Facebook

Social Media Copies Gambling Methods 'To Create Psychological Cravings' (theguardian.com) 80

Social media platforms are using the same techniques as gambling firms to create psychological dependencies and ingrain their products in the lives of their users, experts warn. From a report: These methods are so effective they can activate similar mechanisms as cocaine in the brain, create psychological cravings and even invoke "phantom calls and notifications" where users sense the buzz of a smartphone, even when it isn't really there. "Facebook, Twitter and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites," said Natasha Schull, the author of Addiction by Design, which reported how slot machines and other systems are designed to lock users into a cycle of addiction. "In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention -- which is measured in clicks and time spent."
AI

White House To Host Tech Giants For AI Meeting (axios.com) 88

The White House will hold a meeting Thursday with major tech corporations to discuss artificial intelligence, according to media reports. Axios: America finds itself in a race with other countries, most notably China, to advance AI technologies. What they're saying: "In order to maintain America's leadership on AI, the administration should continue to invest in research and development, and advance programs that equip the workforce with skills of the future," said Dean Garfield, the president of the Information Technology Industry Council, in a statement. The guest list includes companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Nvidia, per the Washington Post, which first reported the meeting.
Communications

Google News To Be Revamped, Incorporate YouTube Videos and Magazines (arstechnica.com) 34

Google News is reportedly being updated with a "new design" that will "incorporate elements of the [Google Play] Newsstand app and YouTube." It will be powered by Google's AMP technology and is expected to launch at Google I/O 2018. AdAge was first to report the changes. From a report: A Google News redesign is surprising considering that the current design is less than a year old. It's unclear if the current design is just being tweaked to incorporate YouTube and Play Newsstand or if the whole thing is being scrapped and rebuilt. The report also mentions that Google News will get a new app. Google Play Newsstand is currently an odd hybrid of magazine store and RSS reader. The report says that Google Play Newsstand is going to close as part of the Google News redesign. This is the second time we've heard of a "Google Play" brand getting the axe: Google Play Music is also expected to close when it merges with YouTube. We should learn more about the changes at Google I/O, which starts next week on Tuesday, May 8.
Security

New Hacking Tool Lets Users Access a Bunch of DVRs and Their Video Feeds (bleepingcomputer.com) 15

An anonymous reader writes: "An Argentinian security researcher named Ezequiel Fernandez has published a powerful new tool yesterday that can easily extract plaintext credentials for various DVR brands and grant attackers access to those systems, and inherently the video feeds they're supposed to record," reports Bleeping Computer. "The tool, named getDVR_Credentials, is a proof-of-concept for CVE-2018-9995, a vulnerability discovered by Fernandez at the start of last month, [affecting TBK DVR systems]. Fernandez discovered that by accessing the control panel of specific DVRs with a cookie header of 'Cookie: uid=admin,' the DVR would respond with the device's admin credentials in cleartext." Tens of thousands of vulnerable devices available online can be hijacked with their video feeds assembled in voyeur sites, like it's been done in the past.
Advertising

Placing Election Ads On Google Will Require a Government ID (gizmodo.com) 227

Google announced new policies Friday that will require advertisers to prove they are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident when buying election ads. "Under the new guidelines, Google will ask advertisers -- be they individuals, organizations, or political action committees -- to prove they are who they claim to be," reports Gizmodo. "It will also require the ads to include a clear disclosure of who is paying for it." From the report: The change comes after Google and other social media companies revealed their advertising platforms were abused by foreign actors, including the Russian government-backed troll farm Internet Research Agency, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It also places Google's policies in line with U.S. laws for traditional media that restrict foreign entities from running election ads. Where Google's effort falls short, at least in its current iteration, is the new policies only cover ads featuring candidates running for office. So-called "issue ads" that advocate a certain point of view on hot-button topics are not covered in Google's policies.
Facebook

Facebook Exec Admits 'No Real Understanding' for the Scope of Fake News (mercurynews.com) 219

Three executives from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube appeared at Stanford to discuss free speech in the social media age, with one law professor raising concerns about how the online giants are curating their services. All three tech executives talked about increasing transparency and authenticity. But all acknowledge that nothing is foolproof and political speech in particular is most difficult to regulate, if it should be at all. "That puts a lot of control in the hands of the companies sitting here in term of what kind of speech is allowed to have the global reach," said Juniper Downs, YouTube's global head of public policy and government relations. "That is a responsibility we take very seriously and something we owe to the public and a civil society...."

