Facebook weighs whether to build facial recognition into smart glasses – CNET

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in September the social network is working on smart glasses.

Screenshot by Queenie Wong/CNET

Facebook is expected to launch its first pair of smart glasses this year, but there's one issue company employees are still discussing: whether to add facial recognition technology to the product.

BuzzFeed News, citing remarks from an internal meeting, reported on Thursday that Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, who oversees the company's augmented and virtual reality efforts, told employees that the company is looking at the legal and privacy issues that come with facial recognition.

A Facebook employee reportedly asked the executive about facial recognition and raised concerns about potential harms such as "stalkers." "Face recognition ... might be the thorniest issue, where the benefits are so clear, and the risks are so clear, and we don't know where to balance those things," Bosworth told the employee, according to BuzzFeed.  

The social network has a poor track record when it comes to protecting user privacy, which might make people wary about purchasing Facebook smart glasses. The company has been trying to repair its image around user privacy especially since the 2018 Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Last year, Facebook agreed to pay $650 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged it illegally gathered biometric data from its Illinois users to tag photos of people on the social network.

In a series of tweets, Bosworth confirmed he made remarks about facial recognition during an employee meeting. "I specifically said the future product would be fine without it but there were some nice use cases if it could be done in a way the public and regulators were comfortable with," he said in a tweet. Facial recognition, for example, could be used to identity the name of a person you can't remember. He also mentioned a neurological condition known as prosopagnosia in which a person has a hard time recognizing familiar faces. 

"Face recognition is a hugely controversial topic and for good reason and I was speaking about was how we are going to have to have a very public discussion about the pros and cons," Bosworth tweeted.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in September that the company teamed up with EssilorLuxottica, which owns eyewear brands including Ray-Ban, so the new glasses have different designs and styles. The company hasn't provided many details about the upcoming product. 

The Facebook-EssilorLuxottica partnership "will combine Facebook apps and technologies, Luxottica's category leadership and iconic brands, and Essilor's advanced lens technology to help people stay better connected to their friends and family," the companies said in a press release last year.

Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Twitter explores Super Follows for creators to earn money – CNET

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Twitter has been experimenting with different ways for users to share their thoughts, including audio and disappearing messages.

Graphic by Pixabay; illustration by CNET

Twitter is exploring new products, including a Super Follow feature that'll let users pay creators, and groups that make it easier to chat about interests.

The social network, known for short posts, has been moving beyond its mainstay 280-character tweets. That's included getting more serious about experimenting with audio, disappearing messages, and other ways for people to converse online. 

"We're focused on public conversation as a use case and that use case is going to have multiple formats associated with it," Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said Thursday during the company's first virtual analyst day. For example, users might tweet out text but discuss tweets through audio or recap a conversation using more words in a newsletter. 

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Twitter is exploring a feature called Super Follow that's meant to help content creators earn more money. 

Twitter

Among the new products Twitter is exploring are Super Follows and tipping. The features will let users follow a creator or publisher on Twitter for a monthly subscription fee in order to view exclusive content or newsletters. Dantley Davis, who runs Twitter's design and research operations, said products that fund creators motivate "them to continue creating great content that their audience loves."

Twitter expects to start rolling out the Super Follow product this year. An image of the new feature shows a subscription fee of $4.99 per month, but the company expects that users will be able to customize their monthly subscription prices.

The company has also ramped up efforts to make it easier for users to find topics and interests, to entice them to stay on the site for a longer period of time. Taking on Facebook Groups, Twitter said it's working on a product called Communities that lets people join conversations around a specific topic, like their love for cats, surfing or plants.

"Today it could feel tone deaf to talk about a hobby or interest amidst the intense global public conversation about the pandemic," said Kayvon Beykpour, head of product at Twitter. 

Twitter, which already lets users follow topics, is working on a solution to that problem by creating a way for users to chat about their interests in smaller groups. 

Dorsey and other executives discussed a wide range of topics, including content moderation and regulation. The event provided more details about how Twitter envisions its future and its goals. The company said it aims to double its revenue to  $7.5 billion or more by 2023. Twitter also plans to grow its number of daily users to at least 315 million by the end of 2023. In the fourth quarter, Twitter had 192 million daily users. The company said it's been attracting more users in India and Nigeria and plans to grow in developing countries. 

