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YouTube Introduces New Steps To Fight Extremists Videos

June 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Alphabet Inc’s Google has committed to introducing more measures to identify and remove terrorist or violent extremist content on its video sharing platform YouTube, the company said in a blog post.

Google said it would take a tougher position on videos containing supremacist or inflammatory religious content by issuing a warning and not monetizing or recommending them for user endorsements, even if they do not clearly violate its policies.

The company will also employ more engineering resources and increase its use of technology to help identify extremist videos, in addition to training new content classifiers to quickly identify and remove such content.

“While we and others have worked for years to identify and remove content that violates our policies, the uncomfortable truth is that we, as an industry, must acknowledge that more needs to be done. Now,” said Google’s general counsel Kent Walker.

Google will expand its collaboration with counter-extremist groups to identify content that may be used to radicalize and recruit extremists, it said.

The company will also reach potential Islamic State recruits through targeted online advertising and redirect them towards anti-terrorist videos in a bid to change their minds about joining.

Germany, France and Britain, countries where civilians have been killed and wounded in bombings and shootings by Islamist militants in recent years, have pressed Facebook and other providers of social media such as Google and Twitter to do more to remove militant content and hate speech.

Facebook on Thursday offered additional insight on its efforts to remove terrorism content, a response to political pressure in Europe to militant groups using the social network for propaganda and recruiting.

Facebook has ramped up use of artificial intelligence such as image matching and language understanding to identify and remove content quickly, the company said in a blog post.

Is Grand Theft Auto V The Best Selling Video Game Ever

June 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Grand Theft Auto V has sold more copies in the US than any other release over the past 22 years.

That’s according to NPD Group analyst Mat Piscatella, who tweeted that Rockstar’s masterpiece is the region’s best-selling game since the market research firm first began tracking.

“Not surprising, but still amazing,” he wrote.

That’s not to say GTA V has overtaken some previous champion, GamesBeat reports – just an interesting factoid Piscatella was keen to share.

As the analyst says, it comes as no surprise. The latest Grand Theft Auto has sold more than 80m units around the worldwide to date – despite originally launching way back in 2013 on the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Subsequent PC, Xbox One and PS4 releases have driven sales further, as have the regular updates for the game’s Grand Theft Auto Online multiplayer mode.

The latter was a significant contributor to the financial performance of Rockstar parent Take-Two, which reported revenues of $1.78bn for the year ended March 31st. Earlier this week, CEO Strauss Zelnick noted this success has come despite his belief the company has been restrained with in-game purchases and is currently “undermonetising” its users.

All eyes are on Rockstar’s next release Red Dead Redemption 2, which was recently delayed to 2018. The original was a huge worldwide hit, although it is perhaps unlikely the sequel can match the success of Grand Theft Auto V.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Social Media Companies May Face New Fines, Regulations In Britain

May 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

British Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to create new powers giving her authority to punish social media and communications companies that fail to look after users’ data, and to demand cash from firms to pay for policing the internet.

The election pledge comes after firms like Facebook and Twitter have been criticized the government for not doing enough to stop the spread of extremist content online or help victims of abuse.

May, who is expected to win a majority at the June 8 election, pledged to pass laws giving users new rights to access data held about them, and granting the government the power to enforce them with sanctions.

“The internet has brought a wealth of opportunity but also significant new risks which have evolved faster than society’s response to them,” May said in a statement.

“We want social media companies to do more to help redress the balance and will take action to make sure they do.”

Hospitals and doctors’ surgeries across England were forced to turn away patients and cancel appointments on Friday after a nationwide ‘ransomware’ cyber attack crippled some computer systems in the state-run health service.

The Conservative Party said it wanted to be able to tax the industry if it chooses to, citing similar plans already in force for the gambling industry.

“The Conservatives will also create a power in law for government to introduce an industry-wide levy from social media companies and communication service providers to support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms,” the party said in a statement.

Snapchat Reports Slowing User Growth

May 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Snap Inc shares took a deep dive after the owner of Snapchat reported slowing user growth and revenue in its first earnings report as a public company, missing some Wall Street estimates as it competes with copycat messaging apps.

