It’s hard to find a positive side to the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica (CA) scandal. But if there is one, it’s that it’s caused tech companies, lawmakers and users to think more deeply about personal data, how it’s being used and who actually owns it. Facebook says that you, the user, are the sole owner of whatever information you consent to share with it. But it will use that data to offer you a free service based on targeted ads. The thing is, Facebook makes billions of dollars doing that, and there are some people who believe you should be getting a piece of it. After all, you are the product.
One of those people (ironically enough) is Brittany Kaiser, a former business director at Cambridge Analytica. Kaiser, who no longer works at CA but was there when the firm harvested user data from Facebook, is now spearheading an online petition dubbed “Tell Facebook: Our Data is our Property #OwnYourData,” which calls for the company to “decentralize power and drive accountability” by updating its terms of service and granting all of its users “simple and fundamental data and property rights immediately.”
The goal, Kaiser says, is to force embattled CEO Mark Zuckerberg to give users control over their data. “Our digital assets, our property,” she says. “It’s time for us to own our own data. This is a human right. We should be able to decide freely how our data is used (and how it is not); stop anyone using it to try and manipulate us; take it with us if we leave the platform; and to get paid for the value our data generates.”
Brittany Kaiser speaking at a hearing in London.
On principle, the idea that users should get paid for the data they consensually share with companies such as Facebook sounds like a dream. Who wouldn’t love to make money by browsing a site they’re already addicted to? But let’s be honest: There’s no chance Facebook would ever agree to pay you royalties for sharing your (anonymized) information with advertisers. Not just because it doesn’t make any business sense, but also because it would be almost impossible to execute successfully.
For one, it would require users to have an understanding of complex legal frameworks. Considering that most people don’t even read (much less comprehend) the terms of service and data privacy policies they have to agree to before using most sites on the internet, that seems far-fetched at best. Sure, you could argue that it would be Facebook’s job to make sure that process is transparent and easy for users to comprehend, but if you’re asking to get paid in a way similar to how musicians do, then you should probably have your own legal counsel to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of.
“You can’t control data,” said Nancy Kim, a professor of law and internet studies at the California Western School of Law. “It’s not like I give you something tangible and I say every time you rent that tangible thing out, you give me a royalty, a certain payment.” The biggest challenge, she added, would be finding a comprehensible way to track your data and all the parties that have it, even if you’re getting paid for it. “Then you would have to depend on the company being completely transparent with you, which, again, this is one of the issues we’re in right now,” Kim said. “People are like ‘Hey, Mark [Zuckerberg], maybe you should be a little bit more transparent with your users,’ and that’s one of the things that he said they’re working on, but he has a bad track record at this point of apologizing and apologizing and apologizing, and now we’re here.”
People are like ‘Hey, Mark [Zuckerberg], maybe you should be a little bit more transparent with your users,’ and that’s one of the things that he said they’re working on, but he has a bad track record at this point of apologizing and apologizing and apologizing, and now we’re here.
Professor Nancy Kim
The music-streaming industry is a perfect example of how complicated the world of royalties can be. Labels, streaming services and artists are frequently locked in legal battles over who gets how much money and when. There’s often the question of whether musicians are getting paid enough by the companies that are making millions of dollars off their content, and a similar trend would likely play out if a campaign like OwnYourData ever became a reality.
In this case, the Facebook users would be like the musicians, who would then also have to worry about figuring out how much their data is worth. And chances are that not everyone’s data is equally valuable. Certain individuals (like celebrities) would likely offer more value to advertisers than others. Facebook is a mess as is, and this has the potential to create an even bigger one.
T.F.E. Tjong Tjin Tai, a professor at Tilburg Law School who teaches about the legal aspects of data and digital developments, including “smart” contracts and liability for algorithms, said this is a “pathetic” idea that won’t work. Since people don’t have access to a full copy of their Facebook data — as in, everything the company knows about you, not just the downloadable file from its site — there simply can’t be any talk of ownership. “Once you provide them access,” he said, “you’ve lost control.” Tjong Tjin Tai added that, although efforts like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) could keep some aspects of how your data is being handled under control, the only real solution at this point would be to fully outlaw the way Facebook collects data. And that’s not something he believes will ever happen.