As Twitter experiments with different ways people can converse on its site, the company will likely face more challenges when it comes to moderating content. This year, Twitter permanently banned Donald Trump, who was the US president at the time, after the deadly Capitol Hill riot in January. Social networks like Twitter have also faced more scrutiny from lawmakers, celebrities and others who say the site needs to do a better job of combating hate speech, harassment and other offensive content. 

Twitter has been leaning more on automated technology to flag offensive content that could violate its rules.

"This technology isn't perfect and never will be," said Vijaya Gadde, who leads Twitter's trust and safety efforts. "Mistakes are inevitable. As human communication evolves, so too will this technology." 

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Facebook tests tools to combat child sexual abuse – CNET

Facebook social media app

Facebook has been under pressure to do more to crack down on images of child sexual abuse. 

James Martin/CNET

Facebook is testing new tools aimed at curbing searches for photos and videos that contain child sexual abuse and at preventing the sharing of such content.

"Using our apps to harm children is abhorrent and unacceptable," Antigone Davis, who oversees Facebook's global safety efforts, said in a blog post Tuesday

The move comes as the social network faces more pressure to combat this problem amid its plans to enable default encryption for messages on Facebook Messenger and Facebook-owned photo service Instagram. The end-to-end encryption would mean that except for the sender and recipient, messages couldn't be viewed by anyone, including Facebook and law enforcement officials. Child safety advocates have raised concerns that Facebook's encryption plans could make it harder to crack down on child predators.

The first tool Facebook is testing is a pop-up notice that appears if users search for a term that's associated with child sexual abuse. The notice will ask users if they want to continue, and it includes a link to offender diversion organizations. The notice also says that child sexual abuse is illegal and that viewing these images can lead to consequences including imprisonment.

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Facebook users who try to search for words tied to child sexual abuse content will see this pop-up notice that urges them not to view these images and to get help. 

Facebook

Last year, Facebook said it analyzed the child sexual abuse content reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The company found that more than 90% of the content was the same or similar to previously reported content. Copies of six videos made up more than half the child exploitative content reported in October and November 2020. 

"The fact that only a few pieces of content were responsible for many reports suggests that a greater understanding of intent could help us prevent this revictimization," Davis wrote in the blog post. The company also conducted another analysis, which showed that users were sharing these images for other reasons outside of harming the child, including "outrage or in poor humor."

The second tool Facebook said it's testing is an alert that'll inform users if they try to share these harmful images. The safety alert tells users that if they share this type of content again, their account may get disabled. The company said it's using this tool to help identify "behavioral signals" of users who might be at a greater disk of sharing this harmful content. This'll help the company "educate them on why it is harmful and encourage them not to share it" publicly or privately, Davis said.

Facebook also updated its child safety policies and reporting tools. The social media giant said it'll pull down Facebook profiles, Pages, groups and Instagram accounts "that are dedicated to sharing otherwise innocent images of children with captions, hashtags or comments containing inappropriate signs of affection or commentary about the children depicted in the image." Facebook users who report content will also see an option to let the social network know that the photo or video "involves a child," allowing the company to prioritize it for review. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, online child sexual abuse images have increased, according to a January report by Business Insider. From July to September, Facebook detected at least 13 million of these harmful images on the main social network and Instagram.

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Facebook’s news ban in Australia: Everything you should know – CNET

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Facebook started restricting the viewing and sharing of news on the social network in Australia in response to a proposed law that would require digital platforms to pay publishers for content.

Brent Lewin/Getty Images

Last summer, Facebook issued a stark warning to the Australian government over a proposed law that would require the social-media giant to pay publishers: Pass it and we'll restrict news Down Under. 

"Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram," Will Easton, who manages Facebook's Australia and New Zealand operations, said in an August blog post. "This is not our first choice -- it is our last." 

Last Wednesday, Facebook pulled the trigger, even before the News Media Bargaining Code, which also affects Google, has become law. The decision was big and controversial given the increasing number of people who rely on the social network for information on topics ranging from the coronavirus to politics. 