Shares tumbled 23 percent in after-hours trading to wipe some $6 billion from Snap’s market value, a reversal for the company after a red-hot March initial public offering that was the biggest for a U.S. tech company since Facebook Inc’s 2012 debut.

The stock fell to $17.66, just above its IPO price of $17.

Some investors were hoping Snap would surprise them with big numbers in its first quarterly report, BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield said.

“The fact that they failed to live up to expectations, let alone exceed them, disappointed people,” he said.

The performance echoed slides in Facebook and Twitter after they posted debut scorecards following their IPOs. Twitter shares cratered 24 percent the next day, while Facebook’s tumbled 11 percent, still the biggest-ever one-day losses for both.

Snap Chief Executive Evan Spiegel sought to reassure investors during an earnings call, fielding a dozen questions that ranged from strategy to how it would deal with competitors.

He also did not shy away from one query that allowed him to take a feisty jab at Facebook.

“If you want to be a creative company, you’ve got to get comfortable with and enjoy the fact that people are going to copy your product if you make great stuff,” he said.

Making a comparison to the search industry, Spiegel added: “Just because Yahoo has a search box doesn’t mean they’re Google.”

Snap said its daily active users (DAUs) rose 36.1 percent to 166 million in the first quarter from a year earlier, marking a slowdown from the 47.7 percent rise for the fourth quarter and 62.8 percent jump for the third quarter that the company reported in its IPO filing.

The slowing rate of growth was in line with an estimate from JPMorgan, which accurately expected 166 million DAUs for the first quarter. Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co Inc had pegged them even higher at 173 million.

Snap’s March IPO priced above the company’s target range as investors put aside concerns about a lack of profits and voting rights to get a piece of the action. The IPO raised $3.4 billion and gave the company a market valuation of roughly $24 billion, and shares surged 44 percent in their first day of trading.

Can Big Game Developers Keep Innovation Alive

May 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The games industry has gone through a series of major transitions and changes over the past couple of decades – changes to the platforms people play on, the way they pay for and interact with games and even to the audiences that are actually playing. Each of those has brought along a series of challenges which the industry has had to surmount or circumvent; none of them, arguably, is a perfectly solved problem. Meanwhile, though, there have also been a handful of challenges running in the background – consistent issues that are even more fundamental to the nature of the games business, less exciting and sexy than the latest great transition but no less in need of clever solutions. Education and skills is one example; tax regimes and the industry’s relationship with governments is another.

Perhaps chief among those issues, though, is one which ties in to a common problem across a wide variety of industries, creative and otherwise. It’s the problem of innovation; specifically, the question of how to make innovation work in the context of a large corporation. The conventional wisdom of modern capitalism is that innovation bubbles up from small start-ups; unencumbered by the institutional, structural and cultural constraints that large, established companies operate within, they’re free to create new things and execute original ideas. As firms grow bigger, they lose that nimbleness and flexibility. Projects become wrapped up in internal politics, in the stifling requirements of handling shareholder relationships, and all too often, in the innovator’s dilemma – the unwillingness to pursue fresh innovation for fear that it’ll disrupt one of your proven cash cows.

As a result, we see a structure in which innovation happens at small start-ups, which large companies tap into through acquisitions. We see this in the games industry too, in the form of big publishers acquiring innovative and successful developers. Such acquisitions usually come with golden handcuffs for the key talent, requiring them to work for their firm’s new owners for a certain amount of time – after which they’re free to go off and create something new, small and innovative again (with a few million quid in their back pocket, to boot). This creates a cycle, and a class of serial innovators who repeatedly build up new, successful small companies to sell to larger, innovation-starved firms.

For many large companies, this isn’t an entirely satisfactory situation. Surely, they reason, there must be some way for a company to scale up without losing the capacity to innovate? Yet for the most part, the situation holds; big companies can create great products, but they are generally iterative and derivative, only very rarely being major, disruptive breaks from what was offered before. There are just too many barriers a game or a product needs to get through; too much politics to navigate, too many layers of management stumped by new ideas or worried about how something hard to explain will play to investors who only want to hear descriptions like “it’s like GTA, but with elements of Call of Duty”, or “it’s like an iPhone, but with a better camera”.

