Silicon Valley Is Over, Says Silicon Valley ( 304

An anonymous reader shares a New York Times report: In recent months, a growing number of tech leaders have been flirting with the idea of leaving Silicon Valley. Some cite the exorbitant cost of living in San Francisco and its suburbs, where even a million-dollar salary can feel middle class. Others complain about local criticism of the tech industry and a left-wing echo chamber that stifles opposing views. And yet others feel that better innovation is happening elsewhere. "I'm a little over San Francisco," said Patrick McKenna, the founder of High Ridge Venture Partners who was also on the bus tour. "It's so expensive, it's so congested, and frankly, you also see opportunities in other places." Mr. McKenna, who owns a house in Miami in addition to his home in San Francisco, told me that his travels outside the Bay Area had opened his eyes to a world beyond the tech bubble. "Every single person in San Francisco is talking about the same things, whether it's 'I hate Trump' or 'I'm going to do blockchain and Bitcoin,'" he said. "It's the worst part of the social network."

[...] Complaints about Silicon Valley insularity are as old as the Valley itself. Jim Clark, the co-founder of Netscape, famously decamped for Florida during the first dot-com era, complaining about high taxes and expensive real estate. Steve Case, the founder of AOL, has pledged to invest mostly in start-ups outside the Bay Area, saying that "we've probably hit peak Silicon Valley." But even among those who enjoy living in the Bay Area, and can afford to do so comfortably, there's a feeling that success has gone to the tech industry's head. "Some of the engineers in the Valley have the biggest egos known to humankind," Mr. Khanna, the Silicon Valley congressman, said during a round-table discussion with officials in Youngstown.


Facebook Asks Users: Should We Allow Men To Ask Children For Sexual Images? ( 386

Alex Hern, writing for The Guardian: Facebook has admitted it was a "mistake" to ask users whether paedophiles requesting sexual pictures from children should be allowed on its website. On Sunday, the social network ran a survey for some users asking how they thought the company should handle grooming behaviour. "There are a wide range of topics and behaviours that appear on Facebook," one question began. "In thinking about an ideal world where you could set Facebook's policies, how would you handle the following: a private message in which an adult man asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures." The options available to respondents ranged from "this content should not be allowed on Facebook, and no one should be able to see it" to "this content should be allowed on Facebook, and I would not mind seeing it." A second question asked who should decide the rules around whether or not the adult man should be allowed to ask for such pictures on Facebook. Options available included "Facebook users decide the rules by voting and tell Facebook" and "Facebook decides the rules on its own."

Google's Slack Competitor 'Hangouts Chat' Comes Out of Beta ( 52

Frederic Lardinois reports via TechCrunch: Hangouts Chat, Google's take on modern workplace communication, is now generally available and is becoming a core part of G Suite. Hangouts Chat was first announced at Google Cloud Next 2017, together with Hangouts Meet. While Meet went right into public availability, though, Chat went into an invite-only preview. Now, Google is rolling Chat out to all G Suite users over the course of the next seven days (so if you don't see it yet, don't despair). For all intents and purposes, Hangouts Chat is Google's take on Slack, Microsoft Teams and similar projects. Since Google first announced this project, Atlassian also joined the fray with the launch of Stride. Like its competitors, Chat is available on iOS, Android and the web.

Chat currently supports 28 languages and each room can have up to 8,000 members. What's maybe just as important, though, is that Google has already built an ecosystem of partners that are integrating with Chat by offering their own bots. They include the likes of Xero, RingCentral, UberConference, Salesforce, Zenefits,, Jira, Trello, Wrike and Kayak. There's even a Giphy bot. Developers can also build their own bots and integrate their own services with Chat.


EU Warns Tech Giants To Remove Terror Content in 1 Hour -- or Else ( 153

The European Union issued internet giants an ultimatum to remove illegal online terrorist content within an hour, or risk facing new EU-wide laws. From a report: The European Commission on Thursday issued a set of recommendations for companies and EU nations that apply to all forms of illegal internet material, "from terrorist content, incitement to hatred and violence, child sexual abuse material, counterfeit products and copyright infringement. Considering that terrorist content is most harmful in the first hours of its appearance online, all companies should remove such content within one hour from its referral as a general rule.â The commission last year called upon social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Google owner Alphabet, to develop a common set of tools to detect, block and remove terrorist propaganda and hate speech. Thursday's recommendations aim to "further step up" the work already done by governments and push firms to "redouble their efforts to take illegal content off the web more quickly and efficiently."

