5G is Coming, Get Ready

If you’re really lucky and live in the U.S. cities of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles or Sacramento, you now have access to a 5G network. If you live anywhere else, just be patient… a 5G mobile network is coming your way, and it’s already arriving in some countries. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.


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Media: German States Want Social Media Law Tightened

German states have drafted a list of demands aimed at tightening a law that requires social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to remove hate speech from their sites, the Handelblatt newspaper reported Monday.

Justice ministers from the states will submit their proposed revisions to the German law called NetzDG at a meeting with Justice Minister Katarina Barley on Thursday, the newspaper said, saying it had obtained a draft of the document.

The law, which came into full force on Jan. 1, is a highly ambitious effort to control what appears on social media and it has drawn a range of criticism.

While the German states are focused on concerns about how complaints are processed, other officials have called for changes following criticism that too much content was being blocked.

The states’ justice ministers are calling for changes that would make it easier for people who want to complain about banned content such as pro-Nazi ideology to find the required forms on social media platforms.

They also want to fine social media companies up to 500,000 euros ($560,950) for providing “meaningless replies” to queries from law enforcement authorities, the newspaper said.

Till Steffen, the top justice official in Hamburg and a member of the Greens party, told the newspaper that the law had in some cases proven to be “a paper tiger.”

“If we want to effectively limit hate and incitement on the internet, we have to give the law more bite and close the loopholes,” he told the paper. “For instance, it cannot be the case that some platforms hide their complaint forms so that no one can find them.”

Facebook in July said it had deleted hundreds of offensive posts since implementation of the law, which foresees fines of up to 50 million euros ($56.10 million) for failure to comply.


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France to ‘Embed’ Regulators at Facebook to Combat Hate Speech

Facebook will allow French regulators to “embed” inside the company to examine how it combats online hate speech, the first time the wary tech giant has opened its doors in such a way, President Emmanuel Macron said Monday.

From January, Macron’s administration will send a small team of senior civil servants to the company for six months to verify Facebook’s goodwill and determine whether its checks on racist, sexist or hate-fueled speech could be improved.

“It’s a first,” Macron told the annual Internet Governance Forum in Paris. “I’m delighted by this very innovative experimental approach,” he said. “It’s an experiment, but a very important first step in my view.”

The trial project is an example of what Macron has called “smart regulation,” something he wants to extend to other tech leaders such as Google, Apple and Amazon.

The move follows a meeting with Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg in May, when Macron invited the CEOs of some of the biggest tech firms to Paris, telling them they should work for the common good.

The officials may be seconded from the telecoms regulator and the interior and justice ministries, a government source said. Facebook said the selection was up to the French presidency.

It is unclear whether the group will have access to highly-sensitive material such as Facebook’s algorithms or codes to remove hate speech. It could travel to Facebook’s European headquarters in Dublin and global base in Menlo Park, California, if necessary, the company said.

“The best way to ensure that any regulation is smart and works for people is by governments, regulators and businesses working together to learn from each other and explore ideas,” Nick Clegg, the former British deputy prime minister who is now head of Facebook’s global affairs, said in a statement.

France’s approach to hate speech has contrasted sharply with Germany, Europe’s leading advocate of privacy.

Since January, Berlin has required sites to remove banned content within 24 hours or face fines of up to 50 million euros ($56 million). That has led to accusations of censorship.

France’s use of embedded regulators is modeled on what happens in its banking and nuclear industries.

“[Tech companies] now have the choice between something that is smart but intrusive and regulation that is wicked and plain stupid,” a French official said.


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Macron, Tech Giants Launch ‘Paris Call’ to Fix Internet Ills

France and U.S. technology giants including Microsoft on Monday urged world governments and companies to sign up to a new initiative to regulate the internet and fight threats such as cyberattacks, online censorship and hate speech.

With the launch of a declaration entitled the ‘Paris call for trust and security in cyberspace’, French President Emmanuel Macron is hoping to revive efforts to regulate cyberspace after the last round of United Nations negotiations failed in 2017.

In the document, which is supported by many European countries but, crucially, not China or Russia, the signatories urge governments to beef up protections against cyber meddling in elections and prevent the theft of trade secrets.

The Paris call was initially pushed for by tech companies but was redrafted by French officials to include work done by U.N. experts in recent years.

