Facebook Positions ‘Messenger’ To Help Combat Coronavirus

In this file photo taken on October 23, 2019 Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on "An Examination of Facebook and Its Impact on the Financial Services and Housing Sectors" in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC. Nicholas Kamm / AFP
In this file photo taken on October 23, 2019 Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on “An Examination of Facebook and Its Impact on the Financial Services and Housing Sectors” in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC. Nicholas Kamm / AFP

 

Facebook on Monday began enlisting outside developers to create ways its Messenger service can help health organizations battling the novel coronavirus.

The social network also invited software savants to take part in an online “hackathon” aimed at creating ways to use Messenger to ease social-distancing and deliver accurate information about the pandemic, according to Messenger vice president Stan Chudnovsky in a blog post.

He unveiled a global program intended to connect government health organizations and UN agencies with developers who can create ways to use Messenger share accurate information and speed up responses to people’s questions.

Software makers, for example, could help agencies automate answering common questions, to allow staff to tackle more challenging tasks.

Developers can also help organizations use software to quickly distribute updated information.

UNICEF and Pakistan’s Ministry of National Health  already use Messenger to keep people posted about COVID-19, according to the Facebook-owned messaging platform.

Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp recently launched a free World Health Organization alert designed to answer questions about the coronavirus and debunk “coronavirus myths.”

The service, launching in English, is to expand in coming weeks to include Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish.

WhatsApp last week launched a Coronavirus Information Hub in partnership with WHO and United Nations organizations.

WhatsApp, which claims more than a billion users, issued a $1 million grant to an International Fact Checking Network alliance devoted to reporting on coronavirus rumors spreading on messaging services.

“We think the most important step WhatsApp can take is to help connect people directly with public health officials providing crucial updates about coronavirus,” spokesman Carl Woog told AFP.

Concerns have been raised about WhatsApp and other messaging services being used to spread bogus information about coronavirus.

WhatsApp software prevents users from blasting messages to massive numbers of people at once, which tends to be a spam tactic.

The service also labels forwarded or chain messages to show people they did not come directly from a friend or family member.

AFP

Facebook, Google In Talks With Washington To Track infections

 

Facebook and Google are in talks with Washington over potentially using individuals’ personal data to track and combat the coronavirus outbreak, US media reported.

The project would involve collecting location information from Americans’ smartphones and using it anonymously to map the spread of the disease and predict urgent medical needs, for example.

In a statement to the Washington Post, Google spokesman Johnny Luu confirmed they were “exploring ways that aggregated anonymized location information could help in the fight against COVID-19.”

The two tech giants did not respond to AFP requests for comment.

The use of personal data in the US is highly sensitive after several scandals — such as in 2011 when the National Security Agency was found to be collecting phone records without permission.

But pressure has mounted for Silicon Valley to use their expertise to fight the deadly virus after roughly 50 scientists signed an open letter last week calling on them to act.

READ ALSO: France Locks Down As Global Virus Panic Spreads 

“It is clear that large-scale efforts by technology platforms could tip the scales on the right side to contain the pandemic and save thousands if not millions of lives,” the doctors, epidemiologists and researchers wrote.

Among other suggestions, they recommended social networks broadcast educational videos, Uber distributes disinfectant products to its drivers, and Amazon limits the number of masks and hydro-alcoholic gels that can be sold per person.

As for Apple and Google, “they should integrate into the operating system of the phones a tracking tool, which users could choose to activate, anonymously, to find out if they have been in the presence of identified cases.”

People could quarantine themselves if necessary and monitor the appearance of any symptoms.

“In the longer term, such a system would better contain other future epidemics,” they added. “Tracking contacts between people has worked well in China and South Korea, and such a tool would make this method usable everywhere, on a large scale.”

AFP

Facebook Shuts London, Singapore Offices After Coronavirus Case

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg/ AFP

 

Facebook on Friday said it was shutting its London office and part of its Singapore base for “deep cleaning” after an employee in the Asian city state was diagnosed with coronavirus.

A staff member working at the US technology giant’s Marina One office in Singapore was on Friday diagnosed with COVID-19, a spokesman told AFP.

