China bans Facebook messaging service WhatsApp

The Chinese government has disabled Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp, the New York Times reports.

Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at Paris-based research firm Symbolic Software, told the Times his company began noticing slowdowns in the service Wednesday. By Monday, the block had become comprehensive.

Authorities blocked video-chat and file-sharing functions within WhatsApp in mid-July, but the app’s messaging capabilities, which employ a rare and strong form of encryption, remained functional. The government lifted bans on video chat and file sharing later, but has since disabled the app in its entirety, reports say.

WhatsApp’s messaging service uses a renowned end-to-end encryption technique. As the Times explains it, even Facebook itself cannot decode messages sent via the app. The encryption method is not widely used and is therefore difficult to compromise.

But the ban, as the Times points out, indicates that Chinese authorities have developed a means by which to breach WhatsApp messaging encryption.

“This is not the typical technical method in which the Chinese government censors something,” Kobeissi said.

Censorship of various technological communication services is commonplace in the country. If the government does not disable a service entirely, it slows down that service to such a degree that it becomes unusable.

“If you’re only allowed to drive one mile per hour, you’re not going to drive on that road, even if it’s not technically blocked,” Lokman Tsui, an internet communications specialist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, explained to the Times.

The goal of the censorship is to funnel users toward a handful of communication services that the government can easily monitor. WeChat is one such service. It is similar to WhatsApp except that the former, according to the Times, offers broader functionality.

Tencent, the company that runs WeChat, is based in Shenzhen and has said that it will comply with the government’s requests for information. In total, 963 million people use WeChat, the Times says.

Services like WhatsApp and WeChat have largely replaced e-mail in China, and are vital to many business operations. A large number of China-based businesses were unwilling to use WeChat, whether because of the threat of surveillance or some other reason.

Some former WhatsApp users in China expressed frustration on social media, the Times reports.

“Losing contact with my clients, forced back to the age of telephone and email for work now,” one user complained on Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging site.

“Even WhatsApp is blocked now? I’m going to be out of business soon,” another person said via the same site.

WhatsApp was the last Facebook product available in mainland China, the Times says. The country banned the company’s main social media site in 2009. Instagram, another Facebook offering, is disabled as well.

The WhatsApp ban represents a setback for the social media behemoth, whose founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has been advocating and taking steps toward re-entering the Chinese market.

The handful of American-created communication services China does tolerate include Microsoft’s Skype and Apple’s FaceTime. The former does not employ end-to-end encryption, the Times points out, and is, therefore, easier for the government to monitor. The latter does use end-to-end encryption but is less secure than WhatsApp.

The Times notes that the Office of the United States Trade Representative is investigating whether Chinese authorities have violated the intellectual property rights of American citizens. The Office has not clarified whether it will consider the bans as part of the investigation, or merely look for cases in which China has stolen US technology.

The WhatsApp ban comes just prior to the country’s Communist Party Congress on October 18, during which authorities appoint the leaders of the party, who in turn run the country.

According to the Times, the meeting, which the country holds once every five years, will likely reinstall President Xi Jinping as party leader. The question remains as to who will join Xi on the Standing Committee of Politburo, the party’s highest ranking group.

Under Xi’s leadership, the Times notes, China has tightened censorship, closed several churches and jailed a number of human rights activists.

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Spanish Data Protection Agency fines Facebook $1.4 billion

The Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) has fined Facebook €1.2 million (just under $1.44 million) for three violations of data protection laws, TechCrunch reports. The two less serious infractions carry fines of €300,000; the more serious one would cost the social networking giant €600,000.

The AEPD’s investigation found that Facebook’s privacy policy contains “generic and unclear terms,” and does not adequately familiarize a user possessing “an average knowledge of the new technologies” with the ways in which his/her personal data is collected, stored and used, the regulator said.

Facebook gathers data from users’ actions on its site, as well as from third parties. The company uses some of that data for advertising purposes, and some for “secret,” undisclosed purposes, according to the AEPD. Facebook also gathers data regarding people’s behavior on third-party sites that feature embedded Facebook “Like” buttons.

The AEPD says Facebook collects the personal data even of internet users who do not hold accounts with the social media service when such users visit a Facebook page. The company tracks account holders’ behavior on third-party sites, even when an account holder is not logged into Facebook. In this last case, the AEPD says, “the platform adds the information collected in [third-party] pages to the one associated with your account on the social network.”

Non-Facebook users, then, are unaware that the social media company is harvesting their personal data, and Facebook account holders are unaware of the nature and extent of the data being harvested. Other European regulators, TechCrunch notes, have made similar accusations against the company.

The AEPD also alleges that Facebook unlawfully retains the data it has collected from a given user even after that user terminates his/her Facebook account. The company “captures and treats information [concerning former users who have deleted their accounts] for more than 17 months [after an account has been terminated] through a deleted account cookie,” the regulator says, even though the information in question is “no longer useful for the purpose for which [it was allegedly] collected.”

Facebook intends to appeal the AEPD’s ruling even though, as TechCrunch notes, the $1.4 million sum of the fines represent but a minute fraction of the $27.64 billion in revenue the company reported in 2016. The motivation behind Facebook’s appeal of the penalties, then, is not financial but political. The company aims to protect its public image by proving that it does not violate users’ privacy.

“We take note of the DPA’s decision with which we respectfully disagree. Whilst we value the opportunities we’ve had to engage with the DPA to reinforce how seriously we take the privacy of people who use Facebook, we intend to appeal this decision. As we made clear to the DPA, users choose which information they want to add to their profile and share with others, such as their religion. However, we do not use this information to target adverts to people,” Facebook said in a statement.

Facebook also contends that because its headquarters of its European operations are situated in Ireland, the company is subject only to Irish data protection laws.

In May, the EU is scheduled to implement tighter General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will permit fines of up to four percent of a company’s global annual turnover, according to TechCrunch. Should Facebook be convicted of an infraction under the new rules, the company could face a fine of as much as $1 billion.

The new GDPR will also expand the definition of personal data and give EU citizens the right to demand that their personal data be deleted. It will likely also allow regulators across the EU to work together to police companies like Facebook that operate across multiple jurisdictions.

