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Facebook Implement Changes To ‘Trending Topics’ Amid Criticism

May 25, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc said that it had made some tweaks to the procedures for its “Trending Topics” section after a news report alleging it suppressed conservative news prompted a U.S. Congressional demand for more transparency.

The company said an internal probe showed no evidence of political bias in the selection of news stories for Trending Topics, a feature that is separate from the main “news feed” where most Facebook users get their news.

But the world’s largest social network said in a blogpost that it was introducing several changes, including elimination of a top-ten list of approved websites, more training and clearer guidelines to help human editors avoid ideological or political bias, and more robust review procedures.

Earlier this month, a former Facebook contractor had accused the company’s editors of deliberately suppressing conservative news. The allegations were reported by technology news website Gizmodo, which did not identify the ex-contractor.

The report led Republican Sen. John Thune to write a letter demanding that the company explain how it selects news articles for its Trending Topics list.

Two days after Thune’s letter, Facebook published a lengthy blogpost detailing how Trending Topics works even though it rarely discloses such practices. Previously, it had never discussed the inner workings of the feature, which displays topics and news articles in the top right hand corner of the desktop homepage for its more than 1.6 billion users.

Facebook said its investigation showed that conservative and liberal topics were approved as trending topics at nearly identical rates. It said it was unable to substantiate any allegations of politically motivated suppression of particular subjects or sources.

But it did not rule out human error in selecting topics.

“Our investigation could not fully exclude the possibility of isolated improper actions or unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies,” Colin Stretch, Facebook’s General Counsel, wrote in a company blogpost.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg met last week with more than a dozen conservative politicians and media personalities to discuss issues of trust in the social network.

 

 

Hacker Offering 167 Million LinkedIn User Records For Sale

May 20, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

A hacker is attempting to sell a database dump containing account records for 167 million LinkedIn users.

The announcement was posted on a dark market website called TheRealDeal by a user who wants 5 bitcoins, or around $2,200, for the data set that supposedly contains user IDs, email addresses and SHA1 password hashes for 167,370,940 users.

According to the sale ad, the dump does not cover LinkedIn’s complete database. Indeed, LinkedIn claims on its website to have more than 433 million registered members.

Troy Hunt, the creator of Have I been pwned?, a website that lets users check if they were affected by known data breaches, said it’s highly likely for the leak to be legitimate. He had access to around 1 million records from the data set.

“I’ve seen a subset of the data and verified that it’s legit,” Hunt said.

LinkedIn suffered a data breach back in 2012, which resulted in 6.5 million user records and password hashes being posted online. It’s highly possible that the 2012 breach was actually larger than previously thought and that the rest of the stolen data is surfacing now.

LinkedIn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Attempts to contact the seller failed, but the administrators of LeakedSource, a data leak indexing website, claim to also have a copy of the data set and they believe that the records originate from the 2012 LinkedIn breach.

When the 6.5 million LinkedIn password hashes were leaked in 2012, hackers managed to crack over 60 percent of them. The same thing is likely true for the new 117 million hashes, so they cannot be considered safe.

Worse still, it’s very likely that many LinkedIn users that were affected by this leak haven’t changed their passwords since 2012. Hunt was able to verify that for at least one HIBP subscriber whose email address and password hash was in the new data set that is now up for sale.

Many people affected by this breach are also likely to have reused their passwords in multiple places on the Web, Hunt said via email.

 

 

 

 

Google Unveils A.I. Challenger To Amazon’s Alexa

May 20, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Alphabet’s Google Inc  introduced us to its answer to Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant along with new messaging and virtual reality products at its annual I/O developer conference on Wednesday, doubling down on artificial intelligence and machine learning as the keys to its future.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai introduced Google Assistant, a virtual personal assistant, along with the tabletop speaker appliance Google Home.

He also unveiled Allo, a new messaging service that will compete with Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger products and feature a chatbot powered by the Google Assistant. Allo, like WhatsApp, will also have end-to-end encryption when it is rolled out this summer.

Amazon’s Echo, a surprise hit that has other tech giants racing to match it, uses a virtual assistant called Alexa, a cloud-based system that controls the Echo speaker and responds to voice-controlled commands by users.

Like Alexa, Google Assistant can search the internet and adjust your schedule. However, Pichai said Google Assistant can use images and other information to provide more intuitive results.