The retaliatory step quickly sparked outrage from politicians, civil rights groups and news outlets, which view it as another example of why the power of Big Tech needs to be checked. After a weekend of negotiations with Australia's government, Facebook on Monday reversed the news ban. 

Now playing: Watch this: Facebook's news blackout explained

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What's happening in Australia is likely a taste of what'll happen in other parts of the world. Politicians in the EU, UK and Canada have said they're following the developments carefully. France has already pushed Google into paying publishers.

Here's what you need to know about Facebook, Google and the proposed law.

Can Australians see news on Facebook?

Not right now, but news will be restored to the platform in the coming days.

After a five-day standoff with the Australian government, Facebook on Monday announced it would lift its news blockade on Australian users. Australia's treasurer and communications minister, Josh Frydenberg and Paul Fletcher, simultaneously released a joint press release, announcing the government would make changes to the contentious bill.

The key amendment listed was that Australian officials must consider the contributions a company makes to the Australian news industry via compensation agreements with outlets before it designates that company as a "digital platform" under the code. In simpler terms, it means Facebook is hoping that if it enters enough licensing agreements with local publishers, it won't be forced to comply with the law's terms. 

Yet this doesn't mean the saga is over. Just because Facebook has done a 180 on news in Australia doesn't mean it can't do so again. 

"Going forward, the government has clarified we will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won't automatically be subject to a forced negotiation," said Campbell Brown, Facebook's head of Global News Partnerships, in a statement on Monday.

What's this proposed law all about? If I'm not in Australia, why should I care?

Australia says traditional news outlets are struggling to compete with Google, Facebook and other tech companies for advertising dollars, a widely though not universally held belief. That threatens the news industry, which is seen as an important part of democratic societies, keeping citizens informed and holding the powerful in check. Australia wants to level the playing field. Other countries are thinking about similar laws and regulations too.

Under the proposal, which was introduced in the Australian Parliament in December, news businesses would bargain individually or collectively with Facebook and Google so they get paid for their content. The government could extend the scope of the law to include other platforms in the future if it has enough evidence of a "bargaining power imbalance." If media outlets and digital platforms can't reach an agreement, an independent arbitrator would make a decision. The law also requires that Facebook and Google give news outlets "clear information about the data they collect through users' interactions with news on digital platforms."

The companies are worried that Australia will set a precedent. And they have good reason to be concerned. A minister in Canada cited Australia's example as he called for Google and Facebook to pay publishers in his country, and a member of the European Parliament previously told CNET he wants to integrate similar measures into upcoming EU legislation. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is going on the offensive, last Thursday calling his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, to shore up support from a country that's home to more Facebook users than any other. More calls with world leaders are likely to follow. 

How have Facebook and Google reacted to the proposal?

Facebook and Google don't like the proposed law but have responded differently. Though Google initially threatened to pull its search product out of Australia, the company eventually struck agreements with major publishers, including a three-year deal with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. The deals involve Google News Showcase, which highlights news articles curated by publishers, a service through which Google has pledged $1 billion to outlets around the world. The deals follow a pattern similar to that of an agreement struck in France, where, after a protracted battle with the government, Google agreed to shell out millions of euros to some publishers. 

Facebook says the proposed law "misunderstands" its relationship with news outlets, failing to take into account its role in driving readers to publishers. Publishers benefit from the social network because it "allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue," the tech giant says. News content is less than 4 percent of what people see in their News Feeds, Facebook says, but generated about 5.1 billion in free referrals to Australian publishers. Facebook estimated those referrals to be worth AU$407 million ($315 million).

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Facebook notified Australian users on the social network about why it was restricting the viewing and sharing of news on its platform. 

Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

OK. So Facebook went ballistic in Australia. Does that affect me?

Depends on how interested you are in the land Down Under. If you're in Australia, you can't view or share news on the platform. Users who've tried get a notice saying the company has restricted sharing in response to the proposed law. This is scheduled to be reversed later in the week, following Facebook's Monday announcement that the ban would cease.

