Data firm suspends CEO over Facebook scandal

Facebook expressed outrage on Tuesday over the misuse of its data as Cambridge Analytica, the British firm at the centre of a major scandal rocking the social media giant, suspended its chief executive.

The move to suspend CEO Alexander Nix came as recordings emerged in which he boasts his data company played an expansive role in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, doing all of its research, analytics as well as digital and television campaigns.

In undercover filming captured by Britain’s Channel 4 News, he is also seen boasting about entrapping politicians and secretly operating in elections around the world through shadowy front companies.

Lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic have demanded answers after it was revealed at the weekend that Cambridge Analytica improperly harvested information from 50 million Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica has denied using Facebook data for the Trump campaign, but the scandal has ratcheted up the pressure on the social media giant — already under fire for allowing fake news to proliferate on its platform during the US campaign.

The US media reported on Tuesday evening that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating Facebook over the data scandal.

Facebook said its top executives were “working around the clock to get all the facts.”

“The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens,” the firm said.

Cambridge Analytica’s board said that Nix would stand aside immediately pending an investigation into the snowballing allegations against him. “In the view of the Board, Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation,” the company said.

In Channel 4’s recordings, Nix slights US representatives on the House Intelligence Committee to whom he gave evidence last year, claiming its Democrats are motivated by “sour grapes” and Republicans asked few questions.

“They’re politicians, they’re not technical. They don’t understand how it works,” he was caught on camera telling an undercover reporter.

He also outlines the use of a secret self-destructing email system.

“There’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing,” he said of the tool, which deletes emails two hours after they have been read.

Investigations multiply

Channel 4 News broadcast an interview filmed in October last year with defeated presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in which she said she had faced “a massive propaganda effort”.

“There was a new kind of campaign that was being run on the other side,” she said. “It affected the thought processes of voters.”

Facebook now faces investigations on both sides of the Atlantic, sending its share price tumbling another 2.6 per cent after a 6.8pc plunge on Monday.

European Union officials have called for an urgent investigation while British lawmakers have asked Zuckerberg to give evidence to a UK parliamentary committee.

Zuckerberg has been asked to appear before the European Parliament.

“Facebook needs to clarify before the representatives of 500 million Europeans that personal data is not being used to manipulate democracy,” tweeted parliament president Antonio Tajani.

US lawmakers have also called on Zuckerberg to appear before Congress, along with the chief executives of Twitter and Google. Officials in the states of Massachusetts and New York announced they were sending a “demand letter” to Facebook for the facts of the case.

“Consumers have a right to know how their information is used — and companies like Facebook have a fundamental responsibility to protect their users’ personal information,” New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.

Thirteen US consumer and privacy organisations meanwhile released a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to reopen a probe into Facebook, saying the firm’s admission so far “suggests a clear violation” of a 2011 consent decree.

Watchdog searches

A former Cambridge Analytica employee says it was able to create psychological profiles on 50 million Facebook users through the use of a personality prediction app that was downloaded by 270,000 people, but also scooped up data from friends — as was possible under Facebook’s rules at the time.

The end goal was to create software to predict and influence voters’ choices at the ballot box. The company blames the academic who developed the app, University of Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, for misusing the data, which it says was never used on the Trump campaign, and has in any event been deleted.

But the firm’s reputation took a severe hit on Monday, with the broadcast of the first batch of secret footage showing Nix saying it could entrap politicians in compromising situations with bribes and sex workers.

He also said the firm secretly campaigns in elections around the world, including by operating through a web of shadowy front companies, or by using sub-contractors, according to Channel 4 News.

A Cambridge Analytica spokesman told the news programme it does not use “untrue material for any purpose”. Facebook, which says the data was taken without its knowledge, has launched its own investigation into Cambridge Analytica.

But it was forced to suspend its probe following a request from Britain’s information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, who is making her own inquiries into both companies. Denham’s office said it had yet to obtain a court warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s servers and was now expecting to secure it on Wednesday.

