Google

Google Trains AI To Write Wikipedia Articles (theregister.co.uk) 40

The Register: A team within Google Brain -- the web giant's crack machine-learning research lab -- has taught software to generate Wikipedia-style articles by summarizing information on web pages... to varying degrees of success. As we all know, the internet is a never ending pile of articles, social media posts, memes, joy, hate, and blogs. It's impossible to read and keep up with everything. Using AI to tell pictures of dogs and cats apart is cute and all, but if such computers could condense information down into useful snippets, that would be really be handy. It's not easy, though. A paper, out last month and just accepted for this year's International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR) in April, describes just how difficult text summarization really is. A few companies have had a crack at it. Salesforce trained a recurrent neural network with reinforcement learning to take information and retell it in a nutshell, and the results weren't bad.
Facebook

Facebook Plans To Use US Mail To Verify IDs of Election Ad Buyers (reuters.com) 116

Facebook will start using postcards sent by U.S. mail later this year to verify the identities and location of people who want to purchase U.S. election-related advertising on its site, a senior company executive said on Saturday. From a report: The postcard verification is Facebook's latest effort to respond to criticism from lawmakers, security experts and election integrity watchdog groups that it and other social media companies failed to detect and later responded slowly to Russia's use of their platforms to spread divisive political content, including disinformation, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
AI

Deep Neural Networks for Bot Detection (arxiv.org) 38

From a research paper on Arxiv: The problem of detecting bots, automated social media accounts governed by software but disguising as human users, has strong implications. For example, bots have been used to sway political elections by distorting online discourse, to manipulate the stock market, or to push anti-vaccine conspiracy theories that caused health epidemics. Most techniques proposed to date detect bots at the account level, by processing large amount of social media posts, and leveraging information from network structure, temporal dynamics, sentiment analysis, etc. In this paper [PDF], we propose a deep neural network based on contextual long short-term memory (LSTM) architecture that exploits both content and metadata to detect bots at the tweet level: contextual features are extracted from user metadata and fed as auxiliary input to LSTM deep nets processing the tweet text.
The Internet

FreeBSD's New Code of Conduct (freebsd.org) 812

FreeBSD has a new code of conduct, which is making several people angry. From the blog post: This code of conduct applies to all spaces used by the FreeBSD Project, including our mailing lists, IRC channels, and social media, both online and off. Anyone who is found to violate this code of conduct may be sanctioned or expelled from FreeBSD Project controlled spaces at the discretion of the FreeBSD Code of Conduct Committee. Participants are responsible for knowing and abiding by these rules. Harassment includes but is not limited to: Comments that reinforce systemic oppression related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, mental illness, neurodiversity, physical appearance, body size, age, race, or religion. Unwelcome comments regarding a person's lifestyle choices and practices, including those related to food, health, parenting, drugs, and employment. Deliberate misgendering. Deliberate use of "dead" or rejected names. Gratuitous or off-topic sexual images or behaviour in spaces where they're not appropriate.

Physical contact and simulated physical contact (e.g., textual descriptions like "hug" or "backrub") without consent or after a request to stop. Threats of violence. Incitement of violence towards any individual, including encouraging a person to commit suicide or to engage in self-harm. Deliberate intimidation. Stalking or following. Harassing photography or recording, including logging online activity for harassment purposes. Sustained disruption of discussion. Unwelcome sexual attention. Pattern of inappropriate social contact, such as requesting/assuming inappropriate levels of intimacy with others. Continued one-on-one communication after requests to cease. Deliberate "outing" of any private aspect of a person's identity without their consent except as necessary to protect vulnerable people from intentional abuse. Publication of non-harassing private communication without consent. Publication of non-harassing private communication with consent but in a way that intentionally misrepresents the communication (e.g., removes context that changes the meaning). Knowingly making harmful false claims about a person.