Per TechCrunch, Facebook says it has assembled “the largest cross functional team in the history of the Facebook family” to “fully analyze the legislation and help us understand what this would mean from a legal, policy and product perspective.”

“Ahead of next May we are working with our product, design and engineering teams to enhance existing products and build new products in a way that simultaneously provides an intuitive, user-centric experience and permits us to meet our obligations under the GDPR,” said Stephen Deadman, Facebook’s deputy chief global privacy officer, in a statement.

The privacy policy, the AEPD contends, contains “generic and unclear terms,” and “inaccurately” describes the manner in which Facebook uses user data.

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Google is helping online news companies get money out of readers

Google is developing tools to help online news companies get people to give them money, as the Verge reports. It remains unclear how much of that money Google intends to keep for itself.

The plan is to make it harder for people who can pay to read without paying. The changes should come in September.

Arguably, companies like Google and Facebook are themselves responsible for robbing online news organizations of digital advertising dollars in the first place by chewing up 60 percent the market. That’s part of why news organizations need subscriber money so badly.

Since the internet virtually wiped out physical news subscriptions, news companies have had to hustle to find new sources of money while retaining their journalistic credibility. Many reputable news sites have put up pay walls, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. While non-subscribers are allowed to view a limited number of articles on these sites, only paying subscribers have full access to all articles.

Google’s plan includes allowing non-subscribing readers to access full articles if they arrive at the site via Google search. The plan also includes other strategies designed to bolster subscriber numbers. Overall, the effort is intended to make it easier and faster for readers to subscribe, partly by better targeting readers using Google’s tremendous stores of data.

As Bloomberg reported, the New York Times and the Financial Times are among the news organizations working with Google.

In February, the Wall Street Journal struck back at Google’s search results policies which it claimed “discriminated” against paid news organizations. Google’s policy is not to list search results which are hidden behind a paywall.

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Facebook is making moves in the realm of video

In an effort to break into the video entertainment market, Facebook is introducing a new video platform called Watch. The platform will be made available to a select group of Facebook users today. Everyone else will have to wait to try it.

In making this move, Facebook is most likely looking to open up new sources of revenue. If Facebook Watch catches on, users will spend more time on Facebook watching TV-length videos. That means that users will be exposed to more ads, thus generating more revenue for Facebook. And users won’t be required to pay for a subscription.

According to Facebook, Watch will be special among streaming video platforms because it can make TV-watching more social. Users will be able to comment on videos and to see what videos their friends are watching and commenting on. Each user will be watching alongside all two billion other Facebook users.

Watch will have two main components: a watchlist and a discovery section. The discovery section will be a feed of videos curated for you based on your Facebook profile. It will also suggest videos to you based on your friends’ activity on Facebook. It will include subdivisions such as “Most talked about” and “What’s making people laugh,” which is made up of videos that many people responded to with “Haha.”

Although Facebook has a huge user base, it still has ways to go in the realm of online video. Netflix, Youtube, Amazon, and Hulu have already come to dominate the market. Users may be reluctant to migrate their TV-watching time from those services over to Facebook Watch.

Facebook will offer a wide variety of programming on Watch. Some shows will focus on direct communication with their audiences through social media. Other shows might have long narrative arcs, like conventional TV shows.

So far, the list of programs available on the platform includes Gabby BernsteinNas Daily, Returning the Favor, and Kitchen Little, among others. Additionally, Facebook has permission from Major League Baseball to broadcast one game live per week.

Facebook funded these early programs in order to “seed the system,” but it does not intend to continue to fund new shows for very long. Eventually, anyone will be able to post videos to Watch, but they won’t get any money from Facebook to get going. By then, Facebook plans to take 45% of ad revenue from shows on Watch.

You can read Facebook’s statement on the launch of Watch here.

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Google and Facebook have a duopoly

The field of digital marketing is dominated by two Silicon Valley superpowers: Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc, the latter of which controls Google and a family of other companies including YouTube.

Google and Facebook, which also controls Instagram, both have enormous masses of users and data. That gives them an advantage in the online advertising market since they can gather data about their users and deploy targeted ads to maximize users’ clicks and their own revenue.

Independent online advertising-focused companies have found it difficult to wrest market control from Facebook and Google. Although networks and service providers such as Verizon have tried to gain a foothold in mobile advertising, the two superpowers remain dominant.

In fact, Facebook and Google are so completely dominant that the research firm eMarketer predicts this year the two will take in 60 percent of revenue in the United States, and about half worldwide. (Reuters)

In the last quarter, both Facebook and Google proved enormously profitable. Each generated billions in profits.

Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research, claims that digital marketing is approaching a saturation point, past which point growth will slow and revenues will settle. Although Facebook and Google are experiencing quick growth in the market now, there are limits to the growth of the market itself. Wieser worries that the investment community has not fully appreciated this prediction.

In the past month, a group of news organizations banded together to lobby to be able to negotiate jointly when dealing with Facebook and Google. Antitrust law normally prohibits this kind of coordination.

Some people are worried that the sheer size of Facebook and Google will reduce marketplace competition and result in a worse result for the consumer. However, Facebook and Google don’t seem yet to have flagrantly violated antitrust law.

Google has previously been at the forefront in monopoly investigations. In Europe, there are multiple investigations pending into Google’s possible monopolistic practices. Last month Google paid the European Union a $2.7 billion antitrust fund. Google had been favoring its own commercial services in search results.

Facebook has previously denied that it is part of a duopoly and claimed that it only controls 5 percent of the advertising market.

However, both companies are clearly gearing up to expand their control of the advertising market, particularly of video advertising. YouTube has released new original programming with big names like Kevin Hart and Ellen Degeneres. Facebook has similarly signed deals with Buzzfeed and Vox Media to release its own video series.

Facebook to Allow Publishers a Subscription Fee

Facebook is planning a new tool that would establish a means of adding subscriptions to news organizations that publish directly on the social media outlet. The intention behind this new tool is to help pacify the tension the social media giant and publishers, who find their audiences shifting more to what becomes available on Facebook.

