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Facebook takes down 16,000 groups trading fake reviews after another poke by UK’s CMA

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Facebook has removed 16,000 groups that were trading fake reviews on its platform after another intervention by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the regulator said today.

The CMA has been leaning on tech giants to prevent their platforms being used as thriving marketplaces for selling fake reviews since it began investigating the issue in 2018 — pressuring both eBay and Facebook to act against fake review sellers back in 2019.

The two companies pledged to do more to tackle the insidious trade last year, after coming under further pressure from the regulator — which found that Facebook-owned Instagram was also a thriving hub of fake review trades.

The latest intervention by the CMA looks considerably more substantial than last year’s action — when Facebook removed a mere 188 groups and disabled 24 user accounts. Although it’s not clear how many accounts the tech giant has banned and/or suspended this time it has removed orders of magnitude more groups. (We’ve asked.)

Update: We understand that the regulator has focused on the removal of groups trading misleading/fake reviews, rather than individual accounts — as banned or suspended users are able to create new profiles, whereas removing the group in which fake reviews are being traded is seen as a more effective way to impact and deter the activity.

Facebook was also contacted with questions but it did not answer what we asked directly, sending us this statement instead:

“We have engaged extensively with the CMA to address this issue. Fraudulent and deceptive activity is not allowed on our platforms, including offering or trading fake reviews. Our safety and security teams are continually working to help prevent these practices.”

Since the CMA has been raising the issue of fake review trading, Facebook has been repeatedly criticised for not doing enough to clean up its platforms, plural.

Today the regulator said the social media giant has made further changes to the systems it uses for “identifying, removing and preventing the trading of fake and/or misleading reviews on its platforms to ensure it is fulfilling its previous commitments”.

It’s not clear why it’s taken Facebook well over a year — and a number of high profile interventions — to dial up action against the trade in fake reviews. But the company suggested that the resources it has available to tackle the problem had been strained as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated impacts, such as home working. (Facebook’s full year revenue increased in 2020 but so too did its expenses.)

According to the CMA changes Facebook has made to its system for combating traders of fake reviews include:

  • suspending or banning users who are repeatedly creating Facebook groups and Instagram profiles that promote, encourage or facilitate fake and misleading reviews
  • introducing new automated processes that will improve the detection and removal of this content
  • making it harder for people to use Facebook’s search tools to find fake and misleading review groups and profiles on Facebook and Instagram
  • putting in place dedicated processes to make sure that these changes continue to work effectively and stop the problems from reappearing

Again it’s not clear why Facebook would not have already been suspending or banning repeat offenders — at least, not if it was actually taking good faith action to genuinely quash the problem, rather than seeing if it could get away with doing the bare minimum.

Commenting in a statement, Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, essentially makes that point, saying: “Facebook has a duty to do all it can to stop the trading of such content on its platforms. After we intervened again, the company made significant changes — but it is disappointing it has taken them over a year to fix these issues.”

“We will continue to keep a close eye on Facebook, including its Instagram business. Should we find it is failing to honour its commitments, we will not hesitate to take further action,” Coscelli added.

A quick search on Facebook’s platform for UK groups trading in fake reviews appears to return fewer obviously dubious results than when we’ve checked in on this problem in 2019 and 2020. Although the results that were returned included a number of private groups so it was not immediately possible to verify what content is being solicited from members.

We did also find a number of Facebook groups offering Amazon reviews intended for other European markets, such as France and Spain (and in one public group aimed at Amazon Spain we found someone offering a “fee” via PayPal for a review; see below screengrab) — suggesting Facebook isn’t applying the same level of attention to tackling fake reviews that are being traded by users in markets where it’s faced fewer regulatory pokes than it has in the UK.

Screengrab: TechCrunch

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Smear campaign targets nominee who would be FCC’s first openly gay commissioner

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Smear campaign targets nominee who would be FCC’s first openly gay commissioner

A campaign to block the appointment of a commissioner to the Federal Communications Commission has turned ugly.

Gigi Sohn, who was first nominated in October 2021 to complete the FCC’s lineup of five commissioners, was recently the target of articles by DailyMail.com and FoxNews.com that sought to connect her work with a leading digital rights group to sex trafficking and a dominatrix. Sohn is on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, a widely respected nonprofit that advocates for privacy and free expression online.

Those articles came after what has been a particularly long wait to have Sohn approved by the Senate, and they’ve triggered growing outrage.

