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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

Google I/O 2019: Watch the livestream, full schedule and start times – CNET

The Google I/O developer conference starts this Tuesday, May 7. Here’s how to watch.
Source: CNET

Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System review: Ninja's super versatile coffee maker tackles all your cafe needs – CNET

Satisfy your latte and drip coffee cravings with Ninja’s combo coffee maker.
Source: CNET

Technivorm Moccamaster KBT 741 review: This pricey Technivorm coffee maker delivers masterful brews in style – CNET

$300 is a lot to splurge on a drip coffee machine, but the Techivorm Moccamaster KBT 741 makes a brew worth every drop.
Source: CNET

Dear Hollywood, here are 5 female founders to showcase instead of Elizabeth Holmes

There’s a seemingly insatiable demand for Theranos content. John Carrerou’s best-selling book, Bad Blood has already inspired an HBO documentary, The Inventor, an ABC podcast called The Dropout, a prestige limited series starring SNL’s Kate McKinnon was just announced, and Jennifer Lawrence is reportedly going to star in the feature film version of this tawdry “true crime meets tech” tale. That’s before getting started on the various and sundry cover stories and think pieces about her fraud.

I think it’s fair to say the Theranos story has been sufficiently well-documented and I’m worried that this negative perception may be reinforced now that UBiome founder Jessica Richman has been placed on administrative leave. While it’s hard to pass on a chance to stoke startup schadenfreude, perhaps we could focus less on these rare, unrepresentative, and dispiriting examples? Instead, Hollywood could put the spotlight on women who pioneered the bleeding edge of tech and actually produced billion-dollar successes. Here are a few candidates ready for their close-ups:

Judith Faulkner, founder and chief executive officer, Epic Systems

Judith Faulkner – Founder/CEO, Epic Systems

In the late 1970s, the picture of a working woman in Wisconsin was likely Laverne or Shirley. Little did anyone know that in the basement of a Victorian manse in Madison, the future of healthcare was being coded by Judith Faulkner, the founder and CEO of what would become Epic Systems. Epic is arguably the most impactful startup in the history of health software, and Faulkner was building medical scheduling software before most people could even picture a PC. Her efforts established the Electronic Medical Records market as we know it and today, her company manages records for over 200 million people, employs nearly 10,000, and generates around $2.7B per year in revenue — not bad for a math graduate who never raised any venture capital.

One might argue that the origins of medical software are too tepid to make for exciting TV, but something tells me the kind of CEO who hires Disney alums to design her corporate campus and dresses up like a wizard to address her employees might make for a compelling subject.

SANTA BARBARA, CA – FEBRUARY 09: Lynda Weinman speaks onstage (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)

Lynda Weinman – Founder/CEO, Lynda.com

Lynda Weinman might have the most esoteric path to becoming a billion-dollar entrepreneur in history. After getting a humanities degree from Evergreen College, where she was classmates with Simpsons creator Matt Groenig, Lynda opened up a pair of punk rock fashion boutiques on LA’s Sunset Strip.

After those folded in the early 1980s, she taught herself enough computer graphics to become a freelance animator on movies like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which in turn led to her becoming a teacher at the prestigious Art Center College of Design. Her academic pedigree provided the launching pad to write an influential textbook, that in turn gave her the star power to strike out on her own as one of the first web celebrities.

Keep in mind; this dramatic arc only covers the time before she started the eponymous Lynda.com, and bootstrapped it to a $1.5B exit in EdTech — an industry most VCs and entrepreneurs fear to tread. In terms of material for a memoir, Hannah Horvath has nothing on Lynda Weinman.

 

FRAMINGHAM, MA – MAY 30: Shira Goodman, former chief executive at Staples, poses for a portrait in Framingham, MA on May 30, 2017. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Shira Goodman – CEO, Staples.com

Shira Goodman has arguably done more for online shopping in the US than anyone not named Bezos. She didn’t found Staples, but she did start and scale its “delivery business,” as she humbly calls it, to the point where it became the 4th largest ecommerce company in the US.