The potential newly innovated tool will be included by Facebook’s Instant Article product, which allows new media companies to publish their articles directly onto Facebook, granting immediate access to the article, instead of transporting readers to the news website.

While the details are still in its preliminary stages, it has been theorized that Facebook may be introducing a metered pay wall product similar to those used already by the news publishers. For example, after reading a set amount of articles on Facebook by a particular news provider, a user will be sent to that news provider’s subscription page to continue reading more articles.

Before Facebooks has a large rollout, it plans to start a smaller pilot with a group of publishers using the tool in October, and should the tool prove promising, then the early initiatives will be expanded. It has not been established which publishers will be included in the pilot testing, not any details regarding the types of publishers based on size, frequency or popularity.

Tensions have increasingly risen with the advent of online platforms like Facebook and Google amassing more readers through their mass influence, allowing them to expand into the consumer digital advertising market. The constant increase of control over the online distribution of news has threatened publishers’ business model, stimulating a response by publishers to gain group bargaining rights enabling more effective negotiations with online platforms.

While nearly all publishers have adjusted their priorities to increases digital revenue, most are still seeking profitable long term solutions. Publishers recognize the importance and mainstream relevance of online platforms, as well as their role as a medium for allowing articles to be broadcasted to larger audiences.

However, these also include serious drawbacks for publishers, as they lose valuable ties to their readers, making loyal relationship building far more difficult, while also affecting subscriber data and payment connections. Publishers fear that readers are becoming more and more accustomed, which they are, to staying in Facebook to consume news, instead of visiting directly the publisher’s websites, threatening both future growth and livelihood.

Facebook on the other hand has also received criticism from publishers regarding the ability to distribute false or unverified articles that push an agenda or for the sake of trolling that readers can mistake for real. This propagating of false news has been an already reported issue that other companies such as Twitter have been developing means to filter and restrict its spread.

This is also an important issue for Facebook as other companies have been able to use the tensions between Facebook and publishers’ wariness to their advantage. Google has introduced its AMP tool that offers a way to expedite the delivery of partner’s articles in search results, while Amazon in the meantime has been paying publishers to post articles on Spark, its commerce-related social network.

This move by Facebook may offer a way of dealing not only with the tensions between the two parties, but also as a means of dealing with other issues including regulatory and antitrust scrutiny. Furthermore, a Facebook subscription offer would move the platform to closer regulating the relationship with the reader, capitalizing on a role previously filled by the news outlets themselves.

While it is not clear as to whether Facebook will benefit financially from a new subscription feature, but the feature does encourage more time spent on the social media site, and helps foster more attachment to the services provided. There are some issues regarding the number of publishers that will be allowed to post directly to Facebook, as there is a chance for this to be exploited by users by staggering the number of articles they read per month from each unique publisher. In this case, users will be able to benefit without needing to pay, which may result in some serious consequences on Facebook’s part.

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Beijing Blocks WhatsApp Access in Mainland China

Chinese users have reported trouble regarding the use of WhatsApp instant messaging tool on Tuesday. Many suspect that Beijing is responsible for the issues that are arising as part of its latest regulations on internet use.

The issues included involved being unable to send or receive photos using the chat app, which is owned by Facebook, without the use of a VPN. Beijing has had previous issues regarding VPNs, and they have made multiple attempts to encourage telecoms to prevent individual access to VPNs. VPNs are used to bypass Beijing’s censorship program by rerouting internet traffic elsewhere, usually to a foreign IP address.

Beijing efforts to tighten internet security is motivated by their intentions to block any websites with information that could be critical of the Communist Party including YouTube, Twitter, and foreign news sites. While the information itself is not necessarily censored, access to the information is blocked preventing the information from being seen in mainland China. In response, many proxy websites that fulfill a similar function rise in order to provide the original site’s services without broadcasting any potential criticism.

The suspicions that Beijing is involved come at the results of a test conducted by the South China Morning Post on Tuesday afternoon. Two users registered with mainland Chinese mobile numbers were unable to send neither videos nor pictures to each other via WhatsApp. One of the users then tried to send both a video and a picture to an overseas number, which resulted in a failed transmission. The overseas user then sent a video and a picture to the mainland Chinese mobile user, and while the message did go through, all the Chinese user could see was a loading thumbnail that failed to fully load and display its message.

However, there were no problems when sending text messages to one another, which included media content as well, and all functions and services provided by WhatsApp were restored upon the use of a VPN. This suggests that there was some involvement that restricted messaging, and that these restrictions applied only to WhatsApp.

WhatsApp is one of the few messaging services available in mainland China that is foreign based. While not as popular as the local app WeChat, which acts as a more readily accessible and offers less noticeably regulated services, WhatsApp still fulfills a competitive niche thanks to its end-to-end encryption.

WeChat, which is owned by the dominant tech company Tencent, has been found to be censoring messages deemed sensitive by Beijing without notifying its users. While this does occur, the app is still popular because it does not require a VPN to function properly.

Users began noticing troubles with WhatsApp early in the morning on Tuesday, but found that other apps on their mobile devices, including WeChat, were functioning without issues. A member of a non-governmental labor welfare group in Shenzen mentioned regular use of WhatsApp for work based communication due to the security and privacy it provides. Instead of switching over to WeChat to communicate with his colleagues, the man refrained from contacting his colleagues at all, as WeChat and text messaging were not viably safe options.

Neither WhatsApp nor Facebook have made any statements regarding Chinese censorship. However, Facebook’s social networking site and its photo-sharing services provided by Instagram are both blocked in China and have been for a long while now. Other foreign based chat and media sharing apps that have been blocked in mainland China include Tokyo-based Line and Berlin-based Telegram.

If businesses wishing to penetrate Chinese markets want to be successful, then they need to take major considerations regarding the government’s regulations on especially foreign based companies. If they fail to do so, then any invest into the Chinese market will come up short as the services provided are at a larger than usual risk of being shut down or restricted.