“You can be in front of this structure in Chicago and ask Google who designed this and it will understand in this context that the name of that designer is Anish Kapoor,” said Pichai, pointing toward a photo of Chicago’s Cloud Gate sculpture.

For Google Home, the Google Assistant merges with Chromecast and smart home devices to control televisions, thermostats and other products. Google did not offer a specific release date or pricing for Google Home, saying only that it will be available later this year.

 

 

Photos, Links To No Longer Count In Tweet’s 140 Character Limit

May 18, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc users will soon have more flexibility in posting tweets because the company plans to discontinue including photos and links as part of its 140-character limit, according to a Bloomberg report.

The social media platform has faced stagnant user growth. Months earlier, Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said the company would simplify its product in an effort to attract new users.

“We think there’s a lot of opportunity in our product to fix some broken windows that we know are inhibiting growth,” Dorsey said during a February earnings call.

Links currently take up to 23 characters of a tweet, limiting the amount of commentary that users can offer when sharing articles or other content.

Twitter has faced stagnant user growth, and shares have fallen more than 70 percent over the past year.

Twitter declined to comment on the report.

 

Facebook Probing Claims Of Political Bias

May 16, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc, the social networking powerhouse, has launched a full investigation into allegations of political bias, Chairman and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said.

The company has come under fire after an anonymous former Facebook employee told technology news website Gizmodo that workers often omitted conservative political stories from the company’s “trending” list of topics that it says spiked in popularity.

The accusation sparked an outcry on social media and prompted a U.S. Senate inquiry into Facebook’s practices.

Facebook has “found no evidence that this report is true,” Zuckerberg said in a statement posted late Thursday on his Facebook page, but added that the company would continue to investigate.

“If we find anything against our principles, you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it,” Zuckerberg said.

The Facebook chief added that he planned to invite “leading conservatives” to share their points of view.

The allegations against Facebook prompted the company to reveal more about how it selects and displays news to its users.

In a post published on Facebook’s media relations section on Thursday, a senior company official outlined its “Trending Topics” guidelines at length.

“Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to discriminate against sources of any political origin, period,” wrote Justin Osofsky, vice president for global operations.

Facebook had over 1 billion daily active users, on average, in March, the company posted to its newsroom.

 

Is Apple Infringing Again?

May 16, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

Apple has found itself in the middle of another accusation that it may not invented some of the technology it made a fortune from.
VoIP-Pal (VPLM) claims that Jobs’ Mob owes it $2.8 billion because of the way its iMessage and FaceTime services work.

“Apple employs VPLM’s innovative technology and products, features, and designs, and has widely distributed infringing products that have undermined VPLM’s marketing efforts,” the complaint reads.

iMessage apparently deals with the classification of a user and the manner in which the call is routed.

VoIP-Pal originally initiated its lawsuit against Apple back in February in a US District Court in Las Vegas, Nevada, but delayed the lawsuit until May, since it wants to reach an “amicable resolution” with Apple. “

Clearly that did not happen. The Tame Apple Press has called the company a Patent Troll because it does not generate income. VoIP-Pal said that Digifonica, which was acquired by the former back in 2013, started design on its system in 2004.

This is not the sort of thing that Apple needs right now. It is sales for the iPhone are dropping down the loo and unlikely to pick up at all this year. Apple has piles of cash it is sitting on, but it would rather not spend it on paying off people for technology it claims to have invented.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Lawsuit Against Facebook’s Storage Of Biometric Data To Proceed

May 9, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc lost the first round in a battle against some of its users who filed suit against the social networking company, alleging it “unlawfully” collected and stored users’ biometric data derived from their faces in photographs.

The judge presiding over the case in a California federal court turned down Facebook’s motion seeking dismissal of the suit.

Facebook filed the motion arguing that the users could not file a complaint under Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) as they had agreed in their user agreement that California law would govern their disputes with the company, and that BIPA does not apply to “tag suggestions.”

The court found that Illinois law applies and that the plaintiffs have stated a claim under BIPA.

The complainants had alleged that Facebook’s face recognition feature that suggests “tags” on photos unlawfully collected and stored biometric data, in violation of the Illinois BIPA.

The case was filed by some Illinois residents under Illinois law, but the parties agreed to transfer the case to the California court, the court order showed.

Facebook was also hit with a lawsuit over its plan to issue new stock last month.

