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Tech News

Facebook hopes to launch an internet satellite in early 2019

July 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

3DSculptor via Getty Images

Facebook has cooperated on internet satellite initiatives (with less-than-ideal results), but there’s been precious little word of plans to make its own satellite beyond high-level promises. Now, however, there’s something tangible. Both publicly disclosed FCC emails and a direct confirmation to Wired have revealed that Facebook aims to launch an internally developed satellite, Athena, sometime in early 2019. A spokesperson didn’t share details, but the shell organization Facebook used to keep filings hidden (PointView Tech LLC) talked about offering broadband to “unserved and underserved” areas with a low Earth orbit satellite on a “limited duration” mission.

This is likely just an experiment rather than a full-fledged deployment. Low Earth orbit satellite internet would require a large cloud of satellites to provide significant coverage, similar to SpaceX’s planned Starlink network. However, it shows that the company isn’t done building its own high-altitude hardware now that it has stopped work on its internet drone.

Whatever Athena shapes up to be, Facebook’s motives likely remain the same. As with Alphabet’s Loon internet balloons, there’s a strong commercial incentive to connect underserved regions. Even if Facebook doesn’t charge a thing for access, it could benefit by adding millions of new users who’d view ads and use services (including through Instagram and WhatsApp). It would also look good to investors, as Facebook would keep its audience growing at a time when there’s seemingly no more room to grow.

Tech News

Recommended Reading: The accent struggle for Alexa and Google Assistant

July 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Engadget

The accent gap
Drew Harwell,
The Washington Post

Smart speakers (and the virtual assistants they house) offer voice control for so many connected devices it’s hard to keep count. Those audio gadgets can also assist with a range of questions — that is, if they can understand you. The Washington Post took a close look at the performance of Alexa and Google Assistant when it comes to understanding people with strong accents. The results show that while these devices are certainly handy and increasingly popular, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

Zuckerberg: The Recode interview
Kara Swisher,
Recode

The Facebook CEO covered a range of topics, including its evolving approach to fake news and a comment about Holocaust deniers that warranted a clarification afterwards.

For one last night, make it a Blockbuster night
Justin Heckert,
The Ringer

News of the one remaining Blockbuster store in the US circulated late last week, and The Ringer examined the end of an era.

The gospel according to Pusha T
Josie Duffy Rice,
The Atlantic

An interesting profile on the Kanye West protégé following the release of his latest album Daytona.

My search for the spirit of Prime Day at an Ariana Grande concert in a giant Amazon box
Hudson Hongo,
Gizmodo

Just trust me on this one.

Tech News

Mark Zuckerberg: CEO, billionaire, troll

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

We imagine the scene at Facebook right now is like Kim Jong-il’s funeral. Employees weeping in hallways, dripping anguished snot onto keyboards, beating their chests with unsold Facebook phones in an orgy of anguish at the injustice of media coverage regarding Mark Zuckerberg’s unprompted defense this week of giving Holocaust deniers a voice on the platform.

But I think we’ve finally figured out what’s going on at Facebook after all.

You know that guy. The one who pops into a chill online community and makes everyone miserable. The one who says he’s “just asking questions” about women able to do math, black people and evolution, shooting victims and paid actors, the validity of the Holocaust.

He’s the one that mods have to kick out for “JAQing off” (“Just Asking Questions”) because he clearly has bad intentions to harm the community and recruit hate. The troll who feigns naïveté and uses free speech as a foil.

This week we learned that if you give that guy a platform for his voice, he’ll out himself real fast. Right now, headlines blare Zuckerberg in Holocaust denial row and Fortune 500 C.E.O. Says Holocaust Deniers Must Be Given “a Voice”.

To be clear, on Tuesday Zuckerberg gave a wandering kid-glove interview with Kara Swisher of Recode, the same day Facebook’s representatives went to the mat to avoid telling the House Judiciary Committee exactly how InfoWars gets to stay on Facebook while it pretends to decry hate speech.

Zuckerberg told Recode that Facebook won’t ban Holocaust deniers or race-war conspiracy propagators like InfoWars just because they’re “getting it wrong.” Also, booting them would go against his and Facebook’s “responsibility” to “give people a voice.” Even in his next-day backtracking, Mr. Zuckerberg and his company doubled-down on giving that guy a safe space, a voice, and a platform.

As Matt Ford at The Atlantic tweeted, in the original interview Zuckerberg wasn’t even asked about his company’s policy of fostering Holocaust denial, “he just said he’d keep it on Facebook on his own.”

So, I guess that was Zuckerberg’s last podcast? pic.twitter.com/niUS5NPuQR

— Mat Honan (@mat) July 19, 2018

Then came the headlines. Quickly followed by Mark Zuckerberg pulling a Trump, telling his softball interviewer that he misspoke. “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that,” he wrote in a warm personal email to Kara Swisher.

