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Zuckerberg unconvincingly feigns ignorance of data-sucking VPN scandal

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Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg appeared less than entirely truthful at today’s House Judiciary hearing, regarding last year’s major Onavo controversy, in which his company paid teenagers to use a VPN app that reported detailed data on their internet use. Though he may not have outright lied about it, his answers were evasive and misleading enough to warrant a rushed clarification shortly afterward.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) was asking Zuckerberg to confirm a series of events last year first reported by TechCrunch: A VPN app called Onavo, owned by Facebook, was kicked out of Apple’s App Store for collecting and reporting usage data while purporting to provide a protective service.

Soon afterward, Facebook quietly began paying people — 18% of whom were teenagers — to install the “Facebook Research” app, which did much the same thing as Onavo, under a different name. TechCrunch reported this and Apple issued a ban before the end of that day; Facebook claimed to have removed it voluntarily, but this was shown not to be true.

Rep. Johnson questioned Zuckerberg along these lines, and the latter repeatedly expressed his unsureness about and lack of familiarity with these issues:

Johnson: When it became public that Facebook was using Onavo to conduct digital surveillance, your company got kicked out of Apple’s App store, isn’t that true?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, I’m not sure I’d characterize it in that way.

Johnson: I mean, Onavo did get kicked out of the App Store, isn’t that true?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, we took the app out after Apple changed their policies on VPN apps.

Johnson: And it was because of the use of the surveillance tools.

Zuckerberg: Congressman, I’m not sure the policy was worded that way or that it’s exactly the right characterization of it… [The policies are explained below.]

Johnson: Let me ask you this question. After Onavo was booted out of the App Store, you turned to other surveillance tools, such as Facebook Research App, correct?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, in general, yes, we do a broad variety—

Johnson: Isn’t it true, Mr. Zuckerberg, that Facebook paid teenagers to sell their privacy by installing Facebook Research App?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, I’m not familiar with that, but I think it’s a general practice that companies use to, uh, have different surveys and understand data from how people are using different products and what their preferences are.

Johnson: Facebook Research app got thrown out of the App Store too, isn’t that true?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, I’m not familiar with that.

Image Credits: YouTube

Of course, the idea that Zuckerberg was not familiar with events that made headlines, took down Facebook’s internal apps for days and prompted an angry letter to him from a senator is absurd. (After all, Facebook responded.)

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Perhaps intuiting that this particular claim of ignorance was a bridge too far (and perhaps in response to some frantic off-screen action in the CEO’s barnlike virtual testimony HQ), Zuckerberg took the opportunity to backpedal a few minutes later:

In response to Congressman Johnson’s question, before I said that I wasn’t familiar with the Facebook Research app when I wasn’t familiar with that name for it. I just want to be clear that I do recall we used an app for research and it’s since been discontinued.

Of course, although Zuckerberg may plausibly have been unsure about the name, it’s not to be believed that he was not familiar with the events of that time, as they were both highly publicized and very costly for Facebook. Naturally he would also have been refreshed on them during preparation for this testimony.

That Zuckerberg is unfamiliar with the exact wording of Apple’s rules is possible, even probable, but it was no secret that the rules were changed basically in response to reports of Facebook’s Onavo shenanigans. Here is what Apple said at the time:

We work hard to protect user privacy and data security throughout the Apple ecosystem. With the latest update to our guidelines, we made it explicitly clear that apps should not collect information about which other apps are installed on a user’s device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing and must make it clear what user data will be collected and how it will be used.

Later, when TechCrunch showed that Facebook had been using an enterprise deployment tool to essentially sideload spyware onto teenagers’ phones, Apple said this:

We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization. Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple. Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.

So Facebook was the reason, implicitly first, then later explicitly, for these App Store lockdowns. Rep. Johnson put the whole thing quite plainly at the end of his questions:

Johnson: You tried one thing and then you got caught, made some apologies, then you did it all over again. [long pause]… Isn’t that true?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, I respectfully disagree with that characterization.

You can watch the full hearing here:

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Facebook fighting against disinformation: Launch new options

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Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has dismantled new malicious networks that used vaccine debates to harass professionals or sow division in some countries, a sign that disinformation about the pandemic, spread for political ends, is on the wane not.

“They insulted doctors, journalists and elected officials, calling them supporters of the Nazis because they were promoting vaccines against the Covid, ensuring that compulsory vaccination would lead to a dictatorship of health,” explained Mike Dvilyanski, director investigations into emerging threats, at a press conference on Wednesday.

He was referring to a network linked to an anti-vaccination movement called “V_V”, which the Californian group accuses of having carried out a campaign of intimidation and mass harassment in Italy and France, against health figures, media and politics.

The authors of this operation coordinated in particular via the Telegram messaging system, where the volunteers had access to lists of people to target and to “training” to avoid automatic detection by Facebook.

Their tactics included leaving comments under victims’ messages rather than posting content, and using slightly changed spellings like “vaxcinati” instead of “vaccinati”, meaning “people vaccinated” in Italian.

The social media giant said it was difficult to assess the reach and impact of the campaign, which took place across different platforms.

This is a “psychological war” against people in favor of vaccines, according to Graphika, a company specializing in the analysis of social networks, which published Wednesday a report on the movement “V_V”, whose name comes from the Italian verb “vivere” (“to live”).