The company said in April it will create a new class of non-voting shares in a move aimed at letting Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg give away his wealth without relinquishing control of the social media juggernaut he founded.

Facebook was not immediately available for comment.

 

 

Russian Hacker Shares Millions Of Stolen Email Credentials

May 6, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Millions of stolen credentials for Gmail, Microsoft and Yahoo email accounts are being shared online by a young Russian hacker known as “the Collector” as part of a supposed larger trove of 1.17 billion records.

That’s according to Hold Security, which says it has looked at more than 272 million unique credentials so far, including 42.5 million it had never seen before. A majority of the accounts reportedly were stolen from users of Mail.ru, Russia’s most popular email service, but credentials for other services apparently were also included.

Hold discovered the breach when its researchers came across the hacker bragging in an online forum. Though the hacker initially asked Hold for 50 rubles for the initial 10GB stash — that’s equivalent to about 75 cents — he eventually turned it over to them in exchange for likes and votes for him on social media.

Some 40 million of the credentials came from Yahoo Mail, 33 million were from Microsoft Hotmail, roughly 24 million were from Gmail, and nearly 57 million were from Mail.ru, according to Reuters. Thousands of others came from employees of large U.S. companies in banking, manufacturing and retail, and hundreds of thousands more reportedly were from accounts at German and Chinese email providers.

In an email message, Google declined to comment on the incident but said users should establish a recovery phone number for their Google accounts.

Yahoo, Microsoft and Mail.ru did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

Qatar National Bank Admits Customer Data Released By Hackers Is Authentic

May 3, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Qatar National Bank has confirmed that its systems were hacked but said that the information released online was a combination of data picked up from the attack and from other sources such as social media.

The incident will not have a financial impact on the bank’s customers, whose accounts are secure, the bank said — without providing details of how its systems were hacked, the possible identity of the hackers and what information was harvested.

The announcement Sunday by one of the leading financial institutions in the Middle East follows the posting online last week of leaked documents. The attack targeted only a portion of Qatar-based customers, the bank said, claiming the hack attempted to target the bank’s reputation rather than specifically its customers.

“QNB Group’s Risk Team monitored abnormal activity in our system environment; this was immediately communicated to relevant authorities,” the bank said in a statement. “We also took immediate steps and our systems are fully secure and operational.”

The 1.4GB trove of documents leaked online included both financial information such as customer transaction logs, personal identification numbers and credit card data. But on closer scrutiny the data was found to have folders with detailed profiles on specific individuals, including what appeared to be files on members of the Qatari royal family, employees of media outlet Al Jazeera and people listed as working for the British MI6 and some other intelligence agencies, security firm Trend Micro said on Wednesday.

The attackers used an open-source SQL injection tool to extract all of the customer data they needed, wrote Simon Edwards, cyber security expert at Trend Micro. SQL injection is used against against websites that use SQL (structured query language) to query information from a database server.

The log file suggests that the attack could have started about nine months ago in July last year, Edwards said.

QNB said Tuesday that it would not comment on reports in social media of “an alleged data breach,” but sought to assure all concerned that there was no financial impact on the bank or its clients.

 

 

Twitter Troubles Continue, Misses Revenue Estimates

April 28, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Uncategorized

Twitter Inc  disappointed investors once again with first-quarter results that revealed stagnant revenue growth as the microblogging service struggles to grab new users amid efforts to improve its complicated interface with several new features.

Twitter’s user base grew modestly to 310 million monthly active users in the quarter ended March 31 from 305 million in the fourth quarter, above analysts’ expectations. But investors were let down by the revenue miss since outlining a turnaround plan.

“It’s obvious Twitter is having trouble,” said Arvind Bhatia, analyst with CRT Capital. “It’s not growing anywhere close to where people expected a while back.”

On a call with analysts, executives said advertisers, especially in Europe, held back spending ahead of major events, including the Olympics and the European Champions League. They also said users were spending more time watching and sharing video, but that advertisers’ budgets had not yet shifted from legacy advertising products such as promoted tweets.

Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto said Twitter’s long-term goal was to have “millions of advertisers like our competitors.” Facebook Inc has more than 3 million advertisers.

Twitter has struggled with stagnant user growth as its complex interface makes it less attractive to new users.

As part of its turnaround plan, the company has emphasized its live offerings, including live commentary and video streaming through its Periscope app, to attract new users. But it faces fierce competition from Facebook Inc  which has recently ramped up its live video product, Facebook Live.

Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said that talent recruitment was a top priority for the year, especially on the engineering and product teams. Twitter lost several top executives earlier this year and has since added two new board members and a new chief marketing officer.

The company forecast revenue of $590 million to $610 million for the second quarter. Analysts on average were expecting $677.57 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

First-quarter revenue rose 36 percent from a year earlier to $594.5 million, but widely missed the average analyst estimate of $607.8 million.

 

 

Google Says A.I. Is The Next Big Thing In Computing

April 25, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Every decade or so, a new era of computing comes along that influences everything we do. Much of the 90s was about client-server and Windows PCs. By the aughts, the Web had taken over and every advertisement carried a URL. Then came the iPhone, and we’re in the midst of a decade defined by people tapping myopically into tiny screens.

So what comes next, when mobile gives way to something else? Mark Zuckerberg thinks it’s VR. There’s likely to be a lot of that, but there’s a more foundational technology that makes VR possible and permeates other areas besides.

“I do think in the long run we will evolve in computing from a mobile-first to an A.I.-first world,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, answering an analyst’s question during parent company Alphabet’s quarterly earnings call Thursday.

He’s not predicting that mobile will go away, of course, but that the breakthroughs of tomorrow will come via smarter uses of data rather than clever uses of mobile devices like those that brought us Uber and Instagram.

Forms of artificial intelligence are already being used to sort photographs, fight spam and steer self-driving cars. The latest trend is in bots, which use A.I. services on the back end to complete tasks automatically, like ordering flowers or booking a hotel.

Google believes it has a lead in A.I. and the related field of machine learning, which Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt has already pegged as key to Google’s future.

Machine learning is one of the ways Google hopes to distinguish its emerging cloud computing business from those of rivals like Amazon and Microsoft, Pichai said.

 

 

 

 

EU Seeks Greater Transparency In Web Search Results

April 18, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The European Union’s digital chief wants search engines such as Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft’s Bing to be more transparent about paid ads in web search results but ruled out a separate law for web platforms.

European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip, who is overseeing a wide-ranging inquiry into how web platforms conduct their business, said on Friday the EU executive would not take a horizontal approach to regulating online services.

“We will take a problem-driven approach,” Ansip said. “It’s practically impossible to regulate all the platforms with one really good single solution.”

That will come as a relief to the web industry, dominated mainly by big U.S. tech firms such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, who lobbied hard against new rules for online platforms and what they saw as an anti-American protectionist backlash.

“We praise the Commission for understanding that a horizontal measure for all platforms is practically impossible,” said Jakob Kucharczyk, director of the Computer & Communications Industry Association which represents the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon.

“While a lot of online platforms enable economic growth, their business models differ widely.”

However Ansip said he was worried about how transparent some search engines are when displaying ads in search results.

The Commission is also looking into the transparency of paid-for reviews as well as the conditions of use of services such as Google Maps, Apple Inc’s IoS mobile operating system and Google’s Android.

“Maybe it’s not too much to ask for more transparency talking about search engines,” Ansip said.

The EU executive is looking into making rules on taking down illegal content clearer and more effective without making hosting websites such as YouTube directly liable.

“Now musicians ask, please, take it down and keep it down,” Ansip said. “We want to make those rules more clear.”

But the Commission will not change a provision where websites such as Amazon, eBay and Google’s YouTube are not held liable for illegal content that is uploaded on to their systems. They do, however, have a responsibility to take it down once they are notified of it.

The Commission will publish a communication detailing its plans on web platforms in June.

 

 

Facebook Announces Two Wireless Projects For Internet Connectivity

April 15, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook’s mission to improve Internet access has come down to Earth with experimental wireless gear for cities and rural areas.

At the company’s F8 conference on Wednesday, Facebook networking chief Jay Parikh introduced a super-high-frequency wireless backbone called Terragraph and a 96-antenna cellular base station named Aries. Facebook won’t sell these systems but wants to make the technologies available to others.

The world’s biggest social networking company has as much motivation as anyone does to make Internet access available to everyone. That’s the mission of its Connectivity Labs, which has so far made headlines with projects like satellites and a giant solar-powered airplane that would beam wireless signals down to users on the ground.

With its latest effort, the labs are taking it to the streets.