Facebook is making information available on its platform to researchers to help understand the effect of Facebook usage on elections. Still, Facebook's Vice President of Public Policy Elliot Schrage urged caution. "There is no agreement whatsoever on the prevalence of false news and fake propaganda on our platform," he said. "We have no real understanding of what the scope of misinformation is." He suggested that despite these chaotic times, "I do think we should be pretty modest and circumspect in the approaches we take." Social media companies need to find creative ways to improve the spread of information, Schrage said. But it won't be easy. "No one company," he said, "is going to solve this problem."

Music

Pandora Stock Surges 25% After User Data-Based Marketing Push (marketwatch.com) 32

An anonymous reader writes: Pandora's stock had its best day ever on Wall Street, rising more than 25% after reporting their subscription and other revenue had surged 61.3 percent to $104.7 million. Previous users have apparently been lured back with targeted marketing touting a new service that lets users briefly play their favorite songs on demand if they'll watch a short ad. "Pandora said it ended the quarter with 5.63 million subscribers to its Pandora Plus and Pandora Platinum paid services, which was 19 percent higher than the same period a year ago," reports one Silicon Valley newspaper. March saw more former users returning than in the same month a year ago -- for the first time in 18 months.

And an important factor was switching from brand-based marketing to data-based marketing -- that is, "using the information that Pandora has on users' listening preferences." Pandora's Chief Executive brags to MarketWatch that "We really have world-class data-science capabilities. We just never used them in our own marketing."

Engadget reports: Revenue for the quarter rose to $319.2 million, up 12 percent over the first quarter of 2017... But Pandora is still losing money. The company posted a net loss of $131.7 million, a slight improvement on the $132.3 million loss in Q1 2017. Overall engagement is down year-over-year, with active listeners dropping 4 percent to 72.3 million. Listener hours dipped from 5.21 billion to 4.96 billion.
Social Networks

'Follow-Up To Vine' Gets Delayed For 'Indefinite Amount of Time' (theverge.com) 16

Late last year, Vine's co-founder, Dom Hofmann, said he was working on "a follow-up to Vine," after the six-second video social media app was shut down by Twitter in October. "I'm going to work on a follow-up to vine. i've been feeling it myself for some time and have seen a lot of tweets, dms, etc.," Hofmann tweeted at the time. Well, several months have passed and we have learned that Vine v2 will be postponed for an "indefinite amount of time" while Hofmann figures out funding and logistical hurdles. The Verge reports: The announcement, made on the v2 forums and reposted this morning by the official v2 Twitter handle, is a disappointing but understanding turn of events. Back in January, Hofmann suggested the app may launch as soon as this summer, which was an ambitious timetable. Now, Hofmann says that, despite the immense interest in his project, he has to take the time to make sure it doesn't fall apart before continuing. He cites a need for substantial venture funding to get v2 off the ground after initially thinking he may be able to self-fund it. "Long story short, in order to work, the v2 project needs to operate as a company with sizable external funding, probably from investors," Hofmann writes. "This is difficult because I already run an early-stage company (Innerspace VR, a creative immersive entertainment studio he founded after selling Vine to Twitter years ago) that is in the middle of development. Very few backers would be happy with the split attention, and I wouldn't be either. This is potentially solvable, but it's going to take time for the space and resources to become available."
Google

