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Facebook Again Declines to Limit Political Ad Targeting

Facebook has decided not to limit how political ads can be targeted to specific groups of people, as its main digital-ad rival Google did in November to fight misinformation. Neither will it ban political ads outright, as Twitter did last October. And Facebook still won’t fact check them, as it’s faced pressure to do.Instead, it is announcing much more limited “transparency features” that aim to give users slightly more control over how many political ads they see and to make its online library of political ads easier to use.Facebook Ads Show Russian Effort to Stoke Political Division

        Democrats on the House intelligence committee have released more than 3,500 Facebook ads that were created or promoted by a Russian internet agency, providing the fullest picture yet of Russia's attempt to sow racial and political division in the United States before and after the 2016 election.

Most of the ads are issue-based, pushing arguments for and against immigration, LGBT issues and gun rights, among other issues. A large number of them attempt to stoke racial divisions by mentioning police…
These steps appear unlikely to assuage critics — including some of the company’s rank and file employees — who say Facebook has too much power and not enough limits when it comes to its effects on elections and democracy itself.Since last fall, Facebook has insisted that it won’t fact-check political ads, a move that critics say gives politicians license to lie in ads that can’t be easily monitored by outsiders. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly argued that “political speech is important” and that Facebook doesn’t want to interfere with it.Google, the digital ads leader, is limiting political-ad targeting to broad categories such as sex, age and postal code.Facebook said in a blog post Thursday that it considered limiting custom audience targeting, known as microtargeting, for political ads. But the social network said it learned about their importance for “reaching key audiences” after conducting outreach with political campaigns from both major parties in the U.S., political groups and nonprofits.US House Panel to Publicly Release Russia Facebook Ads

        The leaders of the U.S. 

The company said it was guided by the principle that “people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”Facebook does plan to let users choose to see “fewer” political and social-issue ads, although it won’t let people exclude them entirely. It’s also going to let people choose whether or not to see ads, political or otherwise, from advertisers targeting them using their contact details such as email address or phone number.The company is also tweaking its ad library so people can search for exact phrases and limit results using filters such as ad-audience size, dates and regions reached.Facebook’s ad library currently lets anyone find out how much was spent on an ad, how many times it was seen, and the age, gender and location of the people who saw it.Sam Jeffers, co-founder of Who Targets Me, an advocacy group researching political advertising, said Facebook was wise to permit microtargeting for political ads, despite some calls for a ban.He said it was better to provide more information on ads because it would give more insight into the actors behind them and their strategies. Facebook has made a start in that direction by adding information on an ad’s audience size, but it should give much more explanation about targeted ads, which he said are based on databases cross-referencing people’s emails with, for example, their voting history and credit scores.“By making it easier for you to understand what data’s in there, you can also understand what the advertiser’s intent was,” Jeffers said.Facebook says 85% of targeted advertising campaigns by U.S. presidential candidates are aimed at audiences of more than 250,000 people. But given that the 2016 election was effectively decided by roughly 100,000 voters in three or four states, Jeffers said, Facebook should do more to let people monitor political campaigns and their advertising in real time.Jeffers also said he welcomed the improvements to the ad library, “assuming that people actually bother to use it.”The changes related to ad disclosures will go into effect over the next three months in the U.S. and other countries where Facebook puts the “paid for by” disclaimers on political ads. The political-ad controls won’t roll out in the U.S. until early summer; the company will “eventually” expand them to other regions.

