Google

James Damore Explains Why He Was Fired By Google (wsj.com) 1231

In an exclusive Wall Street Journal post, the engineer responsible for the anti-diversity "Google manifesto," James Damore, explains why he was fired by the company: I was fired by Google this past Monday for a document that I wrote and circulated internally raising questions about cultural taboos and how they cloud our thinking about gender diversity at the company and in the wider tech sector. I suggested that at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences (and, yes, I said that bias against women was a factor too). Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai declared that portions of my statement violated the company's code of conduct and "cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace." My 10-page document set out what I considered a reasoned, well-researched, good-faith argument, but as I wrote, the viewpoint I was putting forward is generally suppressed at Google because of the company's "ideological echo chamber." My firing neatly confirms that point. How did Google, the company that hires the smartest people in the world, become so ideologically driven and intolerant of scientific debate and reasoned argument? [...]

In my document, I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment. When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored. Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and the wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed -- that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same -- could not let this public offense go unpunished. They sent angry emails to Google's human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation and atonement. Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn't really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views. When the whole episode finally became a giant media controversy, thanks to external leaks, Google had to solve the problem caused by my supposedly sexist, anti-diversity manifesto, and the whole company came under heated and sometimes threatening scrutiny.

China

China's VPN Developers Face Crackdown (bbc.com) 55

China recently launched a crackdown on the use of software which allows users to get around its heavy internet censorship. Now as the BBC reports, developers are facing growing pressure. From the report: The three plain-clothes policemen tracked him down using a web address. They came to his house and demanded to see his computer. They told him to take down the app he was selling on Apple's App Store, and filmed it as it was happening. His crime was to develop and sell a piece of software that allows people to get round the tough restrictions that limit access to the internet in China. A virtual private network (VPN) uses servers abroad to provide a secure link to the internet. It's essential in China if you want to access parts of the outside world like Facebook, Gmail or YouTube, all of which are blocked on the mainland. "They insisted they needed to see my computer," the software developer, who didn't want us to use his name, told us during a phone interview. "I said this is my private stuff. How can you search as you please?" No warrant was produced and when he asked them what law he had violated they didn't say. Initially he refused to co-operate but, fearing detention, he relented. Then they told him what they wanted: "If you take the app off the shelf from Apple's App Store then this will be all over." 'Sorry, I can't help you with that'. Up until a few months ago his was a legal business. Then the government changed the regulations. VPN sellers need a licence now.
Software

Cable Giants Step Up Piracy Battle By Interrogating Montreal Software Developer (www.cbc.ca) 185

New submitter wierzpio writes: In more news about TVAddons, Canadian cable companies used a civil search warrant to visit the owner and developer of TVAddons, a library of hundreds of apps known as add-ons that allow people easy access to pirated movies, TV shows, and live TV. According to Adam Lackman, founder of TVAddons and defendant in the copyright lawsuit launched by the television giants, "The whole experience was horrifying. It felt like the kind of thing you would have expected to have happened in the Soviet Union." During the 16 hour-long visit, he was interrogated, denied the right not to answer the questions, and denied the right to consult his answers with his lawyer, who was present. His personal possessions were seized. Adam is fighting back (link to Indiegogo fundraising page) and already the judge declared the search warrant "null and void." "I am of the view that its true purpose was to destroy the livelihood of the defendant, deny him the financial resources to finance a defense to the claim made against him," the judge wrote. "The defendant has demonstrated that he has an arguable case that he is not violating the [Copyright] Act," the judge continued, adding that by the plaintiffs' own estimate, only about one per cent of Lackman's add-ons were allegedly used to pirate content. Lackman's belongings still haven't been returned, and he can't acess the TVAddons website or its social media accounts, which were also seized. "Bell, Rogers and Videotron has appealed the court decision and a Federal Court of Appeal judge has ruled that until the appeal can be hard, Lackman will get nothing back," reports cbc.ca.
Censorship

