Facebook Under More Scrutiny for Russia-Linked Election Interference

Ten months ago, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg dismissed as "crazy" the suggestion that his platform had any influence on the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

Today, Facebook said it will provide the U.S. Congress with information about more than 3,000 political and social ads it ran that might be linked to alleged Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. That alleged interference is also the focus of an ongoing investigation by Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who was appointed special counsel by the Justice Department earlier this year.

In a live presentation on his personal Facebook page yesterday evening, Zuckerberg also outlined nine steps his company plans to take to limit interference in political and democratic processes, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. He specifically pointed to actions Facebook is taking to "ensure integrity of the German elections this weekend."

Ads from Inauthentic Accounts, Policy-Violating Pages

Last year's election cycle gave rise to widespread accusations and complaints about so-called "fake news," which -- depending on the source doing the complaining -- ranged from allegedly biased reporting in mainstream news outlets about either Trump or his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to blatantly false stories about one candidate or the other that often went viral via social media platforms such as Facebook.

Shortly before the Nov. 8 election, for instance, BuzzFeed News described a "digital gold rush" in which a number of young men in the small Macedonian town of Veles pushed out false "aggressively pro-Trump content" via at least 140 Web sites they ran. Their aim: financial gain through Google AdSense revenues, which is based on reader clicks. And their method for boosting reader clicks? Going viral on Facebook.

Since Trump's election, other developments have pointed to numerous alleged...

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Should You Upgrade? Four Things To Know About Apple’s iOS 11 Update

Holding off on upgrading your trusty old iPhone? You won't need a spiffy iPhone 8 in order to get new maps, photos and other features with a free software update Apple began rolling out Tuesday.

The iOS 11 update brings a variety of enhancements, including a new voice and functionality for the Siri virtual assistant and a new photo format to reduce file sizes.

Consider waiting a few days in case unexpected problems emerge. The update will work with iPhones and iPads going back a few years, but older models won't get all the new features.

Once you get iOS 11, here are four things to look for.

Look and Feel

The Control Center offers easy access to the flashlight and other tools with a swipe up from the bottom. It got separated into multiple pages last year to increase the options available, but the extra swipes got annoying. With iOS 11, it's back to a single page. The extra options remain available, and Apple now lets you customize further, such as by adding an Apple TV remote or one-touch access to the voice recorder.

After taking a screenshot, you'll now see a thumbnail in a corner. Tap on it for the ability to quickly annotate and share it. Need to remember where you parked your car? Just screenshot a map and draw an arrow.

The update brings additional camera filters to tweak your photos. To find them, you can now swipe up as you're taking the shot; swipe down when you're done. With camera improvements, the iPhone 8 models automatically use an exposure-balancing technology called HDR and no longer save unadjusted versions. You can restore that in the settings, though it'll use more storage.

Apple Maps now offers speed limits and lane guidance on highways and indoor maps for some airports and shopping malls.

And a new feature...

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Nest Labs Debuts Smart Doorbell with Facial Recognition Technology

Home device maker Nest Labs is adding Google's facial recognition technology to a camera-equipped doorbell and rolling out a security system in an attempt to end its history of losses.

The products announced Wednesday expand upon the internet-connected thermostats, smoke detectors and stand-alone security cameras that Nest has been selling since its inception six years ago.

Although Nest has been among the early leaders in the effort to make home appliances as intelligent as people's smartphones, it hasn't been able to make money to the frustration of its corporate parent, Alphabet. In an attempt to shake things up, Alphabet brought in cable industry veteran Marwan Fawaz to replace Nest founder Tony Fadell as CEO after Fadell stepped down 15 months ago.

Nest had been supplementing its existing product line with slightly different choices until Wednesday's move into entirely new categories.

The Hello doorbell comes with a built-in video camera and speakers that will make it seem like it can recognize and talk to people.

The doorbell will draw upon Google's facial recognition technology so it can warn a home's occupants when a stranger approaches. Google bought Nest for $3.2 billion in 2014 and then spun it off after it hatched Alphabet as its parent company.