“I like these crazy ideas in the sense that they’re not feasible,” Tjong Tjin Tai said. “You could argue something [could be done] like what they have in the European Union regarding works of art. If a painter creates a painting, he still gets a cut of the profit made from later sales.” But, he noted, translating that to the internet would be complicated and impractical, because it’s an industry that’s not heavily regulated — or at least it hasn’t been yet. We are beginning to see changes in that regard, starting with GDPR, which goes into effect in the EU on May 25th. And in the US, it seems as if tougher regulation for Facebook and other tech companies is inevitable — especially after the Cambridge Analytica nightmare.
Tjong Tjin Tai said one of the main issues is that the likes of Facebook and Google confuse people about what “data ownership” really means, since they like to say the user is the owner of the information you consent to share — yet, they can almost do whatever they want it once it’s in their possession. Even in instances where you can “download your data”, that file won’t paint the full picture of what a company knows about you. He added that GDPR is making huge strides to solve that problem, but we won’t know just how successful it will be in controlling these companies, if it is at all. “In the end, the only thing which would work is regulation,” Tjong Tjin Tai added. “For physical stuff, you can do without regulation, because you can just chase [someone] off your property and protect your things by putting it in the vault and so on. Data is intangible in that respect.”
There’s no doubt that the 2.2 billion people who use Facebook would love to cash a check from the company, but the sad truth is that this is nothing but a pipe dream. It also ultimately suggests that this isn’t Facebook’s problem to solve, it’s yours, and that doesn’t sound like a fair deal.
Images: Handout / Reuters (Brittany Kaiser); Getty Images (Zuckerberg); DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS via Getty Images (Protest)
When word got out that Twitter had sold data access to Aleksandr Kogan, the researcher at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal, there was a looming question: did he pass that data to Cambridge Analytica? If you ask the company, the answer is an emphatic “no.” In a statement, the firm said it never received Twitter information from Kogan or his company GSR, and that it had never worked with GSR on Twitter data of any kind. Unless there’s a sudden revelation, you can rest easy.
The data itself still appears to be relatively innocuous. Twitter has described it as a randomized sample of public tweets covering the period between December 2014 and April 2015. It shouldn’t compromise any direct messages, then, and users with private accounts also shouldn’t be affected. Even so, it’s understandable why Twitter users might be concerned. GSR harvested and passed along the Facebook data from tens of millions of users without their consent, and there’s a real concern that it might have tried the same approach with Twitter.
While we thought the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ received only incremental changes over their predecessors, but now both are getting another modest upgrade. Soon you’ll be able to buy the phone in 128GB and 256GB.
Sure, users could always get more space for their photos and songs by using external storage, but who wants to mess with SD cards? Having more internal storage built-in is a nice improvement on the S9’s launch version if you anticipate saving a lot of media locally. It’ll come in handy, too, if you plan on shooting in 4K and Super Slow-mo video modes. And if that’s not enough, the bigger smartphones will still support microSD cards up to 400GB.
The 128GB S9 will retail for $770 and the same size S9+ for $890, while the 256GB S9 will cost $820 and the S9+ $940. All options will be available in Lilac Purple, Coral Blue and Midnight Black. Fans can preorder the smartphones starting May 1st, and they’ll be available exclusively on Samsung’s website May 18th.
This week, Facebook will hold its ninth developer conference, and this time, the mood is a little… different. After all, the company has been embroiled in scandal after scandal over the past year, the most recent being the Cambridge Analytica controversy that raised questions over how Facebook handles data privacy, and even led to a rare congressional appearance by CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It’s no surprise, then, that everyone is paying a great deal of attention to what Facebook is doing. Which is why this week’s F8 conference is the perfect opportunity for Facebook to make several key announcements. Here’s what we expect to hear in the days ahead.
Another point of concern is the fight against fake news and hate speech. Facebook is already working to crack down on fake accounts and weed out pages from foreign actors, and has hired an army of fact-checkers. Still, there’s a lot that needs to be done. The company also recently asked users to rank their own trusted sources, and we’ll be interested to see if Facebook has any updates on how that technique is working.
