Government

Vietnam's Internet is in Trouble (wapo.st) 44

The World Post: Vietnamese authorities have harped of late on the urgency of fighting cybersecurity threats and "bad and dangerous content." Yet the fight against either "fake news" or misinformation in Vietnam must not be used as a smoke screen for stifling dissenting opinions and curtailing freedom of speech [The link may be paywalled]. Doing so would only further stoke domestic cynicism in a country where the sudden expansion of space for free and open discussion has created a kind of high-pressure catharsis online. Other countries, including democratic states, are also scrambling to rein in toxic information online. But while Germany, for example, specifically targets hate speech and other extremist messaging that directly affects the masses, Vietnamese leaders are more fixated on content deemed detrimental to their own reputation and the survival of the regime.

The ruling Communist Party of Vietnam has repeatedly urged Facebook and Google to block "toxic" information that it said slandered and defamed Vietnamese leaders. Google sort of conformed by removing more than such 5,000 clips; Facebook also flagged about 160 anti-government accounts at the behest of the government.

IBM

IBM Sues Microsoft's New Chief Diversity Officer To Protect Diversity Trade Secrets (geekwire.com) 152

theodp writes: GeekWire reports that IBM has filed suit against longtime exec Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, alleging that her new position as Microsoft's chief diversity officer violates a year-long non-compete agreement, allowing Microsoft to use IBM's internal secrets to boost its own diversity efforts. A hearing is set for Feb. 22, but in the meantime, a U.S. District Judge has temporarily barred McIntyre from working at Microsoft. "IBM has gone to great lengths to safeguard as secret the confidential information that McIntyre possesses," Big Blue explained in a court filing, citing its repeated success (in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017) in getting the U.S. government to quash FOIA requests for IBM's EEO-1 Reports on the grounds that the mandatory race/ethnicity and gender filings represent "confidential proprietary trade secret information." IBM's argument may raise some eyebrows, considering that other tech giants -- including Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook -- voluntarily disclosed their EEO-1s years ago after coming under pressure from Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus. In 2010, IBM stopped disclosing U.S. headcount data in its annual report as it accelerated overseas hiring.
Facebook

Facebook Plans To Use US Mail To Verify IDs of Election Ad Buyers (reuters.com) 120

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

Silicon Valley Singles Are Giving Up On the Algorithms of Love (washingtonpost.com) 235

The Washington Post: Melissa Hobley, an executive at the dating app OkCupid, hears the complaints about the apps [being unable to find good matches] regularly and thinks they get a bad rap. Silicon Valley workers "are in the business of scalable, quick solutions. And that's not what love is," Hobley said. "You can't hurry love. It's reciprocal. You're not ordering an object. You're not getting a delivery in less than seven minutes." Finding love, she added, takes commitment and energy -- and, yes, time, no matter how inefficiently it's spent.

"You have a whole city obsessed with algorithms and data, and they like to say dating apps aren't solving the problem," Hobley said. "But if a city is male-dominant, if a city is known for 16-hour work days, those are issues that dating apps can't solve." One thing distinguishes the Silicon Valley dating pool: The men-to-women ratio for employed, young singles in the San Jose metro area is higher than in any other major area. There were about 150 men for every 100 women, compared with about 125 to 100 nationwide, of never-married young people between 25 and 34 in San Jose, U.S. Census Bureau data from 2016 shows. That ratio permeates the economy here, all the way to the valley's biggest employers, which have struggled for years to bring more women into their ranks. Men make up about 70% of the workforces of Apple, Facebook and Google parent Alphabet, company filings show.

Privacy

Facebook Admits SMS Notifications Sent Using Two-Factor Number Was Caused by Bug (theverge.com) 48

Facebook has clarified the situation around SMS notifications sent using the company's two-factor authentication (2FA) system, admitting that the messages were indeed caused by a bug. From a report: In a blog post penned by Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos, the company says the error led it to "send non-security-related SMS notifications to these phone numbers." Facebook uses the automated number 362-65, or "FBOOK," as its two-factor authentication number, which is a secure way of confirming a user's identity by sending a numeric code to a secondary device like a mobile phone. That same number ended up sending users Facebook notifications without their consent. When users would attempt to get the SMS notifications to stop, the replies were posted to their own Facebook profiles as status updates.
Businesses

Most Cities Would Welcome a Tech Billionaire, But Peter Thiel? (bloomberg.com) 272