At a time when more nimble startups were disrupting big-box retailers, Shira did what few of her contemporaries could do — rapidly shifted a multi-billion dollar legacy company in an ancient industry into the future, and eventually became CEO of the entire enterprise. She did this while also raising three children and supporting her husband when he decided to change careers and go to Rabbinical school. Sitcoms have been premised on less, and since two versions of The Office have captivated audiences, perhaps it’s time to provide the perspective from the CEO of Dunder-Mifflin HQ?

Helen Greiner, co-founder, iRobot

Helen Greiner – Co-founder, iRobot

From C. A. Rotwang in Metropolis to Tony Stark in the Marvel movies, there have been plenty of cinematic explorations of robot builders, but the story of iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner might be more interesting than anything yet committed to celluloid. As a recent grad from MIT, Greiner spent a substantial chunk of the 1990s applying her mechanical genius to everything from a mechatronic dinosaur for Disney to a store cleaning robot with the potential for mass destruction for SC Johnson.

Far from an ivory tower academic, Grenier helped the government deploy search and rescue efforts at Ground Zero after 9/11, cave-clearing ‘bots in Afghanistan, and the bomb-disposing Packbot she developed has saved the lives of thousands of service members. Grenier, at age 38, took her company public and made the Jetson’s vision of a robot housekeeper a reality in the form of the Roomba.

CAMBRIDGE, MA – MARCH 15: Kelsey Wirth, who has a grassroots organization called Mothers Out Front: Mobilizing For A Livable Climate (Photo by Essdras M Suarez/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kelsey Wirth – Co-founder, Align Technologies

While the original startup bros were inflating the tech bubble in the late 1990s, Kelsey Wirth was pioneering 3-D printing, which at the time was as fantastical as anything Theranos promised. Wirth’s story as the co-founder of Align Technology is especially compelling in the way it shares some surface similarities with Holmes’ narrative. Prominent skeptics of Invisalign cast doubts on the company in its early days, noting that the startup’s PR had outstripped its clinical validation. Wirth had to solve seemingly intractable technical challenges including scanning misaligned incisors, developing algorithms to overcome underbites, pioneering new manufacturing process, convincing the FDA to clear the product, and then selling it across the country — armed only with an English lit degree and an MBA. Despite the long odds of curing crossbites with software, Wirth started what has become a publicly-traded business that is currently worth over 20 billion dollars.


Most of these founders faced setbacks, including external obstacles and those of their own making. There were layoffs, bad deals, and few of these stories had perfectly happy endings. Still, while a contemporary startup can earn plaudits for simply repackaging CBD and pushing it on Facebook, these entrepreneurs demonstrated a level of ambition rarely seen among modern upstarts.

The sensational focus on Elizabeth Holmes’ misdeeds steal focus from a group of landmark female entrepreneurs and waste a tremendous opportunity to inspire the next generation with heroic tales instead of fables of fabrication. None of these accounts have the black and white morality of the Theranos debacle, but these founders cleared hurdles both scientific and social. They flipped the script and made history, surely Hollywood can find some drama in that.

Thanks to Parul Singh, Elizabeth Condon, and Alyssa Rosenzweig for reviewing drafts of this post.


Source: TechCrunch

Spotify’s leanback instant listening app Stations hits iOS

Spotify has launched its instant listening app Stations on iOS, but only in Australia for the time being. The release comes nearly a year and a half after the Stations app first arrived on the market, initially for Android users in Australia. Dubbed an “experiment,” the app allows users to jump right into streaming instead of having to curate their own playlists or stations, or save favorite music to their library.

Unlike Spotify’s flagship application, the Stations app presents users with a minimalist interface where available playlists are displayed with an oversized font. You can scroll up and down between the playlists to select one, instead of typing in a search box or searching through voice commands.

When launching Stations, music begins playing automatically — a feature that had some calling it a “Pandora copycat” at the time of launch, given that instant music playback is something that Spotify’s rival Pandora already supports.