As for hate speech, Facebook rolled out an updated version of its community standards that includes the guidelines that internal reviewers use, in order to be more transparent with users. But this clearly isn’t enough. Zuckerberg has admitted that artificial intelligence is a poor detector of hate speech, and Facebook has also conceded that even human moderators get things wrong. F8 would be a good time for the company to elaborate on how it plans to tackle this problem.
Aside from doing damage control, Facebook should also have some news for the programmer community — F8 is a developer conference, after all. Arguably Facebook’s most important “product” is the News Feed, which has seen a good deal of upheaval in recent months. Aside from limiting fake news, Facebook tweaked things so that users will see more from their friends and family and less content from brands and publishers. At F8, the company could reveal more about how it plans to emphasize so-called “deeper connections” in the News Feed and how developers might leverage that going forward.
There’s also Facebook’s ongoing investment in live and original video. The company has been pouring money into its Watch platform over the past few months, with everything from scripted drama to live events. We wouldn’t be surprised to hear some announcements in this vein.
Of course, Facebook is more than just Facebook — it also owns Instagram, Whatsapp and Messenger. At the very least, we expect we’ll learn the latest user numbers for these services and get an update on how certain features like Stories and Messenger Bots are doing.
And let’s not forget Facebook’s virtual reality projects. As teased earlier this year, Oculus will finally reveal more details about Go, its first standalone headset. We already got some early hands-on time at the Game Developer’s Conference back in March, and we’ll likely get a closer look this week. Though we’ve already heard plenty about Project Santa Cruz, Oculus’ more premium standalone headset, Facebook will likely take this opportunity to share more information about that, too. And, hey, who’s to say the company won’t drop hints about a Rift 2?
And then there’s social VR. Facebook isn’t shy about the fact that one of the core reasons it invested in Oculus is to popularize the notion of getting together in virtual reality. To that end, the company might provide even more updates on Spaces, its social VR platform, along with some insight as to how it’s going so far.
Last but certainly not least, is Facebook’s exploration into augmented reality. We got a hint at how it might work earlier this month with AR-enabled movie posters using Facebook’s camera. That’s not a lot to go on, but it could be an indicator that Facebook wants developers to create AR applications that work inside the company’s own apps. According to the F8 schedule, there’s a panel on “Creating Flagship AR Experiences” and another one where we can hear from businesses like Nike and Warner Bros. on how they use AR for marketing and advertising.
F8 kicks off tomorrow. Be sure to stay tuned this week to see how many of our predictions come true.
Images: Justin Sullivan /Getty Images (Facebook Spaces / VR googles)
Soon you’ll be able to jump into VR experiences on YouTube based on shows from NBC and its affiliates. NBC Universal and Google will collaborate on 10 multi-episode projects. First to come will be a backstage tour of the dog rescue reality show Vanderpump Rules with more to follow in the coming weeks.
The shows will use Google’s Jump platform and 360-degree cameras to immerse viewers in the experiences. Sure, you can view them in 2D on the web or using a mobile phone, like NBC’s earlier 360 videos, but the new programs are meant to be viewed in VR — and some future projects will also be available in VR180, a 4K virtual reality format. This announcement is more promising for the content to come (unless you’re really into Vanderpump Rules), but at least it’s a strategic move to get more network material on YouTube. Think of it like all the missing DVD extras society has lost after switching to streaming services.
Combatting hacking and cheating in online games has taken a serious turn for PlayerUknown’s Battlegrounds developer Bluehole/PubgCorp. Over the weekend it was revealed that Chinese authorities arrested some 15 people for their roles in making and selling cheats for the online shooter, and the offending parties have been fined over $4.5 million (30m yuan). What’s more, this doesn’t sound like it’ll be an isolated incident: the BBC writes that more arrests are expected as the investigation goes on.