Iconic physicist Stephen Hawking passes away at age 76

Renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking, whose mental genius and physical disability made him a household name and inspiration across the globe, has died at age 76, a family spokesman said on Wednesday.

“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today,” professor Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert, and Tim said in a statement carried by Britain’s Press Association news agency.

“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.”

“His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world,” the family said. “He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”

The physicist and cosmologist had defied death for decades after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease when he was a 21-year-old student at Cambridge University. Most people die within a few years of the diagnosis of the disease, also called the motor neurone disease.

Hawking first gained attention with his 1988 book A Brief History of Time, a simplified overview of the universe. It sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. His subsequent theories have revolutionised modern understanding of concepts like black holes and the Big Bang theory of how the universe began.

For 30 years, he held a mathematics post at the Cambridge University previously held by Sir Isaac Newton. Hawking retired from that position in 2009 and then became the director of research at the university’s Centre for Theoretical Cosmology.

Hawking achieved all that despite being nearly entirely paralysed and in a wheelchair since 1970. In his last days, he communicated only by twitching his right cheek. Since catching pneumonia in 1985, Hawking needed around-the-clock care and relied on a computer and voice synthesizer to speak.

A tiny infrared sensor on his glasses hooked up to a computer detected Hawking’s cheek pulses, which selected the words displayed on a computer screen. The chosen words were then spoken by the voice synthesizer. It could take up to 10 minutes for Hawking to formulate a single sentence.

[pullquote]His last book, The Grand Design, was published in 2010.
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Lou Gehrig’s disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, attacks motor neurons, cells that control the muscles. Patients typically suffer muscle weakness and wasting, become paralysed and have problems talking, swallowing and breathing. Only about 10 per cent of patients live longer than a decade.

Hawking married twice and has three children and three grandchildren. With his daughter Lucy, he wrote several children’s books on physics.

Solar Charged Jacket glows in the dark

Made from a highly responsive material that can be charged by exposing it to almost any light source, from the sun to your phone torch, the Solar Charged Jacket is one of the most technologically advanced jackets the world has ever seen!

The Solar Charged Jacket is fueled fastest by sunlight as it’s brighter, so the simplest and most efficient way to charge it is by wearing it outside during the day. The jacket will simply store the energy from the sun and start glowing as soon as it gets dark.

With just a couple of hours’ charge it can still be glowing up to 12 hours later. Even on cloudy days, or left near a window, daylight is bright enough to charge it up.

When it’s fully charged at night it glows in the green spectrum at around 530 nanometers before fading to silvery green then white.

Facebook updates News Feed to make friends a priority

Facebook on Thursday announced a major update that will put friends and family above pages or celebrities in a user’s news feed.

The move is likely to result in people spending less time on the leading social network.

The change to the way Facebook ranks posts will put more weight on social interactions and relationships, according to News Feed product manager John Hegeman.

“This is a big change,” Hegeman told AFP.

“People will actually spend less time on Facebook, but we feel good about that because it will make the time they do spend more valuable, and be good for our business in the end,” he added.

For example, a family video clip posted by a spouse will be deemed more worthy of attention than a snippet from a star or favourite restaurant.

“We think people interaction is more important than passively consuming content,” Hegeman said.

“This will be one of the more important updates that we have made.”

Facebook co-founder and chief Mark Zuckerberg has said that bringing people together and strengthening communities in the real world are priorities. The news feed ranking update, which is set to roll out globally in the coming weeks, is expected to support that goal.

“As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media,” Zuckerberg said in a post at his Facebook page.

“And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

Google, Twitter and Facebook have come under fire for allowing the spread of bogus news. Facebook has introduced a series of changes intended to address the problem. “We are doing a ton of work to reduce the frequency of bad content on Facebook,” Hegeman said.

“This update is more about amplifying the things people value.”

He cited academic research indicating that interacting with loved ones is crucial to a person’s wellbeing, while reading news articles or watching shared videos may not be.

