuration is impossible. "Based on that, I am trying to do what is most equitable to all of our readers," says McCumber. "When a relatively small city is at the center of your market, just about everybody commented about is known, and the anonymous comments sting."

Software

Paper Retracted After Anti-Immigrant Scientist Bans Use of His Software (sciencemag.org) 418

sciencehabit writes: An 11-year-old research paper describing Treefinder, a computer program used by evolutionary biologists, has been retracted after the program's developer banned its use in European countries he deemed too friendly to refugees. In September, German scientist Gangolf Jobb announced on his website that researchers in eight European countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom, were no longer allowed to use Treefinder, which builds phylogenetic trees from sequence data. The move sparked outrage among some scientists, and now, BMC Evolutionary Biology has pulled the 2004 paper describing the software because the license change 'breaches the journal's editorial policy on software availability.'
The Almighty Buck

All Editors Quit Top Linguistics Journal To Protest Elsevier's Pricing (insidehighered.com) 135

An anonymous reader writes: All six editors and all 31 editorial board members of Lingua, one of the top journals in linguistics, have resigned. They quit to protest Elsevier's policies on pricing and its refusal to convert the journal to an open-access publication that would be free online. As soon as January, they plan to start a new open-access journal to be called Glossa. "Prices quoted on the Elsevier website suggest that an academic library in the United States with a total student and faculty full-time equivalent number of around 10,000 would pay $2,211 for shared online access, and $1,966 for a print copy. ... [Executive editor Johan Rooryck] said Lingua and most journals publish work by professors whose salaries are paid directly or indirectly with public funds. So why, he asked, should access to such research be blocked?"

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