Stations was largely designed for those who want a more radio-like experience that involves less manual input. Free users will hear ads, be able to thumbs up and down songs, but can’t skip tracks. Premium users who download Stations get unlimited skips and ad-free listening.

The Stations app today features a range of playlists by genre, decade, activity and more, but also becomes personalized to the end-user over time. You can also opt to create your own stations by selecting from favorite artists in an experience that’s reminiscent of the customization offered today by YouTube Music — right down to the rounded artist profile photos you tap on.

As you listen to music on Stations, you can thumbs up and down songs in order to have it create custom stations personalized to you — including a Discover Weekly playlist, Release Radar, and a Favorites playlist.

Not much had been heard about Stations since its January 2018 debut. And its limited release — it never hit the U.S., for example — could have indicated it was an experiment that didn’t quite pan out.

But it now seems that’s not the case, given the new expansion to iOS.

By offering the app to more users, Spotify has the chance to learn and collect data from a larger and more representative group of people. Whether or not it takes any ideas from Stations to its main app remains to be seen.

The company declined to comment on its plans, when asked.

“At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience,” a spokesperson said. “Some of those tests end up paving the path for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning. We aren’t going to comment on specific tests at this time,” they added.

Stations is live now on iOS in Australia. More information on the app is on the (newly updated) Help site here.


Source: TechCrunch

Liam O’Connor, hired to help build Lyft’s bike and scooter business, has left after 7 months

The emerging business of offering bikes and scooters on demand has not always been very smooth, and today comes one of the latest bumps: TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Liam O’Connor, an executive hired to help transportation company Lyft build its bike and scooter operations, has left after seven months with the newly-public company.

The change comes some two weeks after Lyft had to pull thousands of e-bikes off the roads in New York, San Francisco and Washington, DC due to faulty brakes. Lyft says that the move is not due to this, but to O’Connor deciding to take a job “close to his heart.”

“Yes, he’s taking on a new role that is close to his heart where he will be spending much of his time out of the country, and will remain a close advisor to Lyft,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “We’ve elevated an internal candidate who has been an outstanding product leader for the past two years and we’re excited to continue the progress we’ve made with Lyft Bikes and Scooters.”

We understand that O’Connor will be joining Zipline, the startup that delivers medicine by drone in Africa. He is being replaced by Dor Levi, who had been Lyft’s director of product for Marketplace, Shared Rides, Transit, and Bikes and Scooters (and had also spent some time at Uber in the middle of his years at Lyft) is the new head of the division, with John Zimmer — Lyft’s co-founder and president — also spending significant time on the operation.

O’Connor isn’t the only person who has recently left the business. Justine Lee, who has been general counsel (leading on legal and regulatory) for Lyft Bikes, is leaving the company. Others include Lynn Fischer, who had been head of marketing and growth for Citi Bikes, left back in December, and Jelle Vastert, who had been recruited to help run the bike and scooter division but left after four months last year — from what we understand because of a change of heart about relocation (he’s based in The Netherlands).

Another significant personnel change in the bike and scooter division was that in March, some 50 people were let go.

There are clearly different reasons behind these various changes, but collectively the departures and some of the other events like the e-bikes getting pulled over technical problems underscore the challenges in forging into the new business area, and some of the instability that comes along with all that.

O’Connor was a high profile hire when he joined as chief procurement officer and head of the bike and scooter division in November 2018 — having held top supply positions at Tesla and before that Apple.

O’Connor’s joining Lyft ahead of its IPO was a signal of how the company planned to continue diversifying its business into different modes of transportation beyond private vehicles.

That diversification is seen as an essential step for highly capitalised transportation-on-demand businesses to take as a way of leveraging their scale and brand to reach a wider range of users and use-cases. (It’s a strategy that is also being followed by Uber.)

Lyft’s own efforts in diversifying into multi-modal transporation have seen some downs, but also some ups.