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Artificial Intelligence Moderating Instagram

Social media companies have seen an increase in the need for moderating of user content, from both internal and external forces, in an attempt to reduce the spreading of harmful information. Instagram’s means of moderating has been to use an artificial intelligence to automatically block offensive comments, going beyond simply keyword filters. The use of this technology is also acting as a field test for potential future use on Facebook as it looks to improve its own moderation and filtering.

Instagram CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom wrote in a blog post that the official launch of a new comment filter arose as a response to the user feedback that “toxic comments discouraged [users] from enjoying Instagram” and their freedom of self-expression. The new comment filters work by blocking certain offensive comments on posts and in live videos. However, the A.I. does not focus on finding keywords but also considers context when determining whether to block a comment or not.

Furthermore, Instagram has also announced a new spam filter that has undergone testing over a couple months. The new filters function will only filter abusive comments in English, but it is able to detect spam if it’s written in Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, French, German, Russian, Japanese or Chinese as well. While there has been no official announcement yet as to whether the abusive comments filter functionality will be expanded to the languages already included in the anti-spam filters, and whether both functions will become available to other languages not listed as well. However, depending on the success of both filters, it can be expected that they do expand the A.I. service. These comment filters are enabled by default, but users are able to turn them off at their discretion.

Instagram’s comment and spam filters are based on DeepText, an artificial intelligence effort developed in-house at Facebook. Both filters are powered by machine learning, meaning that the A.I. used to filter comments has been trained with a test set of data. The purpose is the ensure the accuracy and consistency of the technology while moderating, while also ensuring that it is not just looking at keywords but also context and relationships. Notable considerations where context is important are song lyrics that may contain offensive language, which is instead artistic license and willing suspension of disbelief, or what can be considered offensive language can, in fact, have an entirely different meaning between friends. Hateful and offensive comments are subjective in nature, which is why it is fundamental that the filters do not simply block everything based on keywords.

Facebook itself has yet to mention any intention to commit to A.I. as a means to moderate content and comments. Executives have previously said that it may take some time before A.I. can play a role in moderation. This is based on both the need for successful testing that Instagram will be seeking to provide and the fact that Facebook responded to recent controversies related to inappropriate content by hiring thousands of additional human moderators. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has provided insight on Facebook’s stance regarding A.I. moderation, commenting on the balancing of A.I. driven comment moderation and the user’s freedom of speech. Zuckerberg notes a decision may take years to achieve, however, provides preventing terrorism as a strong argument for why A.I. moderation can help keep communities safe, emphasizing that Facebook then has a responsibility to pursue its implementations.

The reason why Instagram has been given the green light to implement this new technology while Facebook has not is due to the different experiences users have on each platform, from the follow model to how comments are used. Therefore, it is natural that Facebook and Instagram will have difficult approaches to how they moderate their content. Should Facebook ever introduce A.I. moderation to its own platform, while the testing on Instagram will certainly influence the design, Facebook’s A.I. moderating will follow a different approach.

Facebook Finds Wi-Fi Worldwide

Facebook is planning on expanding the accessibility of “Find Wi-Fi,” one of their newer features. “Find Wi-Fi” allows users to search for highlighted hotspots for free, public Wi-Fi networks nearby. Up until now this feature has only been available within a limited selection of countries, and further restricted to only iOS users. After an assumingly successful test, Facebook will now roll out the feature so that both iOS and Android users worldwide will gain access to “Find Wi-Fi.”

This feature is certainly useful for travelers, providing an intuitive way of finding network hotspots while traveling for business, research, or fun. Certainly a helpful way to stay connected when entering an area with minimal cellular connection, “Find Wi-Fi” really shines as a tool in emerging markets. For emerging markets, where users often have limited data plans or unstable and inconsistent network connections. While in developed markets this feature provides an improved quality of life adjustment, for emerging markets, especially in rural areas, this could be a game changer.

The main reason for why “Find Wi-Fi” may have a large impact lies in how it works. On its interface, Facebook displays a map showing not only the closest hotspots, but also details about the businesses the provide them. This provides smaller and local businesses free positive advertising and customer turnover opportunities, considering the businesses already provide users a service through their hotspot. All the business needs to do is opt-in by claiming their Wi-Fi network, notifying Facebook of their intentions to provide a service. A simple tool for travelers may become a new front for businesses to grow.

While expensive to expand the features worldwide and across another mobile platform, the feature increases the possibility for user connection uptime, specifically to Facebook. By increasing user time spent on their app, the larger the revenue Facebook generates. There is a possibility that depending on its popularity, users will more likely rely on Facebook than Google Maps, which will further improve its bottom line. That is at least until Google responds with a similar feature, considering there is a market for it.

It is important to note that the feature may still has some reliability issues. “Find Wi-Fi” easily picks up network signals at nearby restaurants and malls, while missing out some brands that are known to provide free Wi-Fi, such as Starbucks. It is not known as to whether these businesses failed or refused to opt-in to “Find Wi-Fi,” or simply decided to rely on its own brand and pre-established reputation for providing free Wi-Fi. Another option is that Facebook refrained from adding these businesses to its feature as a means of promoting smaller businesses, while also increasing a dependency on their own feature for a loyal user base. However, which businesses are included is not as important as ensuring that those that are reliably discoverable, and do provide a free network.

One major concern to be considered is the potential security risks that could arise. Considering that the business’ hotspot acts as a beacon for Wi-Fi indigent travelers, it is not against reason that these areas will also attract seeking to take advantage should the opportunity arise. While a large distribution of hotspots will make it more difficult for such scenarios to occur, travelers must always be aware of their surroundings. Should this actually become a problem, Facebook will need to ensure a way of protecting its user’s privacy when using the app.

While “Find Wi-Fi” may be the driving force in regards to supporting users with mobile connectivity, it is certainly not Facebook’s only endeavor. The company has several large projects that are being developed, including efforts to further improve mobile connectivity in emerging markets, worldwide infrastructure investment, and solar-powered drones as mobile network hotspots.

Facebook Profile Picture Protection in India

Facebook is looking to introduce new forms of protection in India for user’s profile pictures. The goal is to stop copying, sharing, and other image misuse. More specifically these protections prevent others from being able to send, share, download or tag themselves in the image. These protections are not compulsory, but they do allow users to choose whether or not they want their profile picture’s protected.