“We have immediately closed the affected areas for deep cleaning and advised employees based in the affected area to work from home until 13 March,” he said in an emailed statement.

The infected employee had also visited Facebook’s London offices between February 24 and 26.

“We are therefore closing our London offices until Monday for deep cleaning and employees are working from home until then,” the spokesman said.

The company said it was getting in touch with individuals who had direct contact with the person infected, and had asked them to self-isolate and monitor for any potential symptoms.

Facebook has already closed its Shanghai office until further notice, while employees in Italy and South Korea have been encouraged to work from home.

In addition, staff in the San Francisco Bay area have been “strongly recommended” to work from home starting from Friday.

Coronavirus has infected more than 100,000 people across 91 countries globally, according to an AFP tally, while more than 3,400 people have died.

A total of 163 people have currently tested positive for the virus in Britain, and two people have died, health authorities said Friday.

AFP

Twitter Tests Vanishing Tweets to Keep Up With Snapchat, Facebook

Twitter logo
(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 2, 2019 logos of US social network Twitter are displayed on the screen of smartphones, in Nantes, western France. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

 

Twitter said Wednesday it is testing a way for users to “think aloud” with tweets that vanish after a day instead of having posts linger.

The ability to send ephemeral tweets called “Fleets” is being tried out in Brazil, according to the San Francisco-based social media platform.

If more widely implemented, Twitter would match the disappearing posts first made popular by Snapchat and later adopted by Facebook and other platforms.

“We are experimenting with a new way for you to ‘think aloud’ on Twitter, with no likes, retweets or public comments,” the company said in a message posted from its @TwitterBrasil account.

“The name of this is Fleets. Want to know the best? They disappear after 24 hours.”

Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour said the new format could encourage people to share thoughts they might not have expressed in a permanent tweet.

“This is a substantial change to Twitter, so we’re excited to learn by testing it (starting with the rollout today in Brazil) and seeing how our customers use it,” Beykpour tweeted.

-AFP

 

Facebook Cancels Developers Conference Due To Coronavirus

Breaking Up Facebook Isn't The Answer, Says Zuckerberg
This file photo taken on February 18, 2019 shows the US social media Facebook logo displayed on a tablet in Paris. Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP.

 

Facebook on Thursday canceled its annual F8 developers conference, the biggest annual event for the US tech giant, over fears about the possible spread of the novel coronavirus.

The gathering in the Silicon Valley city of San Jose — which had been set for early May — typically draws thousands of software makers from around the world who collaborate with the tech giant on its platform.

“In light of the growing concerns around COVID-19, we’ve made the difficult decision to cancel the in-person component of F8 this year, in order to prioritize the health and safety of our developer partners, employees and everyone who helps put F8 on,” Facebook said.

Face-to-face interaction at the conference center in San Jose will be replaced with presentations streamed online. F8 sessions and demonstrations usually span its “family” of offerings including the main social network, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp and virtual reality unit Oculus.

“This was a tough call to make — F8 is an incredibly important event for Facebook and it’s one of our favorite ways to celebrate all of you from around the world,” director of platform partnerships Konstantinos Papamiltiadis said in a message to developers.

“We explored other ways to keep the in-person part of F8, but it’s important to us to host an inclusive event and it didn’t feel right to have F8 without our international developers in attendance.”

The World Health Organization declared Thursday that the new coronavirus epidemic was at a “decisive point” as countries across the globe battled to contain the deadly outbreak.

Alarm is growing as China is no longer the only breeding ground for COVID-19, with other countries including South Korea and Italy becoming hotbeds of infection, raising fears of a pandemic.

The virus has already killed more than 2,700 people, mostly in China — where it first emerged in December — and infected more than 81,000 in over 45 countries.

US public health officials confirmed a coronavirus case in Northern California, the first of unknown origin out of about 60 cases, and have told Americans to be ready to cancel mass gatherings and work from home.

The epidemic has prompted warnings of a financial impact from tech giants including Apple and Microsoft.

Both Facebook and Microsoft said Thursday they were withdrawing from the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco set for March.

AFP

Facebook’s ‘Supreme Court’ To Be Ready In Months

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the annual F8 summit at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California on May 1, 2018.  JOSH EDELSON / AFP

 

Facebook said on Tuesday its “supreme court,” designed to be the final word in content removal disputes, should be in operation in a few months, as it named a British human rights activist to a key post.

