Facebook

Facebook Open Sources Its Network Routing Platform Open/R (techcrunch.com) 17

Facebook will open source its modular network routing software Open/R, currently used in its backbone and data center networks, which "provides a platform to disseminate state across the network and allows new applications to be built on top of it." An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: Facebook obviously has unique scale needs when it comes to running a network. It has billions of users doing real-time messaging and streaming content at a constant clip. As with so many things, Facebook found that running the network traffic using traditional protocols had its limits and it needed a new way to route traffic that didn't rely on the protocols of the past, Omar Baldonado, Engineering Director at Facebook explained... While it was originally developed for Facebook's Terragraph wireless backhaul network, the company soon recognized it could work on other networks too including the Facebook network backbone, and even in the middle of Facebook network, he said. Given the company's extreme traffic requirements where the conditions were changing so rapidly and was at such scale, they needed a new way to route traffic on the network. "We wanted to find per application, the best path, taking into account dynamic traffic conditions throughout the network," Baldonado said.

But Facebook also recognized that it could only take this so far internally, and if they could work with partners and other network operators and hardware manufacturers, they could extend the capabilities of this tool. They are in fact working with other companies in this endeavor including Juniper and Arista networks, but by open sourcing the software, it allows developers to do things with it that Facebook might not have considered, and their engineering team finds that prospect both exciting and valuable.

"Most protocols were initially designed based on constrained hardware and software environment assumptions from decades ago," Facebook said in its announcement. "To continue delivering rich, real-time, and highly engaging user experiences over networks, it's important to accelerate innovation in the routing domain."
Businesses

Y Combinator Cuts Ties With Peter Thiel After Ending Part-Time Partner Program (buzzfeed.com) 67

An anonymous reader shares a report: Billionaire venture capitalist and Facebook board member Peter Thiel is no longer affiliated with startup accelerator Y Combinator, according to an edited company blog post. Thiel was formerly a part-time partner with the accelerator. BuzzFeed News confirmed his departure with a source familiar with Y Combinator's management structure. Thiel's departure from Y Combinator was not previously announced. It comes long after Y Combinator president Sam Altman defended Thiel's role at the accelerator, following criticism of Thiel's support of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. A source close to Y Combinator said that the company ended its part-time partners program, which Thiel was a part of, some time last year. While some other part-time partners moved over to a program called "experts," which provides advice to Y Combinator entrepreneurs, Thiel did not join.
Businesses

Tim Berners-Lee on the Future of the Web: 'The System is Failing' (theguardian.com) 157

Olivia Solon, writing for The Guardian: The inventor of the world wide web always maintained his creation was a reflection of humanity -- the good, the bad and the ugly. But Berners-Lee's vision for an "open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographical boundaries" has been challenged by increasingly powerful digital gatekeepers whose algorithms can be weaponised by master manipulators. "I'm still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence," said the British computer scientist. "We have to grit our teeth and hang on to the fence and not take it for granted that the web will lead us to wonderful things," he said. The spread of misinformation and propaganda online has exploded partly because of the way the advertising systems of large digital platforms such as Google or Facebook have been designed to hold people's attention. "People are being distorted by very finely trained AIs that figure out how to distract them," said Berners-Lee. In some cases, these platforms offer users who create content a cut of advertising revenue. The financial incentive drove Macedonian teenagers with "no political skin in the game" to generate political clickbait fake news that was distributed on Facebook and funded by revenue from Google's automated advertising engine AdSense. "The system is failing. The way ad revenue works with clickbait is not fulfilling the goal of helping humanity promote truth and democracy. So I am concerned," said Berners-Lee, who in March called for the regulation of online political advertising to prevent it from being used in "unethical ways."
Businesses