Protected pictures display a blue shield border around their image, with additional capacities currently only available on Android to prevent users from taking screenshots of profile pictures where possible. The design overlay aims to reduce picture theft, protecting the identities and privacy of its users.

These features were inspired after Facebook heard from Indian social and safety organizations that predominantly women decided to not upload images with their faces due to privacy reasons. Facebook has partnered with a number of these organizations in order to introduce a tool that is both security focused that does not interfere with Facebook’s primary social agenda. This freedom for choice still enables those who are inclined to utilize their profile picture as more than a means of identification to do so, while providing an alternative option. Facebook has responded to this issue well, without overreacting and restricting the platforms intended use.

However, while the protection will alleviate image theft tensions, it will not completely prevent possible image misuse. The reality of the matter is that these preventative measures only make image theft more difficult, but not impossible. Those with enough intent and means will find a way to continue image theft if the need is great enough, but these protections will certainly reduce the frequency at which profile pictures are copied, shared or misused. Facebook predicts that simply adding a design overlay to a picture reduces the likelihood of others copying it by 75 percent, based on the underlying message that the user sends.

These protections are readily available in India, and users can easily add them quickly through Facebook’s user interface system. However, the screenshotting protection is only available via Android, and so other can screen shot a user’s profile picture through other means including desktops. Furthermore, the blue shield only acts as statement declaring the user’s intent that their profile picture should not be copied, and not a hard barrier that comprehensibly prevents copying.

Ideal for deterring opportunists through simple additions makes this tool a potentially useful option for Indian users. Facebook has not yet indicated whether similar measures will come to other countries. The criteria for this is twofold: whether there is a need for such a tool, and whether the additions can be easily transferred and implanted. Regarding the first, regardless of whether or not there is a sizeable desire for similar protections, Facebook should pursue a rollout of these protective measures for other countries. Considering that these features are optional, there is no downside for the users in other countries by adding this tool. For the second criteria, this is dependent on how easy it is to implement the protective measures. It is uncertain whether the transfer is possible based on the coding involved. However, Facebook has already developed the tool, and so a full rollout would not require much-added cost, and in fact can be beneficial towards Facebook’s reputation of being able to balance both its social and security responsibilities on behalf of its users.

The final issue to address is whether the major concern for why women in India rejected uploading a profile picture was indeed due to possible image theft. If the issue was instead based on the personal preference of maintaining privacy, then Facebook’s tool will not stimulate more user profile pictures. This does not mean that the tool is a waste, as its flexibility is an added benefit for current users wishing to further protect their images online.

Featured Image via Pixabay

After Reports, Facebook Bans the Creation of Spy Tools

The more technology advances, the more open we become to scrupulous activity. Facebook has recently responded to the reports that a few surveillance agencies have been using the social media giant as a means for spying. Since the report has been made Facebook has responded by updating its platform policy to prevent such things from occurring.

The deputy chief privacy officer at Facebook, Rob Sherman, announced this new policy platform update just this Monday. Sherman and his team say that they have made sure that the language in Facebook’s Platform Privacy are very clear in preventing unwanted surveillance tools from spying on Facebook profile information.

Sherman told a source Monday that Facebook was “adding language to our Facebook and Instagram platform policies to more clearly explain that developers cannot use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance.”

This, however, isn’t the first time that Facebook has responded to such reports. Back in November, car insurer Admiral wanted to gain access to Facebook user information. The company claimed it wanted to access user accounts so that it would be able to tell people’s risk of being in a collision based on drinking habits and even personality types.

The social media giant has taken any and all step necessary in the past few months to make sure developers stop taking advantage of the sites large range of user data. Developers have been using Facebook user data to create, market and even sell spying tools.

This new platform policy development, however, has been created to make it evident that any such actions are clearly a violation.

The reports of these actions were first issued by the American Civil Liberties Union of California (ACLU), Color of Change, and the Center for Media Justice. These organizations made claims that developers were using Facebooks data in order to form spy tools from Facebook’s API.

ACLU states that even Instagram and Twitter, along with Facebook, were giving data information to Geofeedia. Geofeedia is a social networking surveillance company which gives tracking and spying tools to protesters and activists.

In proof of these accusations, law enforcement used the software to spy on those who were out protesting police violence near the San Jose and Baltimore areas. Later the software was used to keep track of hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter.

It didn’t take long into the investigation for all three of the social media sites to get rid of the software, cutting Geofeedia off completely. Yet while Facebook has technology that can manually and automatedly monitor developers, there’s no actual guarantee that those developers will abide by the policies. Although the spy world is rather slippery in its operations, Facebook setting its rules in stone is one large step in the direction of putting surveillance to a stop.

The platform policy can be found here and reads as follows: “Protect the information you receive from us against unauthorized access, use, or disclosure. For example, don’t use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance.”

Sherman told a source, “We will continue using our policies to support our community, and we hope that these efforts will help encourage other companies to take positive steps as well.”

AT&T Cell Phone Users Lose Contact With 911 in 14 States

On Wednesday, some AT&T cellphone users were unable to dial 911, but it was only for a few hours. It didn’t take long for city and county law enforcement along with emergency response teams to warm people. The teams headed to social media warning people over the span of five hours about the possibility of being unable to dial for emergencies.

Officials in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, Colorado, and even Washington D.C. released warnings to AT&T customers that they might not be able to contact 911 dispatchers in the case of emergency.

Even though the problem was resolved, AT&T has yet to disclose what really went to wrong to cause this to happen in the first place. There’s also no telling just how many people were affected.

Customers were alerted with a warning that started around 5:50 p.m. The Monongalia County Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency located in West Virginia started warning people via Facebook around this time. The warnings to AT&T customers continued well into the afternoon until around 10:25 p.m. It was at that same time that AT&T stated they had fixed a problem.

In Indiana, the Hendricks County Communications Center which is a consolidated dispatch center for fire, police, and emergency medical services stated that the calls coming in from AT&T customers just wouldn’t connect.