The desire to find some way to bottle the start-up lightning and deploy it within existing corporations runs deep, though, and it’s resulted in a number of popular initiatives over the years. Perhaps the most famous of recent years is the buzz around Eric Ries’ book The Lean Start-Up, a guide to effective business practices for start-up companies which extolled a launch-early, iterate-fast approach. Though it had some impact in the start-up world, The Lean Start-Up seemed to find its most receptive audience among executives at large corporations keen to find some way to create “internal start-ups” – silos within their companies which would function like incubators, replicating the conditions which allowed start-ups in the wild to innovate and iterate rapidly.

For the most part, those efforts didn’t work. The reality is that a start-up inside a company isn’t the same as a start-up in the wild. It doesn’t have the same constraints or the same possibilities available to it; its staff remain employees of a large corporation and thus cannot expect the same rewards, or be exposed to the same decision-making environment, as staff at a start-up. Even something as basic as success or failure can’t be measured in the same way, and in place of experienced venture capitalists (often the final-stage Pokémon evolution of the serial innovators described above) as investors and advisors, an internal start-up finds itself being steered and judged by executives who have often spent a lifetime working within precisely the corporate structure they now claim to wish to subvert. It’s hardly surprising that this doesn’t work very often, either within games or in any other sector.

We haven’t talked about Hearthstone yet, even though it’s right up there in the opening lines. Let’s talk about Hearthstone.

Hearthstone is Blizzard’s card battling game, available across a variety of platforms. It’s a spin-off from the Warcraft franchise, and last year it made somewhere in the region of $350 million (according to estimates from SuperData). This week it topped 70 million unique users, and though the company doesn’t release concurrent user figures, it claims to have set a new record for those following the release of its latest expansion pack in April. It also remains one of the most popular games in the world for streaming. It’s a hell of a success story, and it’s also, in essence, a counterpoint to the notion that big companies can’t do small, innovative things. Hearthstone was prototyped and built by a small team within Blizzard, and ever since its launch it has embraced a distinctly start-up approach – iterating quickly and doing its experimentation in public through features like the “Barroom Brawl”, a sandbox that allows developers to test new mechanics and ideas that might make their way into the main game if they work well.

Given Hearthstone’s commercial success and the relatively small team and infrastructure behind it (relative, that is, to a behemoth like World of Warcraft), it’s probably Blizzard’s most profitable game. The question is, can other publishers and developers learn from what Blizzard did here? There’s a tendency with Blizzard success stories to simply attribute them to some intangible, indefinable “Blizzard Magic”, some sparkling pixie dust which is sprinkled liberally on all of their games but which can only be mined from the secret goblin tunnels under the company’s Irvine campus. In reality, though, Blizzard is simply a very creative and phenomenally well-managed company – one which has, in many respects, placed the solving of the whole question of how to innovate within a large company environment at the very heart of how it structures and defines itself.

One of the most famous things that people in the industry know about Blizzard is that the company is ruthless in its willingness to take an axe to projects that don’t live up to its standards. StarCraft: Ghost never saw the light of day after years in development; Titan, the planned MMO follow-up to World of Warcraft, was similarly ditched (with a core part of its team going on to rapidly develop the enormously successful Overwatch as their “rebound project”). What that means is that Blizzard has developed something within its internal culture that a lot of other firms in the industry lack; a capacity to coolly, rationally judge its own work on a purely creative and qualitative level, and to make very tough decisions without being overly swayed by internal politics, sunk-cost fallacies or other such calculations.

It’s instructive to listen to comments from people who worked on cancelled projects at Blizzard, even at a high level; while it was no doubt an emotional and difficult experience for them, their comments in hindsight usually express genuine agreement with the decision. There appears to be a culture that allows the company to judge projects without extending that judgment to the individuals who worked on them; I don’t doubt that this is an imperfect system and that there’s still plenty of friction around these decisions, but by and large, it seems to work.