The Brutal Fight To Mine Your Data and Sell It To Your Boss (bloomberg.com) 74

An anonymous reader shares a report from Bloomberg, explaining how Silicon Valley makes billions of dollars peddling personal information, supported by an ecosystem of bit players. Editor Drake Bennett highlights the battle between an upstart called HiQ and LinkedIn, who are fighting for your lucrative professional identity. Here's an excerpt from the report: A small number of the world's most valuable companies collect, control, parse, and sell billions of dollars' worth of personal information voluntarily surrendered by their users. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft -- which bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016 -- have in turn spawned dependent economies consisting of advertising and marketing companies, designers, consultants, and app developers. Some operate on the tech giants' platforms; some customize special digital tools; some help people attract more friends and likes and followers. Some, including HiQ, feed off the torrents of information that social networks produce, using software bots to scrape data from profiles. The services of the smaller companies can augment the offerings of the bigger ones, but the power dynamic is deeply asymmetrical, reminiscent of pilot fish picking food from between the teeth of sharks. The terms of that relationship are set by technology, economics, and the vagaries of consumer choice, but also by the law. LinkedIn's May 23 letter to HiQ wasn't the first time the company had taken legal action to prevent the perceived hijacking of its data, and Facebook and Craigslist, among others, have brought similar actions. But even more than its predecessors, this case, because of who's involved and how it's unfolded, has spoken to the thorniest issues surrounding speech and competition on the internet.
AI

Without Humans, Artificial Intelligence Is Still Pretty Stupid (wsj.com) 95

Christopher Mims, writing for WSJ: The internet giants that tout their AI bona fides have tried to make their algorithms as human-free as possible, and that's been a problem. It has become increasingly apparent over the past year that building systems without humans "in the loop" -- especially in the case of Facebook and the ads it linked to 470 "inauthentic" Russian-backed accounts -- can lead to disastrous outcomes, as actual human brains figure out how to exploit them. Whether it's winning at games like Go or keeping watch for Russian influence operations, the best AI-powered systems require humans to play an active role in their creation, tending and operation (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). Facebook, of course, is now a prime example of this trend. The company recently announced it would add 10,000 content moderators to the 10,000 it already employs -- a hiring surge that will impact its future profitability, said Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg.
The Internet

Ads May Soon Stalk You on TV Like They Do on Your Facebook Feed (bloomberg.com) 203

Targeted ads that seem to follow us everywhere online may soon be doing the same on our TV. From a report: The Federal Communications Commission is poised to approve a new broadcast standard that will let broadcasters do something cable TV companies already do: harvest data about what you watch so advertisers can customize pitches. The prospect alarms privacy advocates, who say there are no rules setting boundaries for how broadcasters handle personal information. The FCC doesn't mention privacy in the 109-page proposed rule that is scheduled for a vote by commissioners Thursday. "If the new standard allows broadcasters to collect data in a way they haven't before, I think consumers should know about that," Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, said in an interview. "What privacy protections will apply to that data, and what security protections?" For broadcasters, Next Gen TV represents an advance into the digital world that for decades has been siphoning viewers away to the likes of Facebook, Netflix, Google's YouTube and Amazon's Prime video service.
Facebook

This Time, Facebook Is Sharing Its Employees' Data (fastcompany.com) 45

tedlistens writes from a report via Fast Company: "Facebook routinely shares the sensitive income and employment data of its U.S.-based employees with the Work Number database, owned by Equifax Workforce Solutions," reports Fast Company. "Every week, Facebook provides an electronic data feed of its employees' hourly work and wage information to Equifax Workforce Solutions, formerly known as TALX, a St. Louis-based unit of Equifax, Inc. The Work Number database is managed separately from the Equifax credit bureau database that suffered a breach exposing the data of more than 143 million Americans, but it contains another cache of extensive personal information about Facebook's employees, including their date of birth, social security number, job title, salary, pay raises or decreases, tenure, number of hours worked per week, wages by pay period, healthcare insurance coverage, dental care insurance coverage, and unemployment claim records."