Twitter

NBC Publishes 200,000 Tweets Tied To Russian Trolls 264

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: NBC News is publishing its database of more than 200,000 tweets that Twitter has tied to "malicious activity" from Russia-linked accounts during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. These accounts, working in concert as part of large networks, pushed hundreds of thousands of inflammatory tweets, from fictitious tales of Democrats practicing witchcraft to hardline posts from users masquerading as Black Lives Matter activists. Investigators have traced the accounts to a Kremlin-linked propaganda outfit founded in 2013 known as the Internet Research Association (IRA). The organization has been assessed by the U.S. Intelligence Community to be part of a Russian state-run effort to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential race. And they're not done. At the request of NBC News, three sources familiar with Twitter's data systems cross-referenced the partial list of names released by Congress to create a partial database of tweets that could be recovered. You can download the streamlined spreadsheet (29 mb) with just usernames, tweet and timestamps, view the full data for ten influential accounts via Google Sheets, download tweets.csv (50 mb) and users.csv with full underlying data, and/or explore a graph database in Neo4j, whose software powered the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers investigations.

NBC News' partners at Neo4j have put together a "get started" guide to help you explore the database of Russian tweets. "To recreate a link to an individual tweet found in the spreadsheet, replace 'user_key' in https://twitter.com/user_key/status/tweet_id with the screenname from the 'user_key' field and 'tweet_id' with the number in the 'tweet_id' field," reports NBC News. "Following the links will lead to a suspended page on Twitter. But some copies of the tweets as they originally appeared, including images, can be found by entering the links on webcaches like the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine and archive.is."
Security

Phishing Attack Scores Credentials For More Than 50,000 Snapchat Users (theverge.com) 11

An anonymous reader quotes an exclusive report from The Verge: In late July, Snap's director of engineering emailed the company's team in response to an unfolding privacy threat. A government official from Dorset in the United Kingdom had provided Snap with information about a recent attack on the company's users: a publicly available list, embedded in a phishing website named klkviral.org, that listed 55,851 Snapchat accounts, along with their usernames and passwords. The attack appeared to be connected to a previous incident that the company believed to have been coordinated from the Dominican Republic, according to emails obtained by The Verge. Not all of the account credentials were valid, and Snap had reset the majority of the accounts following the initial attack. But for some period of time, thousands of Snapchat account credentials were available on a public website. According to a person familiar with the matter, the attack relied on a link sent to users through a compromised account that, when clicked, opened a website designed to mimic the Snapchat login screen.
Government

Facebook Must Stop Tracking Belgian Users, Court Rules (mercurynews.com) 83

Facebook must stop tracking Belgian users' surfing outside the social network and delete data it's already gathered, or it will face fines of 250,000 ($312,000) euros a day, a Belgian court ruled. From a report: Facebook "doesn't sufficiently inform" clients about the data it gathers on their broader web use, nor does it explain what it does with the information or say how long it stores it, the Brussels Court of First Instance said in a statement. The social network is coming under increasing fire in Europe, with a high-profile German antitrust probe examining whether it unfairly compels users to sign up to restrictive privacy terms. Belgium's data-protection regulators have targeted the company since at least 2015 when a court ordered it to stop storing non-users' personal data.
Social Networks

US Charges Russian Social Media Trolls Over Election Tampering (cnet.com) 484

The US Justice Department has filed charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups for interfering with the 2016 presidential election. From a report: In an indictment [PDF] released on Friday, the Justice Department called out the Internet Research Agency, a notorious group behind the Russian propaganda effort across social media. Employees for the agency created troll accounts and used bots to prop up arguments and sow political chaos during the 2016 presidential campaign. Facebook, Twitter and Google have struggled to deal with fake news, trolling campaigns and bots on their platforms, facing the scorn of Capitol Hill over their mishandlings. The indictment lists 13 Russian nationals tied to the effort.
Twitter

Federal Judge Says Embedding a Tweet Can Be Copyright Infringement (eff.org) 149

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: Rejecting years of settled precedent, a federal court in New York has ruled [PDF] that you could infringe copyright simply by embedding a tweet in a web page. Even worse, the logic of the ruling applies to all in-line linking, not just embedding tweets. If adopted by other courts, this legally and technically misguided decision would threaten millions of ordinary Internet users with infringement liability.