There is no magic pixie dust involved in the success of games like Hearthstone (or Overwatch, for that matter). This is a model that can be replicated elsewhere… it’s not dissimilar to the structure of a company like Supercell”

That creates an environment in which a start-up style approach can actually thrive. Small, creative teams can work on innovative games, rapidly prototyping and being effectively judged for their quality along the way. After only a couple of cycles of internal culling and restarting, surviving projects can be pushed out to the market as a kind of “minimum viable product”; not a thinly disguised prototype, but the minimum required to be a viable Blizzard game. Polished, fun and interesting, but designed as a springboard from which the team can go on to iterate and innovate in a way that’s informed by feedback from a real audience, rather than as an expensively developed, monolithic product.

Not every company can accomplish this; it’s not just Blizzard’s exacting standards of quality that permit it, there are also important factors like the company’s opaqueness to investors (which allows it to make products for the market rather than making products for shareholders) and its ability to bootstrap new games with IP from existing franchises (the Nintendo model, in essence) to consider. There is, however, no magic pixie dust involved in the success of games like Hearthstone (or Overwatch, for that matter). This is a model that can be replicated elsewhere, given the right approach and the right people in decision-making roles. In fact, it’s a model that does exist elsewhere; it’s not dissimilar to the structure of a company like Supercell, for example, which helps to explain why Supercell is one of the only mobile developers that’s been able to “bottle its lightning” and consistently develop hit titles. It’s also close, though slightly different in structure, to the way Nintendo has shifted towards working in recent years, which has resulted in titles like Splatoon.

Big companies can be creative; they can be innovative, daring, clever and even disruptive. Hearthstone shows this at work within Blizzard, and it’s also present in a select but distinguished line-up of other game companies that have made it a priority to nurture innovation and to create a culture where good taste and creative excellence are celebrated above all else. For many companies, this would be a radical shift – requiring a change in priorities, in structure and even in staffing – but in the long run, such a shift might end up a lot cheaper than having to pull out your wallet every couple of years to buy the next innovative start-up that came up with an idea your own firm couldn’t conceive of.

Courtesy-GI.biz

‘Hate Postings’ Must Be Removed By Facebook, Says Austrian Authorities

May 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook must take down postings deemed as hate speech, an Austrian court has ruled, in a legal victory for activists who want to force social media companies to combat online “trolling”.

The case – brought by Austria’s Green party over insults to its leader – has international ramifications as the court ruled the postings must be deleted across the platform and not just in Austria, a point that had been left open in an initial ruling.

The case comes as legislators around Europe are considering ways of forcing Facebook, Google, Twitter and others to rapidly remove hate speech or incitement to violence.

Germany’s cabinet approved a plan last month to fine social networks up to 50 million euros ($55 million) if they fail to remove such postings quickly and the European Union is considering new EU-wide rules.

Facebook’s lawyers in Vienna declined to comment on the ruling, which was distributed by the Greens and confirmed by a court spokesman, and Facebook did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Strengthening the earlier ruling, the Viennese appeals court ruled on Friday that Facebook must remove the postings against Greens leader Eva Glawischnig as well as any verbatim repostings, and said merely blocking them in Austria without deleting them for users abroad was not sufficient.

The court added it was easy for Facebook to automate this process. It said, however, that Facebook could not be expected to trawl through content to find posts that are similar, rather than identical, to ones already identified as hate speech.

The Greens hope to get the ruling strengthened further at Austria’s highest court. They want the court to demand Facebook remove similar – not only identical – postings, and to make it identify holders of fake accounts.

The Greens also want Facebook to pay damages, which would make it easier for individuals in similar cases to take the financial risk of taking legal action.

“Facebook must put up with the accusation that it is the world’s biggest platform for hate and that it is doing nothing against this,” said Green parliamentarian Dieter Brosz.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has said hate speech has no place on the platform and the company has published a policy paper on how it wants to work against false news.

Twitter, Bloomberg To Team Up On Streaming TV News Service

May 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc is teaming up with Bloomberg Media for a round-the-clock streaming television news service on the social networking platform, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

The channel, which is yet to be named and is expected to begin operations this fall, would be announced Monday, WSJ said.