Hollywood-Backed Quibi Thinks You’ll Pay for its Video Bites

A startup heavily backed  by Hollywood is wagering that you’re ready to set aside YouTube and TikTok to watch star-studded short videos on your phone — for a price.The company behind this billion-dollar bet is Quibi, which is preparing to offer movies, shows and other short-form video designed for viewing in short bursts on mobile devices. It’s an enormous gamble, especially considering that several earlier efforts in mobile entertainment — most notably Verizon’s ill-fated Go90 service — fell flat.Founded by former Disney studios chief and DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and helmed by former Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman, Quibi is heavy on big ideas and Hollywood muscle. It has backing from all the major movie studios and entertainment companies, $1 billion invested in original programming, and star power in the form of creators and producers from Steven Spielberg to Chrissy Teigen.Quibi plans to launch April 6. It will charge $5 a month for an ad-supported service, and $8 a month for an ad-free version.Company executives argued at CES that Quibi will offer the first entertainment platform designed exclusively for the phone. In an interview at CES, Katzenberg said it represents the first time “professional storytellers” have tackled the problem of delivering a high-quality viewing experience on mobile.Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg speaks during a Quibi keynote address at the 2020 CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, Jan. 8, 2020.But the big question is whether a subscription service like Quibi can attract mobile viewers — particularly younger ones — already immersed in an ocean of free-to-watch short video on YouTube and other social-media services. It will also go up against roughly a half-dozen other paid streaming platforms from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu to Disney Plus and upcoming services from WarnerMedia and NBC Universal.Upcoming showsDuring the keynote, Quibi previewed shows including “Don’t Look Deeper,” a sci-fi show starring Don Cheadle and Emily Mortimer, and “#Freerayshawn” a crime thriller starring Laurence Fishburne as a cop and executive produced by “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua. Shows and movies, as well as other material like news and weather, are designed to be watched in “quick bites” of 10 minutes or less.”‘Paid premium short form (video)’ has never been in the same sentence, it has never really been proven,” said Seth Shapiro, managing partner at Pacific Strategy Partners. “That’s the challenge.” Among other things, he noted, it’s already possible for people to watch those other services in the same quick bites Quibi plans.Quibi executives at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas showed off technology on Wednesday designed to make video viewing on the phone easier. For instance, it will let you watch full-screen video whether you hold the phone upright or sideways.Filmmakers deliver two edits to the company, one vertical, one horizontal, and Quibi stitches them together with one audio track. Some creators have incorporated that feature into their productions, as in one show in which horizontal viewing delivers a traditional picture — but turning the phone upright displays a view from the main character’s phone camera.AdvertisingAdvertisers, at least, are on board. Quibi said it has sold out its $150 million first-year advertising slots to blue-chip companies including Procter & Gamble, Anheuser Busch, General Mills, Google, T-Mobile and Walmart. Ads will appear before shows and aren’t skippable.Jeff Wlodarczak, principal analyst at Pivotal Research Group, says he understands why advertisers are flocking to the product. Millennials can be hard to reach, he said, and when a brand places ads on YouTube or Snapchat, they never quite know what kind of video they might end up next to.Quibi offers a safe place for advertisers by delivering a known quantity “as opposed to people doing something stupid on YouTube,” he said.That advertising model will stick around, Whitman said. Quibi guarantees that all creators own their own intellectual property, and can repackage it and take it wherever else they want after seven years. It brought creators in, but it also means that Quibi needs both subscriber dollars and advertising revenue to stay afloat.The company just closed on another $400 million equity funding round from investors, Whitman said, and has a plan to be profitable “soon.”Others have tried short-form content, mostly in ad-supported form. Facebook Watch features original shows with episodes as short as 12 or 13 minutes, but none have garnered much buzz or mainstream attention so far. Verizon pulled the plug on Go90 in 2018, roughly three years after it launched; several concurrent efforts have also shut down. Meanwhile, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have all been experimenting with short-form offerings,  many of them in comedy.Quibi is “either brilliant or tone deaf,” said Tim Hanlon, CEO of Vertere Group. “I just don’t know what the answer is and I don’t think anybody does.”