“The internet is a space currently managed by a technical community of private players. But it’s not governed. So now that half of humanity is online, we need to find new ways to organize the internet,” an official from Macron’s office said.

“Otherwise, the internet as we know it today – free, open and secure– will be damaged by the new threats.”

By launching the initiative a day after a weekend of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of World War I, Macron hopes to promote his push for stronger global cooperation in the face of rising nationalism.

In another sign of the Trump administration’s reluctance to join international initiatives it sees as a bid to encroach on U.S. sovereignty, French officials said Washington might not become a signatory, though talks are continuing.

However, they said large U.S. tech companies including Facebook and Alphabet’s Google would sign up.

“The American ecosystem is very involved. It doesn’t mean that in the end the U.S. federal government won’t join us, talks are continuing, but the U.S. will be involved under other forms,” another French official said.

 


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Study Links Social Media to Depression, Loneliness

University of Pennsylvania researchers say that for the first time they have linked social media use to increases in depression and loneliness.

The idea that social media is anything but social when it comes to mental health has been talked about for years, but not many studies have managed to actually link the two.

To do that, Penn researchers, led by psychologist Melissa Hunt, designed a study that focused on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.

The results were published in the November issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

How study worked

The study was conducted with 143 participants, who before they began, completed a mood survey and sent along photos of their battery screens, showing how often they were using their phones to access social media.

“We set out to do a much more comprehensive, rigorous study that was also more ecologically valid,” Hunt said. That term, ecologically valid, means that the research attempts to mimic real life.

The study divided the participants into two groups: The first group was allowed to maintain their normal social media habits. The other, the control group, was restricted to 10 minutes per day on each of the three platforms: Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.

The restrictions were put in place for three weeks and then the participants returned and were tested for outcomes such as fear of missing out (FOMO), anxiety, depression and loneliness.

​Results of study

The results showed a very clear link between social media use and increased levels of depression and loneliness.

“Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness,” Hunt said. “These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.”

She calls her findings the “grand irony” of social media.

What is it about social media that’s just so depressing?

Hunt says that it’s two major things. The first is that social media invites what Hunt calls “downward social comparison.” When you’re online, it can sometimes seem that “everyone else is cooler and having more fun and included in more things and you’re left out,” she said. And that’s just generally demoralizing.

The second factor is a bit more nuanced. 

“Time is a zero-sum game,” Hunt told VOA. “Every minute you spend online is a minute you are not doing your work or not meeting a friend for dinner or having a deep conversation with your roommate.”

And these real life activities are the ones that can bolster self-esteem and self worth, Hunt said.

What to learn

So what’s the takeaway?

People are on their devices, and that’s not going to change, she said. But as in life, a bit of moderation goes a long way. 

“In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life,” she added.

Hunt pointed out a few caveats to the study. First, it was done exclusively with 18- to 22-year-olds, and it is unclear if the depressing effects of social media will cross generational lines to older or younger people, Hunt said. But she expects her results should generalize at least for people through the age of 30.

Hunt says she is now beginning a study to gauge the emotional impact of dating apps.


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For Autistic Kids, Robots Can Be Social, Learning Study Buddy

Robots have been put to work assembling cars in factories, answering questions at conventions and hotel lobbies, moving packages in warehouses, and more. Now, a team at the University of Southern California is studying how well robots work with autistic children, to offer personalized support and learning. Faith Lapidus reports.


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Google Reforms Sexual Misconduct Rules

Google is promising to be more forceful and open about its handling of sexual misconduct cases, a week after high-paid engineers and others walked out in protest over its male-dominated culture.

CEO Sundar Pichai spelled out the concessions in an email sent Thursday to Google employees. The note of contrition came a week after the tech giant’s workers left their cubicles in dozens of offices around the world to protest management’s treatment of top executives and other male workers accused of sexual harassment and other misconduct involving men. The protest’s organizers estimated about 17,000 workers participated in the walkout .

“Google’s leaders and I have heard your feedback and have been moved by the stories you’ve shared,” Pichai wrote in his email. “We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It’s clear we need to make some changes.” Pichai’s email was obtained by The Associated Press.

Google bowed to one of the protesters’ main demands by dropping mandatory arbitration of all sexual misconduct cases. That will now be optional under the new policies. It mirrors a change made by ride-hailing service Uber after the complaints of its women employees prompted an internal investigation concluding its rank had been poisoned by rampant sexual harassment

Google will also provide more details about sexual misconduct cases in internal reports available to all employees. The breakdowns will include the number of cases that were substantiated within various company departments and list the types of punishment imposed, including firings, pay cuts and mandated counseling.