Joining Apple, Amazon's China Cloud Service Bows To Censors (nytimes.com) 51

Days after Apple yanked anti-censorship tools off its app store in China, another major American technology company is moving to implement the country's tough restrictions on online content. From a report: A Chinese company that operates Amazon's cloud-computing and online services business there said on Tuesday that it told local customers to cease using any software that would allow Chinese to circumvent the country's extensive system of internet blocks (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). The company, called Beijing Sinnet Technology and operator of the American company's Amazon Web Services operations in China, sent one round of emails to customers on Friday and another on Monday. "If users don't comply with the guidance, the offered services and their websites can be shut down," said a woman surnamed Wang who answered a Sinnet service hotline. "We the operators also check routinely if any of our users use these softwares or store illegal content." Ms. Wang said the letter was sent according to recent guidance from China's Ministry of Public Security and the country's telecom regulator. Amazon did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment. The emails are the latest sign of a widening push by China's government to block access to software that gets over the Great Firewall -- the nickname for the sophisticated internet filters that China uses to stop its people from gaining access to Facebook, Google and Twitter, as well as foreign news media outlets.
Privacy

Russia Bans VPNs To Stop Users From Looking at Censored Sites (cnn.com) 119

Russia is cracking down on software that allows users to view internet sites banned by the government. From a report: President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill that prohibits services, including virtual private networks (VPNs), that enable users to skirt government censorship efforts. The law will take effect on November 1. Russian internet regulator Roskomnadzor maintains a blacklist of thousands of websites. Leonid Levin, chairman of a parliamentary committee on information policy and communications, said the law signed by Putin does not "introduce any new restrictions and especially no censorship." "My colleagues only included the restriction of access to information that is already forbidden by law or a court decision," he told state news agency RIA Novosti earlier this month.
China

Apple Pulls Anti-Censorship Apps from China's App Store (fortune.com) 108

An anonymous reader quotes Fortune:Services helping Chinese users circumvent the "Great Firewall of China" have been pulled from Apple's Chinese App Store en masse. On Saturday morning, at least some software makers affected by the sweep received notification from Apple that their tools were removed for violating Chinese law. Internet censorship in China restricts communications about topics including democracy, Tibetan freedom, and the 1989 Tienanmen Square protests. The culling primarily seems to have affected virtual private networks, or VPNs, which mask users' Internet activity and data from outside monitoring. According to a report by the New York Times, many of the most popular such apps are now missing from the Chinese App Store.
Youtube

YouTube Will Now Redirect Searches For Extremist Videos To Anti-Terrorist Playlists (tubefilter.com) 136

YouTube will return anti-terrorist playlists when users search for hateful content on the site using certain keywords pertaining to terrorism. Tubefilter.com reports: The new feature, dubbed The Redirect Method, is part of a four-prong strategy announced by Google last month to quash extremist ideologies across its platforms. The Redirect Method was developed by Jigsaw -- an Alphabet subsidiary whose mission is to counter extremism, censorship, and cyber attacks -- alongside another tech company called Moonshot CVE (which stands for "Countering Violent Extremism"). Jigsaw and Moonshot CVE developed the tech after studying, over several years, how terrorist factions like ISIS leverage technology to spread their messaging and recruit new followers. In coming weeks, YouTube says it intends to incorporate The Redirect Method into a wider set of search queries in languages beyond English, use machine learning to dynamically update search terms, work with partner NGOs to develop new anti-extremist content, and roll out the Method to Europe.
EU

EU Court to Rule On 'Right to Be Forgotten' Outside Europe (wsj.com) 182

The European Union's top court is set to decide whether the bloc's "right to be forgotten" policy stretches beyond Europe's borders, a test of how far national laws can -- or should -- stretch when regulating cyberspace. From a report: The case stems from France, where the highest administrative court on Wednesday asked the EU's Court of Justice to weigh in on a dispute between Alphabet's Google and France's privacy regulator over how broadly to apply the right (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source), which allows EU residents to ask search engines to remove some links from searches for their own names. At issue: Can France force Google to apply it not just to searches in Europe, but anywhere in the world? The case will set a precedent for how far EU regulators can go in enforcing the bloc's strict new privacy law. It will also help define Europe's position on clashes between governments over how to regulate everything that happens on the internet -- from political debate to online commerce. France's regulator says enforcement of some fundamental rights -- like personal privacy -- is too easily circumvented on the borderless internet, and so must be implemented everywhere. Google argues that allowing any one country to apply its rules globally risks upsetting international law and, when it comes to content, creates a global censorship race among autocrats.
China