California Could Mandate Backup Power at Cell Phone Towers

When the nation’s largest electric utility preemptively shut off power last fall to prevent wildfires in California, customers lost more than just their lights — some lost their phones, too.Data from the Federal Communications Commission shows 874 cellphone towers were offline during an Oct. 27 power shutoff that affected millions of people. That included more than half of the cell towers in Marin County alone.
The outages mean people who depend solely on cellphones couldn’t call 911 or receive emergency notifications, compounding the dangers associated with an unprecedented power outage in an era dominated by wireless communication.
On Wednesday, some Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation that would require telecommunication companies to have at least 72 hours of back-up power for all cell phone towers in high-risk fire areas. Telecom companies would have to pay for it.
Sen. Mike McGuire said he wrote the bill after meeting with telecom company officials last summer, where he said they assured him they had plans to prevent widespread outages during a power shutoff.
“As we all know, this wasn’t true. They were wrong. And, candidly, lives were put at risk,” McGuire said.
The federal government has tried to mandate backup power for cell phone towers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But the industry successfully fought it.
“Do I believe we are in for a fight? Hell yes,” McGuire said, adding: “This is no longer a discussion about cost.”
McGuire announced his bill on the same day representatives from AT&T and Verizon were scheduled to testify before state lawmakers about the outages and ways to prevent them.  It’s the second time lawmakers will have hauled in private companies to account for the effects surrounding the widespread blackouts in the fall, the largest planned power outages in state history.
In November, lawmakers questioned executives from the state’s largest investor-owned utilities, including the leadership of troubled Pacific Gas & Electric, whose equipment has been blamed for sparking the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and destroyed roughly 19,000 buildings. The company filed for bankruptcy last year.
Telecommunications outages have worsened as wildfires have become more common and more destructive. A report from the California Public Utilities Commission found 85,000 wireless customers and 160,000 wired customers lost service during the 2017 North Bay Fires.
Most recently, the FCC says up to 27% of Sonoma County’s wireless cell sites were offline during a fire in October.
 In advance comments to the legislative committee, California’s four largest wireless companies — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — say they generally make sure their major telecommunication hubs have at least between 48 hours and 72 hours of on-site backup power. They use mobile generators at other sites, but said the generators don’t work at every cell tower.
Also, the companies said the electric company warns them about blackouts just two hours ahead of time, making it hard for them to get their mobile generators in place and to keep them fueled.
AT&T spokesman Steven Maviglio said the company is experienced in managing large-scale outages, but noted “the power companies’ decision to shut off power to millions of Californians in October was the largest event our state had ever seen.”
 “Today, we are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in our network resiliency to address these new challenges and will continue to work to ensure our customers have the connectivity they need,” Maviglio said.
Last year, the Legislature passed a law requiring telecommunications companies to report large outages to the Office of Emergency Services within one hour of discovering them. Officials are still developing regulations for that law.  

CES Presents Wearable Tech That Can Help Prevent and Predict Health Problems

Wearable devices no longer just count steps. From startups to long established brands, companies are now developing wearables that can help improve one’s health, and prevent and predict problems before they occur.Technology in wearable devices is a growing category at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.Training the brainFrench startup Urgotech has developed URGOnight, a wearable headband and app to help with sleep.  “Basically, your brain emits brain waves all the time, and some of those waves are clinically proven to be linked to your sleep quality,” said Guirec Le Lous, president of Urgotech.Wearing the headband with electrodes inside for 20 minutes, users can train the brain to emit sleep-inducing brain waves by playing a game on the mobile app. Jellyfish float on the screen. By focusing on the jellyfish, users can make them disappear and get points when the right brain waves are produced.Le Lous said this kind of feedback, also known as neurofeedback, can teach a person to produce sleep-inducing brain waves. He said a user will start sleeping better after 15 sessions. The $500 device will be available in the U.S. in June.Another brain-training wearable are Narbis smartglasses that attempt to improve focus and attention.”With technology, we’re finding that people are reducing their ability to pay attention over long periods of time,” said Devon Greco, CEO and founder of Narbis.  