The company is also stepping up its training aimed at preventing misconduct, requiring all employees to go through the process annually instead of every other year. Those who fall behind in their training, including top executives, will be dinged in their annual performance reviews, leaving a blemish that could lower their pay and make it more difficult to get promoted.

The reforms are the latest fallout from a broader societal backlash against men’s exploitation of their women subordinates in business, entertainment and politics — a movement that has spawned the “MeToo” hashtag as a sign of unity and a call for change.

Google got caught in the crosshairs two weeks ago after The New York Times detailed allegations of sexual misconduct about the creator of Google’s Android software, Andy Rubin. The newspaper said Rubin received a $90 million severance package in 2014 after Google concluded the accusations were credible. Rubin has denied the allegations.

Like its Silicon Valley peers, Google has already openly acknowledged that its workforce is too heavily concentrated with white and Asian men, especially in the highest paying executive and computer programming jobs. Women account for 31 percent of Google’s employees worldwide, and it’s lower for leadership roles.

Critics believe that gender imbalance as created a “brogammer” culture akin to a college fraternity house that treats women as sex objects. As part of its ongoing efforts, Google will now require at least one woman or a non-Asian ethnic minority to be included on the list of candidates for executive jobs.

Google isn’t addressing another one of the protesters’ grievance because it believes it doesn’t have merit. The protesters demanded that women be paid the same as men for doing similar work, something that Google has steadfastly maintained that it has been doing for years.


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Bullied Online? Speak Out, Says Britain’s Princess Beatrice 

Bullied herself online, Britain’s Princess Beatrice is determined to ensure other girls are equipped to deal with internet abuse and get the best from the digital world. 

Beatrice — who as the eldest daughter of Prince Andrew and his former wife, the Duchess of York, is eighth in line to the British throne — said her bullying, about her weight and her appearance, were very public and could not be ignored. 

But she said other girls faced this in private and needed to be encouraged to speak out and to know where to get support, which prompted her to get involved in campaigns against cyber bullying. 

A recent study by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center found about 60 percent of U.S. teens had been bullied or harassed online, with girls more likely to be the targets of online rumor-spreading or nonconsensual explicit messages. 

“You’d like to say don’t pay attention to it … but the best advice is to talk about it,” Beatrice, 30, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during an interview on Wednesday at the Web Summit, Europe’s largest annual technology conference. 

“Being a young girl, but now being 30 and a woman working full time in technology, I feel very grateful for those experiences. But at that time it was very challenging.” 

Beatrice, who works at the U.S.-based software company Afiniti, co-founded the Big Change Charitable Trust with a group of friends, including two of Richard Branson’s children, in 2010 to support young people who also grew up in the public eye. 

Campaign

She also last year joined the anti-bullying campaign “Be Cool Be Nice” along with other celebrities such as Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevingne, which included a book. 

“There are lots of people who are ready to help and I want to make sure young people feel they have the places to go to talk about it,” said Beatrice, adding that teachers and parents also had a role to play. 

Beatrice said her bullying was so public that she could not hide from it, but her mother, Sarah Ferguson, was a great source of support. 

One of the most public attacks on the princess was at the 2011 wedding of her cousin Prince William when her fascinator sparked a barrage of media attention. A month later she auctioned the hat for charity for 81,000 pounds ($106,500). 

Her mother, who divorced Prince Andrew in 1996, had to get used to unrelenting ribbing by Britain’s royal-obsessed media. 

“She has been through a lot,” said Beatrice, whose younger sister, Eugenie, married at Windsor Castle last month. 

“When you see role models who are continually put in very challenging situations and can support you … [then] some of the tools that I have had from her I would like to share.” 

Beatrice said mobile technology should be a force for good for girls in developed and developing countries, presenting new opportunities in terms of education, careers and health. 

“Social media and the pressures that these young people now face is a new phenomenon … and if I can do more to give young people the tools [to cope], that is my mission,” she said. 

“I would say to young girls: You are not alone. Keep going.” 


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Facebook: More than 100 Accounts Blocked Prior to US Midterms

Facebook says it has blocked more than 100 accounts with potential ties to a so-called Russian “troll farm” that may have sought to interfere with Tuesday’s U.S. midterm elections.