Twitter’s user growth has stalled in the past few quarters and the company has been trying to convince advertisers that it will strengthen its user base.

As part of its efforts, it has updated its product offerings including live video broadcasts from its app and launched new features to attract users.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said in an internal memo last October one of the company’s missions was defined as being the “people’s news network”.

Twitter has made a push into news and sports on mobile devices last year and this foray could pique the interest of a media company as an acquirer, analysts have said.

Twitter Finally Reports User Growth In More Than A Year

April 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc has announced that it has had its strongest growth in monthly active users in more than a year and a much better-than-expected quarterly profit, despite heavy competition from Facebook and Snapchat.

The microblogging service said average monthly active users increased 6 percent to 328 million in the first quarter from a year earlier.

Analysts on average had expected 321.3 million monthly active users, according to market research firm FactSet StreetAccount.

Revenue fell 7.8 percent to $548.3 million, its first drop since its initial public offering.

Net loss narrowed to $61.6 million, or 9 cents per share, in the first quarter ended March 31, from $79.7 million, or 12 cents per share, a year earlier.

Twitter’s user growth has stalled in the past few quarters and the company has been trying to convince advertisers that it will strengthen its user base.

As part of its efforts, the company has updated its product offerings including live video broadcasts from its app and launched new features to attract users.

Twitter’s weak performance has raised questions about CEO Jack Dorsey’s leadership and whether the company would be bought by a bigger media firm. Financial markets speculated about a sale of Twitter last year, but no concrete bids were forthcoming.

Excluding items, the company earned 11 cents per share, beating the estimate of 1 cent per share.

Twitter’s advertising revenue fell 11 percent to $474 million in the quarter, above the average analyst estimate of $442.7 million, according to market research firm FactSet StreetAccount.

New Wikitribune Website Aims To Stop Fake News

April 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Jimmy Wales, the founder of online encyclopedia Wikipedia, has launched a new website focused on stopping the spread of fake news by bringing together professional journalists and a community of volunteers and supporters to produce news articles.

The new platform, called Wikitribune, will be free to access and carry no advertising, instead relying on its readers to fund it, while the accuracy of news reports will be easily verifiable as source material will be published, Wales said.

“The news is broken, but we’ve figured out how to fix it,” he said in a promotional video posted on the website’s homepage.

The online proliferation of fake news, some of it generated for profit and some for political ends, became a major topic of angst and debate in many developed countries during last year’s U.S. presidential election.

Wales argued in his video that because people expected to get news for free on the Internet, news sites were reliant on advertising money, which created strong incentives to generate so-called “clickbait”, catchy headlines to attract viewers.

“This is a problem because ads are cheap, competition for clicks is fierce and low-quality news sources are everywhere,” said Wales.

He also argued that social media networks, where an ever-increasing number of people get their news, were designed to show users what they wanted to see, confirm their biases and keep them clicking at all costs.

Social media giant Facebook was widely criticized last year for not doing enough to prevent fake news reports from spreading on its platform, and has announced new tools to tackle the problem.

Wales said Wikitribune would combine professional, standards-based journalism with what he called “the radical idea from the world of wiki that a community of volunteers can and will reliably protect the integrity of information”.

He said articles would be authored, fact-checked and verified by journalists and volunteers working together, while anyone would be able to flag up issues and submit fixes for review.

“As the facts are updated, the news becomes a living, evolving artifact, which is what the Internet was made for,” he said.

The Wikitribune homepage said the platform would go live in 29 days. It also indicated that the intention was to hire 10 journalists, but none had been hired so far.

Twitter Unveils New ‘Lite’ Version

April 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc is launching a more streamlined and faster version of its mobile service geared towards people with sporadic connections or little data on their smartphone plans, hoping to pick up users in harder-to-reach emerging markets.

The company calls the version Twitter Lite and it will be aimed largely at users outside the United States. Twitter Lite works through a web browser, not a stand-alone phone application, but its appearance and functionality are nearly identical to what app users experience, according to a preview shown to Reuters.