The social network said that former Article 19 executive director Thomas Hughes would be the staff director of the oversight board, which is being developed to settle questions on what content is removed from Facebook or Instagram.

Hughes told reporters he sees the new post as “aligned to what I’ve been doing for the last couple of decades,” on protecting human rights and freedom of expression.

The plan for an oversight board was proposed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2018, to make difficult calls on what is appropriate content for Facebook. The company initially planned to bring it into operation by the end of 2019.

The move is billed as part of an effort by Facebook to balance freedom of speech with concerns over manipulation of the social network for abuse or deception, particularly heading into the US presidential election this year.

“Over time, I believe this body will play an important role in our overall governance,” Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a post last year.

In September, Facebook finalized its “charter” for the new body. And on Tuesday, it unveiled its bylaws — subject to review when the board is in place — that set out the process for dealing with complaints and disputes.

The bylaws revealed on Tuesday allow people 15 days to petition the board regarding posts removed from Facebook or Instagram.

The board would make a decision within a maximum of 90 days.

Facebook executives said the time limits are guidelines and that the board would seek to weigh each case on the potential harm it may cause.

“Given the large number of content decisions Facebook makes, as well as the time it will take to hear cases, we expect the board will choose cases that have the greatest potential to guide Facebook’s future decisions and policies,” the California-based social network said.

The board will initially focus on disputes over removed content, expanding to address complaints regarding controversial posts allowed to remain on the platform, according to Facebook.

The board will have as many as 40 members hearing the appeals in a panel headed by three co-chairs.

Facebook will select the initial three co-chairs, and those positions will subsequently be selected by the board and trustees of the panel.

AFP

Facebook To Boost Site Safety With 1,000 More UK Staff

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the opening keynote introducing new Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram privacy features at the Facebook F8 Conference at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California on April 30, 2019.  Amy Osborne / AFP

 

Facebook on Tuesday said it plans to create 1,000 more London-based jobs this year to improve safety on the social network with the aid of artificial intelligence.

The new roles will increase the number of staff at the company’s largest engineering hub outside the United States to more than 4,000.

“The UK is a world leader in both innovation and creativity. That’s why I’m excited that we plan to hire an additional 1,000 people in London this year alone,” said Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

She said that many of the new roles would help Facebook to “address the challenges of an open internet and develop artificial intelligence to find and remove harmful content more quickly.

“They will also help us build the tools that help small businesses grow, compete with larger companies and create new jobs.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the move, saying that “the UK is successfully creating both homegrown firms at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence, whilst attracting established global tech giants like Facebook”.

AFP

Facebook Exec Says It Helped Put Trump In White House

Facebook’s hardware vice president Andrew Bosworth gestures as he speaks during an AFP interview on September 17, 2019 in San Francisco, California.

 

 

A senior Facebook executive on Tuesday said the world’s biggest social network unintentionally helped put Donald Trump in the White House but warned against dramatic rule changes.

The Trump campaign did effectively use Facebook to rally support for his presidential run, and the social network should be mindful of that without making moves that stifle free political discourse, Andrew Bosworth said in a lengthy post on his personal Facebook page triggered by The New York Times publishing an internal memo he wrote.

“So was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected?” Bosworth asked.

“I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks.”

Bosworth contended Trump was not elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica, but rather because he ran “the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser.”

Since Facebook has the same ad policies in place now, the outcome of the 2020 election could be the same as it was four years ago, he added.

Facebook has maintained a hands-off policy on political ads, in contrast with Google which in November placed restrictions on how advertisers can target specific groups of voters.

“As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear,” Bosworth wrote.

That doesn’t mean Facebook should not draw a line when it comes to how it is used, he reasoned. Clearly inciting violence, thwarting voting, and other blatant transgressions should be banned, but voters should be trusted to decide what kind of leaders they want to elect, according to Bosworth.

“If we don’t want hate-mongering politicians then we must not elect them,” Bosworth wrote.

“If we change the outcomes without winning the minds of the people who will be ruled then we have a democracy in name only. If we limit what information people have access to and what they can say then we have no democracy at all.”