Surprisingly, Facebook is among friends. Every payroll period, Amazon, Microsoft, and Oracle provide an electronic feed of their employees' hourly work and wage information to Equifax. So do Wal-Mart, Twitter, AT&T, Harvard Law School, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Even Edward Snowden's former employer, the sometimes secretive N.S.A. contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, sends salary and other personal data about its employees to the Equifax Work Number database. It now contains over 296 million employment records for employees at all wage levels, from CEOs to interns. The database helps streamline various processes for employers and even federal government agencies, says Equifax. But databases like the Work Number also come with considerable risks. As consumer journalist Bob Sullivan puts it, Equifax, "with the aid of thousands of human resource departments around the country, has assembled what may be the most powerful and thorough private database of Americans' personal information ever created." On October 8, a month after Equifax announced its giant data breach, security expert Brian Krebs uncovered a gaping hole in the separate Work Number online consumer application portal, which allowed anyone to view a person's salary and employment history "using little more than someone's Social Security number and date of birth -- both data elements that were stolen in the recent breach at Equifax."

Security

Man Who Sent GIF of Laughing Mouse To Employer After DDoS Attack Is Now Arrested (bleepingcomputer.com) 75

An anonymous reader writes: The FBI has arrested and charged a man for launching DDoS attacks against a wide range of targets, including his former employer, a Minnesota-based PoS repair shop. The man, who bought access to a VPN but didn't use it all the time, was caught after registering email accounts and sending taunting emails to victims, including his former employer. The taunting emails also included a GIF image of a laughing mouse, which eventually tied the man to the DDoS attacks as well. The guy also uploaded the image on Facebook in a post that asked people to join in DDoS attacks on banks as part of Anonymous' Operation Icarus. The suspect also created the fake email accounts using the name of another former colleague, trying to pin suspicions on him. The FBI was not only able to track the man's real IP address, but they also tied him to attacks without a doubt because he used a DDoS-for-hire service that was hacked and its database was shared with the FBI.
Facebook

Sean Parker Unloads on Facebook 'Exploiting' Human Psychology (axios.com) 285

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, spoke to news outlet Axios about the ways social networks have made hundreds of millions of users addicted to their platforms. He said, from the interview: When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, 'I'm not on social media.' And I would say, 'OK. You know, you will be.' And then they would say, 'No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.' And I would say, ... 'We'll get you eventually. I don't know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and ... it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other ... It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains. The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, ... was all about: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?' And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that's going to get you to contribute more content, and that's going to get you ... more likes and comments. It's a social-validation feedback loop. He says people like him, and Mark Zuckerberg knew the potential consequences, but they did what they did anyway.
China

China Spreads Propaganda to U.S. on Facebook, a Platform it Bans at Home (nytimes.com) 103

Paul Mozur, reporting for the New York Times: China does not allow its people to gain access to Facebook, a powerful tool for disseminating information and influencing opinion. As if to demonstrate the platform's effectiveness, outside its borders China uses it to spread state-produced propaganda around the world, including the United States (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). So much do China's government and companies value Facebook that the country is Facebook's biggest advertising market in Asia, even as it is the only major country in the region that blocks the social network. A look at the Facebook pages of China Central Television, the leading state-owned broadcast network better known as CCTV, and Xinhua, China's official news agency, reveals hundreds of English-language posts intended for an English-speaking audience. Each quarter China's government, through its state media agencies, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy Facebook ads, according to a person with knowledge of those deals, who was unauthorized to talk publicly about the company's revenue streams. China's propaganda efforts are in the spotlight with President Trump visiting the country and American lawmakers investigating foreign powers's use of technology to sway voters in the United States.
Earth

The US Is Now the Only Country In the World To Reject the Paris Climate Deal 718

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Today, Syria announced that it would sign the Paris climate agreement -- a landmark deal that commits almost 200 countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming. With Nicaragua also joining the deal last month, the United States is now the only country in the world that opposes it. In June, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord, unless it is renegotiated to be "fair" to the United States. But other countries in the deal, such as France, Germany, and Italy, said that's not possible. The Trump administration is also taking steps to roll back regulations passed under former President Barack Obama to achieve the emissions reduction goals set under the Paris deal. The U.S. is the second largest emitter of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the world after China. "With Syria's decision, the relentless commitment of the global community to deliver on Paris is more evident than ever," Paula Caballero, director of the climate change program at the World Resources Institute, told the Times. "The U.S.'s stark isolation should give Trump reason to reconsider his ill-advised announcement and join the rest of the world in tackling climate change."
Facebook