In terms of progress, the company has now integrated Citi Bike into the Lyft app and is planning to expand the bike sharing effort to more cities. And it recently won a bid to be the exclusive bikeshare provider in Chicago for the next nine years. In scooters, it’s now in 15 markets, showing steady progress on that front. From what we understand, Lyft is still very committed to growing that area of its business.


Source: TechCrunch

How German and US authorities took down the owners of darknet drug emporium Wall Street Market

The major darknet marketplace known as the Wall Street Market have been seized and its alleged operators arrested in a joint operation between European and U.S. authorities. Millions in cash, cryptocurrency, and other assets were collected, and the markets shut down. How investigators tied these anonymity-obsessed individuals to the illegal activities is instructive.

The three men accused of running Wall Street Market (WSM), one of the larger hidden service markets operating via the Tor network, are all German citizens: Tibo Lousee, Jonathan Kalla, and Klaus-Martin Frost; several vendors from the market have also been charged, including one who sold meth on it by the kilogram.

The investigation has been ongoing since 2017, but was pushed to a crisis by the apparent attempt in April by WSM’s operators to execute an exit scam. By suddenly removing all the cryptocurrency held in escrow and otherwise stored under their authority, the alleged owners stood to gain some $11 million if they were able to convert the coins.

Until recently Wall Street Market was a bustling bazaar for illegal goods, including dangerous drugs like fentanyl and physical items like fake documents. It had over a million user accounts, some 5,400 vendors, and tens of thousands of items available for purchase. It has grown as other darknet marketplaces have been cornered and shut down, driving users and sellers to a dwindling pool of smaller platforms.

Whether the owners sought simply to parley this growth to a quick cash grab or whether they sensed the law about to knock down their door, the exit scam was undertaken on April 16.

This action prompted investigators in the U.S., Germany, and Europol to take action, as this exit scam marked not only an opportunity for investigators to gather and observe fresh evidence of the trio’s alleged crimes, but waiting much longer might let them go to ground and launder their virtual goods.

The DOJ complaint details the means by which the three administrators of the site were linked to it, despite their attempts to anonymize their access. It isn’t unprecedented stuff, but it’s always interesting to read through the step-by-step forensics that lead to charges, since it can be very difficult to tie real-world actors to virtual entities.

For Frost, it was an unstable VPN connection that did for him, plus some sleuthing by the German federal police, the Bundeskriminalamt or BKA:

The WSM administrators accessed the WSM infrastructure primarily through the use of two VPN service providers. On occasion, VPN Provider #1 connection would cease, but because that specific administrator continued to access the WSM infrastructure, that administrator’s access exposed the true IP address of the administrator

The individual utilizing the above-referenced IP address to connect to the WSM infrastructure used a device called a UMTS-stick (aka surfstick) [i.e. a dongle for mobile internet access]. This UMTS-stick was registered to a suspected fictitious name.

The BKA executed multiple surveillance measures to electronically locate the specific UMTS-stick. BKA’s surveillance team identified that, between February 5 and 7, 2019, the specific UMTS-stick was used at a residence of Lousee in Kleve, Northrhine-Westphalia (Germany), and his place of employment, an information technology company where Lousee is employed as a computer programmer. Lousee was later found in possession of a UMTS stick.

Some other circumstantial evidence also tied Lousee to the operation, such as similar login names, mentions of drugs and cryptocurrencies, and so on. (“Based on my training and experience as an investigator, I am aware that ‘420’ is a reference to marijuana,” writes the special agent who authored the complaint.)

Kalla’s VPN held strong, but the metadata betrayed him:

An IP address assigned to the home of this individual (the account for the IP address was registered in the name of the suspect’s mother) accessed VPN Provider #2 within similar rough time frames as administrator-only components of the WSM server infrastructure were accessed by VPN Provider #2.

Hardly a hole in one, but Kalla later admitted he was the user agent in question. This is a good example of how a VPN can and can’t protect you against government snooping. It may disguise your IP to certain systems, but anyone with a bird’s-eye view can see the obvious correlation between one connection and another. It won’t hold up in court on its own, but if the investigators are good it won’t have to.