Twitter Asks For Help Fixing Its Toxicity Problem ( 155

Engadget: Twitter has come under a lot of fire in recent years for issues ranging from not doing enough to stop harassment on its platform to allowing foreign actors to sow political discord. In the past, the company has tweaked its tools, giving individuals more options when it comes to controlling what they're exposed to online, as well as updated its guidelines a handful of times. But today, Twitter announced it's trying out another route -- asking people outside of the company to propose ways that it can promote healthy, open and civil conversations online. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted today that the company isn't proud of how some have taken advantage of its service, specifically calling out troll armies, misinformation campaigns and bots. And he added that Twitter has been accused of apathy, censorship and political bias as it has attempted to fix its problems.

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

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

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


YouTube's New Moderators Mistakenly Pull Right-Wing Channels ( 277

In December, said it would assign more than 10,000 people to moderate content in an attempt to curb its child exploitation problem. Today, Bloomberg reports that those new moderators mistakenly removed several videos and some channels from right-wing, pro-gun video producers and outlets in the midst of a nationwide debate on gun control. From the report: Some YouTube channels recently complained about their accounts being pulled entirely. On Wednesday, the Outline highlighted accounts, including Titus Frost, that were banned from the video site. Frost tweeted on Wednesday that a survivor of the shooting, David Hogg, is an actor. Jerome Corsi of right-wing conspiracy website Infowars said on Tuesday that YouTube had taken down one of his videos and disabled his live stream. Shutting entire channels would have marked a sweeping policy change for YouTube, which typically only removes channels in extreme circumstances and focuses most disciplinary action on specific videos. But YouTube said some content was taken down by mistake. The site didn't address specific cases and it's unclear if it meant to take action on the accounts of Frost and Corsi. "As we work to hire rapidly and ramp up our policy enforcement teams throughout 2018, newer members may misapply some of our policies resulting in mistaken removals," a YouTube spokeswoman wrote in an email. "We're continuing to enforce our existing policies regarding harmful and dangerous content, they have not changed. We'll reinstate any videos that were removed in error."

China Bans Letter N From Internet as Xi Jinping Extends Grip on Power ( 196

Speaking of things the Chinese government has been censoring in the country, The Guardian reports: It is the 14th letter in the English alphabet and, in Scrabble, the springboard for more than 600 8-letter words. But for the Communist party of China it is also a subversive and intolerable character that was this week banished from the internet as Chinese censors battled to silence criticism of Xi Jinping's bid to set himself up as ruler for life. The contravening consonant was perhaps the most unusual victim of a crackdown targeting words, phrases and even solitary letters censors feared might be used to attack Beijing's controversial decision to abolish constitutional term limits for China's president. The Communist party has painted the move -- which experts say paves the way for Xi to become a dictator for life -- as an expression of overwhelming popular support for China's strongman leader. However, there has been widespread online push-back in China since it was announced on Sunday on the eve of an annual political congress in Beijing.

China Censors Social Media Responses To Proposal To Abolish Presidential Terms ( 163

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Negative social media reactions in China toward the government's interest in abolishing presidential term limits have sparked a crackdown on memes since Sunday evening. China's constitution currently restricts the president and vice-president to 10 years of leadership, meaning that President Xi Jinping would have been out of power by 2023. The Party's Central Committee proposed removing a phrase in the constitution that stated the two leaders would "serve no more than two consecutive terms," according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Authorities will vote on the proposal in March. Many took to social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo with Winnie the Pooh memes, as the animated bear resembles President Xi Jinping to some degree. Winnie the Pooh has been associated with Xi for years and this week, he donned a crown and sat on a throne, enjoying his honey pot. These memes and social media posts were then taken down, hours after the Committee's announcement, signaling that the public's reaction was more unfavorable than authorities predicted. An assortment of phrases have been filtered out by new censors, including "constitution amendment," "re-elected," "proclaim oneself as emperor," and "two term limit." The lag time between the censorship and the initial proposal indicates authorities expected the public to react less critically.
The Internet

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

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

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


Facebook Silently Enables Facial Recognition Abilities For Users Outside EU, Canada ( 70

Facebook is now informing users around the world that it's rolling out facial recognition features. Users in the European Union and Canada will not be notified because laws restrict this type of activity in those areas. Neowin reports: With the new tools, you'll be able to find photos that you're in but haven't been tagged in; they'll help you protect yourself against strangers using your photo; and Facebook will be able to tell people with visual impairments who's in their photos and videos. By default, Facebook warns that this feature is enabled but can be switched off at any time; additionally, the firm says it may add new capabilities at any time. In its initial statement, Facebook said the following about the impersonation protections it was introducing: "We want people to feel confident when they post pictures of themselves on Facebook so we'll soon begin using face recognition technology to let people know when someone else uploads a photo of them as their profile picture. We're doing this to prevent people from impersonating others on Facebook."