In order to accommodate the customers that were unable to contact 911 for emergency response, Hendricks made a Facebook post saying, “We have conducted test calls locally and it will just ring.” Hendricks then made sure to provide a number for those to call in case they needed a dispatch officer.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, made a Twitter statement saying that they had heard reports of the issue and were further investigating the incident.

AT&T released a statement later that same night around 10:30 p.m. saying that “service has been restored for wireless customers affected by an issue connecting to 911. We apologize to those affected.”

Facebook’s New Apps In Competition With YouTube?

Social Media giant Facebook is always coming up with new ways to improve its usability for its consumers. In fact, the company is now coming up with ways get its users to upload and stream more and more videos. In order to achieve this, the social media site has made new changes when it comes to how its users distribute and display video.

However, that’s not all the good news that Facebook is sharing. Just recently vice president of partnerships, Dan Rose, announced that Facebook would start a series of apps for things like Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and even Samsung Smart TV.

With the capability to stream TV, Facebook would be opening up its site and apps to more people who want to share their videos. During his announcement at CODE Media, Rose says this change began with automatic video ads. Those are the ads on the news feed that automatically play. From there it moved to Facebook live and Instagram video. Of course, from here there’s no place to go but up for the company and others.

Facebook also says that a few changes are coming in regards to the way videos are displayed. First things first. When it comes to sound, if your devices sound is on, the audio of the video will automatically play. Second change involves video cropping. Facebook says it won’t be cropping vertical video making it a bit more like Snapchat. Finally, users will have the ability to watch videos and slide them to the side as they scroll through their news feeds.

However, even though Facebook is more than optimistic about these new changes what the company is even more enthusiastic about are the new apps. These will allow Facebook users to watch Facebook videos on their televisions. Although Facebook has always been able to stream videos to an Apple TV or AirPlay, this will expand that ability.

There was also talk that Facebook was on the hunt this week to license music from a few big labels. This would greatly increase the number of videos shared on the company’s site. That doesn’t really put Facebook side by side with companies like Spotify or Apple Music, but it does cause the social media site to bump heads with YouTube. YouTube as already established itself as a great site for creators to stream and build views around their videos. Facebook is hoping to start a similar campaign with its new announcements.

Yet there are a few things that Facebook will have to look into before it gets too excited. Facebook will have to come up with a way to pay video creators for their work as well as find a way to prevent piracy of any kind.

Facebook is looking to add many more types of professionally made videos to its new streaming options. Just last year, Ricky Van Veen from CollegeHumor. It’s said that Van Veen is in the process of creating new content.

However, its user’s happiness isn’t the only benefit Facebook will get. The company stands to bring in a large amount of revenue. That’s due to the fact that Facebook user base is a growing 1.2 billion. This stands to boost video production by developing a broader platform for mobile, desktop, and, TV production for viewers around the globe.

 

Valentine’s Day Scams; A Warning From the Better Business Bureau

Valentine’s Day is Tuesday, and many will take this opportunity to shower their loved ones and partners with gifts to show just how much appreciation and admiration they have. Yet with the holiday estimating to cost America a big $18 billion this year, the scammers are going to be out on the prowl to take advantage.

The Better Business Bureau is providing a few tips on how to avoid those scams that will most likely cause a Valentine’s Day fail.

Pixabay/kaboompic

First, when it comes to ordering flowers keep a sharp eye out for scrupulous businesses. This year it’s estimated that American’s all over the country will shell out a good $2 billion on flowers. With that number as high as it is, scammers are certainly going to be on the move to get their fair share. The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips on how to avoid scammers:

  • Let the Better Business Bureau be a guide for any and all purchases. On BBB.org, consumers will be able to use the search guide to find florists and gift shops as well as search for other customer reviews.
  • Make sure to visit the shop or talk to someone in over the phone. Discuss the exact arrangement you’re looking for. Even if you’re ordering online make sure to go to the shop in person if you can and inquire about your purchase, the company policies, delivery times, and guarantees. It’s important that you don’t finalize your purchases until all information is properly outlined. Finally, be sure to obtain a receipt after purchase.
  • Be on the lookout for suspicious calls and emails. Phishing scams spike around this time of year for those who expect to give flowers and gifts to their loved ones. Beware of fake e-cards and unsolicited emails that can contain viruses and request additional funds in order to deliver gifts.

Social media and online dating sites will be buzzing with activity come Tuesday. Match.com expects to see a jump in its new users by twenty percent. It’s also said that around 1.9 million Facebook users will change their relationship status. However, the internet is also a great place to find scammers who just loving preying on love struck victims.

It’s sometimes all too easy for a scammer to build a relationship with someone under false pretenses whether it be through video chat, over the phone, or texting. At some point in the is relationship the scammer will cry that they are experiencing some type of trouble with their finances, or say that they need money to come see the victim.

Once the funds are exchanged, the scammer drops off the face of the earth and the victim is out of who knows how much money. The BBB calls these type of scams Cupid cons. They are the hardest to avoid because scammers in this type of con know just how to make others feel vulnerable.

The following are a few tips on how to avoid Cupid cons and what to look out for:

  • Look out for a new friend that is always a no show. Whether its business travelling, vising family out of state, or a last-minute re-schedule. This is an extremely common excuse for scammers, and how they will lie to avoid meeting people face-to-face. A significant other would normally find time to see and get to know someone better. If your new boo is ignoring you, this should alert you to suspicion.
  • If you’re searching for a love interest on Facebook and find that their profile is extremely new, doesn’t fit their description or doesn’t exist you’re probably being scammed. When you’re talking to someone and find out things about them, the information they provided you with should most definitely match up with their social media profiles. Look for things like a small list of friends, little or no photos, major spelling or grammar errors. All those things can be signals that you’re talking to a scammer.
  • When it comes to loaning out money, people often always skeptical even if it’s to a really good friend. It’s just an uncomfortable situation at times. Be on the lookout for new loves that immediately ask you for cash. Their needs will range from a number of emergencies. They will claim to have been robbed, or there was a medical emergency. Scammers will tell any story to tug at your heartstrings. And your wallet. BBB says to never give out money or share your bank info with someone you don’t know very well and have never met.

