Category: Uncategorized

Apple News’s Radical Approach: Humans Over Machines

New York Times:

There are ambitious plans for the product. Apple lets publishers run ads in its app and it helps some sign up new subscribers, taking a 30 percent cut of the revenue. Soon, the company aims to bundle access to dozens of magazines in its app for a flat monthly fee, sort of like Netflix for news, according to people familiar with the plans, who declined to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Apple also hopes to package access to a few daily-news publications, like The Times, The Post and The Wall Street Journal, into the app, the people said.

Apple’s executives grandly proclaim that they want to help save journalism. “There is this deep understanding that a thriving free press is critical for an informed public, and an informed public is critical for a functioning democracy, and that Apple News can play a part in that,” Ms. Kern said.

But there are early signs that Apple is not the industry’s savior. Many publishers have made little on ads in Apple News, and Apple’s 30 percent cut of subscriptions it helps sell does not help. Having experienced Google’s and Facebook’s disruption of their industry, many publications are wary of Apple, according to conversations with executives from nine news organizations, many of whom declined to comment on the record for fear of upsetting the trillion-dollar corporation. Some were optimistic that Apple could be a better partner than other tech giants, but were leery of making the company the portal to their readers.

Instead of bleating about Apple’s cut of the subscriptions, why on earth don’t major newspapers like the New York Times and the Guardian form their own one-stop news shop and sell subscriptions direct?  It would be an easy upsell for their own subscription base – “You’re a Guardian subscriber.  We can offer you a 80% off a New York Times subscription.”

The real value that Apple News gives me is discovery.  It does a better job of identifying (“surfacing”) Guardian articles for me to read than the Guardian’s own app.  That should worry the Guardian a lot (yet the Guardian journalist I mentioned it to was quite unperturbed).

Facebook hires Nick Clegg as head of global affairs

Financial Times:

Facebook has hired Nick Clegg, the former UK deputy prime minister, to head its global affairs and communications team as it faces escalating problems over data protection and the threat of greater government regulation.

He agreed to take on the job after months of wooing by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, who told Sir Nick he would have a leading role in shaping the company’s strategy.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said Sir Nick was a “thoughtful and gifted leader” who “understands deeply the responsibilities we have to people who use our service around the world”.

She also acknowledged the need for Facebook to bring in new blood to help it manage its many issues. “Our company is on a critical journey. The challenges we face are serious and clear and now more than ever we need new perspectives to help us through this time of change.”

Sir Nick is the most senior addition to Facebook’s tight-knit leadership team from outside the company’s own top ranks since 2014, when former PayPal president David Marcus was recruited to run Messenger.

The decision by Facebook to hire Sir Nick, a former European Commission trade negotiator and member of the European Parliament, suggests the company is trying to boost its connections in Brussels, where Facebook is facing escalating battles over data privacy, online disinformation and hate speech.

Vera Jourova, EU justice commissioner, in charge of data protection and electoral integrity, said last year that she deleted her Facebook account, because the site had become a “highway for hatred”.

My emphasis.  We’ll see exactly what influence Clegg actually has.  His last negotiation was with Cameron and the subsequent electoral wipeout of the LibDems suggests that didn’t go too well.  And Zuckerberg would wipe the floor with that dilettante.

It is extremely unlikely Clegg can persuade Zuckerberg to appear before the Commons select committee.  There are lots of countries and it would set a difficult precedent that Zuckerberg cared about any of them apart from the US.

Where Clegg really could make an immediate, meaningful difference is by saying “At Facebook we only see a small picture of foreign influence in the UK’s affairs but it is enough for us to call for the UK to launch a full public enquiry – a Mueller style investigation into foreign meddling. We will support this investigation in every way possible as the UK’s democracy is under attack.” Yes, I’m sure he’ll say that. Before Christmas.

Carole Cadwalladr asks If you’re on the side of democracy, Nick Clegg, why are you going to work for Facebook?

Because what you don’t seem to have grasped is that the crisis gripping Britain and the one gripping Facebook are one and the same. They’re manifestations of each other. It isn’t technology that has blown apart our world – it’s Facebook’s business model. It’s the monetisation of fear and hatred and lies. And what we’re witnessing here in Britain is a compromised government colluding with a compromised technology platform to cover up the truth of what happened in the EU referendum.