More than just giving shady players an unfair advantage, the software was apparently mining users’ computers for login information and personal data. Bluehole has a vested interest in keeping PUBG as level a playing field as possible: If players leave because the game is overrun with hackers, the single-game company will go out of business. Nipping this in the bud sends a clear message that nefarious deeds won’t be tolerated and will be punished to the furthest extent of the law. And you thought an IP ban was the end of the world…
Apple’s widely rumored trio of new iPhone models expected to launch in September might not include a Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter in the box, according to Barclays analyst Blayne Curtis and his associates.
“We currently model no dongle this year,” the analysts predicted, in a research note obtained by MacRumors today.
Cirrus Logic would be the primary loser within Apple’s supply chain, as a supplier of audio-related components inside of the adapter. Barclays has lowered its quarterly and yearly revenue guidance for the company by up to five percent, for the time being, but that could change if they hear otherwise.
At this point, it appears that the Barclays analysts are merely guessing that the adapter will no longer be bundled, as in previous research notes, they have mentioned it may take until May or June to find out for certain.
Barclays does have some credibility in this area, as last year, the investment bank accurately predicted that Apple would continue to include the adapter in the box alongside the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X. The analysts routinely visit with Apple’s supply chain partners in Asia to gather information like this.
“We believe it stays this year but goes away at some point, potentially in the 2018 model,” the analysts said back in April 2017.
Apple eliminating the headphone jack starting with the iPhone 7 was a controversial decision, but the adapter has at least helped ease the transition. Its inclusion has always felt temporary, and as AirPods and other wireless headphone become more widespread, Apple may no longer feel the need to bundle the dongle.
Apple still sells the Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter for $9 as a standalone accessory, which is cheap by its standards, so customers that prefer to use wired headphones won’t be forced to pay too much extra whether the adapter is removed from the iPhone box this year or at a later time.
Tags: Barclays, headphone jack
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Popular photo taking app Halide Camera was today updated to version 1.8, introducing several major new features, like an Apple Watch companion app, new Accessibility options, and a self-timer.
Halide for Apple Watch is designed to complement the Halide app on the iPhone, offering access to tools for framing shots, setting timers, and triggering the camera shutter on the iPhone for hands-free photos.
Halide says the Apple Watch app has been designed to be “blazing fast,” and like the official Apple Watch camera app that accompanies the built-in iPhone camera, the Halide app on Apple Watch offers real-time previews so you can see what you’re shooting right on your wrist.
While the new Apple Watch app has a timer mode, if you don’t have an Apple Watch, you can now access a timer mode within the Halide app on iPhone. You can set a timer for 3, 10, or 30 seconds, and when the timer is active, the shutter button stays depressed and offers up a countdown so you can see how much longer you have until a photo is taken. When used for rear camera shots, the iPhone flash is able to show the progress of the timer.
In addition to these significant new features, Halide 1.8 offers a revamped photo reviewer with a grid-style view that lets Halide users scroll through a grid of shots while also being able to go back to the camera view with a simple flick gesture.
Other improvements in the new version of Halide include support for Dynamic and Bold Type and VoiceOver support for Accessibility purposes, plus enhancements to privacy. In Halide 1.8, you’ll find a new top-level location toggle that lets you turn off the feature that embeds your location information in each and every photo. There are also options to limit location sharing with Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
Finally, Halide 1.8 brings under-the-hood bug fixes, enhancement, and overall “polish” for a faster, more streamlined photo-taking experrience.
Halide Camera can be downloaded from the App Store for $5.99, and the update is free for customers who have previously purchased Halide. [Direct Link]
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The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia space telescope and its one-billion-pixel camera was launched back in 2013 with the mission of mapping the Milky Way Galaxy. After more than a year of gathering data, the ESA released a star map in 2016 containing the position and brightness of millions of nearby stars.
The ESA just released its second “galactic census” after 22 months of observation, which includes detailed analysis of stellar objects up to 8,000 light-years away, including 1.7 billion stars both within our galaxy and beyond. More than just a map, the dataset includes brightness, location, and motions of more than a billion stars as well as more than 14,000 asteroids. The ESA equates the level of detail and precision in some of the measurements to being able to see a quarter on the surface of the moon.