Frost, the third administrator, required a more subtle approach, but ultimately it was again poor opsec, this time an unwise cross-contamination of his cryptographic and cryptocurrency accounts:

The PGP public key for [WSM administrative account] ‘TheOne’ is the same as the PGP public key for another moniker on [another hidden service] Hansa Market, ‘dudebuy.’ As described below, a financial transaction connected to a virtual currency wallet used by FROST was linked to ‘dudebuy.’

[The BKA] located the PGP public key for ‘TheOne’ in the WSM database, referred to as ‘Public Key 1’.

Public Key 1 was the PGP public key for ‘dudebuy.’ The ‘refund wallet’ for ‘dudebuy’ was Wallet 2.

Wallet 2 was a source of funds for a Bitcoin transaction… Records obtained from the Bitcoin Payment Processing Company revealed buyer information for that Bitcoin transaction as ‘Martin Frost,’ using the email address klaus-martin.frost@…

Essentially A is B, and B is C, so A is C. This little deductive trick is handy, but bitcoin wallets used by Frost were also identified through analysis by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which, if you didn’t know, has “a highly trained, skilled and committed cyber unit.”

The United States Postal Inspection Service learned, through its analysis of Blockchain transactions and information gleaned from the proprietary software described above, that the funds from Wallet 2 were first transferred to Wallet 1, and then “mixed” by a commercial service; mixing services is described above at paragraph 4.m. Through thorough analysis, the United States Postal Inspection Service was able to “de-mix” the flow of transactions, to eventually ascertain that the money from Wallets 1 and 2 ultimately paid FROST’s account at the Product Services Company.

Here the blockchain’s indelible record clearly worked against Frost. Wallet 1, by the way, handled thousands of bitcoins during its use in association with another darknet marketplace, German Plaza Market — which the three charged today also allegedly ran and shut down via an exit scam.

In addition to the administrators, some vendors and others associated with the site were charged. They were identified via more traditional means and their activities linked to the market in such a way that defense seems a lost cause. The record for a Brazilian man who operated as a dealer and as a sort of representative for WSM on Reddit and forums is an interesting study in the web of suggestive accounts and names that produce a damning, if circumstantial, depiction of a person’s associations and interests, from the banal to the criminal.

“The prosecution of these defendants shows that even the smallest mistake will allow us to figure out a cybercriminal’s true identity,” said U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott in the DOJ press release. “We are on the hunt for even the tiniest of breadcrumbs.”

Cases against the alleged criminals will be held in multiple locations and under multiple authorities — it’s safe to say this is just the beginning of a long, complicated process for everyone involved.


Source: TechCrunch

Get an Apple Magic Trackpad 2 with Force Touch for your Mac and save $30

You can now save $30 when you purchase an Apple Magic Trackpad 2 from Amazon. The successor to Apple’s original Magic Trackpad now offer a built-in rechargeable battery and Apple’s latest Force Touch feature.

The post Get an Apple Magic Trackpad 2 with Force Touch for your Mac and save $30 appeared first on Digital Trends.


Source: Digital trends

When it comes to elections, Facebook moves slow, may still break things

This week, Facebook invited a small group of journalists — which didn’t include TechCrunch — to look at the “war room” it has set up in Dublin, Ireland, to help monitor its products for election-related content that violates its policies. (“Time and space constraints” limited the numbers, a spokesperson told us when he asked why we weren’t invited.)

Facebook announced it would be setting up this Dublin hub — which will bring together data scientists, researchers, legal and community team members, and others in the organization to tackle issues like fake news, hate speech and voter suppression — back in January. The company has said it has nearly 40 teams working on elections across its family of apps, without breaking out the number of staff it has dedicated to countering political disinformation. 

We have been told that there would be “no news items” during the closed tour — which, despite that, is “under embargo” until Sunday — beyond what Facebook and its executives discussed last Friday in a press conference about its European election preparations.