Facebook To Fight Revenge Porn by Letting Potential Victims Upload Nudes in Advance (bleepingcomputer.com) 370

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: Facebook is testing new technology that is designed to help victims of revenge porn acts. It works on a database of file hashes, a cryptographic signature computed for each file. Facebook says that once an abuser tries to upload an image marked as "revenge porn" in its database, its system will block the upload process. This will work for images shared on the main Facebook service, but also for images shared privately via Messenger, Facebook's IM app. The weird thing is that in order to build a database of "revenge porn" file hashes, Facebook will rely on potential victims uploading a copy of the nude photo in advance. This process involves the victim sending a copy of the nude photo to his own account, via Facebook Messenger. This implies uploading a copy of the nude photo on Facebook Messenger, the very same act the victim is trying to prevent. The victim can then report the photo to Facebook, which will create a hash of the image that the social network will use to block further uploads of the same photo.
Facebook

How Facebook Figures Out Everyone You've Ever Met (gizmodo.com) 219

"I deleted Facebook after it recommended as People You May Know a man who was defense counsel on one of my cases. We had only communicated through my work email, which is not connected to my Facebook, which convinced me Facebook was scanning my work email," an attorney told Gizmodo. Kashmir Hill, a reporter at the news outlet, who recently documented how Facebook figured out a connection between her and a family member she did not know existed, shares several more instances others have reported and explains how Facebook gathers information. She reports: Behind the Facebook profile you've built for yourself is another one, a shadow profile, built from the inboxes and smartphones of other Facebook users. Contact information you've never given the network gets associated with your account, making it easier for Facebook to more completely map your social connections. Because shadow-profile connections happen inside Facebook's algorithmic black box, people can't see how deep the data-mining of their lives truly is, until an uncanny recommendation pops up. Facebook isn't scanning the work email of the attorney above. But it likely has her work email address on file, even if she never gave it to Facebook herself. If anyone who has the lawyer's address in their contacts has chosen to share it with Facebook, the company can link her to anyone else who has it, such as the defense counsel in one of her cases. Facebook will not confirm how it makes specific People You May Know connections, and a Facebook spokesperson suggested that there could be other plausible explanations for most of those examples -- "mutual friendships," or people being "in the same city/network." The spokesperson did say that of the stories on the list, the lawyer was the likeliest case for a shadow-profile connection. Handing over address books is one of the first steps Facebook asks people to take when they initially sign up, so that they can "Find Friends." The problem with all this, Hill writes, is that Facebook doesn't explicitly say the scale at which it would be using the contact information it gleans from a user's address book. Furthermore, most people are not aware that Facebook is using contact information taken from their phones for these purposes.
United States

The Disappearing American Grad Student (nytimes.com) 268

There are two very different pictures of the students roaming the hallways and labs at New York University's Tandon School of Engineering. At the undergraduate level, 80 percent of the students are United States residents. But that number, The New York Times reports, falls below the 20 percent mark when you move to the graduate level (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled). From the report: The Tandon School -- a consolidation of N.Y.U.'s science, technology, engineering and math programs on its Brooklyn campus -- is an extreme example of how scarce Americans are in graduate programs in STEM. Overall, these programs have the highest percentage of international students of any broad academic field. In the fall of 2015, about 55 percent of all graduate students in mathematics, computer sciences and engineering were from abroad, according to a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board. In arts and humanities, the figure was about 16 percent; in business, a little more than 18 percent. The dearth of Americans is even more pronounced in hot STEM fields like computer science, which serve as talent pipelines for the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft: About 64 percent of doctoral candidates and almost 68 percent in master's programs last year were international students, according to an annual survey of American and Canadian universities by the Computing Research Association. In comparison, only about 9 percent of undergraduates in computer science were international students (perhaps, deans posit, because families are nervous about sending offspring who are barely adults across the ocean to study).
Government