Sarah McBride, writing for Bloomberg: Tech billionaire Peter Thiel is moving to Los Angeles from San Francisco, adding another dose of legitimacy to a burgeoning startup scene in Southern California -- along with some controversy. The co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, Thiel runs Founders Fund, one of the more-respected venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. He comes with a little baggage, though, including his staunch support for President Donald Trump, his secretive funding of the legal battle between Hulk Hogan and Gawker.com, and comments some people say have been derogatory toward women. "I'm not sure why Peter Thiel believes he'll receive a warmer reception on the L.A. tech scene than he's had in Silicon Valley," said Tracy DiNunzio, chief executive officer of Tradesy, a fashion-reselling company based in Santa Monica, California. "Our venture and startup ecosystem is fairly left-leaning."
China

How Does Chinese Tech Stack Up Against American Tech? 168

The Economist: China's tech leaders love visiting California, and invest there, but are no longer awed by it [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. By market value the Middle Kingdom's giants, Alibaba and Tencent, are in the same league as Alphabet and Facebook. New stars may float their shares in 2018-19, including Didi Chuxing (taxi rides), Ant Financial (payments) and Lufax (wealth management). China's e-commerce sales are double America's and the Chinese send 11 times more money by mobile phones than Americans, who still scribble cheques.

The venture-capital (VC) industry is booming. American visitors return from Beijing, Hangzhou and Shenzhen blown away by the entrepreneurial work ethic. Last year the government decreed that China would lead globally in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030. The plan covers a startlingly vast range of activities, including developing smart cities and autonomous cars and setting global tech standards. Like Japanese industry in the 1960s, private Chinese firms take this "administrative guidance" seriously.
Education

Learning To Program Is Getting Harder (slashdot.org) 371

theodp writes: While Google suggests that parents and educators are to blame for why kids can't code, Allen Downey, Professor at Olin College argues that learning to program is getting harder . Downey writes: The fundamental problem is that the barrier between using a computer and programming a computer is getting higher. When I got a Commodore 64 (in 1982, I think) this barrier was non-existent. When you turned on the computer, it loaded and ran a software development environment (SDE). In order to do anything, you had to type at least one line of code, even if all it did was another program (like Archon). Since then, three changes have made it incrementally harder for users to become programmers:
1. Computer retailers stopped installing development environments by default. As a result, anyone learning to program has to start by installing an SDE -- and that's a bigger barrier than you might expect. Many users have never installed anything, don't know how to, or might not be allowed to. Installing software is easier now than it used to be, but it is still error prone and can be frustrating. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn system administration first.
2. User interfaces shifted from command-line interfaces (CLIs) to graphical user interfaces (GUIs). GUIs are generally easier to use, but they hide information from users about what's really happening. When users really don't need to know, hiding information can be a good thing. The problem is that GUIs hide a lot of information programmers need to know. So when a user decides to become a programmer, they are suddenly confronted with all the information that's been hidden from them. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn operating system concepts first.
3. Cloud computing has taken information hiding to a whole new level. People using web applications often have only a vague idea of where their data is stored and what applications they can use to access it. Many users, especially on mobile devices, don't distinguish between operating systems, applications, web browsers, and web applications. When they upload and download data, they are often confused about where is it coming from and where it is going. When they install something, they are often confused about what is being installed where. For someone who grew up with a Commodore 64, learning to program was hard enough. For someone growing up with a cloud-connected mobile device, it is much harder.
theodp continues: So, with the Feds budgeting $200 million a year for K-12 CS at the behest of U.S. tech leaders, can't the tech giants at least put a BASIC on every phone/tablet/laptop for kids?
Government

Facebook Must Stop Tracking Belgian Users, Court Rules (mercurynews.com) 83

Facebook must stop tracking Belgian users' surfing outside the social network and delete data it's already gathered, or it will face fines of 250,000 ($312,000) euros a day, a Belgian court ruled. From a report: Facebook "doesn't sufficiently inform" clients about the data it gathers on their broader web use, nor does it explain what it does with the information or say how long it stores it, the Brussels Court of First Instance said in a statement. The social network is coming under increasing fire in Europe, with a high-profile German antitrust probe examining whether it unfairly compels users to sign up to restrictive privacy terms. Belgium's data-protection regulators have targeted the company since at least 2015 when a court ordered it to stop storing non-users' personal data.
Social Networks