We imagine loyal Facebook employees on the floor in the breakroom, tearing up chunks of rubber floor mats and chewing them, swallowing through their own howls and moans, sobbing. “No one understands what Mark really means,” they cry.

But we all know that one way to double-down is to split hairs. It’s the hallmark of trolling. It’s what that guy is really good at.

Nowhere is this more clear than this week’s Channel Four (UK) Dispatches episode Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network. The episode

Tech News

Facebook could have another Cambridge Analytica on its hands

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Alexander Koerner via Getty Images

Facebook has suspended a Boston-based analytics firm from both Facebook and Instagram as it investigates the company’s data collection practices, the Wall Street Journal reports. Facebook said that so far, it hasn’t found any evidence that the company has improperly obtained any Facebook or Instagram information, but it would be looking into whether Crimson Hexagon violated any of its policies on how to collect, share and store user data. “We don’t allow developers to build surveillance tools using information from Facebook or Instagram,” Facebook told Engadget. “We take these allegations seriously, and we have suspended these apps while we investigate.”

This move comes as Facebook continues to deal with privacy concerns stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

On its website, Crimson Hexagon boasts that it can provide “instant access to over one trillion consumer conversations from social media, forums, blogs, reviews and more.” Along with brands like Samsung, Twitter, Adidas and GM, the Wall Street Journal reports that Crimson Hexagon has held contracts with both US government agencies and a Russian nonprofit group with connections to the Kremlin. The publication asked Facebook about what oversight it had over the company’s storage of user data and its government contracts. Facebook told the Wall Street Journal that it wasn’t aware of some of Crimson Hexagon’s contracts but said today that it would suspend its apps while it investigates further.

“We are investigating the claims about Crimson Hexagon to see if they violated any of our policies,” Ime Archibong, Facebook’s VP of product partnerships, said in a statement. “People can share their information with developers on Facebook and Instagram — just as they can when they download an app on their phone. We also have APIs so that developers can use public or aggregated information to produce anonymized insights for business purposes.” He added, “Facebook has a responsibility to help protect people’s information which is one of the reasons why we have tightened our APIs significantly over the last few years.”

The social media giant said Crimson Hexagon is cooperating with its investigation and that it plans to meet with the company’s staff in the coming days.

Tech News

Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter unite to simplify data transfers

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Dean Mouhtaropoulos via Getty Images

Four of the biggest technology companies are banding together to make it easier for users to download and transfer their data between services. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter formally announced The Data Transfer Project (DTP) today, an open-source initiative to create new tools that “enable people to freely move their information across the web,” Damien Kieran, Data Protection Officer at Twitter explained. It’s early days, but the group has published a white paper that details its vision for an easier, more flexible “data portability ecosystem.” The group says it wants an open dialogue with developers and users alike moving forward.

At its core, the DTP will use a series of “adapters” that can unravel propriety APIs into easily understandable data packets. Adapters will come in two types: import and export data adapters, and authentication adapters for verifying and protecting users. In practice, a person could transfer their Instagram photos to Flickr, or Google Photos, without having to mass-download and upload their library. Once it’s finalized, the new system should cover all types of data including email, contacts, calendars and tasks. Individual data types, called Data Models, will be grouped together under Verticals. A service like YouTube Music, for instance, could have Data Models for playlists and music videos under its music Vertical.

The challenge for Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Twitter, of course, will be getting everyone to adopt and maintain the most popular Data Models.

The DTP is still in development and not available to the wider public. There are, however, a couple of GitHub-hosted methods that curious engineers can try out right now. The end-goal is to get companies outside of the current contributors to embrace the new system. That way, users will have true flexibility over the services they use and the amount of data each one holds. You might have all your running data on Strava, for instance, and suddenly discover a new app with a superior service. Or decide that actually, you would prefer to do all of your social networking on Google+.

The announcement follows the introduction of GDPR in the EU. The legislation adds a number of consumer-focused protections inside the European Union, including the requirement that all companies offer some kind of data download tool. The DTP is meant for everyone — not just the EU — but has likely been accelerated because of the new regulations. “This will take time but we are very excited to work with innovators and passionate people from other companies to ensure we are putting you first,” Kieran added. “Fundamentally this is about pushing towards a more open and dynamic internet.”

Tech News

WhatsApp clamps down on forwarding to reduce hoaxes and spam

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

An attendee holds a mobile phone displaying a fake message shared on Facebook Inc.s WhatsApp messaging service while attending an event to raise awareness on fake news in Balgera village in the district of Gadwal, Telangana, India, on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Bloomberg via Getty Images

While parent company Facebook shifts policies on how to handle content that it said can lead to violence, WhatsApp is also in a state of change. A blog post describes how it’s limiting the ability to forward messages to multiple chats at once, apparently in hopes that it will slow the spread of hoaxes and misinformation that have incited recent lynchings in India. Previously users could forward to over 250 people at once, and now the limit globally has been reduced to 20. In India, it will be restricted to five, and a “quick forward” button next to media messages will be removed.