Always be on the lookout for business scams or people who use the methods above.

The truth is everyone wants to feel special and needed, especially on a day of celebrating love like Valentine’s Day. The best way to protect yourself from a scam is not to let your emotions cloud your judgment, be aware of all the signs, and try not to ignore that gut feeling. Anyone is open to a scam so don’t think it won’t happen at some point. There are people out there who can’t wait to prey on vulnerability.

Valentine’s Day Will Cost $18 Billion in the U.S. This Year

Millions celebrate Valentine’s Day every year with jewelry, chocolate, flowers and other specials gifts given to that special someone. In fact, last year men spent two times more than woman did in celebration of Valentine’s Day. It has to be one of the most anticipated holidays throughout the year.

Valentine’s Day is recorded as the third largest holiday in the United States. It’s estimated that nearly $18 million total will be spent on this year’s Valentine’s Day.

For those who like to buy bouquets for their special someone, 34 percent of Americans, an estimated $2 billion will be spent on flowers which will raise flower sales by 20 percent. Over $1.7 billion will be racked up by those who plan on buying candy, and $4.3 billion will be spent on jewelry this year.

Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, it’s safe to say the holiday has an extremely big impact on the American economy. In fact, its calculated that the average Valentine’s Day gift giver will shell out $136.57 on the holiday. Those that plan on going out this year will spend an estimated $73.68 per couple. That number totals to $3 billion that will be spent by the 36 percent of couples who say they plan to spend their night out on the town.

Even though the holiday is wildly anticipated, gladly celebrated, and nearly 9 million marriage proposals will be made, not everyone takes part in it. In fact, 46 percent of adults say they don’t plan on celebrating the holiday at all, and 50 percent of those who are single say they are proud to be so.

Valentine’s Day even has a large impact on social media. The amount of dating sites that will receive new service is an estimated 399.  Match.com plans on seeing a 20 percent increase in new users, which will aid to calculated 5 percent of marriages that begin on dating sites. Those on Facebook, around 1.9 million, will change their relationship status this Valentine’s day as well.

With technology on the rise and more people making use of social media, it’s hard to believe that the greeting card industry would benefit as well as it does. Despite expectations, $1.4 billion will be spent on those buying gift cards for Valentine’s Day. Another $1 billion will be made from those who buy Valentine’s Day greeting cards. Hallmark has nearly 1,500 different options for consumers searching for the perfect Valentine’s Day card for their special someone.

However, what’s Valentine’s Day without chocolate covered strawberries? Linda Jackson owns The Chocolate Lady in Mesilla, New Mexico and knows that Valentine’s day means dozens and dozens of chocolate dipped strawberries. Jackson says that she and her team hand-dip and decorate over 20 pounds of strawberries for the 94 percent of Americans who receive candy and chocolate in some form or another this Valentine’s Day.

February 14th is coming up fast, so if you plan to get something for your special someone it’s best not to wait at the last minute. Nearly 53 percent of woman said they’d break up with their partner if they didn’t receive anything on Valentine’s Day.

If you don’t have a Valentine this year, that’s okay too. Twenty percent of American get gifts for their pets on Valentine’s Day. And if you find yourself without a pet just remember that 24 percent of Americans will buy something for themselves this year. So how will you be celebrating?

ZeniMax Awwarded $500 Million in VR Lawsuit

A jury in Dallas, Texas ruled in favor of ZeniMax media, awarding the media company $500 million in damages. The jury found Palmer Luckey, and Oculus VR by extension, guilty of violating the terms a non-disclosure agreement. The jury also ruled Oculus guilty of false designation and copyright infringement.

Notably absent from the charges of guilt was the claim that Oculus stole trade secrets in order to design the Rift headset.

Oculus must pay $200 million for the violation of a non-disclosure agreement, $50 million for false designation, and $50 million for copyright infringement according to TechCrunch. Luckey must pay $50 million himself, while former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe must pay $150 million.

According to TechCrunch, Facebook said ZeniMax actually sought $6 billion in damages, rather than the $4 billion as previously reported. Facebook acquired the virtual reality startup for $3 million in March 2014

“The heart of this case was about whether Oculus stole ZeniMax’s trade secrets, and the jury found decisively in our favor,” Facebook said in a statement to TechCrunch, “We’re obviously disappointed by a few other aspects of today’s verdict, but we are undeterred. Oculus products are built with Oculus technology.”

“Our commitment to the long-term success of VR remains the same, and the entire team will continue the work they’ve done since day one – developing VR technology that will transform the way people interact and communicate,” continued Facebook, ” We look forward to filing our appeal and eventually putting this litigation behind us.”

ZeniMax originally filed suit against Luckey and Oculus on 7 counts; common law misappropriation of trade secrets, copyright infringement, breach of contract, unfair competition, unjust enrichment, trademark infringement, and false designation. The media company used these counts to build the claim that their technology was instrumental to the success of Oculus VR, and that they should have been compensated accordingly.

“Technology is the foundation of our business and we consider the theft of our intellectual property to be a serious matter,” said ZeniMax Chairman and CEO Robert Altman, “We appreciate the jury’s finding against the defendants, and the award of half a billion dollars in damages for those serious violations.”

ZeniMax Now Seeks $4 Billion in Oculus VR Lawsuit

In closing statements on Wednesday, the legal team representing ZeniMax pushed for $2 billion in compensation and added another $2 billion in punitive damage.  Facebook acquired Oculus VR in March of 2014 for $3 billion.

The case levied against the virtual reality start-up is based on the claim that Oculus and its founder Palmer Luckey stole virtual reality technologies from idSoftware, a subsidiary of ZeniMax. ZeniMax alleges that Oculus’ success was due to these stolen components.

Anthony Sammi, an attorney for ZeniMax, referenced evidence in his closing statement that information had been wiped from Oculus computers minutes before they were imaged for the court case. Sammi also cited emails between former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as evidence of collusion.

Sammi insisted in his statement that the most important software functions on the Oculus rift headsets shipped to early backers on Kickstarter were based on code taken from id Software’s intellectual property. Sammi reported asked the jury, “If they could make it, why’d they take it?”