China's Censors Can Now Erase Images Mid-Transmission (wsj.com) 90

Eva Dou, reporting for WSJ: China's already formidable internet censors have demonstrated a new strength -- the ability to delete images in one-on-one chats as they are being transmitted, making them disappear before receivers see them. The ability is part of a broader technology push by Beijing's censors to step up surveillance and get ahead of activists and others communicating online in China (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). Displays of this new image-filtering capability kicked into high gear last week as Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo lay dying from liver cancer and politically minded Chinese tried to pay tribute to him, according to activists and a new research report. Wu Yangwei, a friend of the long-jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said he used popular messaging app WeChat to send friends a photo of a haggard Mr. Liu embracing his wife. Mr. Wu believed the transmissions were successful, but he said his friends never saw them. "Sometimes you can get around censors by rotating the photo," said Mr. Wu, a writer better known by his pen name, Ye Du. "But that doesn't always work." There were disruptions on Tuesday to another popular messaging app, Facebook's WhatsApp, with many China-based users saying they were unable to send photos and videos without the use of software that circumvents Chinese internet controls. Text messages appeared to be largely unaffected.
Media

Free Speech vs Billionaires: Netflix Streams A New Documentary About The Gawker Verdict (businessinsider.com) 199

Speaking of Netflix, last month they began streaming "Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press" -- a new documentary by Brian Knappenberger about the Gawker verdict. An anonymous reader shares this description from Business Insider: Knappenberger -- who previously made the movies "The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz," on internet activist Aaron Swartz, and "We Are Legion," about the hacker group Anonymous -- got in touch with Nick Denton and Gawker editor-in-chief (who also posted the Hogan sex tape video) A.J. Daulerio to be in the film as well as Hogan's lawyer David R. Houston... Knappenberger said he also tried to get Peter Thiel to be in the movie, but Thiel declined Knappenberger's numerous requests. And the movie shows how other people with money and influence can and do silence the media.

Knappenberger also showcases what happened to the Las Vegas Review-Journal at the end of 2015. The paper's staff was suddenly told that the paper had been sold, though they were never told who the new publisher was. A group of reporters found that the son-in-law of Las Vegas casino titan Sheldon Adelson was a major player in the purchase of the paper. According to the movie, Adelson had a vendetta with the paper's columnist John L. Smith, who wrote unflattering things about him in a 2005 book. Smith was even ordered after the paper was bought that he was never to write about Adelson in any of his pieces. For Knappenberger, there's no other way to look at it: The suppression of the media by billionaires is happening.

Knappenberger said if any legal documents arrive from the billionaires discussed in his movie, "We're ready for it." But he added that the bigger issue is getting people to understand that the loss of the free press is "the most important thing facing our country." Or, as a former Gawker editor says in the film, "If you're not pissing off a billionaire, what's the point?"
China

China Tells Carriers To Block Access to Personal VPNs By February (bloomberg.com) 173

China's government has told telecommunications carriers to block individuals' access to virtual private networks by Feb. 1, people familiar with the matter said, thereby shutting a major window to the global internet. From a report: Beijing has ordered state-run telecommunications firms, which include China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, to bar people from using VPNs, services that skirt censorship restrictions by routing web traffic abroad, the people said, asking not to be identified talking about private government directives. The clampdown will shutter one of the main ways in which people both local and foreign still manage to access the global, unfiltered web on a daily basis. China has one of the world's most restrictive internet regimes, tightly policed by a coterie of government regulators intent on suppressing dissent to preserve social stability. In keeping with President Xi Jinping's "cyber sovereignty" campaign, the government now appears to be cracking down on loopholes around the Great Firewall, a system that blocks information sources from Twitter and Facebook to news websites such as the New York Times and others.
Facebook

Facebook's Secret Censorship Rules Protect White Men From Hate Speech But Not Black Children (propublica.org) 355

Sidney Fussell from Gizmodo summarizes a report from ProPublica, which brings to light dozens of training documents used by Facebook to train moderators on hate speech: As the trove of slides and quizzes reveals, Facebook uses a warped, one-sided reasoning to balance policing hate speech against users' freedom of expression on the platform. This is perhaps best summarized by the above image from one of its training slideshows, wherein Facebook instructs moderators to protect "White Men," but not "Female Drivers" or "Black Children." Facebook only blocks inflammatory remarks if they're used against members of a "protected class." But Facebook itself decides who makes up a protected class, with lots of clear opportunities for moderation to be applied arbitrarily at best and against minoritized people critiquing those in power (particularly white men) at worst -- as Facebook has been routinely accused of. According to the leaked documents, here are the group identifiers Facebook protects: Sex, Religious affiliation, National origin, Gender identity, Race, Ethnicity, Sexual Orientation, Serious disability or disease. And here are those Facebook won't protect: Social class, continental origin, appearance, age, occupation, political ideology, religions, countries. Subsets of groups -- female drivers, Jewish professors, gay liberals -- aren't protected either, as ProPublica explains: White men are considered a group because both traits are protected, while female drivers and black children, like radicalized Muslims, are subsets, because one of their characteristics is not protected.
China

Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument (cnet.com) 69

Abstract of a study: The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called "50c party" posts vociferously argue for the government's side in political and policy debates. As we show, this is also true of the vast majority of posts openly accused on social media of being 50c. Yet, almost no systematic empirical evidence exists for this claim, or, more importantly, for the Chinese regime's strategic objective in pursuing this activity. In the first large scale empirical analysis of this operation, we show how to identify the secretive authors of these posts, the posts written by them, and their content. We estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year. In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime's strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. From a CNET article, titled, Chinese media told to 'shut down' talk that makes country look bad: Being an internet business in China appears to be getting tougher. Chinese broadcasters, including social media platform Weibo, streamer Acfun and media company Ifeng were told to shut down all audio and visual content that cast the country or its government in bad light, China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television posted on its website on Thursday, saying they violate local regulations. "[The service providers] broadcast large amounts of programmes that don't comply with national rules and propagate negative discussions about public affairs. [The agency] has notified all relevant authorities and ... will take measures to shut down these programmes and rectify the situation," reads the statement.
Youtube

Google Announces New Measures To Fight Extremist YouTube Videos (cnet.com) 286

An anonymous reader quotes CNET: YouTube will take new steps to combat extremist- and terrorist-related videos, parent company Google said Sunday. "While we and others have worked for years to identify and remove content that violates our policies, the uncomfortable truth is that we, as an industry, must acknowledge that more needs to be done. Now," Kent Walker, Google's general counsel, said in an op-ed column in the London-based Financial Times.
Here's CNET's summary of the four new measure Google is implementing:
  • Use "more engineering resources to apply our most advanced machine learning research to train new 'content classifiers' to help us more quickly identify and remove such content."
  • Expand YouTube's Trusted Flagger program by adding 50 independent, "expert" non-governmental organizations to the 63 groups already part of it. Google will offer grants to fund the groups.
  • Take a "tougher stance on videos that do not clearly violate our policies -- for example, videos that contain inflammatory religious or supremacist content." Such videos will "appear behind a warning" and will not be "monetized, recommended or eligible for comments or user endorsements."
  • Expand YouTube's efforts in counter-radicalization. "We are working with Jigsaw to implement the 'redirect method' more broadly. ... This promising approach harnesses the power of targeted online advertising to reach potential Isis recruits, and redirects them towards anti-terrorist videos that can change their minds about joining."

Businesses

Can Twitter Survive By Becoming A User-Owned Co-Op? (salon.com) 124

What's going to happen now that Twitter's stock price has dropped from $66 a share to just $18? An anonymous reader quotes Salon: A small group of shrewd Twitter users and shareholders have come up with proposals to fundamentally restructure the way Twitter is controlled, to turn the company into a public service by removing the need to feed investors' ceaseless appetite for hitting quarterly growth benchmarks... Sonja Trauss, a Bay Area housing policy activist, and Twitter shareholder Alex Chiang proposed earlier this year a resolution for the company's recent annual shareholder vote to promote ways to get Twitter users to buy stock in the company, such as offering ways to buy shares directly through the Twitter website and mobile app. If many individual Twitter users each owned a small piece of the company, then they could participate collectively (through the annual shareholder voting process) in steering the direction of the company.

The idea makes sense from a labor standpoint. Twitter's value comes from user's tweets, which provides the backbone for digital advertising revenue. Twitter also sells this user-generated data to third parties that use it mainly for market research. This bloc of user-shareholders could theoretically overtake the control major institutional shareholders...have over the company. Because a lot of owners of a few shares of the company would have little to lose if the stock price doesn't grow or wavers, Twitter would be less beholden to meeting Wall Street's often brutal expectations.