Nest is now lumped into a group of risky companies venturing into new areas of technology that have collectively lost $10.6 billion during the past three-and-half years alone. Alphabet hasn't disclosed how much Nest has contributed to it the losses in its "Other Bets" segment

Nest isn't announcing a price for its new doorbell until it hits the market sometime during the first three months of next year.

Google's facial recognition technology is coming to the doorbell a few months after Nest introduced a more sophisticated indoor security camera featuring the same tool. Nest also announced Wednesday that the same facial recognition tools...

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Japan’s Emoji Creator Saw Nuance in Pictures

The tiny smiley faces, hearts, knife-and-fork or clenched fist have become a global language for mobile phone messages. They are displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. They star in a new Hollywood film.

The emoji is heir to a tradition of pictographic writing stretching back millennia to Egyptian hieroglyphics and the ideograms used to write Chinese and Japanese.

Despite their ubiquity, they started in 1998 with one man: A 25-year-old employee of mobile phone carrier NTT DoCoMo who created the first set of 176 in one month as he rushed to meet a deadline.

"I happened to arrive at the idea. If I hadn't done it, someone else would have," said Shigetaka Kurita, who now is a board member at Dwango Co., a Tokyo technology company.

Kurita's challenge: NTT DoCoMo's "i-mode" mobile internet service limited messages to 250 characters, which cried out for some kind of shorthand.

A message that said, "What are you doing now?" could be menacing or nosey, but adding a smiley face softened the tone.

"Digital messaging was just getting started, and so I was thinking about what was needed," said Kurita.

Following i-mode's launch in 1999, that nuance made emoji an immediate hit in Japan, where the demands of courtesy make for a complex art and a tiny mistake can prove costly. Emoji combines the Japanese for "picture," or "e'' (pronounced "eh"), and "letters," or "moji" (moh-jee).

Kurita collected common images including public signs, weather symbols, the zodiac and comic book-style pictures such as a light bulb or a ticking bomb.

With simple lines, he made five faces -- happy, angry, sad, surprised and perplexed. The heart and a smiley face are still his favorites.

Some visuals transcend culture. A drop of sweat rolling down a cheek means exasperation or anxiety. Others confuse: A camcorder was misread by many as a...

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‘I Will Rape You’ Post Used To Advertise Instagram on Facebook

Instagram used a user's image that included the text "I will rape you before I kill you, you filthy whore!" to advertise its service on Facebook, the latest example of social media algorithms boosting offensive content.

Guardian reporter Olivia Solon recently discovered that Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, made an advertisement out of a photo she had posted of a violent threat she received in an email, which said "Olivia, you f*** bitch!!!!!!!?EU? and "I Will Rape You."

Instagram selected the screenshot, which she posted nearly a year ago, to advertise the photo-sharing platform to Solon's sister this week, with the message, "See Olivia Solon's photo and posts from friends on Instagram."

The distasteful ad has surfaced at a time when Facebook is facing intense scrutiny over the ethical failings of its algorithms and advertising tools. Last week, ProPublica reported that Facebook was allowing advertisers to target users interested in the topic of "Jew hater" and "How to burn Jews" -- categories that the social media site had automatically created. Journalists were able to pay $30 to target "promoted posts" to the antisemitic groups.

Others quickly discovered that there was a range of bigoted and derogatory terms that Facebook allowed for ad targeting and that Google and Twitter had similar problems.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg issued a mea culpa on Wednesday and said the company was changing its policies as a result. Facebook disabled the targeting system that created the offensive categories, and Sandberg said the site would only allow targeting options reviewed by humans in the future.

It's unclear why Instagram chose to highlight Solon's hate mail to friends on Facebook. When she posted the screenshot last year, she wrote: "This is an email I received this afternoon. Sadly this is all too common for women on the internet. I am...

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Uber Getting Kicked Out of London for Public Safety Issues

Uber's license to operate in London won't be renewed because its practices endanger public safety and security, the local regulator said Friday, in a blow to a company already facing big questions over its corporate culture.