Facebook and Oculus’ legal team held that the lawsuit was a misguided attempt to “rewrite history”, as ZeniMax had passed on the opportunity to invest in Oculus before Facebook acquired it. In their closing arguments, the team posited that ZeniMax’s claims were “sour grapes” for not recognizing the potential in the offer they had dismissed.

The defense also brought forward an expert witness who did not see any evidence of copied code in the headsets Oculus shipped. The expert also asserted that a majority of the “trade secrets” ZeniMax was attempting to lay claim to were already public knowledge and that other solutions to the problems had already been found.

The jury is expected to come forward with their decision next week. While they continue with their deliberations, Zuckerberg continues to move forward with his VR operations.  This week he announced Hugo Barra, previous VP for Android at Google and VP of Xiaomi, will be leading all of Facebook’s VR efforts.

Alphabet’s Earnings Remain Consistent

Alphabet, unlike many of is tech conglomerate peers, remains consistent in earnings. Fourth quarter results announced on Thursday that Google’s parent company beat analyst exceptions as revenue rose 22% to $26.06 billion. Alphabet’s net income also rose from $4.92 billion a year earlier to $5.33 billion.

Alphabet is distinct from Apple, Amazon and Facebook due to the company’s search engine. Google’s search engine is a necessary tool for anyone using the internet. While Apple is profitable, its earnings come from fluctuating preferences of smartphone buyers, and the consumer can delay purchasing an iPhone. Amazon, in order to retain customers who can shop elsewhere, is liable to push quality profits aside in order to invest in faster delivery times or even bigger data centers. Facebook’s volatility can be attributed to its relative young nature.

Even the perceived threat of the shift toward mobile devices has worked out in the company’s favor. According to research from NetMarketShare.com, Google’s market share on searches made on desktops is approximately 78%, while it is above 90% on searches made on mobile devices. Mobile devices also pull in more ad revenue–the ads occupy a larger portion of the screen on smaller displays, which increases the likelihood that a user will click on them.

The quarter saw a 36% rise in clicks on Google ads, but a 15% decrease for what advertisers paid per click. While Alphabet did not release results for Google’s other websites, the company runs ads on Youtube, where more than a billion people watch videos every month, according to Google.

Amidst this success, Alphabet has experienced mild setbacks. The company’s earnings per share were reported to be 11 cents below analysts’ estimates at $7.56. The company explained this shortfall was the result of paying more in taxes in the United States but did not explain why. Alphabet’s effective tax went from 5% a year earlier to 22% this quarter.

Alphabet’ stock reached a record high on Wednesday and dropped 2% in after-hours trading on Thursday.

Facebook Appoints New Leader for VR Program

The company Oculus went through a few speed bumps that begged the question who would take on the leadership role. Oculus VR, the virtual reality goggle maker, was purchased by Facebook for over $2 billion.

Recently Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook chief executive officer, announced that Hugo Barra who formerly worked as a former executive at Google and Xiaomi, a Chinese phone maker, will lead Facebook’s virtual reality conquest.

Barra is known for his aid in the growth of Google’s Android business. It wasn’t until 2013 that he left Google and went to Xiaomi, who at the time was trying to establish itself as a phone maker in China. However, this month it was reported that Barra left the company.

In the three years that Facebook has owned Oculus, its virtual reality goggles have triggered interest with consumers but sales haven’t exactly been ideal. In hopes to increase sales for the VR equipment, it’s estimated that Zuckerberg will invest $3 billion.

Facebook’s large investments in virtual reality could be its hopeful attempt to make the tech more successful than mobile. However, in most cases, virtual reality headsets are quite expensive. The Oculus Rift headset cost $599. Virtual reality tech also requires a powerful computer system.

Aside from being expensive, Oculus poses many more problems for Facebook. Facebook is being sued by ZeniMax Media who claims that Oculus stole their tech and claimed it as their own; a fact ZeniMax claims Facebook knew upon purchase. The lawsuit is estimated to cost the social media giant as much as $2 billion if it is found guilty.

No longer than a month ago, co-founder of Oculus, Brendan Iribe, stepped down to pursue work with a group concentrating on virtual reality on personal computers.

In a statement, Barra said this about joining Facebook, “The highest calling of an engineer is to make technology breakthroughs quickly and readily available to the widest possible spectrum of humanity. That will be my mission at Facebook.”

Facebook Set to Invest Over $3 Billion in Virtual Reality

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his plan to invest over $3 billion in virtual reality over the next decade while testifying in the $2 billion lawsuit on the origins of Oculus. Oculus is the virtual reality company Facebook acquired in March 2014.

The lawsuit concerns the intellectual property of Oculus. The current Oculus CTO, John Carmack, was formerly a ZeniMax employee. Before that, he was also co-founder of id Software, co-creator of computer games Doom and Quake, and according to an email from Facebook board member Marc Andreessen, “essentially the inventor of 3D computer games and one of the all time greatest hackers”. ZeniMax Media, owner of video game developers Bethesda Softworks and id Software, claims that Oculus stole information from ZeniMax via Carmack that was instrumental in the creation of the virtual reality company’s core technology.

When presenting his oral argument on Tuesday, lawyer for ZeniMax Toni Sammi called it “one of the biggest technology heists ever.” ZeniMax added that Carmack selected employees from id Software to bring on to Oculus, presenting an email from Carmack from 2014 that lists four employees from id Software.

Facebook rejected these claimed and put forward its own. ZeniMax passed on a partnership and investment opportunity of up to 15 percent of the company with Oculus before Facebook acquired it. Facebook lawyer Beth Wilkinson stated during the company’s opening argument that “This case, because ZeniMax and the owners of ZeniMax feel badly, embarrassed, humiliated, that they didn’t do the deal, that they didn’t invest in this VR technology when they could have, they want to rewrite history.”

Since the acquisition of Oculus, Facebook has been working on ways to introduce virtual reality on its social media platform. Despite skepticism from Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey, the company began integration in March 2016.

While there has not been any more reports about the project, Zuckerberg said in court that the goal over the next decade is to bring virtual reality to everybody.