When Facebook applied the block last Wednesday, it did so chaotically. Branded news pages, like CNET's, went completely blank. But many non-news pages got caught in the crossfire, like Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, which people turn to for weather updates. Pages for two of Australia's official state health pages also went blank, a cause of criticism during a pandemic. Users also reported that they couldn't view or share content from charities and other government services. 

Even if you aren't in Australia, Facebook's decision could affect you because news from Australian publishers can't be viewed or shared. So the Facebook Pages for Australian news outlets don't display news. 

What's the reaction been?

Pretty predictable.

"These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of Big Tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a Facebook post.

Despite Facebook's decision to bar news looking final, the country's treasurer tweeted on Wednesday that he was in talks with Mark Zuckerberg and that the two were working through Facebook's issues with the bill. This ultimately led to Monday's announcement of Facebook's U-Turn, and of the government's concessions. 

Officials in other countries also watched the battle play out.

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, who oversees the country's media, pledged on Thursday to make Facebook and Google pay publishers in his country. Canada may adopt Australia's model, Guilbeault said, adding that he'd been in contact with officials in France, Germany and Finland about the issue.

"I suspect that soon we will have five, 10, 15 countries adopting similar rules," he said, according to local media. "Is Facebook going to cut ties with Germany, with France?"

The UK's health secretary, Matt Hancock, intimated the government was interested in following Australia's lead too. He said Oliver Dowden, Britain's digital, media and culture secretary, is looking "very closely" at how the UK could make Facebook pay its publishers, according to The Times

Last week, Alex Saliba, a Maltese politician and member of the European Parliament, told CNET he hopes to integrate measures like Australia's into upcoming legislation. Saliba is acting rapporteur for the proposed Digital Services Act, EU legislation that would hold major tech companies responsible for illegal content that circulates on their platforms. Alongside the Digital Markets Act, the DSA is part of proposed EU legislation designed to clamp down on Big Tech.

"I believe that it's only fair that [Facebook and Google] pay back a fair amount in return for these benefits," he said to CNET in a statement. "The only question is if the DSA and the DMA ... are the appropriate legislation to introduce such a system." 

Tell me more about these deals Google is cutting with publishers. 

Google launched News Showcase in Australia in early February, as a senate committee was deliberating turning the News Media Bargaining Code into law. Initially, seven small publishers participated with News Corp. and Nine Entertainment, the two biggest companies lobbying for the media code, in rejecting Google's invitation to join.

As the bill came closer to becoming law, Google made more-generous offers. Nine Entertainment and Seven West, two of the country's biggest media companies, accepted deals reportedly worth over AU$30 million ($23 million) a year. News Corp. followed with a global agreement that'll see newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, The Times and The Australian come to News Showcase for a "significant" fee.

A blurb on Google's search homepage last year warned Australians that the draft media code could make search worse. It now reads: "News Showcase now has more than 73 partner publications in Australia. Read the news." 

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Facebook blocks users from sharing news in Australia – CNET

Facebook

Facebook has 2.8 billion monthly active users globally. 

James Martin/CNET

Facebook started restricting users from viewing or sharing Australian news on Wednesday, because of a proposed law in the country that would require the social network to pay news publishers for content. 

Called the News Media Bargaining Code, the legislation also affects Google, which surfaces news articles in search results. News outlets have struggled to compete with tech firms for advertising dollars and say they should be compensated for articles shown on online platforms such as Facebook and Google. Facebook's decision also underscores the tensions between the social media giant and governments that are trying to regulate the tech industry. Facebook's move comes after Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. signed a landmark deal with Google so the media outlet gets paid for news content.

Facebook said it made a different decision than Google because the business benefits of displaying news on its platform are "minimal," noting that news makes up less than 4% of the content people see in their News Feed. 

"Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content. On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue," William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said in a blog post

The social network, which has been combating misinformation, has also been reducing the amount of political content users see on Facebook.

Facebook said Australian users will be blocked from sharing Australian or international news content on the social network. International publishers will be able to post news content, but links and posts can't be shared by an Australian audience. Australian publishers aren't allowed to share or post content on Facebook Pages. 