The smartglasses use algorithms adopted from NASA, with the original purpose of monitoring the attention of pilots as they fly a flight simulator or a plane, Greco said.The Narbis glasses have three sensors — one behind each ear, and one on top of the head — that measure the electrical activity coming from the brain. When a user is focused on a task such as homework, the glasses are clear. As the brain gets distracted, the lenses on the glasses darken and clear up again when the glasses sense the brain paying more attention. Training the brain for 30 minutes, several times a week, also uses the concept of positive and negative reinforcement of neurofeedback.”The brain will naturally want to see light. So, light is a natural reward and dark is a penalty. And so, the brain just kind of learns through trial and error what is good and what is bad,” explained Greco, who said clinical studies of a dozen people have found that after 20 sessions, users experienced an improvement in attention.Greco said the ideal age for the smartglasses is between six to 17 years old. The company plans to begin shipping the $590 Narbis glasses in March.Watch-type wearablesMany wearable devices showcased at CES look like watches but can do much more.  They include IEVA’s 500 euro smartwatch, available later this year. The Time-C monitors the user’s environment, including temperature, humidity, sun exposure, noise and pollution. Linked to an app, it provides personalized beauty creams based on the environment.The ScanWatch from the French company Withings monitors the user’s heart rate and can detect an irregular heartbeat. Thesmart watch can also sense sleep apnea.”It can detect the saturation of oxygen in your blood, and detect the drops during your night,” explained Victoria Fabre, the company’s U.S. marketing manager.Starting at $249, ScanWatch will be available in the U.S. and Europe later this year, with the possibility of expanding to the Asia market.Omron, maker of  blood pressure monitors, has developed a wearable device, the Heart Guide, which looks like a watch. The band around the wrist can inflate and deflate, similar to how a traditional blood pressure monitor works around the arm. The monitor requires the user to raise the wrist next to the heart, and is convenient for use throughout the day.”We really wanted people to be able to go out and take their blood pressure at work, visiting friends and family. So, we just want to make sure that you can take it (blood pressure) anytime, anywhere,” said Jeff Ray, Omron’s executive director of product strategy.The device also monitors activity level, steps, calories, distance, and tracks sleep.  With a corresponding app, it can send a report of a user’s vitals to the doctor by email.Wearable for the young and oldBabies can get a wearable on their diaper. Launched at CES for U.S. residents is Lumi by Pampers. The $349 baby-monitoring system includes a sensor, camera and app and two packs of diapers.  The sensor attaches to a diaper with Velcro and tracks the baby’s sleep.”High motion is awake, slow motion is asleep,” said Mandy Treeby, who leads product development and communications for Lumi by Pampers.The reusable sensor also detects a wet diaper when the wetness indicator strip on the Pampers diaper changes color. The wearable device connects to an app or the camera and sends data to the cloud so parents and caregivers can get real-time information about the baby’s routine. The sensor lasts for three months and is $49 to replace.For the elderly, CarePredict has a wearable that can help predict potential health problems aimed at seniors who live in their own homes.Founder Satish Movva said he built the company because of his fiercely independent aging parents.”They had a lot of health issues that caused a lot of unpredictability in my life, because I never knew what was going to happen,” Movva said.The CarePredict device is worn around the wrist of the user’s dominant arm. With machine-learning and artificial intelligence, the device learns its user’s unique gestures and behaviors over the course of two weeks.”It can track all of the gestures of the dominant arm,” Movva said. “It knows when they’re lifting a fork to the mouth or a chopstick to the mouth. It knows when they’re drinking, when they’re brushing teeth, when they’re brushing hair. And it knows where they are in the home.”He added,  “Anytime there’s a decline or a deviation in these activities and behaviors, it usually precedes a health issue. So for example, somebody going into depression will stop taking a bath, will stop brushing their hair, will stay away from bright lights and sunlight, will stay in their own room.”When a behavior changes, the device will notify loved ones through a mobile app, which can give adult children peace of mind.Available in group homes since 2017, the $449 device is now available for individual home use with a battery that can be changed without having to take off the device.  