– War rooms –
Bosworth’s comments came with Facebook under pressure to better protect user data and prevent its services from being used to spread misinformation, exacerbate social divides and sway political opinions as was the case in 2016 in the US.

Keeping the social network secure while thwarting misinformation and fending off the competition with new features were among priorities laid out by executives at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Tuesday.

“The innovation piece is important to us while we keep people in the company focused on security,” said Facebook vice president of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson.

Facebook provided visitors a look at a revamped “Privacy Checkup” tool for users which is rolling out this week.

“What is top of mind for me is regulation and how the privacy landscape is developing,” Everson said.

“We would like help on the regulatory front for privacy and security.”

Facebook priorities this year include preventing the platform from being used by malevolent actors to influence the US election, according to Everson.

The social network is in nearly 200 countries around the world, where scores of elections take place annually and will apply lessons learned through experience to the US, Everson said.

Facebook will once again have a “war room” to coordinate responses to the election or voter manipulation efforts by state actors or others in real-time.

“The war room model has been working around the world,” Everson said.

“We have 70 to 90 elections each year, so we have been getting better. War rooms are part of our strategy.”

Facebook will ban hyper-realistic deepfake videos ahead of the US election but will still allow heavily edited clips so long as they are parody or satire.

Everson re-affirmed Facebook will stick with its controversial policy of allowing politicians to post information proven to be false.

“We do not believe we are in the position to be the arbiter of truth, but we have been clear that we are continuing to evaluate how we can do it better,” Everson said.

“We don’t want people to mislead on our platform.”

Facebook last month took down a network of accounts it said was using fake identities while spreading pro-Trump messages at the social network and its Instagram service.

Trump Says Zuckerberg Told Him He’s Facebook’s ‘Number One’

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 11, 2019 US President Donald Trump gestures as he arrives for a “Keep America Great” rally at Sudduth Coliseum at the Lake Charles Civic Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

President Donald Trump boasted Monday that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told him at dinner he is “number one” on the global social media platform.

“I had dinner with Mark Zuckerberg the other day and he said ‘I’d like to congratulate you… you are number one on Facebook,'” Trump said.

The president, speaking in a live interview with right-wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, did not specify when the dinner happened.

A spokesman for Facebook said the last such dinner took place in October.

The president noted the importance of social media to his messaging, which depends on bypassing much of the professional news media, which he accuses of bias against him.

READ ALSO: Indonesian Jailed For Life As UK’s ‘Most Prolific’ Rapist

Trump, who has nearly 70 million followers on Twitter, told Limbaugh that without the platform, “I think we’d be lost.”

“We wouldn’t be able to get the truth out,” he said.

US social media platforms have come under criticism for enabling misinformation and fake news in the build-up to the 2020 presidential election.

Trump himself has repeatedly used Facebook and Twitter to push untrue statements and conspiracy theories.

Both those platforms have responded by saying they will not attempt to weed out lies from politicians because their statements fall under the category of “newsworthy” content.

Trump is number one on Facebook in terms of political ad spending, leading to accusations that the company is unduly influenced by the Republican.

At the October dinner at the White House, Trump and Zuckerberg were reportedly joined by Facebook board member Peter Thiel.

After, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren called for transparency over Facebook’s links to Trump.

“What did they talk about?” Warren tweeted.

AFP

Benin Jails Journalist Over Facebook Post

South African Pastor Sentenced Over Gay Slurs
File Photo

 

Benin Republic sentenced an investigative journalist to 18 months in prison on Tuesday for comments he posted on social media, his lawyer told AFP.

Ignace Sossou quoted on his Facebook and Twitter pages comments made by Benin’s public prosecutor Mario Metonou at a media event to discuss fake news on December 17.

The comments made by the official appeared to criticise the government’s attitude towards freedom of expression.

“The internet outage on (legislative) polling day on April 28 is an admission of weakness on the part of those in power,” the prosecutor reportedly said.

Sossou “has been convicted of harassment through electronic communications”, his lawyer, Prisca Ogoubi told AFP.

The former French colony has typically been seen as among West Africa’s most stable democracies. But Benin has been facing a political crisis since controversial parliamentary elections in April sparked mass protests.