YouTube Gets 1.8 Billion Logged-in Viewers Monthly (engadget.com) 51

On stage today at Radio City Music Hall, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki made a surprising revelation: the service gets 1.8 billion logged-in viewers every month. And that doesn't include people who aren't logged in -- which means the actual number of people watching YouTube is definitely much higher. From a report: Last June, the service had 1.5 billion logged-in watchers. On TVs alone, people are now watching 150 million hours of YouTube every day. The latest figures are yet another sign that YouTube's reach is staggering, something that Wojcicki wanted to make crystal clear for the audience of advertisers and potential partners at its annual BrandCast event.
Chrome

Google Says Chrome Blocks 'About Half' of Unwanted Autoplays (venturebeat.com) 102

When Google released Chrome 66 just over two weeks ago, it received lots of attention and praise for introducing the ability to mute autoplaying videos with sound until you press play. Today, Chrome product manager John Pallett revealed that "the new policy blocks about half of unwanted autoplays." VentureBeat reports: Pallett also shared that "a significant number" of autoplays are paused, muted, or have their tab closed within six seconds by Chrome users. He didn't say how many exactly, as the number varies significantly from site to site. But that shouldn't surprise anyone, given how much work Google put into this latest feature. Chrome decides which autoplaying content to stop in its tracks by learning your preferences and ranking each website according to your past behavior. If you don't have browsing history with a site, Chrome allows autoplay for over 1,000 sites where Google says the highest percentage of visitors play media with sound (sites where media is the main point of visiting the site). As you browse the web, Chrome updates that list by enabling autoplay on sites where you play media with sound during most of your visits, and disables it on sites where you don't.
Facebook

Facebook May Have Secret Plans To Build a Satellite-Based Internet (ieee.org) 75

Public filings suggest the social media giant is quietly developing orbital tech to rival efforts by SpaceX and OneWeb to deliver Internet by satellite. From a report: A filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week revealed details of a multi-million dollar experimental satellite from a stealthy company called PointView Tech LLC. The satellite, named Athena, will deliver data 10 times faster than SpaceX's Starlink Internet satellites, the first of which launched in February. However, PointView appears to exist only on paper. In fact, the tiny company seems to be a new subsidiary of Facebook, formed last year to keep secret the social media giant's plans to storm space.

Many technology companies believe the future of the Internet is orbital. Around half the people on the planet lack a broadband Internet connection, particularly those who live in rural areas and developing nations. SpaceX aims to put nearly 12,000 Starlinks into low Earth orbit (LEO), to deliver gigabit-speed Internet to most of the Earth's surface. Rival OneWeb, funded by Japan's SoftBank, chipmaker Qualcomm, and Richard Branson's Virgin Group, plans similar global coverage using perhaps 2,500 LEO satellites.
Further reading: Facebook's free walled-garden internet program ended quietly in Myanmar, several other places last year.
Facebook

Facebook Has Fired Multiple Employees for Snooping on Users: Motherboard (vice.com) 35

Joseph Cox and Max Hoppenstedt, reporting for Motherboard: On Tuesday, Facebook fired an employee who had allegedly used their privileged data access to stalk women online. Now, multiple former Facebook employees and people familiar with the company describe to Motherboard parts of the social media giant's data access policies. This includes how those in the security team, which the fired employee was allegedly a part of, have less oversight on their access than others. The news emphasizes something that typical users may forget when scrolling through a Silicon Valley company's service or site: although safeguards against abuse may be in place, there are people who have the power to see information you believe to be private, and sometimes they may look at that data.

Motherboard granted the sources in this story anonymity to speak more candidly about Facebook's policies and procedures. One source specifically mentioned Facebook's strict non-disclosure agreement. One former Facebook worker said when they joined the company multiple people had been terminated for abusing access to user data, including for stalking exes. Another former Facebook employee said that they know of three cases where people were fired because they mishandled data, one of which included stalking. Typically, these incidents are not publicly reported.