The social media giant said in a statement Wednesday that it had blocked the Facebook and Instagram accounts ahead of the vote. Facebook said it made the move after a tip from law enforcement officials.

Facebook’s head of cybersecurity, Nathaniel Gleicher, said in a statement that the accounts were blocked late Monday over suspicions they were “engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, which is banned from our services.” Among those accounts blocked were 85 Instagram accounts and 30 Facebook pages, most of which were in French or Russian languages. The Instagram accounts were mostly English-language, Facebook said.

Investigators say the accounts may be linked to a group known as the Internet Research Agency, which is based in St. Petersburg, Russia. In February, a federal grand jury indicted the group over allegations of interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Gleicher called the recent discovery “a timely reminder that these bad actors won’t give up — and why it is so important we work with the U.S. government and other technology companies to stay ahead.”

Before Gleicher’s statement, the Internet Research Agency said in a statement that it was responsible for the accounts, although that has not been verified.

In its statement, the organization said, “Citizens of the United States of America! Your intelligence agencies are powerless. Despite all their efforts, we have thousands of accounts registered on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit spreading political propaganda.” The message was written in capital letters.

The statement also included a list of accounts to which the organization was supposedly attached.

In April, Facebook closed some 270 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency. Facebook also recently banned 82 accounts linked to Iran, that were posting politically charged memes.


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Facebook, Google Tools Reveal New Political Ad Tactics

Public databases that shine a light on online political ads – launched by Facebook and Google before Tuesday’s U.S. elections – offer the public the first broad view of how quickly the companies yank advertisements that break their rules.

The databases also provided campaigns unprecedented insight into opponents’ online marketing, enabling them to capitalize on weaknesses, political strategists told Reuters.

Facebook and Google, owned by Alphabet, introduced the databases this year to give details on some political ads bought on their services, a response to U.S. prosecutors’ allegations that Russian agents who deceptively interfered in the 2016 election purchased ads from the companies.

Russia denies the charges. American security experts said the Russians changed tactics this year.

Reuters found that Facebook and Google took down 436 ads from May through October related to 34 U.S. House of Representatives contests declared competitive last month by RealClearPolitics, which tracks political opinion polls.

Of the 258 removed ads with start and end dates, ads remained on Google an average of eight days and Facebook 15 days, according to data Reuters collected from the databases.

Based on ranges in the databases, the 436 ads were displayed up to 20.5 million times and cost up to $582,000, amounting to a fraction of the millions of dollars spent online in those races.

Asked for comment, Google said it is committed to bringing greater transparency to political ads. Facebook said the database is a way the company is held accountable, “even if it means our mistakes are on display.”

In some cases, the companies’ automated scans did not identify banned material such as hateful speech or images of poor quality before ads went live.

Ads that are OK when scanned may also become noncompliant if they link to a website that later breaks down.

Google’s database covers $54 million in spending by U.S. campaigns since May and Facebook $354 million, according to their databases.

Facebook’s figure is larger partly because its database includes ads not only from federal races but also for state contests, national issues and get-out-the-vote efforts.

The databases generally do not say why a particular ad was removed, and only Facebook shows copies of yanked ads.

The American Conservative Union political organization, which had 136 ads removed through Sunday on Facebook, said some commercials contained a brief shot of comedian Kathy Griffin holding a decapitated head meant to portray U.S. President Donald Trump.

Removing the bloody image resolved the violation for sensational content, and the organization said it had no qualms about Facebook’s screening.

Some removals were errors. The Environmental Defense Action Fund said Facebook’s automated review wrongly misclassified one of its ads as promoting tobacco.

Ryan Morgan, whose political consulting firm Veracity Media arranged attack ads for a U.S. House race in Iowa, said Google barred those mentioning “white supremacy” until his team could explain the ads advocated against the racist belief.

Five campaign strategists told Reuters they adjusted advertising tactics in recent weeks based on what the databases revealed about opponents’ spending on ads and which genders, age groups and states saw the messages.

Ohio digital consultant Kevin Bingle said his team reviewed opponents on Facebook’s database daily to take advantage of gaps in their strategy.

Morgan said his team tripled its online ad budget to $600,000 for a San Francisco affordable housing tax after Facebook’s database showed the other side’s ads were reaching non-Californians.

That political intelligence “let us know that digital was a place we could run up the score,” he said.


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