Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Consumer Groups: Facebook’s Facial Recognition Violates Privacy Rights

Facebook violates its users’ privacy rights through the use of its facial recognition software, according to consumer groups led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Their complaint to the federal government focuses on the use of Facebook software that identifies people in photographs that are uploaded to its site.

A complaint filed Friday by a coalition of consumer organizations with Federal Trade Commission said the social media giant “routinely scans photos for biometric facial matches without the consent of the image subject.”

The complaint says the company tries to improve its facial recognition prowess by deceptively encouraging users the participate in the process of identifying people in photographs.

“This unwanted, unnecessary, and dangerous identification of individuals undermines user privacy, ignores the explicit preferences of Facebook users, and is contrary to law in several state and many parts of the world.”

The groups maintain there is little users can do to prevent images of their faces from being in a social media system like Facebook’s. They contend facial scanning can be abused by authoritarian governments, a key argument considering Facebook may be required to provide user information to governments.

The complaint is the latest in a string of privacy-related issues the FTC is already investigating, including charges it allowed the personal information of 87 million users to be improperly harvested by Cambridge Analytica, the British consulting firm which was hired by U.S. President Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Until Thursday, Facebook had not said how many accounts had been harvested by Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has also been hesitant to explain how the company’s product might have been used by Russian-supported entities to affect the U.S. presidential election outcome.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify next week before two congressional committees.

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Facebook: Up to 2.7 Million EU Users Affected by Data-Mining

The European Union said Friday Facebook has told it that up to 2.7 million people in the 28-nation bloc may have been victim of improper data sharing involving political data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica.

EU spokesman Christian Wigand said EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova will have a telephone call with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg early next week to address the massive data leaks.

The EU and Facebook will be looking at what changes the social media giant needs to make to better protect users and how the U.S. company must adapt to new EU data protection rules.

Wigand said that EU data protection authorities will discuss over the coming days “a strong coordinated approach” on how to deal with the Facebook investigation.

Separately, Italy’s competition authority opened an investigation Friday into Facebook for allegedly misleading practices following revelations that the social network sold users’ data without consent.

Authority chairman Giovanni Pitruzzella told Sky News24 that the investigation will focus on Facebook’s claims on its home page that the service is free, without revealing that it makes money off users’ data.

The investigation comes as Italian consumer advocate group Codacons prepares a U.S. class action against Facebook on behalf of Italians whose data was mined by Cambridge Analytica. Codacons said just 57 Italians downloaded the Cambridge Analytica app, but that an estimated 214,000 Italians could be affected because the data mined extended to also the users’ friends.

A top Facebook privacy official is scheduled to meet with the authority later this month.

This story was earlier corrected to show that the EU call will take place with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg not with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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Facebook: Up to 2.7 Million EU Users Affected by Data-Mining

The European Union said Friday Facebook has told it that up to 2.7 million people in the 28-nation bloc may have been victim of improper data sharing involving political data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica.

EU spokesman Christian Wigand said EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova will have a telephone call with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg early next week to address the massive data leaks.

The EU and Facebook will be looking at what changes the social media giant needs to make to better protect users and how the U.S. company must adapt to new EU data protection rules.

Wigand said that EU data protection authorities will discuss over the coming days “a strong coordinated approach” on how to deal with the Facebook investigation.

Separately, Italy’s competition authority opened an investigation Friday into Facebook for allegedly misleading practices following revelations that the social network sold users’ data without consent.

Authority chairman Giovanni Pitruzzella told Sky News24 that the investigation will focus on Facebook’s claims on its home page that the service is free, without revealing that it makes money off users’ data.

The investigation comes as Italian consumer advocate group Codacons prepares a U.S. class action against Facebook on behalf of Italians whose data was mined by Cambridge Analytica. Codacons said just 57 Italians downloaded the Cambridge Analytica app, but that an estimated 214,000 Italians could be affected because the data mined extended to also the users’ friends.

A top Facebook privacy official is scheduled to meet with the authority later this month.

This story was earlier corrected to show that the EU call will take place with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg not with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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As Trump Tweets, Amazon Seeks to Expand its Business Empire

Amazon is spending millions of dollars on lobbying as the global online retailer seeks to expand its reach into a swath of industries that President Donald Trump’s broadsides haven’t come close to hitting.