The tour looks to be a direct copy-paste of the one Facebook held to show off its US election “war room” last year, which it did invite us on. (In that case it was forced to claim it had not disbanded the room soon after heavily PR’ing its existence — saying the monitoring hub would be used again for future elections.)

We understand — via a non-Facebook source — that several broadcast journalists were among the invites to its Dublin “war room”. So expect to see a few gauzy inside views at the end of the weekend, as Facebook’s PR machine spins up a gear ahead of the vote to elect the next European Parliament later this month.

It’s clearly hoping shots of serious-looking Facebook employees crowded around banks of monitors will play well on camera and help influence public opinion that it’s delivering an even social media playing field for the EU parliament election. The European Commission is also keeping a close watch on how platforms handle political disinformation before a key vote.

But with the pan-EU elections set to start May 23, and a general election already held in Spain last month, we believe the lack of new developments to secure EU elections is very much to the company’s discredit.

The EU parliament elections are now a mere three weeks away, and there are a lot of unresolved questions and issues Facebook has yet to address. Yet we’re told the attending journalists were once again not allowed to put any questions to the fresh-faced Facebook employees staffing the “war room”.

Ahead of the looming batch of Sunday evening ‘war room tour’ news reports, which Facebook will be hoping contain its “five pillars of countering disinformation” talking points, we’ve compiled a run down of some key concerns and complications flowing from the company’s still highly centralized oversight of political campaigning on its platform — even as it seeks to gloss over how much dubious stuff keeps falling through the cracks.

Worthwhile counterpoints to another highly managed Facebook “election security” PR tour.

No overview of political ads in most EU markets

Since political disinformation created an existential nightmare for Facebook’s ad business with the revelations of Kremlin-backed propaganda targeting the 2016 US presidential election, the company has vowed to deliver transparency — via the launch of a searchable political ad archive for ads running across its products.

The Facebook Ad Library now shines a narrow beam of light into the murky world of political advertising. Before this, each Facebook user could only see the propaganda targeted specifically at them. Now, such ads stick around in its searchable repository for seven years. This is a major step up on total obscurity. (Obscurity that Facebook isn’t wholly keen to lift the lid on, we should add; Its political data releases to researchers so far haven’t gone back before 2017.)

However, in its current form, in the vast majority of markets, the Ad Library makes the user do all the leg work — running searches manually to try to understand and quantify how Facebook’s platform is being used to spread political messages intended to influence voters.

Facebook does also offer an Ad Library Report — a downloadable weekly summary of ads viewed and highest spending advertisers. But it only offers this in four countries globally right now: the US, India, Israel and the UK.

It has said it intends to ship an update to the reports in mid-May. But it’s not clear whether that will make them available in every EU country. (Mid-May would also be pretty late for elections that start May 23.)

So while the UK report makes clear that the new ‘Brexit Party’ is now a leading spender ahead of the EU election, what about the other 27 members of the bloc? Don’t they deserve an overview too?

A spokesperson we talked to about this week’s closed briefing said Facebook had no updates on expanding Ad Library Reports to more countries, in Europe or otherwise.

So, as it stands, the vast majority of EU citizens are missing out on meaningful reports that could help them understand which political advertisers are trying to reach them and how much they’re spending.

Which brings us to…

Facebook’s Ad Archive API is far too limited

In another positive step Facebook has launched an API for the ad archive that developers and researchers can use to query the data. However, as we reported earlier this week, many respected researchers have voiced disappointed with what it’s offering so far — saying the rate-limited API is not nearly open or accessible enough to get a complete picture of all ads running on its platform.

Following this criticism, Facebook’s director of product, Rob Leathern, tweeted a response, saying the API would improve. “With a new undertaking, we’re committed to feedback & want to improve in a privacy-safe way,” he wrote.

The question is when will researchers have a fit-for-purpose tool to understand how political propaganda is flowing over Facebook’s platform? Apparently not in time for the EU elections, either: We asked about this on Thursday and were pointed to Leathern’s tweets as the only update.