Transport for London says the company, whose app is used by 3.5 million passengers and 40,000 drivers in London, isn't "fit and proper" to hold a license to operate a private-hire vehicle service.

"TfL considers that Uber's approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications," the regulator said in a statement.

Uber was first licensed to operate in the city in 2012 and will see its current license expire on Sept. 30. The company said it plans to appeal the regulator's decision, and can continue to operate until the appeals process is exhausted.

For its part, Uber accused the city of caving in to special interests "who want to restrict consumer choice."

"Uber operates in more than 600 cities around the world, including more than 40 towns and cities here in the U.K.," the company said. "This ban would show the world that, far from being open, London is closed to innovative companies who bring choice to consumers."

Uber, founded in 2010 in San Francisco, has often faced opposition as it expanded. Taxi drivers complain that Uber drivers don't have to comply with the same licensing standards, giving the ride-hailing service an unfair advantage and placing the public at risk.

The company, which provides a smartphone application that connects passengers with drivers who work as independent contractors, argues it isn't a traditional transportation company.

In its decision, Transport for London singled out Uber's approach to reporting serious criminal offenses and how it conducts background checks on drivers. TfL also took issue with Uber's explanation of software...

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Iranian Hackers Tied to Malware Attacks on Aviation, Energy Firms

Hackers likely working on behalf of the Iranian government have targeted the aviation and petrochemical industries in the U.S., Saudi Arabia and South Korea since 2013, American cybersecurity firm FireEye said Wednesday.

Known as APT33, an acronym for "advanced persistent threat," the hacking group has targeted several aviation and energy companies in the U.S. and abroad within the last few years in an effort to conduct cyber espionage operations at the behest of the Iranian government, FireEye said in a report.

"APT33's targeting of organizations involved in aerospace and energy most closely aligns with nation-state interests, implying that the threat actor is most likely government sponsored," the report said. "This coupled with the timing of operations -- which coincides with Iranian working hours -- and the use of multiple Iranian hacker tools and name servers bolsters our assessment that APT33 may have operated on behalf of the Iranian government."

In some instances the hackers sent recruitment-themed emails to aviation industry employees containing files designed to infect victims' computers upon being opened, occasionally launching their attacks from web addresses mimicking the names of companies including Boeing, Alsalam Aircraft Company and Northrop Grumman, FireEye said.

The hackers managed to go undetected for "four to six months" at a time, The New York Times reported, exfiltrating data while infecting targeted systems with malware capable of wiping disks and deleting files, according to FireEye.

"Based on observed targeting, we believe APT33 engages in strategic espionage by targeting geographically diverse organizations across multiple industries. Specifically, the targeting of organizations in the aerospace and energy sectors indicates that the threat group is likely in search of strategic intelligence capable of benefitting a government or military sponsor," the report said. "We expect APT33 activity will continue to cover a broad scope of targeted entities, and may spread into other regions and sectors...

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After Equifax, Public Shaming But GOP Wary of New Rules

Prospects are good for a public shaming in the Equifax data breach, but it's unlikely Congress will institute sweeping new regulations after hackers accessed the personal information of an estimated 143 million Americans.

Since early this year, President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress have strived to curb government's influence on businesses, arguing that regulations stifle economic growth. Lawmakers have repealed more than a dozen Obama-era rules and the House voted in June to roll back much of Dodd-Frank, the landmark banking law created after the 2008 economic crisis that was designed to prevent future meltdowns.

Several bills unveiled after Equifax are so far missing a key ingredient for success: Republican co-sponsors.

And most important, there is history. Despite numerous high-profile security breaches over the past decade at companies such as Target, Yahoo, Neiman Marcus and Home Depot, legislation that would toughen standards for storing customer data has failed to gain the necessary traction.

Jessica Rich, a vice president at Consumer Reports, said she has questioned over the years what event it would take for lawmakers to impose tougher data security regulations.