Trump’s attacks over the last week targeted what Amazon is best known for: rapidly shipping just about any product you can imagine to your door. But the company CEO Jeff Bezos founded more than two decades ago is now a sprawling empire that sells groceries in brick-and-mortar stores, hosts the online services of other companies and federal offices in a network of data centers, and even recently branched into health care.

Amazon relies on a nearly 30-member in-house lobbying team that’s four times as large as it was three years ago as well as outside firms to influence the lawmakers and federal regulators who can help determine its success. The outside roster includes a retired congressman from Washington state who was a senior member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee when he stepped down.

Overall, Amazon spent $15.6 million on lobbying in 2017.

“Amazon is just not on an even playing field,” Trump told reporters Thursday aboard Air Force One. “They have a tremendous lobbying effort, in addition to having The Washington Post, which is as far as I’m concerned another lobbyist. But they have a big lobbying effort, one of the biggest, frankly, one of the biggest.”

Bezos owns the Post. He and the newspaper have previously declared that Bezos isn’t involved in any journalistic decisions.

Earlier in the week, Trump alleged that Amazon is bilking the U.S. Postal Service for being its “delivery boy,” a doubtful claim about a contract that’s actually been judged profitable for the post office. And he has charged that Amazon pays “little or no taxes,” a claim that may have merit. Matthew Gardner, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, said in February that Amazon “has built its business model on tax avoidance.” Amazon reported $5.6 billion of U.S. profits in 2017 “and didn’t pay a dime of federal income taxes on it,” according to Gardner.

The company declined to comment on Trump’s remarks and did not immediately respond to a request for comment about its lobbying operations.

Amazon has grown rapidly since it launched in 1995 as a site that sold books. It has changed the way people buy paper towels, diapers or just about anything else. And its ambitions go far beyond online shopping: its Alexa voice assistant is in tablets, cars and its Echo devices; it runs the Whole Foods grocery chain; the company produces movies and TV shows and it designs its own brands of furniture and clothing.

The company is in the midst of launching an independent business with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway that is seeking to lower health care costs for employees at the three companies. Given the three players’ outsize influence the alliance has the potential to shake up how Americans shop for health care and the initiative sent a shudder through the industry when it was announced in January.

Amazon Web Services is angling for a much larger share of the federal government’s market for cloud computing, which allows massive amounts of data to be stored and managed on remote servers. The CIA signed a $600 million deal with Amazon in 2013 to build a system to share secure data across the U.S. intelligence community.

A partner of Amazon Web Services, the Virginia-based Rean Cloud LLC, in February scored what appeared to be a lucrative cloud computing contract from the Pentagon. But the contract, initially projected to be worth as much as $950 million, was scaled back to $65 million after Amazon’s competitors complained about the award.

Lobbying disclosure records filed with the House and Senate show Amazon is engaged on a wide variety of other issues, from trade to transportation to telecommunications. The company also lobbied lawmakers and federal agencies on the testing and operation of unmanned aerial vehicles. Amazon has been exploring the use of drones for deliveries, but current federal rules restrict flying beyond the operator’s line of sight.

The $15.6 million Amazon spent on lobbying last year was $2.6 million more than in 2016, according to the disclosure records. The bulk of the money — $12.8 million — went for Amazon’s in-house lobbying team. The nearly 30-member unit is led by Brian Huseman, who worked previously as chief of staff at the Federal Trade Commission and a Justice Department trial attorney.

As most large corporations do, Amazon also employs outside lobbying firms — as many as 14 in 2017.

In Amazon’s corner is former Washington congressman Norm Dicks of the firm Van Ness Feldman. Dicks was serving as the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee when he ended his 36-year congressional career in 2013. He represented the company on information technology matters and “issues related to cloud computing usage by the federal government,” according to the records, which show Van Ness Feldman earned $160,000 from Amazon last year.

Amazon brought aboard four new firms in 2017, according to the records. Newcomers Ballard Partners, BGR Government Affairs, Brownstein Hyatt, and McGuireWoods Consulting lobbied for Amazon on transportation, taxes, drones and other issues.

This story was written by the Associated Press.

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Smartphone Technology Helps Mental Health Patients

About 1 percent of the world’s population lives with the mental condition called bipolar disorder, characterized by swings between elevated and depressed moods. In most cases, timely interaction with psychotherapists, family and friends can alleviate the symptoms. Researchers in Denmark say modern technology can help by keeping track of a patient’s symptoms and summoning help quickly when needed. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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Australia Begins Privacy Investigation into Facebook

Australia’s Privacy Commissioner said on Thursday she had opened a formal investigation into social media giant Facebook Inc after the company confirmed data from 300,000 Australian users may have been used without authorization.