This issue is compounded by Facebook also restricting the ability of political transparency campaigners — such as the UK group WhoTargetsMe and US investigative journalism site ProPublica — to monitor ads via browser plug-ins, as the Guardian reported in January.

The net effect is that Facebook is making life hard for civil society groups and public interest researchers to study the flow of political messaging on its platform to try to quantify democratic impacts, and offering only a highly managed level of access to ad data that falls far short of the “political ads transparency” Facebook’s PR has been loudly trumpeting since 2017.

Ad loopholes remain ripe for exploiting

Facebook’s Ad Library includes data on political ads that were active on its platform but subsequently got pulled (made “inactive” in its parlance) because they broke its disclosure rules.

There are multiple examples of inactive ads for the Spanish far right party Vox visible in Facebook’s Ad Library that were pulled for running without the required disclaimer label, for example.

“After the ad started running, we determined that the ad was related to politics and issues of national importance and required the label. The ad was taken down,” runs the standard explainer Facebook offers if you click on the little ‘i’ next to an observation that “this ad ran without a disclaimer”.

What is not at all clear is how quickly Facebook acted to removed rule-breaking political ads.

It is possible to click on each individual ad to get some additional details. Here Facebook provides a per ad breakdown of impressions; genders, ages, and regional locations of the people who saw the ad; and how much was spent on it.

But all those clicks don’t scale. So it’s not possible to get an overview of how effectively Facebook is handling political ad rule breakers. Unless, well, you literally go in clicking and counting on each and every ad…

There is then also the wider question of whether a political advertiser that is found to be systematically breaking Facebook rules should be allowed to keep running ads on its platform.

Because if Facebook does allow that to happen there’s a pretty obvious (and massive) workaround for its disclosure rules: Bad faith political advertisers could simply keep submitting fresh ads after the last batch got taken down.

We were, for instance, able to find inactive Vox ads taken down for lacking a disclaimer which had still been able to rack up thousands — and even tens of thousands — of impressions in the time they were live.

Facebook needs to be much clearer about how it’s handling systematic rule breakers.

Definition of political issue ads is still opaque

Facebook currently requires that all political advertisers in the EU go through its authorization process in the country where ads are being delivered if they relate to the European Parliamentary elections, as a step to try and prevent foreign interference.

This means it asks political advertisers to submit documents and runs technical checks to confirm their identity and location. Though it noted, on last week’s call, that it cannot guarantee this ID system cannot be circumvented. (As it was last year when UK journalists were able to successfully place ads paid for by ‘Cambridge Analytica’.)

One other big potential workaround is the question of what is a political ad? And what is an issue ad?

Facebook says these types of ads on Facebook and Instagram in the EU “must now be clearly labeled, including a paid-for-by disclosure from the advertiser at the top of the ad” — so users can see who is paying for the ads and, if there’s a business or organization behind it, their contact details, plus some disclosure about who, if anyone, saw the ads.

But the big question is how is Facebook defining political and issue ads across Europe?

While political ads might seem fairly easy to categorize — assuming they’re attached to registered political parties and candidates, issues are a whole lot more subjective.

Currently Facebook defines issue ads as those relating to “any national legislative issue of public importance in any place where the ad is being run.” It says it worked with EU barometer, YouGov and other third parties to develop an initial list of key issues — examples for Europe include immigration, civil and social rights, political values, security and foreign policy, the economy and environmental politics — that it will “refine… over time.”

Again specifics on when and how that will be refined are not clear. Yet ads that Facebook does not deem political/issue ads will slip right under its radar. They won’t be included in the Ad Library; they won’t be searchable; but they will be able to influence Facebook users under the perfect cover of its commercial ad platform — as before.

So if any maliciously minded propaganda slips through Facebook’s net, because the company decides it’s a non-political issue, it will once again leave no auditable trace.

In recent years the company has also had a habit of announcing major takedowns of what it badges “fake accounts” ahead of major votes. But again voters have to take it on trust that Facebook is getting those judgement calls right.