Google Releases Info On 2.4 Million 'Right To Be Forgotten' Requests ( 69

According to Google's latest transparency report, the company has received 2.4 million "right to be forgotten" requests since 2014, most of which came from private individuals. Engadget reports: Europe's biggest court passed the right to be forgotten law in 2014, compelling the tech titan to remove personal info from its search engine upon request. In the report, Google has revealed that it complied with 43.3 percent of all the requests it's gotten and has also detailed the nature of those takedown pleas. France, Germany and the UK apparently generated 51 percent of all the URL delisting appeals. Overall, 89 percent of the takedown pleas came from private individuals: Non-government figures such as celebrities submitted 41,213 of the URLs in Google's pile, while politicians and government officials submitted 33,937. As Gizmodo noted, though, there's a small group of law firms and reputation management services submitting numerous pleas, suggesting the rise of reputation-fixing business in the region.

Out of those 2.4 million requests, 19.1 percent are directory URLs, while news websites and social networks only make up 17.6 and 11.6 percent of them. Majority of the URLs submitted for removal are random online destinations that don't fall under any of the previous categories. As for the takedown's reasons, it looks 18.1 percent of the submissions want their professional info scrubbed, 7.7 percent want info they previously posted online themselves to be removed and 6.1 percent want their crimes hidden from search.


Facebook's Mandatory Anti-Malware Scan Is Invasive and Lacks Transparency ( 56

Louise Matsakis, writing for Wired: The internet is full of Facebook users frustrated with how the company handles malware threats. For nearly four years, people have complained about Facebook's anti-malware scan on forums, Twitter, Reddit, and on personal blogs. The problems appear to have gotten worse recently. While the service used to be optional, Facebook now requires it if it flags your device for malware. And according to screenshots reviewed by WIRED from people recently prompted to run the scan, Facebook also no longer allows every user to select what type of device they're on. The malware scans likely only impact a relatively small population of Facebook's billions of users, some of whose computers may genuinely be infected. But even a fraction of Facebook's users still potentially means millions of impacted people.

The mandatory scan has caused widespread confusion and frustration; WIRED spoke to people who had been locked out of their accounts by the scan, or simply baffled by it, on four different continents. The mandatory malware scan has downsides beyond losing account access. Facebook users also frequently report that the feature is poorly designed, and inconsistently implemented. In some cases, if a different user logs onto Facebook from the same device, they sometimes won't be greeted with the malware message. Similarly, if the "infected" user simply switches browsers, the message also appears to occasionally go away.


23 Attorneys General Refile Challenge To FCC Net Neutrality Repeal ( 41

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A coalition of 22 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia on Thursday refiled legal challenges intended to block the Trump administration's repeal of landmark rules designed to ensure a free and open internet from taking effect. The Federal Communications Commission officially published its order overturning the net neutrality rules in the Federal Register on Thursday, a procedural step that allows for the filing of legal challenges. The states, along with web browser developer Mozilla and video-sharing website Vimeo, had filed petitions preserving their right to sue in January, but agreed to withdraw them last Friday and wait for the FCC's publication. The attorneys general argue that the FCC cannot make "arbitrary and capricious" changes to existing policies and that it misinterpreted and disregarded "critical record evidence on industry practices and harm to consumers and businesses." The White House Office of Management and Budget still must sign off on some aspects of the FCC reversal before it takes legal effect. That could take months.

Twitter Updates Developer Rules in the Wake of Bot Crackdown ( 67

Twitter is getting serious about its bot problem. From a report: Hours after a massive bot purge that prompted the #TwitterLockOut hashtag to trend, the company is announcing new rules for developers meant to prevent bots from using third-party apps to spread spam. According to the new rules, developers that use Twitter's API will no longer be able to let users: Simultaneously post identical or substantially similar content to multiple accounts. Simultaneously perform actions such as Likes, Retweets, or follows from multiple accounts Use of any form of automation (including scheduling) to post identical or substantially similar content, or to perform actions such as Likes or Retweets, across many accounts that have authorized your app (whether or not you created or directly control those accounts) is not permitted.

Former Google Employee Files Lawsuit Alleging the Company Fired Him Over Pro-Diversity Posts ( 308

According to court documents filed today, a former Google engineer is suing the company for discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination. "Tim Chevalier, a software developer and former site-reliability engineer at Google, claims that Google fired him when he responded with internal posts and memes to racist and sexist encounters within the company and the general response to the now-infamous James Damore memo," reports The Verge. From the report: Chevalier said in a statement to The Verge, "It is a cruel irony that Google attempted to justify firing me by claiming that my social networking posts showed bias against my harassers." Chevalier, who is also disabled and transgender, alleges that his internal posts that defended women of color and marginalized people led directly to his termination in November 2017. He had worked at Google for a little under two years. Notably, Chevalier's posts had been quoted in Damore's lawsuit against Google -- in which Damore sued the company for discrimination against conservative white men -- as evidence Google permitted liberals to speak out at the company unpunished. Chevalier's lawsuit alleges that his firing is, in fact, a form of punishment. The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco County Superior Court and Chevalier is seeking damages for lost wages, emotional distress, punitive damages, and injunctive relief against those alleged harmful acts. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Social Networks