The investigation will consider whether Facebook has breached Australia’s privacy laws, Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said in a statement.

Facebook said on Wednesday that the personal information of up to 87 million users, mostly in the United States, may have been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, up from a previous news media estimate of more than 50 million.

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Female Shooter Targets YouTube Headquarters

Police say a woman shooter entered YouTube headquarters in California Tuesday and wounded at least three people before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Mike O’Sullivan reports, the shooter’s motive is unknown.

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Female Shooter Targets YouTube Headquarters

Police say a woman shooter entered YouTube headquarters in California Tuesday and wounded at least three people before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Mike O’Sullivan reports, the shooter’s motive is unknown.

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YouTube Shooter Told Family She ‘Hated’ the Company

A woman who believed she was being suppressed by YouTube and told her family members she “hated” the company opened fire at YouTube’s headquarters in California, wounding three people before taking her own life, police said.

Investigators do not believe Nasim Aghdam specifically targeted the three victims when she pulled out a handgun and fired off several rounds in a courtyard at the company’s headquarters south of San Francisco on Tuesday, police said.

But a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press that Aghdam had a longstanding dispute with the company. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case, said Aghdam used the name “Nasime Sabz” online.

A website in that name decried YouTube’s policies and said the company was trying to “suppress” content creators.

“Youtube filtered my channels to keep them from getting views!” one of the messages on the site said. “There is no equal growth opportunity on YOUTUBE or any other video sharing site, your channel will grow if they want to!!!!!”

Aghdam “hated” YouTube and was angry that the company stopped paying her for videos she posted on the platform, her father, Ismail Aghdam, told the Bay Area News Group.

On Monday, he called police to report his daughter missing after she didn’t answer the phone for two days and warned officers that she might go to YouTube, he said.

Officers in Mountain View — about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from YouTube’s headquarters — found her sleeping in her car in a parking lot around 2 a.m. Tuesday but let her go after she refused to answer their questions. Aghdam didn’t appear to be a threat to herself or others, police spokeswoman Katie Nelson said.

Nelson would not say whether officers had been warned that Aghdam might have been headed to YouTube headquarters.

Earlier Tuesday, law enforcement said the shooting was being investigated as a domestic dispute but did not elaborate. It was not immediately clear why police later said the people shot were not specifically targeted.

One of the victims — a 36-year-old man — was in critical condition, a spokesman for San Francisco General Hospital said. A 32-year-old woman was in serious condition and a 27-year-old woman in fair condition, the spokesman said.

YouTube employee Dianna Arnspiger said she was on the building’s second floor when she heard gunshots, ran to a window and saw the shooter on a patio outside.

“It was a woman and she was firing her gun. And I just said, `Shooter,’ and everybody started running,” Arnspiger said.

She and others hid in a conference room for an hour while another employee repeatedly called 911 for updates.

The world’s biggest online video website is owned by Silicon Valley giant Google, but company officials said it’s a tight-knit community. The headquarters has more than a thousand engineers and other employees in several buildings. Originally built in the late 1990s for the clothing retailer Gap, the campus south of San Francisco is known for its sloped green roof of native grasses.

Inside, Google several years ago famously outfitted the office with a 3-lane red slide for workers to zoom from one story to another.

“Today it feels like the entire community of YouTube, all of the employees, were victims of this crime,” said Chris Dale, a spokesman for YouTube.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said in a tweet the company would “come together to heal as a family.”

Officers and federal agents responding to multiple 911 calls swarmed the company’s campus sandwiched between two interstates in the San Francisco Bay Area city of San Bruno.

Zach Vorhies, 37, a senior software engineer at YouTube, said he was at his desk working on the second floor of one of the buildings on the campus when the fire alarm went off.

He got on his skateboard and approached a courtyard, where he saw the shooter yelling, “Come get me.” He said the public can access the courtyard where he saw the shooter without any security check during working hours.

There was somebody lying nearby on his back with a red stain on his stomach that appeared to be from a bullet wound.

He said he realized it was an active shooter incident when a police officer with an assault rifle came through a security door. He jumped on his skateboard and took off.

Officers discovered one victim with a gunshot wound when they arrived and then found the shooter with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound several minutes later, San Bruno Police Chief Ed Barberini said. He said two additional gunshot victims were later located at an adjacent business.

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