"I'm hoping this is the final wake-up call for Congress," Rich said.

Consumer advocacy groups seek legislation that would enhance the standards for companies that store consumer data and require prompt notification to affected Americans when breaches do occur. They also seek tough civil penalties for those who break the law. But, so far, Congress has opted to let states handle the issue.

Business groups are also worried that federal regulation will stifle innovation.

"When it comes to security, attempts to regulate today will become outdated tomorrow," said a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Senate and House Republicans say they are in fact-gathering mode before moving on any legislation. Separate hearings are scheduled the first week in October, with Equifax Chairman and CEO Richard...

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Hacker in Spanish Custody Sought by U.S., Russia

Russian authorities are fighting the extradition of an alleged Russian hacker from Spain to the United States, the suspect's lawyer said Friday, in the latest move by Moscow to block U.S. prosecution of suspected Russian cybercriminals.

Pyotr Levashov, a 37-year-old known as one of the world's most notorious spammers, was arrested earlier this year while vacationing with his family in Barcelona on a request from the U.S., where authorities want him on charges of fraud and unauthorized interception of electronic communications.

Levashov's lawyer, Margarita Repina, told The Associated Press that a Russian counter-extradition request was filed with Spanish authorities Thursday, hours before Friday's hearing.

The Russian Embassy in Madrid didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

The hearing at Spain's National Court in Madrid was suspended after defense lawyers alleged his arrest on a U.S. request was politically motivated and argued he should be tried in Spain.

Authorities in the U.S. have linked Levashov, via his alias "Peter Severa," to a series of powerful botnets, or networks of hijacked computers capable of pumping out billions of spam emails.

Dressed in black sneakers and jeans and speaking through a court translator, Levashov said he didn't want to be sent to the U.S. because he feared for his life and didn't want to be tortured during detention on U.S. soil.

The court suspended the hearing until next week to allow time for the prosecutor to review documents submitted by Levashov's defense to back their allegations.

The conflicting extradition requests echoes the recent cases of Evgeny Nikulin, a Russian hacker accused by American authorities of penetrating professional networking site LinkedIn, and of Alexander Vinnik, who is wanted in the U.S. on charges of running a multi-billion-dollar digital money laundering network.

Nikulin, who was arrested at a Prague restaurant in October, is the subject of a tug-of-war between the FBI, which wants him...

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Google Pays $1.1B To Acquire HTC’s Pixel Team, Intellectual Property Rights

Under a $1.1 billion collaboration agreement announced today, HTC employees who helped develop Google's Pixel smartphone will soon become official Googlers. In return, the struggling, Taiwan-based consumer electronics firm receives a financial shot in the arm to help it advance other technologies such as augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things.

The agreement launches the next stage of his company's long-term hardware development ambitions, Google senior vice president of hardware Rick Osterloh said today in a blog post.

HTC and Google have worked together on numerous projects over the past decade, most recently on the "Made by Google" Pixel (pictured center) and Pixel XL smartphones released in October 2016. HTC is also Google's partner in the development of the Pixel 2, expected to arrive on the market on Oct. 4, although the Pixel 2 XL will be made by LG.

'Investing for the Long Run'

Along with the new Pixel 2 phones, other Made by Google devices are also expected to debut on Oct. 4. Among the products that might be unveiled are updated versions of the Google Home intelligent home speaker, the Daydream View virtual reality headset, Google Wifi, and the Chromecast Ultra digital media player.

"We're excited about the 2017 lineup, but even more inspired by what's in store over the next five, 10, even 20 years," Osterloh said. "Creating beautiful products that people rely on every single day is a journey, and we are investing for the long run." That's why Google has signed a new agreement with HTC: to "fuel even more product innovation in the years ahead," he said.

The deal will help Google "supercharge their hardware business while ensuring continued innovation within our HTC smartphone and VIVE virtual reality businesses," said Cher Wang, chairwoman and CEO of HTC, in a company statement.

HTC Eyes 'Streamlined' Portfolio

As...

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