“The sheer number of stars alone, with their positions and motions, would make Gaia’s new catalogue already quite astonishing,” said Dutch astronomer Anthony Brown. “But there is more: this unique scientific catalogue includes many other data types, with information about the properties of the stars and other celestial objects, making this release truly exceptional.”
For stars within a few thousand light-years, Gaia has provided their velocity in three dimensions, as well as the motions of stars within some globular clusters. This data gives insight into the formation and evolution of our galaxy and will further the quest for explanations of the elusive dark matter, which scientists still don’t fully understand.
This latest release also includes detailed virtual reality representations of the Milky Way. You can view it on a smart phone or laptop, but it’s best experienced with VR Cardboard. For a truly immersive experience, there’s also the GaiaVR app, which provides support for the HTC Vive headset.
Gaia Sky is a free real-time astronomy software package that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It contains the data from Gaia’s second release, including visualizations of star clusters, distant galaxies, and quasars, as well as a simulation of our solar system. The Gaia Sky VR companion version supports multiple VR headsets through Valve OpenVR.
“Gaia is astronomy at its finest,” said Fred Jansen of the ESA. “Scientists will be busy with this data for many years, and we are ready to be surprised by the avalanche of discoveries that will unlock the secrets of our Galaxy.”
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Criticism for hate speech, extremism, fake news and other content that violates community standards has the largest social media networks strengthening policies, adding staff, and re-working algorithms. In the Social (Net)Work Series, we explore what social platforms are doing, what works, what doesn’t, and possibilities for improvement.
Sequestered in the dormitory as the manhunt for the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing locked down the entire city, MIT student Soroush Vosoughi turned to the fastest source of news he knew: Social media. While social networks spread eye witness accounts and real-time updates, the platforms also perpetuated rumors of a third bomb — and a third suspect. But what Vosoughi didn’t know at the time was that those rumors were 70 percent more likely to get a retweet than the actual truth.
MIT conducted what is the most comprehensive study on Twitter yet: 126,000 stories, Tweeted 4.5 million times from more than three million users from 2006 to 2017.
Fast forward five years, and Vosoughi, now a postdoctoral associate, is the co-author of a study out of MIT’s Media Lab that discovered that false news not only spreads faster, farther and deeper than the real thing, but that the reason for the wider spread isn’t bots. So what’s the cause?
Probably human nature, the researchers suggest. Working with Deb Roy and Sinan Aral, Vosoughi says the team conducted what is the most comprehensive study on Twitter yet, in both the time frame and the number of Tweets included. The study, published in the March 9 Issue of Science, covers a decade of Tweets, from Twitter’s launch in 2006 to 2017.
False news spreads farther and faster than the real thing
The study’s authors spent a year and a half using Twitter archives to look at around 126,000 stories, Tweeted 4.5 million times from more than three million users.
Pictured (left to right): Seated, Soroush Vosoughi, a postdoc at the Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social Machines; Sinan Aral, the David Austin Professor of Management at MIT Sloan; and Deb Roy, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab, who also served as Twitter’s Chief Media Scientist from 2013 to 2017. MIT
While earlier studies researched methods for diffusing rumors, the MIT study compared the spread of verified stories with rumors. (The group choose to leave the term “fake news” out of the academic study because of the political connotations the term has picked up.)
The group conducted the study using 126,000 stories that had been checked by six independent organizations, such as Snopes and FactCheck.org, eliminating from the data any stories where the fact checkers did not agree between 95 and 98 percent. With each story labeled as true, false, or mixed, the group then analyzed how each category spread.
True stories took six times longer to spread to 1,500 people compared to false ones. The most wide-spread false Tweets reached between 1,000 and 100,000 users.
Out of the stories verified as true, few Tweets reached more than 1,000 people. Yet, the most wide-spread false Tweets reached between 1,000 and 100,000 users. Those false Tweets also took on a viral form, branching out with new Tweets rather than just spreading from one broadcast. True stories also took six times longer to spread to 1,500 people compared to false ones. The group also looked at the depth of that spread, or the branches of unique user retweets, and found that true stories took ten times longer to spread nearly half as deep.