The launch comes on the heels of similar products from other U.S. tech firms. Facebook Inc released Facebook Lite in 2015 and on Tuesday, Alphabet Inc’s YouTube unveiled a low-data mobile app designed for India.

San Francisco-based Twitter lags behind those companies in building a user base. It had 319 million average monthly active users at the end of last year, up 4 percent year-over-year but still a fraction of Facebook’s 1.9 billion users.

A primary reason in some parts of the world is how much data its app and earlier website consumed, Keith Coleman, Twitter’s vice president of product, said in an interview.

“We didn’t feel like we were reaching these other countries well enough, and this will allow us to do it faster, cheaper and with a better experience than we’ve had before,” he said.

The company estimates that, with several changes it is making to its mobile website, mobile.twitter.com, users will see their average data consumption on the browser version go down 40 percent.

With an additional data-saving feature users can turn on, data consumption will drop some 70 percent on average, said Patrick Traughber, a Twitter product manager. The reduction will come from differences such as initially displaying previews of pictures instead of full pictures.

 

Job Applicants Info Compromised In McDonald’s Canada Hacking

April 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

McDonald’s Corp’s Canadian unit announced on Friday personal information of about 95,000 restaurant job applicants has been compromised in a cyber attack on its careers website.

The information included names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and employment backgrounds of candidates who applied online for jobs at McDonald’s Canada restaurants between March 2014 and March 2017.

The careers website was shut down after McDonald’s learned of the attack, and will remain closed until an ongoing investigation is complete, the unit said.

The company said it currently had no evidence that the information taken had been misused.

McDonald’s Canada said its job application forms do not ask for sensitive personal information such as social insurance numbers, banking or health information.

McDonald’s said earlier this month its official Twitter handle was compromised after a tweet sent from the account slammed U.S. President Donald Trump.

Twitter Mulls Subscription Based Model

March 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc is weighing whether to build a premium version of its popular Tweetdeck interface aimed at professionals, the company has announced, raising the possibility that it could charge subscription fees for some users for the first time.

Like most other social media companies, Twitter since its founding 11 years ago has focused on building a huge user base for a free service supported by advertising. Last month it reported it had 319 million users worldwide.

But unlike the much-larger Facebook Inc, Twitter has failed to attract enough in advertising revenue to turn a profit even as its popularity with U.S. President Donald Trump and other celebrities makes the network a constant center of attention.

Subscription fees could come from a version of Tweetdeck, an existing interface that helps users navigate Twitter.

Twitter is conducting a survey “to assess the interest in a new, more enhanced version of Tweetdeck,” spokeswoman Brielle Villablanca has said in a statement.

She went on: “We regularly conduct user research to gather feedback about people’s Twitter experience and to better inform our product investment decisions, and we’re exploring several ways to make Tweetdeck even more valuable for professionals.”

There was no indication that Twitter was considering charging fees from all its users.

Word of the survey had earlier leaked on Twitter, where a journalist affiliated with the New York Times posted screenshots of what a premium version of Tweetdeck could look like.

That version could include “more powerful tools to help marketers, journalists, professionals, and others in our community find out what is happening in the world quicker,” according to one of the screenshots posted on the account @andrewtavani.

The experience could be ad-free, the description said.

Other social media firms, such as Microsoft Corp’s LinkedIn unit, already have tiered memberships, with subscription versions that offer greater access and data.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, Twitter posted the slowest revenue growth since it went public four years earlier, and revenue from advertising fell year-over-year. The company also said that advertising revenue growth would continue to lag user growth during 2017.

EU Gives Social Media Companies A Month To Make User Agreements Compliant

March 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook, Twitter and Google have been given a month to update their user agreements in the European Union or face “enforcement action.”

European consumer authorities put the social media services on notice last November that their terms of service did not comply with EU law, asked them to make changes and to address the problem of scams that misled users of the services.

The authorities and the European Commission met with the companies on Thursday to discuss their proposed changes, and gave them a month to make their final proposals, the European Commission said Friday. If those proposals don’t satisfy the authorities, then they could take enforcement action, the Commission said.