China

China To Implement Cyber Security Law From Thursday (reuters.com) 59

China, battling increased threats from cyber-terrorism and hacking, will adopt from Thursday a controversial law that mandates strict data surveillance and storage for firms working in the country, the official Xinhua news agency said. From a report: The law, passed in November by the country's largely rubber-stamp parliament, bans online service providers from collecting and selling users' personal information, and gives users the right to have their information deleted, in cases of abuse. "Those who violate the provisions and infringe on personal information will face hefty fines," the news agency said on Monday, without elaborating.
Wikipedia

Wikipedia's Switch To HTTPS Has Successfully Fought Government Censorship (vice.com) 170

Determining how to prevent acts of censorship has long been a priority for the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, and thanks to new research from the Harvard Center for Internet and Society, the foundation seems to have found a solution: encryption. From a report: HTTPS prevents governments and others from seeing the specific page users are visiting. For example, a government could tell that a user is browsing Wikipedia, but couldn't tell that the user is specifically reading the page about Tiananmen Square. Up until 2015, Wikipedia offered its service using both HTTP and HTTPS, which meant that when countries like Pakistan or Iran blocked the certain articles on the HTTP version of Wikipedia, the full version would still be available using HTTPS. But in June 2015, Wikipedia decided to axe HTTP access and only offer access to its site with HTTPS. [...] The Harvard researchers began by deploying an algorithm which detected unusual changes in Wikipedia's global server traffic for a year beginning in May 2015. This data was then combined with a historical analysis of the daily request histories for some 1.7 million articles in 286 different languages from 2011 to 2016 in order to determine possible censorship events. [...] After a painstakingly long process of manual analysis of potential censorship events, the researchers found that, globally, Wikipedia's switch to HTTPS had a positive effect on the number censorship events by comparing server traffic from before and after the switch in June of 2015.
Censorship

Egypt Blocks 21 Websites For 'Terrorism' And 'Fake News' (reuters.com) 55

Ahmed Aboulenein, reporting for Reuters: Egypt has banned 21 websites, including the main website of Qatar-based Al Jazeera television and prominent local independent news site Mada Masr, accusing them of supporting terrorism and spreading false news. The blockade is notable in scope and for being the first publicly recognized by the government. It was heavily criticized by journalists and rights groups. The state news agency announced it late on Wednesday. Individual websites had been inaccessible in the past but there was never any official admission. Reuters found the websites named by local media and were inaccessible. The move follows similar actions taken on Wednesday by Egypt's Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which blocked Al Jazeera and other websites after a dispute with Qatar. From a separate report: "This is not the typical Egyptian regime attitude," Lina Attalah, the editor-in-chief of Mada Masr told BuzzFeed News in an interview in Cairo. "We are used to facing troubles with the regime since we have always chosen to write the stories they don't like to hear. We are used to being arrested or have cases filed against us, but blocking us is a new thing." Mada Masr, since its founding in 2013, has regularly published critical stories of the regime in both English and Arabic.
China

China Censored Google's AlphaGo Match Against World's Best Go Player (theguardian.com) 93

DeepMind's board game-playing AI, AlphaGo, may well have won its first game against the Go world number one, Ke Jie, from China -- but most Chinese viewers could not watch the match live. From a report: The Chinese government had issued a censorship notice to broadcasters and online publishers, warning them against livestreaming Tuesday's game, according to China Digital Times, a site that regularly posts such notices in the name of transparency. "Regarding the go match between Ke Jie and AlphaGo, no website, without exception, may carry a livestream," the notice read. "If one has been announced in advance, please immediately withdraw it." The ban did not just cover video footage: outlets were banned from covering the match live in any way, including text commentary, social media, or push notifications. It appears the government was concerned that 19-year-old Ke, who lost the first of three scheduled games by a razor-thin half-point margin, might have suffered a more damaging defeat that would hurt the national pride of a state which holds Go close to its heart.
Censorship

FCC Won't Punish Stephen Colbert For Controversial Trump Insult (slashdot.org) 305

Earlier this month, the FCC said it would look into complaints made against The Late Show host Stephen Colbert over a homophobic joke he made about President Donald Trump. Well, it turns out the FCC is not going to levy a fine against the comedian for using the word "cock" on late-night network television, reports The Verge. From the report: "Consistent with standard operating procedure, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau has reviewed the complaints and the material that was the subject of these complaints," reads the FCC's statement, according to Variety. "The Bureau has concluded that there was nothing actionable under the FCC's rules." Helping Colbert's case was the fact that the broadcast, time delayed for incidents like these, bleeped out the questionable word and also blurred the host's mouth as he was saying it. The FCC has broad authority to regulate what can and cannot be broadcast based on legal precedent regarding obscenity laws. Yet looser rules apply during the hours of 10PM and 6AM ET, when Colbert's show airs. So it would appear that the ample self-censorship on behalf of CBS saved the program from a guilty verdict in this case.

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