The new restrictions started rolling out on Wednesday. Some users who visit an Australian news outlet's Facebook Page no longer see any articles displayed. Australian users who try to share news are seeing a notice saying that in response to Australian government legislation, the social network is restricting posting and sharing news. 

Facebook didn't specify how it's defining a news publisher, but government organizations and other sites on the platform were also affected by the restrictions. Sally McManus, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, said in a tweet that the website for Australian Unions has also been blocked from the platform. 

"We are not a news organisation. Australian workers can not now find out about their rights at work via @Facebook. This is disgraceful & needs to be reversed immediately," McManus tweeted. 

A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed that some sites were being blocked in error and that the company was working to correct the mistakes. 

Facebook's unprecedented decision sparked criticism from politicians, human rights organizations, Australian news outlets and others, some of which urged the company to reverse the restrictions. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a Facebook post that the social network's actions were as "arrogant as they were disappointing" because the company blocked critical information about health and emergency services. "These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of Big Tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them," he said. 

On Thursday, Amnesty International USA urged the company to lift the block on Australian news content. "Facebook's action starkly demonstrates why allowing one company to exert such dominant power over our information ecosystem threatens human rights," Amnesty International Australia campaigner Tim O'Connor said in a statement.

Australia Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Wednesday he's had a "constructive discussion" with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "He raised a few remaining issues with the Government's news media bargaining code and we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a pathway forward," he said in a tweet.

On Thursday, Frydenberg tweeted that conversations with Facebook are continuing over the weekend. "I reiterated Australia remains committed to implementing the code," he said.

Under the proposed legislation, news outlets would be able to bargain with Facebook and Google over how much they should get paid for content shown on these platforms. An FAQ about the potential changes says the new code was created to "address a bargaining power imbalance" between Australian news outlets and major digital platforms.

"While bargaining power imbalances exist in other areas, the bargaining power imbalance between news media businesses and major digital platforms is being addressed as a strong and independent media landscape is essential to a well-functioning democracy," the FAQ says. 

Roughly 39% of Australians use Facebook to get news, according to a 2020 report by the News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra in Australia. 

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Facebook vs. Apple: Here’s what you need to know about their privacy feud – CNET

Facebook and Apple

Facebook and Apple are sparring over privacy.

James Martin/CNET

A privacy change coming to the software that powers Apple's popular iPhone has prompted a war of words in Silicon Valley.

The iPhone maker will in the coming months roll out an update to its iOS 14 operating system that prompts users to give apps permission to track their activity across other apps and the web. That change may seem small. Lots of apps already track our web activity through default settings we accept when we install them.

Facebook, however, has been fuming about the change, which threatens the source of its $86 billion in annual revenue: targeted ads. The social network has waged a months-long campaign against Apple, running full-page ads in national newspapers and testing pop-ups inside the Facebook app to encourage users to accept its tracking. It's also alleged that Apple's changes are designed to help the iPhone maker's own business, rather than protect consumer privacy.

"Apple may say that they're doing this to help people, but the moves clearly track their competitive interests," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in January during the company's fourth-quarter earnings call. Apple CEO Tim Cook says the change is rooted in the company's belief that "users should have the choice over the data that is being collected about them and how it's used."

The dispute underscores a fundamental difference between the tech giants: how they make money. Apple sells smartphones and laptops and takes a cut of fees charged to app developers. Facebook sells ads that it can target precisely based on the trove of data it collects on its 2.8 billion monthly users. Those business models inform their approach to privacy.

Here's what you need to know about the fight between Apple and Facebook:

I've got the basic idea. But would you go back to the beginning?

Sure. It's complicated and it's been a slow boil. Apple said at its annual developers conference in June that it would introduce a feature to iOS that required users to give apps permission to track them across various apps and websites. Like we've said, this is a common practice, but users are often unaware of it because it's buried in the terms of service or privacy policies. Who reads those?

With the iOS update, iPhone users will see a pop-up that explicitly says an app wants to track them. App developers can use this pop-up to explain how user data will be used. Facebook, for example, uses this data to show people personalized ads. 

The pop-up will also give users a chance to opt out of tracking. Many probably will. 