We know Facebook that was the key to the vote. That almost all the money spent was funnelled through the platform. That spending limits were exceeded. That electoral laws were broken. That campaigns were illegally co-ordinated. That Russia targeted us. And that Facebook facilitated all this. Your company is refusing to hand over evidence, according to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee. And Zuckerberg has refused – three times – to testify to parliament.

My emphasis.

New ‘Dark Ads’ pro-Brexit Facebook campaign may have reached over 10M people, say researchers

Techcrunch:

A major new campaign of disinformation around Brexit, designed to stir up U.K. ‘Leave’ voters, and distributed via Facebook, may have reached over 10 million people in the U.K., according to new research. The source of the campaign is so far unknown, and will be embarrassing to Facebook, which only this week claimed it was clamping down on “dark” political advertising on its platform.

Researchers for the U.K.-based digital agency 89up allege that Mainstream Network — which looks and reads like a “mainstream” news site but which has no contact details or reporter bylines — is serving hyper-targeted Facebook advertisements aimed at exhorting people in Leave-voting U.K. constituencies to tell their MP to “chuck Chequers.” Chequers is the name given to the U.K. Prime Ministers’s proposed deal with the EU regarding the U.K.’s departure from the EU next year.

89up says it estimates that Mainstream Network, which routinely puts out pro-Brexit “news,” could have spent more than £250,000 on pro-Brexit or anti-Chequers advertising on Facebook in less than a year. The agency calculates that with that level of advertising, the messaging would have been seen by 11 million people. TechCrunch has independently confirmed that Mainstream Network’s domain name was registered in November last year, and began publishing in February of this year.

In evidence given to Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee today, 89up says the website was running dozens of adverts targeted at Facebook users in specific constituencies, suggesting users “Click to tell your local MP to bin Chequers,” along with an image from the constituency, and an email function to drive people to send their MP an anti-Chequers message. This email function carbon-copied an info@mainstreamnetwork.co.uk email address. This would be a breach of the U.K.’s data protection rules, as the website is not listed as a data controller, says 89up.

This is the evidence to the Commons select committee.

Instagram Has a Massive Harassment Problem

Via Charles Arthur, The Atlantic on Instagram (owned by Facebook so don’t be surprised if they share the same values):

When Instagram introduces new features, the moderation-team members receive no warning, Andy [who works as a moderator; that’s not his real name] said. Consequently, they are left scrambling to understand how they work and what constitutes harassment on each format. “When the Questions feature rolled out, same way as every other new feature, we had no idea,” he said. “We didn’t know which part is the question, which is the answer, who says what? That makes such a big difference on whether you’re going to delete or ignore the post. The mods are just totally not kept up to date on how people use features.”

Alex, the current Instagram employee who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym, said the company prioritizes growth above all else, often at costs to user experience. “The focus is still on getting people to spend more time, getting more users, getting more revenue. That doesn’t change much internally,” Alex said. “There’s been a lot of effort to shape the narrative, but the reality is that it doesn’t drive business impact.”

At Instagram and Facebook, Alex said, “features can make whatever progress … but can’t hurt the other metrics. A feature might decrease harassment 10 percent, but if it decreases users by 1 percent, that’s not a trade-off that will fly. Internally right now, no one is willing to make that trade-off.”

Allie, a former employee at Instagram, agreed. “Instagram has terrible tools. I think people haven’t really focused on it much because so many harassment campaigns are just more visible on other platforms,” she said. Throughout her time there, she said, “many of the efforts to reduce harassment were oriented toward PR, but very few engineering and community resources were put toward actually decreasing harassment.”

A Genocide Incited on Facebook, With Posts From Myanmar’s Military

New York Times:

In August, after months of reports about anti-Rohingya propaganda on Facebook, the company acknowledged that it had been too slow to act in Myanmar. By then, more than 700,000 Rohingya had fled the country in a year, in what United Nations officials called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The company has said it is bolstering its efforts to stop such abuses.

“We have taken significant steps to remove this abuse and make it harder on Facebook,” Mr. Gleicher said. “Investigations into this type of activity are ongoing.”