US Charges Russian Social Media Trolls Over Election Tampering (cnet.com) 485

The US Justice Department has filed charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups for interfering with the 2016 presidential election. From a report: In an indictment [PDF] released on Friday, the Justice Department called out the Internet Research Agency, a notorious group behind the Russian propaganda effort across social media. Employees for the agency created troll accounts and used bots to prop up arguments and sow political chaos during the 2016 presidential campaign. Facebook, Twitter and Google have struggled to deal with fake news, trolling campaigns and bots on their platforms, facing the scorn of Capitol Hill over their mishandlings. The indictment lists 13 Russian nationals tied to the effort.
Microsoft

Hey Microsoft, Stop Installing Apps On My PC Without Asking (howtogeek.com) 509

Chris Hoffman, writing for How To Geek: I'm getting sick of Windows 10's auto-installing apps. Apps like Facebook are now showing up out of nowhere, and even displaying notifications begging for me to use them. I didn't install the Facebook app, I didn't give it permission to show notifications, and I've never even used it. So why is it bugging me? Windows 10 has always been a little annoying about these apps, but it wasn't always this bad. Microsoft went from "we pinned a few tiles, but the apps aren't installed until you click them" to "the apps are now automatically installed on your PC" to "the automatically installed apps are now sending you notifications." It's ridiculous.
Facebook

Facebook Is Spamming Users Via Their 2FA Phone Numbers (mashable.com) 119

According to Mashable, Facebook account holder Gabriel Lewis tweeted that Facebook texted "spam" to the phone number he submitted for the purposes of 2-factor authentication. Lewis insists that he did not have mobile notifications turned on, and when he replied "stop" and "DO NOT TEXT ME," he says those messages showed up on his Facebook wall. From the report: Lewis explained his version of the story to Mashable via Twitter direct message. "[Recently] I decided to sign up for 2FA on all of my accounts including FaceBook, shortly afterwards they started sending me notifications from the same phone number. I never signed up for it and I don't even have the FB app on my phone." Lewis further explained that he can go "for months" without signing into Facebook, which suggests the possibility that Mark Zuckerberg's creation was feeling a little neglected and trying to get him back. According to Lewis, he signed up for 2FA on Dec. 17 and the alleged spamming began on Jan. 5. Importantly, Lewis isn't the only person who claims this happened to him. One Facebook user says he accidentally told "friends and family to go [to] hell" when he "replied to the spam."
Facebook

Even Apple and Google Engineers Can't Really Afford To Live Near Their Offices (fastcompany.com) 368

That's according to the Y Combinator-backed real-estate startup Open Listings, which looked at median home sales prices near the headquarters (meaning within a 20-minute commute) of some of the Bay Area's biggest and best-known tech companies. Fast Company: Using public salary data from Paysa, Open Listings then looked at how many software engineers from those companies could actually afford to buy a house close to their office. Here's what it found: Engineers at five major SF-based tech companies would need to spend over the 28% threshold of their income to afford a monthly mortgage near their offices. Apple engineers would have to pay an average of 33% of their monthly income for a mortgage near work. That's the highest percentage of the companies analyzed, and home prices in Cupertino continue to skyrocket. Google wasn't much better at 32%, and living near the Facebook office would cost an engineer 29% of their monthly paycheck.
Facebook

Messenger Kids Advocates Were Facebook-Funded (fastcompany.com) 35

Fast Company: Facebook unveiled this kid-friendly version of its signature messaging service in December, while the YouTube Kids scandal was in full swing. Messenger Kids, Facebook said, had been designed to serve as a "fun, safer solution" for family communications. It would be available for children as young as 6, the company said. To forestall criticism, Facebook asserted that the app had been developed alongside thousands of parents and a dozen expert advisors. But it looks like many of those outside experts were funded with Facebook dollars. According to Wired, "At least seven members of Facebook 13-person advisory board have some kind of financial tie to the company." Those advisors include the National PTA, Blue Star Families, Connect Safely, and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
AI

To Fight Fatal Infections, Hospitals May Turn to Algorithms (scientificamerican.com) 4

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

Google Is Adding Snapchat-Style Stories To Mobile Search Results (qz.com) 21

Google is rolling out tappable, visual stories that incorporate text, images, and videos in the style made popular by Snapchat. "It started widely testing the multimedia format, called AMP stories, today (Feb. 13) in an effort to help publishers engage more with readers on mobile," reports Quartz. Google announced the feature in a developer blog post. From the report: Users can now find Google stories in search results -- in a box called "visual stories" -- when they search on mobile at g.co/ampstories for the names of publishers that have begun using the format, such as CNN, Conde Nast, Hearst, Mashable, Meredith, Mic, Vox Media, and the Washington Post brands. Google worked with those publishers to develop the format. Desktop users can also get a taste of stories through Google's Accelerate Mobile Pages site. When a user selects a story, like Cosmopolitan magazine's piece on apple cider vinegar, it displays in a full-screen, slideshow format, similar to those on Snapchat and Instagram.