This case began when Justin Goldman accused online publications, including Breitbart, Time, Yahoo, Vox Media, and the Boston Globe, of copyright infringement for publishing articles that linked to a photo of NFL star Tom Brady. Goldman took the photo, someone else tweeted it, and the news organizations embedded a link to the tweet in their coverage (the photo was newsworthy because it showed Brady in the Hamptons while the Celtics were trying to recruit Kevin Durant). Goldman said those stories infringe his copyright.
"[W]hen defendants caused the embedded Tweets to appear on their websites, their actions violated plaintiff's exclusive display right; the fact that the image was hosted on a server owned and operated by an unrelated third party (Twitter) does not shield them from this result," Judge Katherine Forrest said.
Media

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Is Under Investigation Over $3.9 Billion Media Deal 142

According to a report in The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled), Ajit Pai and the FCC approved a set of rules in 2017 to allow television broadcasters to increase the number of stations they own. Weeks after the rules were approved, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media. PC Gamer reports: The deal was made possible by the new set of rules, which subsequently raised some eyebrows. Notably, the FCC's inspector general is reportedly investigating if Pai and his aides abused their position by pushing for the rule changes that would make the deal possible, and timing them to benefit Sinclair. The extent of the investigation is not clear, nor is how long it will take. However, it does bring up the question of whether Pai had coordinated with Sinclair, and it could force him to publicly address the topic, which he hasn't really done up to this point.

Legislators first pushed for an investigation into this matter last November. At the time, a spokesman for the FCC representing Pai called the allegations "baseless" and alluded to it being a partisan play by those who oppose the chairman. "For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the FCC to update its media ownership regulations," the FCC spokesman said. "The chairman is sticking to his long-held views, and given the strong case for modernizing these rules, it's not surprising that those who disagree with him would prefer to do whatever they can to distract from the merits of his proposals."
Transportation

Bloomberg Starts Tracking Tesla Model 3 Production (bloomberg.com) 53

WindBourne writes: Tesla is producing their Model 3, but is apparently tired of answering critics about production. So, they quit telling. Now, Bloomberg has an active tracker that shows the total production and deliveries, along with the production per week, which is probably more important. In fact, they are now up to 1,025 Model 3s per week, and it is apparent that Tesla is growing by leaps and bounds on this as parts of the manufacturing line are converted to full robotics. Bloomberg reportedly tracks Tesla's production via Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs), which are unique strings of digits displayed on every new car sold in the U.S., along with "data from official U.S. government resources, social media reports, and direct communication with Tesla owners." While the company is now building approximately 1,025 Model 3 vehicles a week, Bloomberg estimates that Tesla has manufactured a total of 7,438 Model 3s so far.
Twitter

Pro-Gun Russian Bots Flood Twitter After Parkland Shooting (wired.com) 698

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Wired: In the wake of Wednesday's Parkland, Florida school shooting, which resulted in 17 deaths, troll and bot-tracking sites reported an immediate uptick in related tweets from political propaganda bots and Russia-linked Twitter accounts. Hamilton 68, a website created by Alliance for Securing Democracy, tracks Twitter activity from accounts it has identified as linked to Russian influence campaigns. On RoBhat Labs' Botcheck.me, a website created by two Berkeley students to track 1500 political propaganda bots, all of the top two-word phrases used in the last 24 hours -- excluding President Trump's name -- are related to the tragedy: School shooting, gun control, high school, Florida school. The top hashtags from the last 24 hours include Parkland, guncontrol, and guncontrolnow.

While RoBhat Labs tracks general political bots, Hamilton 68 focuses specifically on those linked to the Russian government. According to the group's data, the top link shared by Russia-linked accounts in the last 48 hours is a 2014 Politifact article that looks critically at a statistic cited by pro-gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. Twitter accounts tracked by the group have used the old link to try to debunk today's stats about the frequency of school shootings. Another top link shared by the network covers the "deranged" Instagram account of the shooter, showing images of him holding guns and knives, wearing army hats, and a screenshot of a Google search of the phrase "Allahu Akbar." Characterizing shooters as deranged lone wolves with potential terrorist connections is a popular strategy of pro-gun groups because of the implication that new gun laws could not have prevented their actions. Meanwhile, some accounts with large bot followings are already spreading misinformation about the shooter's ties to far-left group Antifa, even though the Associated Press reported that he was a member of a local white nationalist group. The Twitter account Education4Libs, which RoBhat Labs shows is one among the top accounts tweeted at by bots, is among the prominent disseminators of that idea.