Snapchat Responds To Change.Org Petition Complaining About the App's Redesign ( 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Snapchat has posted an official response to users who signed a petition on asking the company to reverse its controversial update, which people say makes the app more difficult to use. In the response, Snapchat promises to make a few more changes to the Friends and Discover section in order to address user complaints. These changes were announced yesterday, along with GIF stickers from Giphy. The backlash against Snapchat has been growing in the months since the company rolled out a major revamp, which aimed to make the social app more accessible to a mainstream audience. Snapchat users have left the app bad reviews, complained on social media, turned to rival Instagram, and they signed a petition entitled, "Remove the new Snapchat update."

Last night, Snapchat posted an official response to the petition, reiterating its stance but also promising a few tweaks that may help to address users' concerns. Specifically, the company said that "beginning soon on iOS and with Android in the coming weeks" it will introduce tabs in the Friends section and in Discover, which it says will make it easier for users to find the Stories they want. This update will let users sort things like Stories, Group Chats, and Subscriptions. Whether these tabs will placate users who just want the old Snapchat back remains to be seen.


'Tech Companies Should Stop Pretending AI Won't Destroy Jobs' ( 344

Kai-Fu Lee, the founder and CEO of Sinovation Ventures and president of the Sinovation Ventures Artificial Intelligence Institute, believes that we're not ready for the massive societal upheavals on the way. He writes for MIT Technology Review: The rise of China as an AI superpower isn't a big deal just for China. The competition between the US and China has sparked intense advances in AI that will be impossible to stop anywhere. The change will be massive, and not all of it good. Inequality will widen. As my Uber driver in Cambridge has already intuited, AI will displace a large number of jobs, which will cause social discontent. Consider the progress of Google DeepMind's AlphaGo software, which beat the best human players of the board game Go in early 2016. It was subsequently bested by AlphaGo Zero, introduced in 2017, which learned by playing games against itself and within 40 days was superior to all the earlier versions. Now imagine those improvements transferring to areas like customer service, telemarketing, assembly lines, reception desks, truck driving, and other routine blue-collar and white-collar work.

It will soon be obvious that half of our job tasks can be done better at almost no cost by AI and robots. This will be the fastest transition humankind has experienced, and we're not ready for it. Not everyone agrees with my view. Some people argue that it will take longer than we think before jobs disappear, since many jobs will be only partially replaced, and companies will try to redeploy those displaced internally. But even if true, that won't stop the inevitable. Others remind us that every technology revolution has created new jobs as it displaced old ones. But it's dangerous to assume this will be the case again.


Why Decentralization Matters ( 93

Chris Dixon has an essay about the long-term promise of blockchain-based networks to upend web-based businesses such as Facebook and Twitter. He writes: When they hit the top of the S-curve, their relationships with network participants change from positive-sum to zero-sum. The easiest way to continue growing lies in extracting data from users and competing with complements over audiences and profits. Historical examples of this are Microsoft vs Netscape, Google vs Yelp, Facebook vs Zynga, and Twitter vs its 3rd-party clients. Operating systems like iOS and Android have behaved better, although still take a healthy 30% tax, reject apps for seemingly arbitrary reasons, and subsume the functionality of 3rd-party apps at will. For 3rd parties, this transition from cooperation to competition feels like a bait-and-switch. Over time, the best entrepreneurs, developers, and investors have become wary of building on top of centralized platforms. We now have decades of evidence that doing so will end in disappointment. In addition, users give up privacy, control of their data, and become vulnerable to security breaches. These problems with centralized platforms will likely become even more pronounced in the future.
Social Networks

Facebook VP of Ads Criticised For Tweeting that Russian-bought Ads Had Not Been Designed to Sway the US Election ( 263

Facebook's vice-president of adverts has been criticised for tweeting that Russian-bought ads had not been designed to sway the US election. From a report: Rob Goldman's tweet was retweeted by President Donald Trump. His view contradicted special counsellor Robert Mueller's recent indictments, in which 13 Russians were charged with meddling in the election via social media and other means. Mr Goldman is reported to have apologised to Facebook staff. In a series of tweets, Mr Goldman said that Russia's misinformation activity had been designed to "divide America" but added that "the majority of the Russian ad spend [on Facebook] happened after the election." However according to the indictment, the ads were only part of Russia's activity on the social-media platform. In the document, Facebook is mentioned 35 times. According to Wired, he sent a message to staff that read: "I wanted to apologise for having tweeted my own view about Russian interference without having it reviewed by anyone internally. The tweets were my own personal view and not Facebook's. I conveyed my view poorly. The special counsel has far more information about what happened [than] I do -- so seeming to contradict his statements was a serious mistake on my part."

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