“There is really no silver bullet here to determine what is most meaningful, but we are trying to mine the signals to get the best representation that we can,” Hegeman said.

Known for setting annual personal goals ranging from killing his own food to learning Mandarin, Zuckerberg’s stated mission for this year is to ‘fix’ the social network, including by targeting abuse and hate, and making sure visiting Facebook is time well spent.

“I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions,” Zuckerberg said on Thursday.

Twitter rolls out 280-character tweets worldwide

Microblogging website Twitter Inc, known for its iconic 140-character tweets has rolled out 280-character tweets to users across the world.

Twitter said it ran a test on 280-character tweets in September that showed users spent less time editing their tweets and were less likely to abandon them.

User posting in languages including Japanese, Korean and Chinese, which do not face the issue of “cramming”, will continue to have a limit of 140 characters, Twitter said.

The company did not say when it would start allowing users to post 280-character tweets.

Afghanistan moves to block WhatsApp, Telegram messaging services

KABUL: Afghanistan’s telecoms regulator wrote to internet service providers this week ordering them to block the messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram but it was not immediately clear whether they had complied.

Use of social media and mobile instant messaging services has exploded in Afghanistan over recent years. Social media users and civil rights groups reacted with outrage to initial reports of the move and the letter sent by telecoms regulator ATRA was widely shared on social media.

Some media reports, citing unidentified sources, said the move had been ordered by the National Directorate for Security to thwart the use of the encrypted messaging services by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

It was not immediately possible to confirm the reports.

The acting minister for telecommunications, Shahzad Aryobee, posted a message on Facebook saying that the telecoms regulator had been ordered to put a gradual block on the services to improve their functioning after complaints had been received.

“The government is committed to freedom of speech and knows that it is a basic civil right for our people,” he wrote.

The letter by telecoms regulator ATRA, dated Nov. 1 and signed by an official of the regulator, directed internet companies to block Telegram and Facebook Inc’s (FB.O) WhatsApp services “without delay” for a period of 20 days.

However, the service worked normally this week and still appeared to be working normally on Saturday on both state-owned operator Salaam and private service providers.

On Friday, there were reports of interruptions but it was not clear whether they were caused by a deliberate shutdown or by the unrelated issues with WhatsApp services that were experienced in several countries.

Mobile phone services have been one of the big success stories in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted from power by a U.S.-led campaign in 2001, but there are also frequent complaints from users about quality and coverage.

WhatsApp and similar services, including Facebook Messenger and Viber, are widely used by Afghan politicians and members of the government as well as by the Taliban, which has a sophisticated social media operation of its own.

The movement’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, wrote to reporters this week giving his Viber number “in case WhatsApp is not working”.

Whatsapp suffers global outage

KARACHI: Whatsapp, a popular messaging service owned by Facebook, on Friday suffered global outage on Friday.

The services were restored after the temporary suspension

Users in Pakistan took to Twitter and other social media platforms to report the global outage.

ibc english News reported that the app was not working in Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Sahiwal and other cities of the country.

The Independent reported that users in the UK were thrown into turmoil on Friday as the messaging app suffered a major outage.

“The service started experiencing issues at around 07:10 GMT, according to independent website DownDetector , which tracks major network outages,” the newspaper said.

Russian, Malaysia, Turkey, Spain and countries in Africa were also affected by the suspension of Whatsapp services.

Sony revives robot pet dog

TOKYO: Japanese electronics giant Sony is marking the year of the dog by bringing back to life its robot canine — packed with artificial intelligence and internet capability.

Sony’s new “Aibo” dog is an ivory-white puppy-sized, 30 centimetre (one foot) hound with flapping black ears and a wagging tail. It has the ability to roll its eyes to display emotions.

It comes with an array of sensors, cameras and microphones and boasts internet connectivity, allowing owners to play with the pet remotely via smartphone.

Sony´s earlier Aibo robodog was put to sleep more a decade ago — a victim of business restructuring — shocking fans of the digital pet.