The Terragraph system is a collection of small radios designed to be installed around a city at close intervals (about 250 meters or 273 yards apart) as a cheaper alternative to laying fiber.

It’s based on WiGig, an extension of Wi-Fi that uses unlicensed spectrum in the 60GHz band to deliver gigabit speeds within a room. Using beam-forming and steering techniques, Facebook is using the same technology to shoot multigigabit signals between light poles or other nodes, forming a distribution network as a backbone for other services.

Terragraph can steer around buildings and other urban sources of interference, Parikh said. A software-defined networking controller, derived from work Facebook has done on its own data center networks, helps Terragraph find the best routes and recover when a node goes down.

For its part, Aries is a wireless base station that can serve 24 client devices on the same spectrum at the same time. At F8, Parikh showed it sending 24 separate video streams simultaneously. It’s a proof-of-concept project to show how wireless networks could use scarce spectrum and energy more efficiently. Facebook sees Aries as a faster and cheaper way to bring Internet access to rural communities.

Facebook doesn’t plan to build Terragraph or Aries networks itself but will make these technologies available through the Telecom Infra Project, formed in February and modeled after the company’s Open Compute Project. It now has more than 300 members, including Nokia, Intel and SK Telecom.

 

 

Facebook Gives Its Live Streaming Service A Boost

April 14, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook is increasing its focus on video with a new tool that will help hardware makers build devices to stream live to the social networking service.

The new Facebook Live API will let publishers and hardware makers build tools that connect with the social network’s live video streaming feature. That means broadcasters will be able to stream video from hardware that integrates with the service like DJI drones and the new Mevo camera, along with broadcast software like Livestream, ffmpeg and Xsplit.

It’s a move to help video producers bring live video to Facebook without having to do something extreme like strap an iPhone to a camera rig, which is what they currently have to do. With the new tool, Facebook also makes it easier for developers and broadcasters to bring higher quality video to Live, too.

Users will also have the ability to share a live broadcast with members of a group, or people who are registered for an event, in addition to broadcasting to their friends or to the world at large. People watching a live broadcast can add live emoji reactions, similar to adding reactions to a news feed.

The functionality is a push by Facebook to compete with other live streaming services like Periscope, which is owned by rival social network Twitter. With the rise of pervasive, high-speed mobile connectivity, live streaming is becoming more prevalent. Facebook is likely feeling the pressure from its competition, but it’s in a strong position, according to Forrester analyst Nick Barber.

“Paired with its active users and algorithm, Facebook stands to create a new revenue stream with live events,” he said in an email. “It makes Facebook a one-stop shop for users who want to consume news, live events and connect with family and friends.”

Improving live streaming may make the platform more appealing to people who know they want to stream their event to the Web somehow, but haven’t yet decided how to do it. If Facebook can become the de facto home for live broadcasts from celebrities and big brands, that could put the company in a lucrative position.

“Recorded video is very engaging on social channels, and live creates even more opportunities for brands and individuals,” Barber said.

 

 

 

Get Ready For Facebook Chatbots

April 13, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook is widely expected to unveil chatbots, among other things, at its annual F8 developer conference in San Francisco this week, in pursuit of its continuing goal of luring back younger users.

Chatbots are programs that largely use artificial intelligence to simulate conversations with humans; the technology will likely be included in the company’s Messenger app. The goal is to change the way we communicate with businesses, and with each other, on the Internet.

“Bots are conversational so they are a natural extension of how we like to communicate and what we like to do,” said Julie Ask, an analyst with Forrester. They’re “like having an assistant. You can chat with the bot, ask the bot to do things for you, like order take-out or get a new lipstick.”

Since F8 is a developer conference, Facebook will also likely show off API tools so enterprises and third-party developers can build chatbots and Live Chat plug-ins for business users. These announcements are not getting as much buzz as the chatbots at this point.

Think of chatbots as digital assistants that could help enterprises do away with 1-800 numbers, by taking customer questions, helping users find products and even handling problems.

“Bots will give consumers, who are more comfortable chatting with someone, the ability to buy products and services and get customer service,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. “I personally don’t like getting on the phone and would love for Messenger to be able to validate my identity and provide information I need. It would be a time saver.”

Moorhead added that he expects chatbots first to work only in Messenger and then to be expanded to Facebook’s search service.

“And I believe Facebook will also integrate chatbots in their ads so consumers can interact directly on Facebook versus moving off the site,” he said.