Tweet:

Tech execs will never come to a full realization of their platforms’ roles in genocide and the rise in authoritarianism, in part because doing it would require an overwhelmingly traumatic personal reckoning.

MP demands Met police explain why Brexit inquiry dropped

The Guardian:

A senior Conservative MP has demanded that Scotland Yard urgently explain why it has not opened a criminal investigation into three pro-Brexit campaigns that the Electoral Commission found had broken the law.

Damian Collins, chair of the Commons committee investigating the illegal use of data during the EU referendum, told the Observer he was concerned that the Metropolitan police had as yet failed to launch a formal investigation into potential crimes committed by pro-Leave groups before the 2016 referendum.

His intervention comes five months after the official election regulator ruled that criminal offences had been committed and the force was first handed a dossier containing evidence of the potential crimes.

On Thursday, the website Open Democracy reported that the Met had stalled the launch of a criminal investigation into the pro-Brexit campaigns citing “political sensitivities”.

An email seen by the Observer from Open Democracy shows a Met press officer using the phrase to explain why a formal investigation had not been opened, with the explanation that this would “relate to ANY allegation or referral relating to an election”.

Hours after the report appeared, the Met issued a statement saying it had received more than 900 documents from the Electoral Commission, which are “being assessed in order to make an informed decision as to whether a criminal investigation is required”.

Collins, the chair of the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee, said the report was troubling. “If the law was broken they [the police] have a duty to investigate. It makes no sense at all. I have no idea what’s going on. We need a proper official response,” he said.

In May and July this year, the Electoral Commission reported that false declarations, multiple breaches of electoral law and covert campaign overspending had taken place by pro-Leave groups during the referendum. Collins added: “What is our law worth if the police won’t act?”

Collins also revealed he was baffled about the lack of apparent progress by the National Crime Agency, which has received evidence from the Electoral Commission concerning the main pro-Brexit campaigns.

“We don’t know. We’re no clearer on that. We now have different government agencies who know about this. We know there is evidence of attempts to interfere in British politics. Why is there not a broader investigation?” said Collins.

The MP said it was “absurd” that the UK had not reacted to claims of Russian interference in the referendum by replicating the investigation of US special counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading an inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. “In America, where there are deep political divisions in Congress, they still agree on the importance of this and the need for a special prosecutor. We need the same,” said Collins.

He also warned Mark Zuckerberg that the Facebook chief’s refusal to assist the parliamentary inquiry into the misuse of data should result in the UK’s security services being allowed to investigate Facebook.

“We haven’t even scraped the surface of what happened on Facebook. We are totally reliant on Facebook’s internal investigations. It’s not enough. The government needs to order the security services to go in and work with Facebook,” said Collins.

Damian Collins is speaking out but is anyone listening?  It is almost as though Theresa May isn’t interested in investigating this.

 

 

Sometimes, it’s the data you’re missing that’s the key to understanding something

Via John Naughton, a salutary tale for data fiends:
How Not to Be Wrong opens with an extremely interesting tale from World War II. As air warfare gained prominence, the challenge for the military was figuring out where and in what amount to apply protective armor to fighter planes and bombers. Apply too much armor and the planes become slower, less maneuverable and use more fuel. Too little armor, or if it’s in the “wrong” places, and the planes run a higher risk of being brought down by enemy fire. To make these determinations, military leaders examined the amount and placement of bullet holes on damaged planes that returned to base following their missions. The data showed almost twice as much damage to the fuselage of the planes compared to other areas, most specifically the engine compartments, which generally had little damage. This data led the military leaders to conclude that more armor needed to be placed on the fuselage. But mathematician Abraham Wald examined the data and came to the opposite conclusion. The armor, Wald said, doesn’t go where the bullet holes are; instead, it should go where the bullet holes aren’t, specifically, on the engines. The key insight came when Wald looked at the damaged planes that returned to the base and asked where all the “missing” bullet holes to the engines were. The answer was the “missing” bullet holes were on the missing planes, i.e. the ones that didn’t make it back safely to base. Planes that got hit in the engines didn’t come back, but those that sustained damage to the fuselage generally could make it safely back. The military then put Wald’s recommendations into effect and they stayed in place for decades.