Google

Google Is Building a Secret Social-Gaming Startup Called Arcade (bloomberg.com) 41

Google is secretly building a social-gaming startup in an effort to create fledgling companies within the internet-search giant. Bloomberg reports: The founder and co-owner of the new firm, called Arcade, is Michael Sayman, according to people familiar with the matter. Sayman is the 21-year-old wunderkind who started as a Facebook intern at age 17 and left that company for Alphabet Inc.'s Google last year. Arcade's first app, slated to debut this summer, will have some elements of a trivia game. A Google spokesperson confirmed the existence of Arcade, saying it was "focused on mobile gaming with friends," without elaborating on specific products. "It's a very early experiment so there aren't many details to share right now." The effort is part of Area 120, a division where select employees can work on small startups that live inside Google. Arcade's games have no tie-in with existing social networks. Users create accounts with their phone numbers, one of the people said. Google is considering it a social-media investment because once a game gets to a certain size, it's something of a social network by itself, this person said.
Businesses

Cambridge Analytica Shuts Down Amid Scandal Over Use of Facebook Data (gizmodo.com) 67

Gizmodo reports that Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, the SCL Group, are shutting down. "The news was announced during a conference call led by Julian Wheatland, the current chairman of the SCL Group who was reportedly tapped to take over as Cambridge Analytica's next CEO," reports Gizmodo. "Both Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections will now close their doors." From the report: During the call, Wheatland said that the board determined that rebranding the company's current offerings in the current environment is "futile." Cambridge Analytica and SCL have offices in London, New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The conference call was originally scheduled for Tuesday morning, but was repeatedly pushed back until early Wednesday afternoon, ultimately getting rescheduled more than half a dozen times. In explaining the decision to close the offices, Wheatland cited the ongoing investigations into Cambridge Analytica's massive data harvesting scandal, damage to the company's reputation, and loss of clients. In March, Britain's information commissioner announced that she was seeking a warrant to investigate any misconduct by the data analytics firm, looking to search both its offices and its servers. UK authorities raided the London office later that month, but have yet to release their findings. Meanwhile, embattled former CEO Alexander Nix refused to testify before the British Parliamentary media committee regarding the firm's misuse of Facebook user data.
Facebook

Facebook Fires Employee Who Allegedly Used Data Access To Stalk Women (vice.com) 99

After a member of the information security community provided evidence to Facebook's chief information security officer, the company has terminated a security engineer who allegedly used their work position to stalk women online. From a report: On Monday, Motherboard reported that Facebook was investigating a claim that one of its employees used access to data granted by their job to stalk women online. Facebook has since terminated the employee, Facebook confirmed to Motherboard on Tuesday, coincidentally shortly after the social media giant announced its upcoming dating service. "We are investigating this as a matter of urgency. It's important that people's information is kept secure and private when they use Facebook," Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief information security officer, told Motherboard in a statement.
Facebook

Facebook Is Investigating a Claim That an Employee Used His Position To Stalk Women (vice.com) 61

Facebook is investigating a claim that an employee potentially used access granted by their job to stalk women online, the social media giant confirmed in a statement to Motherboard on Monday. From the report: "Although we can't comment on any individual personnel matters, we are aware of the situation and investigating," a Facebook spokesperson wrote in an email. The claim came from Jackie Stokes, founder of Spyglass Security, in a tweet posted Monday. "I've been made aware that a security engineer currently employed at Facebook is likely using privileged access to stalk women online. I have Tinder logs. What should I do with this information?" Stokes' tweet read. In a follow-up tweet, Stokes wrote multiple senior Facebook employees had reached out over the claim. Stokes told Motherboard in a Twitter direct message that she provided the relevant details to Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief security officer.
China

Chinese Government Admits Collection of Deleted WeChat Messages (techcrunch.com) 39