The European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová, said it was unacceptable that European consumers had to take their disputes with the companies to courts in California, and that they were deprived of their rights under EU law to withdraw from online purchases.

She called on the social media companies to take more responsibility for dealing with scams and fraud conducted via their platforms.

For the social media companies to bring their terms of service into compliance with EU law, the regulators say they must allow consumers to raise disputes in the courts of their country of residence, and not force them to waive their mandatory rights. These rights include being able to withdraw from online purchases. The companies should not be able to grant themselves the right to remove content or change contract terms without notice.

The regulators identified a number of fraudulent practices that exploit the social media companies’ networks, including scams taking payment from consumers, sale of counterfeit products, or “subscription traps” in which consumers believe they are registering for a free trial but end up agreeing to make ongoing payments.

They want the social media companies to remove such scams from their websites on demand, and to provide national consumer protection authorities with a single point of contact to highlight such illegal content and arrange for it to be taken down.

Facebook Bans Surveillance Tools Creation From Own Massive Data

March 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc is forbidding software developers from using the massive social network’s data to create surveillance tools, closing off a process that had been exploited by U.S. police departments to track protesters

Facebook, its Instagram unit and rival Twitter Inc came under fire last year from privacy advocates after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a report that police were using location data and other user information to spy on protesters in places such as Ferguson, Missouri.

In response to the ACLU report, the companies shut off the data access of Geofeedia, a Chicago-based data vendor that said it works with organizations to “leverage social media,” but Facebook policy had not explicitly barred such use of data in the future.

“Our goal is to make our policy explicit,” Rob Sherman, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer, said in a post on the social network on Monday. He was not immediately available for an interview.

The change would help build “a community where people can feel safe making their voices heard,” Sherman said.

Racially charged protests broke out in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson in the aftermath of the August 2014 shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.

In a 2015 email message, a Geofeedia employee touted its “great success” covering the protests, according to the ACLU report based on government records.

Representatives of Geofeedia could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. The company has worked with more than 500 law enforcement agencies, the ACLU said.

Geofeedia Chief Executive Officer Phil Harris said in October that the company was committed to privacy and would work to build on civil rights protections.

Major social media platforms including Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube have taken action or implemented policies similar to Facebook’s, said Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.

Ozer praised the companies’ action but said they should have stopped such use of data earlier. “It shouldn’t take a public records request from the ACLU for these companies to know what their developers are doing,” she said.

It was also unclear how the companies would enforce their policies, said Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, a nonprofit that opposes government use of social media for surveillance.

Inside corporations, “is the will there, without constant activist pressure, to enforce these rules?” Cyril said.

FCC Says It Will Investigate AT&T Mobile’s 911 Call Issue

March 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

AT&T’s mobile subscribers in some states were not able to place 911 emergency calls late Wednesday, leading to complaints from police departments and emergency agencies in various parts of the country.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai wrote on Twitter that his agency was receiving reports of widespread AT&T 911 call outages and its public safety staff was investigating.

Pai tweeted about an hour later that AT&T had reported to him that 911 service was restored. “The @FCC will investigate the root cause of the outage and its impact,” he added.

AT&T tweeted that an issue that affected some calls to 911 from wireless customers had been resolved.

Mobile users in at least 14 states and Washington, D.C., were unable to call 911 for a few hours on Wednesday night, The New York Times reported.

The FCC has previously fined service providers for outages. In July 2015, the agency reached a $17.5 million settlement with T-Mobile USA, resolving an investigation into two separate but related 911 service outages that occurred on the company’s national network in 2014 and together lasted nearly three hours.

The outage on Wednesday will likely give momentum to plans to upgrade the current 911 system to a next generation system that would allow people to send text, images and video when reporting an emergency.

The National Emergency Number Association said Wednesday that the outage highlights the immediate need to transition 911 centers in the U.S. to the next-generation NG9-1-1 technology that can “intelligently route around outages, redirect calls to other regions, or use backup facilities in ways that legacy E9-1-1 systems cannot.”

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, and Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, have released draft legislation to quicken the national transition to next generation 911 systems that will take advantage of new broadband and voice technologies.

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