“The press stories ginned up by Ms. Sohn’s opponents are beneath scurrilous and are beneath the dignity of this Committee,” wrote Preston Padden, a former president of ABC Television Network and a founding executive of Fox Broadcast Co., in a recent letter to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. 

Both articles referred to the EFF’s opposition to a law known as FOSTA-SESTA that aimed to crack down on websites for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking that was opposed by much of the tech community. The Daily Mail also pointed out that the EFF honored a dominatrix with its “pioneer award” for what the nonprofit said was her “research into sex work and equitable access to technology from a public health perspective” in relation to FOSTA-SESTA.

Padden, in a phone interview with NBC News, emphasized how shocked he was by the articles.

“I’m old. I started doing legal lobbying work in the industry in 1973,” Padden, who is now the principal of the consulting firm Boulder Thinking, said. “And I have never seen anything like this. I’ve never seen anything like the micro targeting of senators to try to defeat a nomination. And I’ve never seen anything like this smear campaign.”

I’ve never seen anything like this smear campaign.

Preston Padden, a former president of ABC Television Network and a founding executive of Fox Broadcast Co

It remains unclear who or what was behind the articles by the Daily Mail and Fox News.

Neither the Daily Mail nor Fox News responded to a request for comment. 

Sohn declined to comment.

The campaign against Sohn had already moved beyond traditional Washington lobbying. 

The American Accountability Foundation, which calls itself a “nonprofit government oversight and research organization that uses investigative tools to educate the public on issues related to personnel, policy and spending,” first called for the withdrawal of Sohn’s nomination in February 2022. A New Yorker investigation from April tied the foundation to a variety of aggressive political attacks on Biden nominees including Justice Ketanji Brown Jackon as well as many lower-profile nominees. The foundation’s website invites visitors to read what it calls the “hit piece” published by The New Yorker. The group’s funding is private.

An NBC News review of Facebook’s “Ad Library” showed that the American Accountability Foundation has spent at least $229,000 on ads attacking Sohn since April 2022, according to estimates published by Facebook, with 12 ads having been launched on Jan. 25 and 26. 

The most recent ads from the foundation prior to that recent purchase appeared in November. Most of the ads label Sohn as “too extreme” or her views on police reform, which are not relevant to her work at the FCC but have drawn scrutiny. Almost all the Facebook ads the foundation ran in the second half of 2022 and thus far in 2023 targeted Sohn.

The American Accountability Foundation did not respond to requests for comment.

The Fraternal Order of Police has taken issue with her “animus toward law enforcement officers” and her ties to the Electronic Frontier Foundation because of its promotion of encryption for messaging apps.

Jim Pascoe, the order’s  executive director, told NBC News that his organization did not coordinate with any other group in attacking Sohn, and that he simply opposes Sohn because he believes law enforcement should be able to break encryption in times of emergency. The FCC does not have oversight of that issue. 

“If the FCC had a role, we would certainly be alarmed if she was a part of that role,” he said.

The nomination of Sohn, who would be the FCC’s first openly gay commissioner, languished in a Senate committee where united Republican opposition and inconsistent Democratic support have made her confirmation a low priority. President Joe Biden renominated her in early January.

“Chairwoman [Jessica] Rosenworcel believes Gigi Sohn is a knowledgeable nominee with a long record of commitment to the issues before the FCC,” Paloma Perez, the FCC’s press secretary, said in an emailed statement. “She has consistently re-iterated that the Commission was designed to have five commissioners and looks forward to that day.”

The already contentious nomination process went from aggressive to ugly with the articles about Sohn, which alarmed many of her allies and even some of her professional rivals.

Gary Shapiro, the president of the Consumer Technology Association, a large pro-business lobbyist group, has butted heads with Sohn for years over various issues.

But he said the recent articles about Sohn cross a line.

“There’s a little homophobia going on here. It’s whispered around in the Senate,” Shapiro said. “And that’s a shame. It’s no secret that Gigi would be the first openly gay FCC commissioner. I like to think as a country we’re past that, but apparently we’re not. This smear campaign, it’s been two years already.”

I like to think as a country we’re past that, but apparently we’re not. This smear campaign, it’s been two years already.

Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association

“I think a major injustice is being done here to a super high-quality person,” Shapiro added.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has also praised Sohn. “Between her years working on behalf of regular Americans who lack affordable, reliable access to the internet and her experience inside the government, Gigi Sohn is the epitome of what an FCC commissioner should be,” he said in a statement days after the Daily Mail and Fox News articles were published. “No amount of astroturfed attacks on behalf of the Big Cable companies will change that. Ms. Sohn has broad support from across the political spectrum and should be confirmed as quickly as possible.”

Sohn’s holdup means the FCC is unable to make some major moves, most notably around a law put in place by the Biden administration. 

Biden’s infrastructure bill, signed in November 2021, prohibits internet providers from discriminating against customers based on categories like race, a practice that scholars and journalists have repeatedly verified as a problem.

The law leaves it to the FCC to decide, by this November, how to define that discrimination, a decision that could cost the internet provider industry billions of dollars.

“This is a multibillion dollar-regulatory decision,” said Ernesto Falcon, senior legislative counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who specializes in some of the topics the FCC regulates, particularly internet access. “It’s the first time we’ve ever had a federal law that explicitly stated broadband access has to be given to people equally, regardless of their income, race, and a number of other protected classes.”

Industry players like AT&T have argued they prefer a definition that requires explicit evidence of intent to discriminate, like internal emails of executives saying they intend to discriminate against certain people. Many Democrats and public rights groups want to define it by evidence of who gets worse internet access, pointing to studies and investigative reports that show providers often offer high-speed internet in richer, white neighborhoods and slower speeds in poorer neighborhoods and communities of color. 

The FCC would be unlikely to pass rules promoting the access definition without Sohn or another Democrat to complete that majority.

Alex Byers, director of communications and public relations at ATT, said in an email: “We have not taken a position on Gigi Sohn’s nomination, have not asked any third-party organization to take a position, and have not funded any campaigns against her nomination.”

One lobbyist who works on telecommunications issues said that pressure from police groups had taken a toll, most notably with Democratic senators who ran for re-election in 2022. Now, she faces the same issues with some who are up for re-election in 2024.

“You’ve got a couple of [Democratic] senators, last time it was folks up in 2022, who were afraid to vote for her because of some of the comments she’s made or positions that she’s taken that got her crosswise with law enforcement,” the lobbyist, who asked to withhold their name to discuss private conversations, said. “Now, the ‘24s are up. … If you lose two it’s done.”

The FCC is an independent government agency tasked with regulating interstate communications that started out overseeing the emergence of radio and eventually adding the television, satellite and wireless industries. Commissioner nominations for the FCC are usually dull affairs that rarely make news outside of trade publications. 

The FCC has five commissioners nominated by the president and approved by the Senate, with a partisan slant to whichever party holds the Oval Office. During President Donald Trump’s term, the FCC counted three Republican commissioners to two Democrats. During President Barack Obama’s term, there were three Democrats and two Republicans.

Biden’s FCC has been different, frozen at two Democrats, two Republicans and one empty seat. That leaves the FCC essentially frozen, unable to make major moves. It’s a situation that suits the major telecommunications companies just fine, with their primary regulator in suspended animation.

Sohn’s appointment once looked straightforward. Sohn is well known in the telecom world, having worked under FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler from 2013 to 2016. Jessica Rosenworcel, who Biden nominated as FCC chair at the same time he nominated Sohn as a commissioner, easily passed a Senate vote in December 2021.

And while Sohn did draw rebukes from some Republicans, she did receive some support from right-leaning news outlets Newsmax and One America News network

More than a year later, Sohn has yet to receive a Senate confirmation vote. A third committee hearing was scheduled and then delayed.

“And that’s the definition of success for the lobbyists,” Wheeler said in a phone interview. “When the regulated get to pick their regulator, and delay the establishment of a democratic vote, they succeed in neutering the agency.”

FCC nominations can get contentious and have become a bit more high profile in recent years, most notably as internet regulation and net neutrality issues have gained national attention. And some have taken a while to go through. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, blocked Wheeler’s Senate confirmation out of concerns that he would push for more transparency around political TV ad buys.

Many who follow the FCC noted the aggressive lobbying of major telecom companies. Jessica Gonzalez, co-CEO of the media advocacy nonprofit Free Press, said the current situation is beneficial for them.

“A 2-2 commission, like a split Republican-Democrat Congress, is good for them, because it means that less regulations are likely to flow and they will have to do less,” Gonzalez said. “This is all about them, minimizing the amount of money they have to spend and maximizing the amount of money they can make, and keeping the commission at bay by not allowing Biden to have his nominees confirmed is an effective strategy for all of the above.”