The South China Morning Post reported over the weekend that Chinese authorities have the capability of retrieving deleted messages from the WeChat app. The newspaper noted that an anti-corruption commission in Hefei province posted Saturday to social media that it has "retrieved a series of deleted WeChat conversations from a subject" as part of an investigation. TechCrunch reports: The post was deleted Sunday, but not before many had seen it and understood the ramifications. Tencent, which operates the WeChat service used by nearly a billion people (including myself), explained in a statement that "WeChat does not store any chat histories -- they are only stored on users' phones and computers." The technical details of this storage were not disclosed, but it seems clear from the commission's post that they are accessible in some way to interested authorities, as many have suspected for years. The app does, of course, comply with other government requirements, such as censoring certain topics.
Facebook

Facebook Warns Investors They Expect To Find 'Additional Incidents' of User Data Abuse (siliconvalley.com) 117

Facebook earned $4.99 billion in the first three months of 2018 (on sales of $11.97 billion). But their quarterly report included some new warnings, according to the Bay Area Newsgroup: In its 141-page filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission Thursday, Facebook -- like all public companies -- warned of risk factors, the official version of what might keep CEO Mark Zuckerberg up at night. Chief among them is the possibility of other Cambridge Analyticas. "We anticipate that our ongoing investments in safety, security, and content review will identify additional instances of misuse of user data or other undesirable activity by third parties on our platform," Facebook said in its 10-Q filing. It is a point that Zuckerberg made again and again during his Congressional testimony earlier this month.

What's more, Facebook knows it won't catch everything, even though the company is investigating and auditing away after revelations that political data consulting firm Cambridge Analytica accessed the information of up to 87 million Facebook users without permission... "We may also be notified of such incidents or activity via the media or other third parties."

Communications

Old AM Broadcast Towers Get a New Life 126

Esther Schindler shares an article from Hewlett Packard Enterprise: Video may have killed the radio star, but other media certainly make old AM radio towers superfluous... maybe. "As once-loyal listeners tune away, most AM stations are barely holding onto life, slashing staff and budgets as deeply as they can while struggling to find a return to profitability," reports HPE. "Once upon a time, having a broadcast license of any kind was like having a permit to print money. In today's world, that's no longer true." But, with some 10,000 AM broadcast towers in the United States stretching high into the sky, there may be an opportunity for wireless carriers who don't want to argue with community opposition from neighborhoods where residents don't want yet another cell tower. The amount of money an AM station owner can pocket by sharing its tower with a wireless partner varies widely, depending on the tower's location, height, and several other factors. But it's certainly more income -- and a way to keep "old" technology from becoming obsolete. "Using an AM tower, which has very often been in place for many years, avoids many zoning and other permitting issues, versus going in and creating a new site for a tower," Behr explains. He says local residents, businesses, and officials rarely complain about an AM broadcast tower that suddenly begins serving as a cell site. "That tower was there before they were, and it doesn't bother them," Lawrence Behr, CEO of Greenville, North Carolina-based LBA Group, says. "Hanging a few things on it is rarely controversial, so that's a real good thing for AMs."
Crime

Genealogy Websites Were Key To Big Break In Golden State Killer Case (nytimes.com) 237

An anonymous reader shares a report from The New York Times: The Golden State Killer raped and murdered victims all across the state of California in an era before Google searches and social media, a time when the police relied on shoe leather, not cellphone records or big data. But it was technology that got him. The suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested by the police on Tuesday. Investigators accuse him of committing more than 50 rapes and 12 murders. Investigators used DNA from crime scenes and plugged that genetic profile into a commercial online genealogy database. They found distant relatives of Mr. DeAngelo's and traced their DNA to him.

"We found a person that was the right age and lived in this area -- and that was Mr. DeAngelo," said Steve Grippi, the assistant chief in the Sacramento district attorney's office. Investigators then obtained what Anne Marie Schubert, the Sacramento district attorney, called "abandoned" DNA samples from Mr. DeAngelo. "You leave your DNA in a place that is a public domain," she said. The test result confirmed the match to more than 10 murders in California. Ms. Schubert's office then obtained a second sample and came back with the same positive result, matching the full DNA profile. Representatives at 23andMe and other gene testing services denied on Thursday that they had been involved in identifying the killer.

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