By msmash from Slashdot's god-damn-it-facebook department
Kashmir Hill, reporting for Gizmodo: Last week, I ran an ad on Facebook targeted at a computer science professor named Alan Mislove. Mislove studies how privacy works on social networks and had a theory that Facebook is letting advertisers reach users with contact information collected in surprising ways. I was helping him test the theory by targeting him in a way Facebook had previously told me wouldn't work. I directed the ad to display to a Facebook account connected to the landline number for Alan Mislove's office, a number Mislove has never provided to Facebook. He saw the ad within hours. One of the many ways that ads get in front of your eyeballs on Facebook and Instagram is that the social networking giant lets an advertiser upload a list of phone numbers or email addresses it has on file; it will then put an ad in front of accounts associated with that contact information. A clothing retailer can put an ad for a dress in the Instagram feeds of women who have purchased from them before, a politician can place Facebook ads in front of anyone on his mailing list, or a casino can offer deals to the email addresses of people suspected of having a gambling addiction. Facebook calls this a "custom audience." You might assume that you could go to your Facebook profile and look at your "contact and basic info" page to see what email addresses and phone numbers are associated with your account, and thus what advertisers can use to target you. But as is so often the case with this highly efficient data-miner posing as a way to keep in contact with your friends, it's going about it in a less transparent and more invasive way. [...] Giridhari Venkatadri, Piotr Sapiezynski, and Alan Mislove of Northeastern University, along with Elena Lucherini of Princeton University, did a series of tests that involved handing contact information over to Facebook for a group of test accounts in different ways and then seeing whether that information could be used by an advertiser. They came up with a novel way to detect whether that information became available to advertisers by looking at the stats provided by Facebook about the size of an audience after contact information is uploaded. They go into this in greater length and technical detail in their paper [PDF]. They found that when a user gives Facebook a phone number for two-factor authentication or in order to receive alerts about new log-ins to a user's account, that phone number became targetable by an advertiser within a couple of weeks. Officially, Facebook denies the existence of shadow profiles. In a hearing with the House Energy & Commerce Committee earlier this year, when New Mexico Representative Ben Lujan asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg if he was aware of the so-called practice of building "shadow profiles", Zuckerberg denied knowledge of it.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's fighting-back department
Facebook's David Marcus, who until recently ran the Facebook Messenger before starting the blockchain group earlier this year, is defending the company and CEO Mark Zuckerberg after a WhatsApp founder spoke critically of his experience at the company. Marcus: [...] On the business model. I was present in a lot of these meetings. Again, Mark protected WhatsApp for a very long period of time. And you have to put this in the context of a large organization with businesses knocking on our door to have the ability to engage and communicate with their customers on WhatsApp the same way they were doing it on Messenger. During this time, it became pretty clear that while advocating for business messaging, and being given the opportunity to build and deliver on that promise, Brian actively slow-played the execution, and never truly went for it. In my view, if you're passionate about a certain path -- in this case, letting businesses message people and charging for it -- and if you have internal questions about it, then work hard to prove that your approach has legs and demonstrate the value. Don't be passive-aggressive about it. And by the way the paid messaging that WhatsApp is rolling out now sounds pretty similar to metered messaging from my point of view... Lastly -- call me old fashioned. But I find attacking the people and company that made you a billionaire, and went to an unprecedented extent to shield and accommodate you for years, low-class. It's actually a whole new standard of low-class. I'll close by saying that as far as I'm concerned, and as a former lifelong entrepreneur and founder, there's no other large company I'd work at, and no other leader I'd work for. I want to work on hard problems that positively impact the lives of billions of people around the world. And Facebook is truly the only company that's singularly about people.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Another day, another hearing of tech giants in Congress. Wednesday's hearing at the Senate Commerce Committee with Apple, Amazon, Google and Twitter, alongside AT&T and Charter, marked the latest in a string of hearings in the past few months into all things tech: but mostly controversies embroiling the companies, from election meddling to transparency. This time, privacy was at the top of the agenda. The problem, lawmakers say, is that consumers have little of it. From a report: The hearing said that the U.S. was lagging behind Europe's new GDPR privacy rules and California's recently passed privacy law, which goes into effect in 2020, and lawmakers were edging toward introducing their own federal privacy law. AT&T, Apple, Charter and Google used their time in the Senate to call on lawmakers to introduce new federal privacy legislation. Tech companies spent the past year pushing back against the new state regulations, but have conceded that new privacy rules are inevitable. Now the companies realize that it's better to sit at the table to influence a federal privacy law than stand outside in the cold. In pushing for a new federal law, representatives from each company confirmed that they support the preemption of California's new rules -- something that critics oppose. AT&T's chief lawyer Len Cali said that a patchwork of state laws would be unworkable. Apple, too, agreed to support a privacy law, but noted as a company that doesn't hoard user data for advertising -- like Facebook and Google -- that any federal law would need to put a premium on protecting the consumer rather than helping companies make money. But Amazon's chief lawyer Andrew DeVore said that complying with privacy rules has "required us to divert significant resources to administrative tasks and away from invention."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