The telecom industry is among the most enterprising with its lobbying. Telecom companies spent more than $117 million on lobbying in 2022, according to OpenSecrets, a nonprofit that tracks money in U.S. politics. Comcast, the parent company of NBCUniversal and NBC News, spent more than $14 million.

Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokesperson, referred to an earlier company statement on Sohn, which said she “would bring her tireless advocacy on the critical issue of connecting all Americans to broadband back to the FCC. We have long shared that commitment.”

Comcast did not answer questions about whether it had lobbied against Sohn.

There could be some momentum to get Sohn across the finish line. Padden, the former media executive, said he had recently emailed with Rupert Murdoch, his former boss, about Sohn. Murdoch had expressed “some misgivings about her candidacy.”

Padden said he told Murdoch about her experiences working with Sohn, most notably on securing FCC waivers needed to launch the Fox broadcast network.

“I explained that to Mr. Murdoch. And his response to me was ‘I stand corrected,’” Padden said. “Now, he didn’t say he loved her, and he didn’t say he wanted to see her on the FCC, but he did say ‘I stand corrected.’”

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How to forward messages on your Android phone

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How to forward messages on your Android phone

Some messaging apps are more common in certain parts of the world than others. Even within the same region, we tend to use the platforms our family, friends, and coworkers are on. Whichever one you use, every messaging app has a forwarding feature that allows you to share one message with as many contacts as possible without typing the same thing multiple times or going through the copy-and-paste routine.


Although each app may have different steps to forward a text message, the overall idea is pretty much the same across all apps. Read on to find out how to forward messages on the software you frequently use.

ANDROIDPOLICE VIDEO OF THE DAY

How to forward a text on Google Messages

The Messages app is the default texting application on some of the best Android phones, like the Google Pixel lineup, as well as phones from Samsung and Motorola. The Messages app is the stock Android texting solution, offering plenty of messaging tips and tricks for power users.

  1. Open the conversation that contains the message you want to forward.
  2. Press and hold the message until you see more options.
  3. Tap the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner and tap Forward.

  4. A list of contacts appears. Select the contact you want to send the message to. When sending it to someone you haven’t contacted in a while, tap New message. Otherwise, search for and select the person like you would when starting a new conversation.

  5. Select a contact. The message you want to forward appears in the text field in a new chat. You can then edit it if needed.
  6. Tap the Send button (right arrow) to forward the message.

How to forward a text on the Samsung Messages app

For most Samsung users, except for the recent Galaxy flagships, Samsung Messages is the default SMS app. Here’s how to forward messages in it.

  1. Open the text conversation that contains the message you wish to forward.
  2. Press and hold the message.
  3. Tap the Forward option.

  4. Search for and select the recipient in the Contacts tab. Alternatively, you can use the Conversations tab to see recent chats.
  5. Tap Done. The message to be forwarded appears in the message field, and you can edit it if needed.
  6. Tap the Send button (angled right arrow) to deliver the message.

How to forward a message on WhatsApp

If you’ve ever seen one of those silly WhatsApp messages asking you to send it to a bunch of your friends to avoid bad luck, you know it’s just a bit of nonsense. But if you want to play along or have an important message to forward to your contacts, here’s how to do it.

  1. Open WhatsApp and open a conversation.
  2. Press and hold the message you’d like to share.
  3. Tap the Forward icon (a curved arrow facing the left).

  4. Choose the user to receive the message from the Frequently contacted and Recent chats lists. You can also search for a specific name using the corresponding icon.
  5. Tap Send (right-facing arrow in the lower-right corner).

Forward messages on WhatsApp web

Multi-device support in WhatsApp has been around for a while, so chances are, you probably use the messaging service on your Windows computer, Mac, or Chromebook. Here’s how to forward messages on WhatsApp Web.

  1. Go to WhatsApp web and link your device by scanning the QR code.
  2. Once signed in, give it time to sync your messages. When it’s done syncing, open a conversation.
  3. Click the downward arrow in the upper-right corner of the message and click Forward message.
    Click the arrow > Forward message.