Space-Baked Cookies, ‘Mighty’ Mice Back on Earth via SpaceX

The first batch of space-baked cookies is back on Earth, along with muscle-bound “mighty” mice and other space station experiments.SpaceX provided the ride home Tuesday, a month after its Dragon capsule arrived at the International Space Station. The capsule parachuted into the Pacific, returning 3,800 pounds of gear.Researchers want to inspect the handful of chocolate chip cookies baked by astronauts in a special Zero G oven just in time for Christmas. The oven launched to the space station in November, so astronauts could pop in pre-made cookie dough provided by DoubleTree. A spokesman for the hotel chain said five cookies were baked up there, one at a time. The company plans to share details of this first-of-its-kind experiment in the coming weeks.”We made space cookies and milk for Santa this year,” NASA astronaut Christina Koch tweeted late last month from the space station, posing with one of the individually wrapped cookies.Scientists also are getting back 40 mice that flew up in early December, including eight genetically engineered to have twice the normal muscle mass. Some of the non-mighty mice bulked up in orbit for the muscle study; others will pack it on once they’re back in the lab.”We’re anxious to welcome the mice home! ” Dr. Se-Jin Lee of the Jackson Laboratory in Connecticut said in an email.

Invitation to Ivanka Trump Draws Backlash at Big Tech Show

The nation’s largest consumer electronics show on Tuesday hosts Ivanka Trump as a keynote speaker — a choice that drew scorn from many women in technology.The annual CES tech gathering in Las Vegas has long taken criticism over diversity issues. In recent years, the show’s organizer, the Consumer Technology Association, has invited more women to speak and sought to curb some of the show’s more sexist aspects, such as scantily clad “booth babes” hired to draw attention of the mostly male attendees.FILE – Ivanka Trump, the daughter and senior adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, is interviewed by the Associated Press in Rabat, Morocco, Nov. 8, 2019.But for critics and activists who have long pushed for broader recognition of the less-heralded women, the inclusion of President Donald Trump’s daughter, who is also a White House adviser, sends exactly the wrong message.”Ivanka is not a woman in tech,” tweeted Brianna Wu, a video game developer who is running for Congress in Massachusetts. “She’s not a CEO. She has no background. It’s a lazy attempt to emulate diversity — but like all emulation it’s not quite the real thing.”Ivanka Trump will appear in a question-and-answer session with CTA President Gary Shapiro. She is expected to discuss company strategies to retrain workers and develop math and science education programs. In the administration, she has worked on skills-training initiatives. Companies including Google have said they will train people for technology jobs as part of a White House initiative.’Focus on jobs’Shapiro told The Associated Press that Ivanka Trump is fighting for workers at a time when robots are filling warehouses and factories and self-driving vehicles are worrying truck drivers.”We’ve had politicians speak before, cabinet secretaries and others who’ve come in,” Shapiro said. “So, I think wait until you hear what she has to say and listen to it because the fact is that there is a focus on jobs.”Ivanka Trump said job training and workforce development are key parts of the administration’s economic agenda. “I’m excited to discuss how the Trump administration is championing these shared goals,” she said in a statement emailed Tuesday.Many people who tweeted the hashtag #BoycottCES on Tuesday in protest of Trump’s appearance also took issue with the administration’s border detention policies and various actions of the president himself.The technology industry has especially important issues pending with the U.S. government, including antitrust investigations into Facebook and Google, the trade war with China, immigration, election security and misinformation on social media.Government officials have long made regular appearances at CES. This year, for instance, the speaker roster includes both Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Secretary of Energy Dan Bouillette. Other female speakers at the conference include Meg Whitman of video streaming startup Quibi and Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and partnerships for NBCUniversal.Vocal criticsIvanka Trump is “taking this slot at this conference where women have been saying for so long, ‘Hey, we are being overlooked,'” said Rachel Sklar, a tech commentator and founder of a professional network for women. “The whole category of women being overlooked are still being overlooked.””Clearly they are not putting much effort into finding women in tech who can speak,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies, who is at CES.Last year, CES caused an uproar when it revoked an innovation award presented to a female-led sex device company. CES reversed its decision, and has allowed sex tech into the show for a one-year trial. Conference organizers also brought in an official “equality partner,” The Female Quotient, to help ensure gender diversity.”Was there nobody else available? Seriously?” asked Ti Chang, co-founder of the wearable vibrator company Crave. Chang said Trump’s experience running a clothing brand is a bad fit for CES and its focus on innovation and technology.”I don’t understand,” she said. “I would love to know what their rationale was.”

Facebook Bans Deepfakes in Fight Against Online Manipulation

Facebook says it is banning “deepfake” videos, the false but realistic clips created with artificial intelligence and sophisticated tools, as it steps up efforts to fight online manipulation.The social network said late Monday that it’s beefing up its policies to remove videos edited or synthesized in ways that aren’t apparent to the average person, and which could dupe someone into thinking the video’s subject said something he or she didn’t actually say.Created by artificial intelligence or machine learning, deepfakes combine or replace content to create images that can be almost impossible to tell are not authentic.“While these videos are still rare on the internet, they present a significant challenge for our industry and society as their use increases,” Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, Monika Bickert, said in a blog post.However, she said the new rules won’t include parody or satire, or clips edited just to change the order of words. The exceptions underscore the balancing act Facebook and other social media services face in their struggle to stop the spread of online misinformation and “fake news” while also respecting free speech and fending off allegations of censorship.The U.S. tech company has been grappling with how to handle the rise of deepfakes after facing criticism last year for refusing to remove a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slurring her words, which was viewed more than 3 million times. Experts said the crudely edited clip was more of a “cheap fake” than a deepfake.Then, a pair of artists posted fake footage of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg showing him gloating over his one-man domination of the world. Facebook also left that clip online. The company said at the time that neither video violated its policies.The problem of altered videos is taking on increasing urgency as experts and lawmakers try to figure out how to prevent deepfakes from being used to interfere with U.S. presidential elections in November.Facebook said any videos that don’t meet existing standards for removal can still be reviewed by independent third-party fact-checkers. Those deemed false will be flagged as such to anyone trying to share or view them, which Bickert said was a better approach than just taking them down.“If we simply removed all manipulated videos flagged by fact-checkers as false, the videos would still be available elsewhere on the internet or social media ecosystem,” Bickert said. “By leaving them up and labeling them as false, we’re providing people with important information and context.”