'Panama Papers' Group Strikes Again with 'Paradise Papers' (theguardian.com) 402

Long-time Slashdot reader Freshly Exhumed tipped us off to a new document leak that's just revealed massive tax havens used by the world's most wealthy and powerful people. An anonymous reader quotes the Guardian: The material, which has come from two offshore service providers and the company registries of 19 tax havens, was obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with partners including the Guardian, the BBC and the New York Times. The project has been called the Paradise Papers.
It's the same group responsible for the Panama Papers, and the Guardian reports that in these 13.4 million new files, journalists have discovered:
  • "Aggressive tax avoidance by multinational corporations, including Nike and Apple."

"The publication of this investigation, for which more than 380 journalists have spent a year combing through data that stretches back 70 years, comes at a time of growing global income inequality," reports the Guardian. "Meanwhile, multinational companies are shifting a growing share of profits offshore -- €600 billion in the last year alone -- the leading economist Gabriel Zucman will reveal in a study to be published later this week. "Tax havens are one of the key engines of the rise in global inequality," he said."


AI

Humans Are Still Better Than AI at StarCraft (technologyreview.com) 142

29-year-old professional StarCraft player Song Byung-gu won 4-0 in the world's first contest between AI systems and professional human players, writes MIT Technology Review. An anonymous reader quotes their report: One of the bots, dubbed "CherryPi," was developed by Facebook's AI research lab. The other bots came from Australia, Norway, and Korea. The contest took place at Sejong University in Seoul, Korea, which has hosted annual StarCraft AI competitions since 2010. Those previous events matched AI systems against each other (rather than against humans) and were organized, in part, by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a U.S.-based engineering association.

Though it has not attracted as much global scrutiny as the March 2016 tournament between Alphabet's AlphaGo bot and a human Go champion, the recent Sejong competition is significant because the AI research community considers StarCraft a particularly difficult game for bots to master. Following AlphaGo's lopsided victory over Lee Sedol last year, and other AI achievements in chess and Atari video games, attention shifted to whether bots could also defeat humans in real-time games such as StarCraft... Executives at Alphabet's AI-focused division, DeepMind, have hinted that they are interested in organizing such a competition in the future.

The event wouldn't be much of a contest if it were held now. During the Sejong competition, Song, who ranks among the best StarCraft players globally, trounced all four bots involved in less than 27 minutes total. (The longest match lasted about 10 and a half minutes; the shortest, just four and a half.) That was true even though the bots were able to move much faster and control multiple tasks at the same time. At one point, the StarCraft bot developed in Norway was completing 19,000 actions per minute. Most professional StarCraft players can't make more than a few hundred moves a minute.

Bug

An iOS 11.1 Glitch Is Replacing Vowels (mashable.com) 119

An anonymous reader quotes Mashable: We became privy to a new iPhone keyboard glitch after a few Mashable staffers recently started having issues with their iPhone keyboards, specifically with vowels. The issue started when iOS 11's predictive text feature began to display an odd character in the place of the letter "I," offering up "A[?] instead and autocorrecting within the message field...The bug was also covered by MacRumors, but it appears that my colleagues have even more issues than just the letter "I." One reported that they were also seeing the glitch with the letters "U" and "O" as well, making the problem strictly restricted to vowels. They also said the letters showed up oddly in iMessage on Mac devices, and shared some more screenshots of what the glitch looks like when they went through with sending a message. The glitch wasn't just limited to iMessage, however. My colleagues shared screenshots of their increasingly futile attempts to type out messages on Facebook Messenger...and Twitter.
Apple seems to be acknowledging that the iOS 11.1 glitch may affect iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. "Here's what you can do to work around the issue until it's fixed by a future software update," Apple posted on a support page, advising readers to "Try setting up Text Replacement for the letter 'i'."
Social Networks

9.6% of Facebook's Users 'May Be Fakes' (nytimes.com) 96

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times: Facebook estimates that about 200 million of its more than 2.07 billion users may be fakes... [Non-paywalled article here.] Colin Stretch, the general counsel of Facebook, told the Senate Intelligence Committee the company was doubling its review staff to 20,000 and using artificial intelligence to find more "bad actors"... Sean Edgett, Twitter's general counsel, testified before Congress that about 5 percent of its 330 million users are "false accounts or spam," which would add up to more than 16 million fakes.