Google

Gmail Go, a Lightweight Version of Google's Email App, Launched on Android (techcrunch.com) 55

Google has added a notable addition to its line of "Go" edition apps -- the lightweight apps designed primarily for emerging markets -- with the launch of Gmail Go. From a report: The app, like others in the Go line, takes up less storage space on users' smartphones and makes better use of mobile data compared with the regular version of Gmail. The app also offers standard Gmail features like multiple account support, conversation view, attachments, and push notifications for new messages. It also prioritizes messages from friends and family first, while categorizing promotional and social emails in separate tabs, as Gmail does. But like other Go apps, Gmail Go doesn't consume as much storage space on the device. In fact, according to numerous reports, Gmail Go clocked in at a 9.51 MB download, and takes up roughly 25 MB of space on a device, compared with Gmail's 20.66 MB download, and 47 MB storage space.
Facebook

Facebook Is Spamming Users Via Their 2FA Phone Numbers (mashable.com) 119

According to Mashable, Facebook account holder Gabriel Lewis tweeted that Facebook texted "spam" to the phone number he submitted for the purposes of 2-factor authentication. Lewis insists that he did not have mobile notifications turned on, and when he replied "stop" and "DO NOT TEXT ME," he says those messages showed up on his Facebook wall. From the report: Lewis explained his version of the story to Mashable via Twitter direct message. "[Recently] I decided to sign up for 2FA on all of my accounts including FaceBook, shortly afterwards they started sending me notifications from the same phone number. I never signed up for it and I don't even have the FB app on my phone." Lewis further explained that he can go "for months" without signing into Facebook, which suggests the possibility that Mark Zuckerberg's creation was feeling a little neglected and trying to get him back. According to Lewis, he signed up for 2FA on Dec. 17 and the alleged spamming began on Jan. 5. Importantly, Lewis isn't the only person who claims this happened to him. One Facebook user says he accidentally told "friends and family to go [to] hell" when he "replied to the spam."
Google

Google Is Adding Snapchat-Style Stories To Mobile Search Results (qz.com) 21

Google is rolling out tappable, visual stories that incorporate text, images, and videos in the style made popular by Snapchat. "It started widely testing the multimedia format, called AMP stories, today (Feb. 13) in an effort to help publishers engage more with readers on mobile," reports Quartz. Google announced the feature in a developer blog post. From the report: Users can now find Google stories in search results -- in a box called "visual stories" -- when they search on mobile at g.co/ampstories for the names of publishers that have begun using the format, such as CNN, Conde Nast, Hearst, Mashable, Meredith, Mic, Vox Media, and the Washington Post brands. Google worked with those publishers to develop the format. Desktop users can also get a taste of stories through Google's Accelerate Mobile Pages site. When a user selects a story, like Cosmopolitan magazine's piece on apple cider vinegar, it displays in a full-screen, slideshow format, similar to those on Snapchat and Instagram.

The multimedia format is part of Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project, a competitor to Facebook's Instant Articles that helps load pages faster on mobile devices. Like AMP, the AMP story format is open-sourced, so anyone can use it. However, Google is reportedly only displaying stories from a select group of publishers, including those it partnered with on the development, on its own site at the moment. The company said it plans to bring AMP stories to more Google products in the future, and expand the ways they appear in Google search.

Security

Many ID-Protection Services Fail Basic Security (tomsguide.com) 47

Paul Wagenseil, writing for Tom's Guide: For a monthly fee, identity-protection services promise to do whatever they can to make sure your private personal information doesn't fall into the hands of criminals. Yet many of these services -- including LifeLock, IDShield and Credit Sesame -- put personal information at risk, because they don't let customers use two-factor authentication (2FA). This simple security precaution is offered by many online services. Without 2FA, anyone who has your email address and password -- which might be obtained from a data breach or a phishing email -- could log in to the account for your identity-protection service and, depending on how the service protects them, possibly steal your bank-account, credit-card and Social Security numbers.
Facebook