"Tracking refers to the act of linking user or device data collected from your app with user or device data collected from other companies' apps, websites, or offline properties for targeted advertising or advertising measurement purposes. Tracking also refers to sharing user or device data with data brokers," Apple explained to developers in a blog post about the iOS 14 updates.

How could this change affect me?

Depends how often you look at advertisements. If you don't deal with them very often, you probably won't notice much of a change by opting out of tracking.

If you rely on Facebook's advertising to direct you to services and products you buy, expect the ads you see to be less relevant if you opt out.

The prompt will also give you a sense of which apps are tracking you across other apps and websites to serve you ads. 

How did Facebook respond to the upcoming change?

Facebook was clearly unhappy with Apple, and the company made that known publicly. The social network ran full-page newspaper ads in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post arguing that Apple's update will harm small businesses and consumers. The social network's claims have been challenged by academics. (More about that below.) 

The social network also launched a website where small businesses could share their stories. The page includes videos from small business owners who support personalized ads and encourages others to tell their story by using #SpeakUpforSmall. Many of these small businesses say they rely on social media ads to attract more customers.

Now playing: Watch this: Facebook slams Apple's privacy changes, FTC requests...

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Facebook's arguments also reflect its own interest in the effects of the change, which will surely weigh on its revenue. During its fourth-quarter earnings call, Zuckerberg repeatedly revisited the topic and complained about Apple.

"We have a lot of competitors who make claims about privacy that are often misleading," he said. He added that Facebook, which has its own messaging service, Messenger, and which also owns WhatsApp, sees Apple as a competitor because of the popularity of iMessage. 

Dan Levy, who runs Facebook's ad business, said in a blog post that Apple's policy change is "about profit, not privacy." He said the iOS change would force some apps to turn to in-app purchases and subscription fees, from which Apple can take a cut of up to 30%. (Apple launched a new program earlier this year to reduce the commission to 15% for small businesses with proceeds of up to $1 million per year.)

Facebook has a poor track record when it comes to user privacy, and it seems unlikely that users will give it permission to track them. The company's reputation for protecting privacy was tarnished by the 2018 scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, a UK political consulting firm that harvested the data of up to 87 million users without their permission.

Zuckerberg defends Facebook's business model, saying ads allow the social network to offer the site to users for free. "If we're committed to serving everyone, then we need a service that is affordable to everyone," he said in a 2019 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

What's Apple's argument?

Apple says its changes give users more control over their data and transparency into what is collected. 

"If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, it does not deserve our praise," Cook said during a speech last month in a thinly veiled jab at Facebook. "It deserves reform."

The view isn't new. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Cook told tech journalist Kara Swisher that "if our customer was our product, we could make a ton of money. We've elected not to do that."

Is Facebook overreacting?

It depends on who you ask. Facebook says in its blog post that "without personalized ads powered by their own data, small businesses could see a cut of over 60% of website sales from ads." 

The Harvard Business Review says Facebook's findings are "misleading" and suggests the impact will be modest. "These customers would have generated high revenues anyway," the Review found. "That's why they were targeted in the first place. So it would be a mistake to conclude that these customers spent more because of the personalized ads."

Cook has also pointed out that Facebook can still track users. It just needs to get their permission first. 

Facebook isn't alone in cautioning that the changes could harm their ad sales. Snapchat expressed support for Apple's changes, but CFO Derek Andersen said during its earnings call that the change represents "a risk of interruption" to demand for advertising. Twitter suggested in its fourth-quarter shareholder letter that the changes could have a modest impact on its performance but didn't elaborate.

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Facebook removes hundreds of fake accounts tied to Uganda, Palestine – CNET

Facebook social media app

Facebook continues to crack down on fake accounts throughout the world.

James Martin/CNET

Facebook pulled down hundreds of fake accounts tied to Uganda and Palestine in January that misled users about their identity and purpose, the social network said Tuesday. The account takedowns are part of Facebook's ongoing effort to combat misuse of its platform.