Independent experts say the real numbers are far higher. On Twitter, little more than an email address is needed to start tweeting. Facebook's requirement that users be their authentic selves means the company asks for a smattering of information to sign up -- name, birthday, gender and email address. But few checks exist to verify if that information is true when a user signs up.

The Courts

Advice To Twitter Worker Who Deactivated Trump's Account: 'Get A Lawyer' (thehill.com) 271

An anonymous reader quotes The Hill: A prominent attorney for cybersecurity issues has this advice to the unnamed Twitter worker said to have pulled the plug on President Trump's Twitter account: "Don't say anything and get a lawyer." Tor Ekeland told The Hill that while the facts of the case are still unclear and the primary law used to prosecute hackers is murky and unevenly applied, there is a reasonable chance the Twitter worker violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act...widely considered to be, as Ekeland explained it, "a mess." Various courts around the country have come up with seemingly contradictory rulings on what unauthorized access actually means. Ekeland said the Ninth Circuit, covering the state of California, has itself issued rulings at odds with itself that would have an impact on the Trump Twitter account fiasco as a potential case. The Ninth Circuit ruled that employees do not violate the law if they exceed their workplace computer policies. It has also ruled that employees who have been told they do not have permission to access a system cannot legally access it. Depending on which ruling a court leans on the hardest, a current Twitter employee without permission to shutter accounts may have violated the law by nixing Trump's account.
Ekeland points out that just $5,000 worth of damage could carry a 10-year prison sentence.

Friday the New York Times also reported that the worker responsible wasn't even a Twitter employee, but a hired contractor, adding that "nearly every" major tech company uses contractors for non-technical positions, including Google, Apple, and Facebook.
Facebook

Facebook, Twitter and Google Berated by Senators on Russia (bbc.com) 176

From a BBC report: Russian operatives, likely working from St Petersburg, provoked angry Americans to take to the streets, a US Senate committee heard on Wednesday. The May 2016 protest, arranged by a group named Heart of Texas, was one example of Kremlin-backed efforts to destabilise the American electoral process. Lawyers for three technology companies -- Facebook, Twitter and Google -- were told they were grossly underestimating the scale of the problem. "You just don't get it," said California Senator Dianne Feinstein. "What we're talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we're talking about is the beginning of cyber-warfare." She added: "We are not going to go away, gentlemen. This is a very big deal." [...] Several senators suggested that more hearings and consultation would be needed, expressing their frustration that the companies were not being represented by higher-ranking executives. "I'm disappointed that you're here, and not your CEOs," said independent senator Angus King. From a FastCompany report: Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) had one specific and simple question for Facebook's Colin Stretch. He wanted to know about 30,000 fake accounts Facebook discovered earlier this year that were trying to influence the French election. At the time, Facebook bragged that it was able to discover these accounts and swiftly took them down. Warner wanted to know if Facebook, after discovering these accounts, cross-checked to see if these same accounts also tried to tamper with the U.S. election. "Your leadership bragged about how proactively you were in the French election process," said Warner, "Did you check those accounts [with the U.S. election]?" Stretch couldn't give a straight answer. "The system that ran to take down those accounts -- which were fake accounts of all type and any purpose -- is now active worldwide," he said. Warner wasn't amused. "Just answer my question," he said. "Have you reviewed the accounts you took down in France that were Russian-related to see if they played any role in the American election?" Once again, Facebook couldn't answer.

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