  4. Select the messages you want to forward.
  5. Click the forward icon in the lower-right corner of the chat.
    Click the forward icon

  6. Select a contact from the recent chats or use the search bar to send it to someone you haven’t contacted lately.
  7. Click the paper rocket icon to send the message.
    Select a contact and click the Send button.

The number of contacts you can forward messages to at once is limited to five chats, including one group chat. Also, when forwarding a message for the first time or one that has been forwarded multiple times, it’s labeled as “Forwarded” or “Forwarded many times.”

How to forward a message on Telegram

Telegram is like WhatsApp on steroids, at least in terms of features. Both apps may be direct competitors, but many of their actions are similar. If you’ve been using Telegram or only made the switch during Facebook’s downtime, here’s how to forward messages in the app.

  1. Launch the Telegram app and select a relevant conversation.
  2. Long press the message you want to forward.
  3. Tap the Forward icon in the upper-right corner or at the bottom of the message (it looks like a curved arrow, like on WhatsApp). The groups, channels, and personal contacts you’ve recently messaged are listed.

  4. Select the recipient.
  5. Tap the Send button (lower-right arrow) to forward your message. You can add some extra text in the message field before sending it.

How to forward messages on Signal

It may be a two-horse race between WhatsApp and Telegram for the title of the best third-party messenger, but Signal isn’t far off in terms of features. After all, 50 million installs are no joke. If you’re one of those users, here’s how to forward a message from one chat to another:

  1. Launch the Signal app.
  2. Open the chat where the text you wish to forward is located.
  3. Tap and hold the message bubble.
  4. Tap the Forward option.

  5. Select a contact from the list. A text field pops up where you can add more text.
  6. Once done, tap the blue arrow to send.

How to forward text messages on Facebook

If you’ve opted to use Facebook Messenger for your texting needs, here’s how to forward a message on Facebook Messenger:

  1. Launch the app on your smartphone
  2. Tap a conversation and navigate to the message you wish to deliver.
  3. Long press it to reveal more actions.
  4. Tap the Forward option, select the recipients, and click Send.

Beware of fake news while forwarding messages

Fake news is everywhere, most of which spreads via social media. It’s also the reason why these messaging platforms limit you from bulk-forwarding messages. If you receive a forwarded message that looks fishy and asks you to forward it, you’re better off not doing it. This exchange of fake information isn’t limited to text messages. You’ll also see it happening via spam calls, so using the built-in Caller ID or third-party Caller ID apps is important.

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Amazon’s advertising business grew 19%, unlike Google, Meta

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Amazon's advertising business grew 19%, unlike Google, Meta

The regulator was concerned with Amazon’s dual role as both a marketplace and a competitor to merchants selling on its platform.

Nathan Stirk | Getty Images

Amazon’s advertising business continues to grow despite a general slowdown in digital advertising, which has hurt companies like Google parent Alphabet, Facebook parent Meta and Snap.

The online retail giant’s advertising services unit brought in $11.6 billion in sales for the fourth quarter, representing a 19% year-over-year increase, according to its earnings report Thursday.

Although Amazon’s advertising unit still constitutes a small fraction of the $149.2 billion in revenue the company recorded in its fourth quarter, it represents a fast-growing area that analysts believe could be a crucial player in the digital advertising market.

Indeed, while investors were pleased that Meta is cutting costs, sales in the company’s fourth quarter dropped 4% year-over-year to $32.17 billion.

Meta executives explained on Wednesday during a call with analysts that they don’t see an immediate rebound in the digital advertising market coming anytime soon. Susan Li, the company’s chief financial officer, said “Consistent with our expectations, Q4 revenue remained under pressure from weak advertising demand, which we believe continues to be impacted by the uncertain and volatile macroeconomic landscape.”

Meanwhile, Alphabet on Thursday reported fourth quarter advertising revenues of $59.04 billion, a slowdown from $61.24 billion in the year-ago quarter.

Alphabet’s YouTube advertising unit, which faces competition from TikTok, brought in $7.96 billion in the fourth quarter, representing an 8% drop from a year ago.

Tech companies that are powered by digital advertising have been under pressure from several factors, including a tough economy, increased competition from TikTok, and the lingering effects of Apple‘s 2021 iOS privacy update.

The latest Insider Intelligence survey of digital advertising revenue share worldwide revealed that Amazon now holds 7.3% of the overall online ad market, trailing Alphabet‘s Google, and Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram, which respectively have 28.8%, 11.4%, and 9.1%, of the digital ad market.

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