Sony rolled out the first-generation Aibo in June 1999, with the initial batch of 3,000 selling out in just 20 minutes, despite a hefty price tag of 250,000 yen ($2,200 at current rates).

Over the following years, more than 150,000 units were sold, with numerous models ranging from gleaming metallic-silver versions to round-faced cub-like models.

But by 2006, Sony was in trouble. Its business model was broken and it was facing fierce competition from rivals in all fields.

The Aibo, an expensive and somewhat frivolous luxury, had to go.

The company kept its “Aibo clinic” open until March 2014, but then — politely — told dedicated and loving owners that they were on their own, prompting retired Sony engineers to offer repairs.

The new Aibo is launched in Japan in January but will not come cheap, priced at 198,000 yen (around $1,750).

Sony will not resume repairs for older models.

Facebook says 126 million Americans may have seen Russia-linked political posts

WASHINGTON: Facebook Inc said on Monday that Russia-based operatives published about 80,000 posts on the social network over a two-year period in an effort to sway US politics and that about 126 million Americans may have seen the posts during that time.

Facebook’s latest data on the Russia-linked posts – possibly reaching around half of the US population of voting age – far exceeds the company’s previous disclosures. It was included in written testimony provided to U.S. lawmakers, and seen by Reuters, ahead of key hearings with social media and technology companies about Russian meddling in elections on Capitol Hill this week.

Twitter Inc separately has found 2,752 accounts linked to Russian operatives, a source familiar with the company’s written testimony said. That estimate is up from a tally of 201 accounts that Twitter reported in September.

Google, owned by Alphabet Inc, said in a statement on Monday it had found $4,700 in Russia-linked ad spending during the 2016 U.S. election cycle, and that it would build a database of election ads.

Executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google are scheduled to appear before three congressional committees this week on alleged Russian attempts to spread misinformation in the months before and after the 2016 US presidential election.

The Russian government has denied any attempts to sway the election, in which President Donald Trump, a Republican, defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, said in the written testimony that the 80,000 posts from Russia’s Internet Research Agency were a tiny fraction of content on Facebook, equal to one out of 23,000 posts.

However, the posts violated Facebook’s terms of service, and any amount of such activity using fake accounts is too much, Stretch wrote.

“These actions run counter to Facebook’s mission of building community and everything we stand for. And we are determined to do everything we can to address this new threat,” he wrote.

The 80,000 posts were published between June 2015 and August 2017. Most of them focused on divisive social and political messages such as race relations, Facebook said.

Twitter’s revised estimate of how many Russia-linked accounts were on its service comes a month after an influential Democratic senator, Mark Warner, slammed it for what he called an insufficient investigation.

Twitter has suspended all 2,752 accounts that it tracked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, and it has given U.S. congressional investigators the account names, the source familiar with the company’s testimony said.

“State-sanctioned manipulation of elections by sophisticated foreign actors is a new challenge for us – and one that we are determined to meet,” Twitter said in written testimony, according to the source.

Tech firms must do more on extremism: World Economic Forum

WASHINGTON: US tech firms such as Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc should be more aggressive in tackling extremism and political misinformation if they want to avoid government action, a report from the World Economic Forum said on Monday.

The study from the Swiss nonprofit organisation adds to a chorus of calls for Silicon Valley to stem the spread of violent material from Daesh militants and the use of their services by alleged Russian propagandists.

Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s Google will go under the microscope of US lawmakers on Tuesday and Wednesday when their general counsels will testify before three US congressional committees on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

The report from the World Economic Forum’s human rights council warns that tech companies risk government regulation that would limit freedom of speech unless they “assume a more active self-governance role.”

It recommends that the companies conduct more thorough internal reviews of how their services can be misused and that they put in place more human oversight of content.

The German parliament in June approved a plan to fine social media networks up to 50 million euros if they fail to remove hateful postings promptly, a law that Monday’s study said could potentially lead to the takedown of massive amounts of content.