Facebook continues to bar pan-EU campaigns

On the flip side of weeding out non-transparent political propaganda and/or political disinformation, Facebook is currently blocking the free flow of legal pan-EU political campaigning on its platform.

This issue first came to light several weeks ago, when it emerged that European officials had written to Nick Clegg (Facebook’s vice president of global affairs) to point out that its current rules — i.e. that require those campaigning via Facebook ads to have a registered office in the country where the ad is running — run counter to the pan-European nature of this particular election.

It means EU institutions are in the strange position of not being able to run Facebook ads for their own pan-EU election everywhere across the region. “This runs counter to the nature of EU institutions. By definition, our constituency is multinational and our target audience are in all EU countries and beyond,” the EU’s most senior civil servants pointed out in a letter to the company last month.

This issue impacts not just EU institutions and organizations advocating for particular policies and candidates across EU borders, but even NGOs wanting to run vanilla “get out the vote” campaigns Europe-wide — leading to a number to accuse Facebook of breaching their electoral rights and freedoms.

Facebook claimed last week that the ball is effectively in the regulators’ court on this issue — saying it’s open to making the changes but has to get their agreement to do so. A spokesperson confirmed to us that there is no update to that situation, either.

Of course the company may be trying to err on the side of caution, to prevent bad actors being able to interfere with the vote across Europe. But at what cost to democratic freedoms?

What about fake news spreading on WhatsApp?

Facebook’s ‘election security’ initiatives have focused on political and/or politically charged ads running across its products. But there’s no shortage of political disinformation flowing unchecked across its platforms as user uploaded ‘content’.

On the Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp, which is hugely popular in some European markets, the presence of end-to-end encryption further complicates this issue by providing a cloak for the spread of political propaganda that’s not being regulated by Facebook.

In a recent study of political messages spread via WhatsApp ahead of last month’s general election in Spain, the campaign group Avaaz dubbed it “social media’s dark web” — claiming the app had been “flooded with lies and hate”.

Posts range from fake news about Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez signing a secret deal for Catalan independence to conspiracy theories about migrants receiving big cash payouts, propaganda against gay people and an endless flood of hateful, sexist, racist memes and outright lies,” it wrote. 

Avaaz compiled this snapshot of politically charged messages and memes being shared on Spanish WhatsApp by co-opting 5,833 local members to forward election-related content that they deemed false, misleading or hateful.

It says it received a total of 2,461 submissions — which is of course just a tiny, tiny fraction of the stuff being shared in WhatsApp groups and chats. Which makes this app the elephant in Facebook’s election ‘war room’.

What exactly is a war room anyway?

Facebook has said its Dublin Elections Operation Center — to give it its official title — is “focused on the EU elections”, while also suggesting it will plug into a network of global teams “to better coordinate in real time across regions and with our headquarters in California [and] accelerate our rapid response times to fight bad actors and bad content”.

But we’re concerned Facebook is sending out mixed — and potentially misleading — messages about how its election-focused resources are being allocated.

Our (non-Facebook) source told us the 40-odd staffers in the Dublin hub during the press tour were simultaneously looking at the Indian elections. If that’s the case, it does not sound entirely “focused” on either the EU or India’s elections. 

Facebook’s eponymous platform has 2.375 billion monthly active users globally, with some 384 million MAUs in Europe. That’s more users than in the US (243M MAUs). Though Europe is Facebook’s second-biggest market in terms of revenues after the US. Last quarter, it pulled in $3.65BN in sales for Facebook (versus $7.3BN for the US) out of $15BN overall.

Apart from any kind of moral or legal pressure that Facebook might have for running a more responsible platform when it comes to supporting democratic processes, these numbers underscore the business imperative that it has to get this sorted out in Europe in a better way.

Having a “war room” may sound like a start, but unfortunately Facebook is presenting it as an end in itself. And its foot-dragging on all of the bigger issues that need tackling, in effect, means the war will continue to drag on.


Source: TechCrunch

Microsoft lays down law on trash talking for Xbox Live – CNET

Time to be more creative with the insults.
Source: CNET

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