Brian Acton, a founder of WhatsApp, which he (along with the other founder) sold to Facebook for $19 billion four years ago, has grown tired of the social juggernaut. He left the company a year ago, and earlier this year, he surprised many when he tweeted "#DeleteFacebook", offering his support to what many described as a movement. He had started despising working at Facebook so much, that he left the company abruptly, leaving a cool $850M in unvested stock. He has also invested $50 million in encrypted chat app Signal. In an interview with Forbes, published Wednesday, Acton talked about his rationale behind leaving the company and what he thinks of Facebook now. From the story: Under pressure from Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg to monetize WhatsApp, he pushed back as Facebook questioned the encryption he'd helped build and laid the groundwork to show targeted ads and facilitate commercial messaging. Acton also walked away from Facebook a year before his final tranche of stock grants vested. "It was like, okay, well, you want to do these things I don't want to do," Acton says. "It's better if I get out of your way. And I did." It was perhaps the most expensive moral stand in history. Acton took a screenshot of the stock price on his way out the door -- the decision cost him $850 million. He's following a similar moral code now. He clearly doesn't relish the spotlight this story will bring and is quick to underscore that Facebook "isn't the bad guy." ("I think of them as just very good businesspeople.") But he paid dearly for the right to speak his mind. "As part of a proposed settlement at the end, [Facebook management] tried to put a nondisclosure agreement in place," Acton says. "That was part of the reason that I got sort of cold feet in terms of trying to settle with these guys." It's also a story any idealistic entrepreneur can identify with: What happens when you build something incredible and then sell it to someone with far different plans for your baby? "At the end of the day, I sold my company," Acton says. "I sold my users' privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day." Facebook, Acton says, had decided to pursue two ways of making money from WhatsApp. First, by showing targeted ads in WhatsApp's new Status feature, which Acton felt broke a social compact with its users. "Targeted advertising is what makes me unhappy," he says. His motto at WhatsApp had been "No ads, no games, no gimmicks" -- a direct contrast with a parent company that derived 98% of its revenue from advertising. Another motto had been "Take the time to get it right," a stark contrast to "Move fast and break things." Elsewhere in the story, Acton has also suggested he was used by Facebook to help get its 2014 acquisition of WhatsApp past EU regulators that had been concerned it might be able to link accounts -- as it subsequently did.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's cause-and-effect department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: A new study [published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] by scientists at the University of Texas at Austin posit that glyphosate -- the active ingredient in the herbicide -- destroys specialized gut bacteria in bees, leaving them more susceptible to infection and death from harmful bacteria. Researchers Nancy Moran, Erick Motta and Kasie Raymann suggest their findings are evidence that glyphosate might be contributing to colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon that has been wreaking havoc on honey bees and native bees for more than a decade. They hope their results will convince farmers, landscapers and homeowners to stop spraying glyphosate-based herbicides on flowering plants that are likely to be pollinated by bees.
"No large-scale study has ever found a link between glyphosate and honey bee health issues," Bayer said in a statement, adding that the new study "does not change that." Bayer noted the study relied on a small sample of individual bees and that it does not meet regulatory research criteria on pesticides stipulated by international guidelines developed by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development and other international organizations. Additionally, the company suggested it is "questionable whether the concentrations of the substance tested could at all be absorbed by bee populations in the open over a relevant period of time." According to the report in the journal, the researchers focused on honey bees and used "hundreds of adult worker bees from a single hive" and treated them with varying levels of glyphosate. Editor's note: In June, Germany's pharmaceutical giant Bayer purchased Monsanto, the company that developed Roundup.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's overachiever-turned-criminal department
Former NSA employee Nghia Hoang Pho, 64, was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for taking top secret U.S. defense files to his home. Pho pleaded guilty in December to willful retention of national defense information, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement. The maximum sentence for this crime is 10 years, but prosecutors were recommending a sentence of eight years. CNET reports: Pho, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Vietnam, worked in the NSA's Tailored Access Group, the agency's team that focuses on tools that can directly hack surveillance targets. Between 2010 and March 2015, Pho took home paper and digital copies of U.S. government documents and writings that contained national defense information on them, the Justice Department said. Pho reportedly had antivirus software from Kaspersky Lab on his home computer network and the software scooped up the top secret information as part of its virus scanning process. Kaspersky has acknowledged that its software lifted hacking tools from a home computer in 2014 but said it wasn't part of an intentional effort to steal information from the NSA. Pho said in court he took the materials home so he could put in more work to earn a promotion, according to CBS Baltimore.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's meanwhile-in-India department
India's top court refused to scrap Aadhaar, the world's largest biometric database, in a ruling announced Wednesday, upholding the validity of the sprawling digital-identity program but also imposing some restrictions on its use and proliferation. Huffington Post reports: The majority judgement of the court read down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act of 2016, holding that private companies cannot insist on Aadhaar numbers from citizens to provide services. The court upheld the validity of linking aadhaar to PAN cards, suggesting that -- should the government wish it -- anyone who pays income tax will have to an aadhaar number anyway. However, the court held the linking of aadhaar numbers to bank accounts, as mandated by an amendment to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act of 2002, was unconstitutional. The court also held that educational institutions and bodies like the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) and University Grants Commission (UGC), and schools and colleges, cannot ask for Aadhaar details of potential candidates. Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, and Justices AK Sikri and AM Khanwilkar delivered a concurrent majority judgement, while Justices DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan delivered separate opinions. The majority judgement, read out in a packed courthouse by Justice Sikri, relied heavily on the court's landmark 2017 Privacy judgement. "Today the Supreme Court has passed a historic judgement on Aadhaar," said Supreme Court Advocate Prashant Bhushan. "They have held several parts of the Aadhaar act to be unconstitutional." The court's decision restricting private companies from demanding Aadhaar numbers, Bhushan said, would come as a relief.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's browser-updates department
Vivaldi announced Wednesday it has released a major update to its namesake desktop web browser, remaining as one of the rare companies that is still attempting to fight Google's monopoly in the space. Major features in Vivaldi 2.0 include: Syncing browsers across computers:Version 2.0 allows users to sync data, including bookmarks, passwords, autofill information, and history. Vivaldi uses its own servers to store the data, which is all encrypted end-to-end.