The company called these changes a “test,” while a spokesperson said to Recode that “We’re horrified by the violence in India, and we’ve announced number of different product changes to help address these issues.” WhatsApp already shifted to labeling forwarded messages, it recently started funding research into the problem and now it’s making another attempt to put the brakes on. TechCrunch points out a report from The Economic Times that WhatsApp execs have met with India’s election commission and plan to bring over the news verification model recently used in Mexico.

Tech News

AMC is selling movie tickets on Facebook

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Facebook’s Movies section gives users the option of searching for movies and showtimes and then purchasing tickets through Fandango or Atom Tickets. But now, AMC Theatres has partnered with the platform and users can now buy tickets for AMC showings through Facebook. Just click on a showtime at an AMC location and Facebook will take you to AMC’s ticketing page. “From the very beginning of online ticketing availability, it’s been our goal to make the process as simple and accessible as possible for all of our guests, and we are thrilled to further this endeavor through our partnership with Facebook, which continues to expand our guests’ choices on where they purchase tickets,” Stephen Colanero, AMC Theatres’ chief marketing officer, said in a statement.

AMC recently made moves to take on MoviePass, launching its own subscription service last month. The company said that the Facebook ticketing service is rolling out now and should be available for all AMC theaters over the coming days.

Tech News

Facebook Messenger for Kids is now available in Mexico

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Rob LeFebvre/Engadget

Today marks Facebook releasing its Messenger for Kids app to our friendly southern neighbor. It doesn’t have any Mexico-specific features, and unlike when it was released in Canada and Peru, it isn’t part of a larger feature roll-out like a Spanish-language version, either. No matter, it being available to the nation’s 130 million residents is pretty big in and of itself.

The app has courted controversy since it was released last December. In June, Facebook responded to complaints about it encouraging screen time in youngsters several months later by partnering with Yale to boost the social and emotional learning features of Messenger for Kids. That’s in addition, of course, to increasing the available parental controls.

Tech News

Facebook will begin actively enforcing its age policy

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Facebook is tweaking its policies towards underage users, TechCrunch reports, and it will begin requiring those suspected of being younger than 13 years old to provide proof of their age. The move comes after a report from the UK’s Channel 4, in which an undercover journalist began working as a Facebook content reviewer. Though Facebook and Instagram require users to be at least 13 years of age — in order to comply with the US Child Online Privacy Protection Act — the report revealed that in practice, those rules were often ignored. “We have to have an admission that the person is underage,” a trainer told the reporter. “If not, we just pretend that we are blind and that we don’t know what underage looks like.”

But going forward, that hands-off approach will be replaced by a more proactive policy. Previously, reviewers would only look into the age of a user if their account was specifically reported as being from someone who might be underage. But now, reviewers will lock the accounts of those suspected of being underage anytime their accounts are noted for review, regardless of the reason why. In a blog post, Facebook said, “Since the program, we have been working to update the guidance for reviewers to put a hold on any account they encounter if they have a strong indication it is underage, even if the report was for something else.” And locked accounts can only be unlocked if users prove they’re at least 13 years old, with a government issued ID, for example.

While young children aren’t allowed to have Facebook and Instagram accounts, at least in theory, the company has been working to draw in younger users with its Messenger Kids app. The kid-only messaging app continues to expand to more devices and more countries despite some outcry from those concerned about exposing young children to social media and overuse of digital technology.

Meanwhile, a recent study found that interest in Facebook seems to be declining among younger populations while Instagram use is growing.

Tech News

Facebook will prioritize removing fake news that incites violence

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

REUTERS

During a recent congressional hearing, Facebook showed that its policies could use a bit of work when it comes to addressing posts threatening violence. Now, the tech giant has finally taken steps to combat that particular issue, announcing a policy change that will allow it to take down fake news posts that incite violence and physical harm. A spokesperson told CNBC that it will begin implementing the new rule, which will cover both text and image posts, “during the coming months.”

According to The New York Times, the new policy is largely a response to the role Facebook played in the violent attacks on Muslims that took place in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and India. In Sri Lanka, for instance, riots broke out after rumors went around on the platform, accusing Muslims of poisoning food given or sold to Buddhists. Facebook was also accused of helping promote violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar by allowing misinformation to circulate on its website.

The company will reportedly use its image recognition tech to spot status updates that violate the new rule. CNBC says it will also work with local and international organizations to help it spot and verify fake news. See, while it plans to take down posts that encourage harm, it will only de-emphasize fake news that don’t incite violence in people’s Feeds. That’s where those partner groups come in.

As for what kind of posts don’t deserve to be banned, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg gave Holocaust denial as an example in his interview with Recode. That obviously caused an uproar, prompting him to clarify that while he “personally find[s] Holocaust denial deeply offensive,” Facebook’s goal is “not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across [its] services.”