The social network removed 220 accounts, 32 Pages, 59 groups and 139 Instagram accounts targeting users in Uganda early last month for violating its policy against government interference. Facebook said it had to move quickly because of the Jan. 14 general elections held in the east African country. President Yoweri Museveni was re-elected for a sixth five-year term amid allegations of voter fraud. The results are being challenged in court, Reuters reported. Museveni has denied the accusations.

Facebook linked the network to the Government Citizens Interaction Center at the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, a government agency in Uganda. Some of the fake accounts posted content supporting Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement party, Facebook said. (Twitter also took action against a "number of Twitter accounts" for violating its rules against platform manipulation and linked them with the same agency.) The Government Citizens Interaction Center didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The crackdown underscores the scope of the fake account problem Facebook deals with around the world. The company reports account takedowns in a monthly report. 

"Tackling this type of deception is a security challenge. We know that these actors are going to continue to try to manipulate and deceive people on a range of platforms in any media that they can access," said Nathaniel Gleicher, who oversees cybersecurity policy at Facebook.

In the same report, the social network said it had pulled down 206 Facebook accounts, 178 pages, three groups and 14 Instagram accounts targeting Palestine. Some of the accounts posted about politics in Palestine. Several pages also impersonated real think tanks and media organizations in Israel and the UK, Facebook said. The social network linked these accounts to people in Palestine and the United Arab Emirates along with a marketing firm in Belgium. 

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Facebook to remove more false claims about COVID-19 and vaccines – CNET

Image by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

Facebook is expanding a list of false claims about the coronavirus and vaccines that aren't allowed on the social network. 

Angela Lang/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Facebook said Monday it's taking a tougher stance against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines as part of an effort to prevent the online lies from causing harm.

The social media giant is expanding a list of debunked claims about COVID-19 and vaccines it will take down. Facebook said it works with public health authorities, such as the World Health Organization, to compile this list.

The policy, which covers posts on its photo-sharing service Instagram, includes claims that COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, is human-made or manufactured. Facebook and Instagram users will also not be allowed to post false statements about vaccines being ineffective at preventing the disease, vaccines being more dangerous than getting the disease, or vaccines being toxic, dangerous or causing autism. Facebook said it will remove ads that contain those claims. 

"We will begin enforcing this policy immediately, with a particular focus on pages, groups and accounts that violate these rules, and we'll continue to expand our enforcement over the coming weeks," Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president of integrity, said in a blog post on Monday. Facebook said groups, pages and accounts on the main social network and Instagram that share these false claims repeatedly "may be removed altogether."

The social network works with third-party fact-checkers and typically labels misinformation, but draws a line when false claims could lead to physical harm. The company has been reluctant in the past to pull down anti-vaccination misinformation. "If someone is pointing out a case where a vaccine caused harm or that they're worried about it — you know, that's a difficult thing to say from my perspective that you shouldn't be allowed to express at all," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Axios in September. Facebook says it generally allows posts that include a personal anecdote or experience or satire. The company, though, will remove posts about vaccines and diseases if they could lead to "reduced vaccinations and harm public health and safety."

Facebook and other social networks have faced an onslaught of misinformation about the coronavirus since the pandemic started last year. The company has come under scrutiny, including from lawmakers and politicians who say Facebook isn't doing enough to combat this problem. 

Despite these increased efforts, misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine is still spreading on the social network. CNN found that four of the top 10 search results for "vaccine" on Instagram were for anti-vaccination accounts. In the coming weeks, Instagram is planning to make it tougher to find accounts that discourage people from getting vaccinated in its search results.

Facebook's takedowns of COVID-19 misinformation has also been challenged by a new oversight board tasked with reviewing some of the social network's toughest content moderation decisions. In January, the board overturned Facebook's decision to pull down a COVID-19 post for its potential to cause harm. The board found the social network's rules addressing health misinformation "to be inappropriately vague" and urged the company to create a new standard. 

Facebook also has an online hub with authoritative information about the coronavirus and said this week it will feature links with information about whether you're eligible to get vaccinated and how to do so. Facebook also said it's giving $120 million in ad credits to health ministries, NGOs and UN agencies to spread information about the COVID-19 vaccine and preventive health.