The multimedia format is part of Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project, a competitor to Facebook's Instant Articles that helps load pages faster on mobile devices. Like AMP, the AMP story format is open-sourced, so anyone can use it. However, Google is reportedly only displaying stories from a select group of publishers, including those it partnered with on the development, on its own site at the moment. The company said it plans to bring AMP stories to more Google products in the future, and expand the ways they appear in Google search.

Advertising

Huawei Got People To Write Fake Reviews For An Unreleased Phone (theverge.com) 39

As spotted by 9to5Google, Huawei has apparently posted fake reviews on Best Buy for its new Mate 10 Pro, which is available for pre-order in the U.S. despite not having any deals with U.S. carriers. "The fake reviews, which are exclusively on the Best Buy website, are likely the result of a contest Huawei ran on Facebook," reports The Verge. From the report: On January 31st, the company posted to a Facebook group with over 60,000 members, asking for people to leave comments on the Best Buy pre-sale page in exchange for a chance to beta test a Mate 10 Pro. The original post has been deleted, but 9to5Google obtained a screenshot before it went down. "Tell us how to why (sic) you WANT to own the Mate 10 Pro in the review section of our pre-sale Best Buy retail page," the post states. On the Best Buy site, there are currently 108 reviews for the phone, 103 of which were written on or after January 31st, the day Huawei posted the contest. Many of the comments directly reference not having any actual hands-on experience with the product itself, but give the phone a five star rating. "I can't wait to get my hands on this phone and demonstrate how amazing it is to people," reads one. "This device looks exciting and beautiful and it would be amazing to have a chance to beta test it," another reads. It seems Huawei is betting that loads of high ratings early on will make people trust the product and lead to higher sales. That's all well and good except that these types of reviews are strictly against Best Buy policy, as 9to5Google points out. "Huawei's first priority is always the consumer and we encourage our customers to share their experiences with our devices in their own voice and through authentic conversation," a Huawei representative told The Verge in a statement. "While there are reviews from beta testers with extensive knowledge of the product, they were in no way given monetary benefits for providing their honest opinions of the product. However, we are working to remove posts by beta testers where it isn't disclosed they participated in the review program."
Facebook

Facebook is Pushing Its Data-tracking Onavo VPN Within Its Main Mobile App (techcrunch.com) 40

TechCrunch reports: Onavo Protect, the VPN client from the data-security app maker acquired by Facebook back in 2013, has now popped up in the Facebook app itself, under the banner "Protect" in the navigation menu. Clicking through on "Protect" will redirect Facebook users to the "Onavo Protect -- VPN Security" app's listing on the App Store. We're currently seeing this option on iOS only, which may indicate it's more of a test than a full rollout here in the U.S. Marketing Onavo within Facebook itself could lead to a boost in users for the VPN app, which promises to warn users of malicious websites and keep information secure as you browse. But Facebook didn't buy Onavo for its security protections. Instead, Onavo's VPN allow Facebook to monitor user activity across apps, giving Facebook a big advantage in terms of spotting new trends across the larger mobile ecosystem. For example, Facebook gets an early heads up about apps that are becoming breakout hits; it can tell which are seeing slowing user growth; it sees which apps' new features appear to be resonating with their users, and much more. Further reading: Do Not, I Repeat, Do Not Download Onavo, Facebook's Vampiric VPN Service (Gizmodo).
Crime

LoopX Startup Pulls ICO Exit Scam and Disappears with $4.5 Million (bleepingcomputer.com) 122

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: A cryptocurrency startup named LoopX has pulled an exit scam after collecting around $4.5 million from users during an ICO (Initial Coin Offering) held in the recent weeks. The LoopX team disappeared out of the blue at the start of the week when it took down its website and deleted its Facebook, Telegram, and YouTube channels without any explanation. People who invested in the startup are now tracking funds move from account to account in a BitcoinTalk forum thread, and banding together in the hopes of filing a class action lawsuit.
Facebook

YouTube CEO: Facebook Should 'Get Back To Baby Pictures' (cnet.com) 119

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

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