Facebook Lost Around 2.8 Million US Users Under 25 Last Year (recode.net) 145

According to new estimates by eMarketer, Facebook users in the 12- to 17-year-old demographic declined by 9.9 percent in 2017, or about 1.4 million total users. That's almost three times more than the digital measurement firm expected. There were roughly 12.1 million U.S. Facebook users in the 12- to 17-year-old demographic by the end of the year. Recode reports: There are likely multiple reasons for the decline. Facebook has been losing its "cool" factor for years, and young people have more options than ever for staying in touch with friends and family. Facebook also serves as a digital record keeper -- but many young people don't seem to care about saving their life online, at least not publicly. That explains why Snapchat and Instagram, which offer features for sharing photos and videos that disappear, are growing in popularity among this demographic. Overall, eMarketer found Facebook lost about 2.8 million U.S. users under 25 last year. The research firm released Facebook usage estimates for 2018 on Monday, and expects that Facebook will lose about 2.1 million users in the U.S. under the age of 25 this year.
Privacy

German Court Rules Facebook Use of Personal Data Illegal (reuters.com) 79

A German consumer rights group said on Monday that a court had found Facebook's use of personal data to be illegal because the U.S. social media platform did not adequately secure the informed consent of its users. From a report: The verdict, from a Berlin regional court, comes as Big Tech faces increasing scrutiny in Germany over its handling of sensitive personal data that enables it to micro-target online advertising. The Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzvb) said that Facebook's default settings and some of its terms of service were in breach of consumer law, and that the court had found parts of the consent to data usage to be invalid. "Facebook hides default settings that are not privacy-friendly in its privacy center and does not provide sufficient information about it when users register," said Heiko Duenkel, litigation policy officer at the vzvb. "This does not meet the requirement for informed consent."
Facebook

A Facebook Employee Asked a Reporter To Turn Off His Phone So Facebook Couldn't Track Its Location (businessinsider.com) 304

Steve Kovach, writing for BusinessInsider: To corporate giants like Facebook, leaks to rivals or the media are a cardinal sin. That notion was clear in a new Wired story about Facebook's rocky time over the last two years. The story talks about how Facebook was able to find two leakers who told a Gizmodo reporter about its news operations. But one source for the Wired story highlighted just how concerned employees are about how their company goes after leakers. According to the story, the source, a current Facebook employee, asked a Wired reporter to turn off his phone so Facebook wouldn't be able to use location tracking and see that the two were close to each other for the meeting. The Wired's 11,000-word wide-ranging piece, for which it spoke with more than 50 current and former Facebook employees, gives us an inside look at how the company has been struggling to curb spread of fake news; battling internal discrimination among employees; and becoming furious when anything leaks to the media. Another excerpt from the story: The day after Fearnow (a contractor who leaked information to a Gizmodo reporter) took that second screenshot was a Friday. When he woke up after sleeping in, he noticed that he had about 30 meeting notifications from Facebook on his phone. When he replied to say it was his day off, he recalls, he was nonetheless asked to be available in 10 minutes. Soon he was on a video-conference with three Facebook employees, including Sonya Ahuja, the company's head of investigations. According to his recounting of the meeting, she asked him if he had been in touch with Nunez (the Gizmodo reporter, who eventually published this and this). He denied that he had been. Then she told him that she had their messages on Gchat, which Fearnow had assumed weren't accessible to Facebook. He was fired. "Please shut your laptop and don't reopen it," she instructed him.
Facebook

Facebook 'Likes' Are a Powerful Tool For Authoritarian Rulers, Court Petition Says (qz.com) 60

A Cambodian opposition leader has filed a petition in a California court against Facebook, demanding the company disclose its transactions with his country's authoritarian prime minister, whom he accuses of falsely inflating his popularity through purchased "likes" and spreading fake news. From a report: The petition, filed Feb. 8, brings the ongoing debate over Facebook's power to undermine democracies into a legal setting. The petitioner, Sam Rainsy, says that Hun Sen, the prime minister, "has used the network to threaten violence against political opponents and dissidents, disseminate false information, and manipulate his (and the regime's) supposed popularity, thus seeking to foster an illusion of popular legitimacy." Rainsy alleges that Hun had used "click farms" to artificially boost his popularity, effectively buying "likes." The petition says that Hun had achieved astonishing Facebook fame in a very short time, raising questions about whether this popularity was legitimate.

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