More than 2 billion people from 189 countries have viewed Facebook's COVID-19 Information Center and informational messages, according to the company. The social network has also pulled down more than 12 million pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram with false claims that could lead to imminent physical harm. 

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Snapchat warns Apple’s privacy changes could hurt ad business – CNET

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Snapchat reported its fourth quarter earnings on Thursday.

Angela Lang/CNET

Snap, the parent company of disappearing messaging app Snapchat, warned Apple's upcoming privacy update could make it tougher to rake in ad dollars, even as it reported fourth quarter results that beat analyst expectations. The company also said some advertisers had paused campaigns in the first two weeks of January after the deadly riot at the US Capitol on Jan. 6.  

CFO Derek Andersen said upcoming changes to Apple's iOS 14 will "present another risk of interruption to demand" though he also noted the long-term impact is unclear. Apple plans to release a new privacy feature in the first quarter that will require users to opt in to apps collecting their data from other companies' apps and websites. 

Apple said it's making the changes to the popular mobile operating system to give users more control over their data. Social networks, including Facebook, have expressed concern the changes will affect the ability of advertisers to reach customers with targeted ads. Facebook said Apple's changes is about "profit not privacy" because if apps turned more to in-app purchases the smartphone maker would get more money from fees. Snap, on the other hand, expressed support for Apple's upcoming changes.

"When it comes to some of the policy changes that Apple is making you know, we really think of them as high integrity folks and we're happy to see them making the right decision for their customers," said Snap CEO Evan Spiegel in a call with analysts on Thursday.

Snap estimates revenue in the first quarter will be between $720 million and $740 million, higher than earlier expectations of $704.57 million. However, the company estimates it will lose between $50 million and $70 million in adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization), worse than the $19.26 million profit analysts expected.

Concern over the forecast pushed Snap's shares lower in after-hours trading. At one point, shares had fallen more than 10% to $52.20 per share.

Worries over the future performance overshadowed Snap's strong fourth quarter results. In the October-December quarter, Snap raked in $911 million in revenue, better than the $857.39 million analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected.

The company lost 8 cents per share in the fourth quarter, which was slightly worse than the loss of 7 cents per share anticipated. Excluding certain expenses, the company earned 9 cents per share, beating expectations of 7 cents per share. 

Snap had 265 million daily active users, up 22% compared to the same period last year.

The disappearing messaging app has been doubling down on augmented reality effects and original series. It also launched a TikTok rival called Spotlight that has 100 million users.

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Facebook temporarily blocked in Myanmar after military coup – CNET

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Facebook is under more pressure to combat misinformation that could incite violence in countries like Myanmar.

Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook and other services the social media giant owns are being temporarily blocked in Myanmar on Thursday after the country's military seized power in a coup earlier this week, according to a report by internet monitoring service NetBlocks on Thursday.

NetBlocks said state-run internet service provider MPT and telecommunications company Telenor Myanmar restricted Facebook and several apps the company owns, including photo-service Instagram and messaging services WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. MPT and Telenor Group didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The social media restrictions come after Myanmar's military launched a coup on Monday after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won the general elections in November. The Biden administration on Tuesday designated the Myanmar military takeover as a coup, allowing the US to end the "very little" financial assistance it provides to Myanmar's government.

NetBlocks reported the internet service providers in the Southeast Asian country are restricting access to the social network's services to comply with an apparent order. A letter posted on Twitter states the Ministry of Transport and Communications temporarily suspended access to Facebook due to concerns about the spread of misinformation. The agency didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook said it's aware that the social network isn't working for some people in Myanmar.

"We urge authorities to restore connectivity so that people in Myanmar can communicate with their families and friends and access important information," a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement.

The social network has faced criticism before for not doing enough to slow the spread of misinformation that could lead to violence. In 2018, UN investigators said Facebook played a "determining role" in spreading hate speech that fueled a genocide in Myanmar. 

The social network is taking more steps to combat possible violence in Myanmar. Facebook designated Myanmar as a "Temporary High-Risk Location" for two weeks, which means the company can take down content that includes "any calls to bring armaments," BuzzFeed reported on Monday. 

The Embassy of Myanmar in Washington, DC didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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