Panels: These are expandable, multi-tasking dashboards that can be opened in the sidebar. Tab management: Additional features are included that allow for better searching through tabs, stacking them, and even renaming them.
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's heads-up department
Google is partnering with the Central Water Commission of India to alert users in the country about impending floods. As The Verge notes, "the service is only available in the Patna region, with the first alert going out earlier this month." From the report: As Google's engineering VP Yossi Matias outlines in a blog post, these predictions are being made using a combination of machine learning, rainfall records, and flood simulations. "A variety of elements -- from historical events, to river level readings, to the terrain and elevation of a specific area -- feed into our models," writes Matias. "With this information, we've created river flood forecasting models that can more accurately predict not only when and where a flood might occur, but the severity of the event as well."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's finger-pointing department
Iwastheone shares a report from BGR: When looking at the Earth from afar it appears to be a perfect sphere, but that actually isn't the case. Because Earth isn't uniform on all sides due to land masses that shift and change over time, our planet actually wobbles a bit when it spins. Now, a new study by researchers with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and several universities and science centers has pinpointed the causes of Earth's imperfect spin, called "polar motion," and they found that humans are contributing to it. The researchers used a wealth of data gathered over 100 years to build mathematical models to trace the causes of the wobble and found that three factors are at play, and mankind is responsible for one of them. Two of the three factors identified by the scientists are glacial rebound and mantle convection. Glacial rebound happens when thick ice sheets physically push down on land masses, compressing them, but then release that pressure upon melting. The land then balloons back up over time, causing Earth's spin to wobble as if slightly off-axis. The effects of the last ice age, which would have compressed a huge amount of land across many continents, is still being felt today in the form of glacial rebound. Mantle convection, the other uncontrollable factor in Earth's wobble, relates to our planet's inner workings. The plates on Earth's surface are in constant flux due to the movement of liquid rock far beneath our feet. The researchers believe these currents also contribute to the planet's imperfect spin. The third and final factor identified by the scientists is the massive loss of ice on Greenland and other areas, which is the direct result of global warming thanks to human activities. The researchers estimate that Greenland has lost roughly 7,500 gigatons, or 7,500,000,000,000 metric tons of ice due to global warming. All that ice loss has happened in the 20th century, and greenhouse gas production has been cited as the primary culprit. Losing all that mass has caused a significant shift on the planet and has contributed to the wobble as well.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's regulated-relationships department
A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that drivers "seeking to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors must arbitrate their claims individually, and not pursue class-action lawsuits," reports Reuters. Ars Technica explains the significance of this ruling: Employees are guaranteed to earn federal minimum wage and are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours per week. Uber employees, in contrast, are paid by the ride and might earn much less than minimum wage if they drive at a slow time of day. California law also gives employees the right to be reimbursed for expenses they incur on the job, which would be significant for Uber drivers who otherwise are responsible for gas, maintenance, insurance, and other expenses of operating an Uber vehicle.
Hence, the question of whether Uber drivers are employees or independent contractors is a big and important one. It's also a question that isn't addressed at all in Tuesday's ruling, as the courts never get to the substance of the plaintiffs' arguments about employment law. Instead, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit court ruled that the drivers signed away their rights to sue in court when they signed up to be Uber drivers. Uber's agreement with drivers requires that this kind of dispute be handled by private arbitration rather than by a lawsuit in the public courts. The court cited a Supreme Court ruling handed down in May that held that federal labor law did not preempt arbitration agreements. [...] the decision means that each driver's case must be fought on an individual, case-by-case basis. Class-action lawsuits in the federal courts allow plaintiffs to effectively pool their resources. [...] But under arbitration, each driver's case will be considered individually. Most won't have the resources to afford top-tier legal representation, and drivers won't have the inherent leverage that comes from being able to bargain as a group.Read Replies (0)