False political news was more viral than any of the other topics examined by the study. The research suggests that false political Tweets exceeded a reach of 20,000 people three times faster than a true story could reach half that number, regardless of category. The categories for urban legends and science joined politics with the fastest and farthest spread. False news on politics and urban legends were the most viral.
Controlling for bots and influencers
After gathering the data, the group implemented several strategies in order to determine if variables such as bots and the number of followers influenced the data. The researchers took each account and ran it through a bot detection algorithm, then removed any account with a more than 50 percent chance of being a bot from the data. But even with the bots eliminated, the group said the conclusion on the faster, wider, deeper spread of false news still stood.
Sample graphic of a true and false cascade, the green shows the spread of true news and the red fake news. Credit: Peter Beshai
But what about the number of followers? Factoring in the number of followers actually showed researchers that users that tweeted or retweeted false news were actually more likely to have fewer followers, not more. After controlling for the number of followers, the age of the account and the user’s level of activity — along with the blue verification badge that has recently come under fire — the group concluded that the false stories were still 70 percent more likely to go viral than true stories.
The group also worked to see if the fact-checking organizations used in the study had any biases that affected the results. It asked real people to fact check a smaller percentage of the data that hadn’t been verified by the organizations on a group of Tweets from 2016.
Comparing these manually-checked stories with the ones checked by an organization, the researchers said the results were nearly identical. (But hats off to the undergraduates who were tasked with going through three million Tweets).
So why does false news spread so fast?
The research didn’t stop at just the statistics. Based on an earlier theory that humans prefer novel information, the researchers looked at some 5,000 Twitter users who had retweeted either true or false rumors. They analyzed 60 days of history of the tweets those users had been exposed to prior to retweeting a rumor, and found that the false rumors, compared to rumors that proved to be true, tended to be much more different from the tweets a user was previously exposed to, suggesting a higher degree of novelty for false news.
Still, the study revealed that false news tends to have qualities that past research has shown may increase its appeal.
The group then looked to see if specific emotions were tied to a false news story more than a true one. Without access to the Facebook-style emoji reactions, the group ran a program that compared the words in the comments to a known list of that word’s associated emotion. The comments on the false Tweets had a greater number of words associated with surprise and disgust.
The true Tweets, meanwhile, often had comments that contained words associated with sadness, anticipation, and trust.
While the researchers suggest emotion and novelty actually may be causes for the difference in the spread of false news versus real news, they did not definitively make that conclusion. Still, the study revealed that false news tends to have qualities that past research has shown may increase its appeal.
What can platforms do to stop the spread of false news?
Since human nature appears to be one of the reasons why the false data spreads more, Vosoughi suggests the first solution should be people-based rather than dependent on the social media companies themselves. Educating social media users and students how to spot the fakes could help online viewers sort out the overwhelming mass of information online.
While the post doctoral associate says that stopping the spread of false news is ultimately up to the user, social media companies could help by providing more information that the reader could use to judge the accuracy of the information. “In the same way that, when you go to a restaurant when you go to order a food, you see calorie content of the food you are ordering so that you can make a better choice, I think social media platforms could provide some kind of score on the quality of what you are reading,” Vosoughi said. “I don’t think they should censor anyone, but by providing quality scores, people could make better decisions before sharing.”
Vosoughi said he will continue researching the spread of false news by running tests on possible solutions in order to determine if giving users a nutrition-facts-like label impacts sharing behavior.
“When you were reading these things, you didn’t know if they were true or false. You couldn’t know what to believe and what not to believe.”
The study wasn’t the only research sparked by Vosoughi’s social media experience during the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. For his PHD thesis, he developed a false news detection algorithm that, he says, wasn’t 100 percent accurate but helped cut back on some of the noise by detecting some of the fakes. The algorithm was finished in 2015 and he is currently talking with some groups interested in using it, including emergency services.
“When you were reading these things,” he said, while recalling using Facebook, Twitter and Reddit for news during the campus lockdown after the bombings, “you didn’t know if they were true or false. You couldn’t know what to believe and what not to believe. It was the first time that I experienced the effects that false news and rumors can have on you. If you are living in that moment, in that town, false news will change the story even more. That was a wakeup call for me.”
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