President Patrice Talon, a former business magnate who came to power in 2016, has been accused of becoming increasingly authoritarian and has carried out a concerted crackdown on his opponents that has driven key rivals into exile.

Last week, Benin’s media regulatory authority suspended the radio station of Sebastien Ajavon, a Beninese businessman and opponent in exile.

Sossou works for the online news website Benin web TV and collaborates with several news organisations such as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the 3i Network.

He had already been sentenced to a suspended prison sentence on a separate charge of “publishing fake news” after he reported on offshore accounts and front companies targeting Beninese and French businessmen.

In a statement on Tuesday, the 3i Network called for Sossou’s immediate release, stating that his conviction was “completely contrary to the… spirit of respect for press freedom”.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Benin 96th in its press freedom index this year.

AFP

Facebook Worker Payroll Data Stolen From Car

Breaking Up Facebook Isn't The Answer, Says Zuckerberg
This file photo taken on February 18, 2019 shows the US social media Facebook logo displayed on a tablet in Paris. French Senate approved in the night between May 21 and May 22, 2019 a new tax on digital giants (“Gafa”), such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, carried through Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.
Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

 

Facebook on Friday alerted employees that hard drives rich with information about those on the social network’s payroll were stolen from a car last month.

“We have seen no evidence of abuse and believe this was a smash and grab crime rather than an attempt to steal employee information,” Facebook said in response to an AFP inquiry.

“This theft impacts current and former Facebook employees only and no Facebook user data was involved.”

The drives contained names, bank account numbers and other personal data of some 29,000 people who were on Facebook’s payroll in the US last year, according to the California-based internet titan, which confirmed a Bloomberg report.

The car was being used by a member of the payroll department, and the hard drives were not supposed to have left the Facebook campus. The data storage hardware was in a bag the worker left in the car, according to a spokesperson for the company.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have notified the current and former employees whose information we believe was stored on the equipment and are offering them free identity theft and credit monitoring services,” Facebook said, adding that it was working with police investigating the theft.

Disciplinary action was said to be taken in the matter, but details were not shared.

Word of the theft came as Facebook faces continued pressure to earn trust when it comes to how well it safeguards user data.

EU To Check How Facebook, Google Use Data

The European Commission said Monday it had begun a “preliminary investigation” into how Facebook and Google collect personal data and what they do with it.

“The Commission has sent out questionnaires as part of a preliminary investigation into Google’s and Facebook’s data practices,” a Commission spokeswoman told AFP.

“These investigations concern the way data is gathered, processed, used and monetised including for advertising purposes,” she added.

The Commission did not say who exactly the questionnaires were sent to. It is a step that could lead to a formal investigation.

Facebook vice president Nick Clegg was asked about the probe during a press conference in Brussels but did not answer directly.

Facebook faces investigations worldwide, he said.

Clegg nonetheless warned EU regulators not to let themselves get misled by faulty reasoning when it comes to data.

“This phrase you often hear that data is oil is deeply unhelpful because data is nothing like oil,” Clegg said.

“It’s not something that you suck out of the ground and burn in a vehicle engine and that’s it. Data is infinitely divisible and infinitely sharable,” he added.

“Data is something that you can both share and keep at the same time,” Clegg noted.

“For a data intensive companies like FB we would urge regulators and legislators not to be trapped by analog parallels which don’t apply to the digital world,” he said.

A Google spokesman said in an e-mail to AFP: “We use data to make our services more useful and to show relevant advertising, and we give people the controls to manage, delete or transfer their data.

“We will continue to engage with the Commission and others on this important discussion for our industry.”

In September 2016, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager warned that she would keep a close eye on companies that collect and use data such as Facebook, WhatsApp or Google.

Since she began working at the commission in November 2014, Vestager has hit Google with three major fines for abusing its dominant market position in different sectors.

Vestager has been promoted to vice president in the new European Commission and still holds the competition portfolio in addition to a new one on regulation of the digital sector.

Meanwhile on Monday, Facebook announced a new tool for Irish users to easily transfer photos and video footage towards Google Photos, which is owned by its competitor.

Facebook said it would extend the service at some point to other countries and internet platforms.

AFP