“We have observed what appears to be a sprawling populist movement that combines existing conspiratorial theories with anti-authoritarian narratives, and a torrent of health disinformation,” experts detail.

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They estimate that “V_V” brings together some 20,000 supporters, some of whom have taken part in acts of vandalism against hospitals and operations to interfere with vaccinations, by making medical appointments without honoring them, for example.

Change on Facebook

Facebook announces news that will facilitate your sales and purchases on the social network.

Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of Facebook, announced that the parent company would now be called Meta, to better represent all of its activities, from social networks to virtual reality, but the names of the different services will remain unchanged. A month later, Meta is already announcing news for the social network.

The first is the launch of online stores in Facebook groups. A “Shop” tab will appear and will allow members to buy products directly through the group in question.

Other features have been communicated with the aim of facilitating e-commerce within the social network, such as the display of recommendations and a better mention of products or even Live Shopping. At this time, no date has been announced regarding the launch of these new options.

In the light of recent features, the company wants to know the feedback from its users through the survey same like what Tesco doing to get its customers feedback via Tesco Views Survey. However, the company is still about this feedback will announce sooner than later in this regard.

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Facebook AI Hunts & Removes Harmful Content

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Main Article Image - AI

Facebook announced a new AI technology that can rapidly identify harmful content in order to make Facebook safer. Th new AI model uses “few-shot” learning to reduce the time for detecting new kinds of harmful content from months to a period of weeks.

Few-Shot Learning

Few-shot learning has similarities to Zero-shot learning. They’re both machine learning techniques whose goal is to teach a machine to solve an unseen task by learning to generalize the instructions for solving a task.

Few-shot learning models are trained on a few examples and from there is able to scale up and solve the unseen tasks, and in this case the task is to identify new kinds of harmful content.

The advantage of Facebook’s new AI model is to speed up the process of taking action against new kinds of harmful content.

The Facebook announcement stated:

“Harmful content continues to evolve rapidly — whether fueled by current events or by people looking for new ways to evade our systems — and it’s crucial for AI systems to evolve alongside it.

But it typically takes several months to collect and label thousands, if not millions, of examples necessary to train each individual AI system to spot a new type of content.

…This new AI system uses a method called “few-shot learning,” in which models start with a general understanding of many different topics and then use much fewer — or sometimes zero — labeled examples to learn new tasks.”

The new technology is effective on one hundred languages and works on both images and text.

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Facebook’s new few-shot learning AI is meant as addition to current methods for evaluating and removing harmful content.

Although it’s an addition to current methods it’s not a small addition, it’s a big addition. The impact of the new AI is one of scale as well as speed.

“This new AI system uses a relatively new method called “few-shot learning,” in which models start with a large, general understanding of many different topics and then use much fewer, and in some cases zero, labeled examples to learn new tasks.

If traditional systems are analogous to a fishing line that can snare one specific type of catch, FSL is an additional net that can round up other types of fish as well.”

New Facebook AI Live

Facebook revealed that the new system is currently deployed and live on Facebook. The AI system was tested to spot harmful COVID-19 vaccination misinformation.

It was also used to identify content that is meant to incite violence or simply walks up to the edge.

Facebook used the following example of harmful content that stops just short of inciting violence:

“Does that guy need all of his teeth?”

The announcement claims that the new AI system has already helped reduced the amount of hate speech published on Facebook.

Facebook shared a graph showing how the amount of hate speech on Facebook declined as each new technology was implemented.

Graph Shows Success Of Facebook Hate Speech Detection

Facebook Hate Speech AI

Entailment Few-Shot Learning

Facebook calls their new technology, Entailment Few-Shot Learning.

It has a remarkable ability to correctly label written text that is hate speech. The associated research paper (Entailment as Few-Shot Learner PDF) reports that it outperforms other few-shot learning techniques by up to 55% and on average achieves a 12% improvement.

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Facebook’s article about the research used this example:

“…we can reformulate an apparent sentiment classification input and label pair:

[x : “I love your ethnic group. JK. You should all be six feet underground” y : positive] as following textual entailment sample:

[x : I love your ethnic group. JK. You should all be 6 feet underground. This is hate speech. y : entailment].”

Facebook Working To Develop Humanlike AI

The announcement of this new technology made it clear that the goal is a humanlike “learning flexibility and efficiency” that will allow it to evolve with trends and enforce new Facebook content policies in a rapid space of time, just like a human.

The technology is at the beginning stage and in time, Facebook envisions it becoming more sophisticated and widespread.

“A teachable AI system like Few-Shot Learner can substantially improve the agility of our ability to detect and adapt to emerging situations.

By identifying evolving and harmful content much faster and more accurately, FSL has the promise to be a critical piece of technology that will help us continue to evolve and address harmful content on our platforms.”

Citations

Read Facebook’s Announcement Of New AI

Our New AI System to Help Tackle Harmful Content

Article About Facebook’s New Technology

Harmful content can evolve quickly. Our new AI system adapts to tackle it

Read Facebook’s Research Paper

Entailment as Few-Shot Learner (PDF)

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New Facebook Groups Features For Building Strong Communities

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Meta launches new features for Facebook Groups to improve communication between members, strengthen communities, and give admins more ways to customize the look and feel.

In addition, the company shares its vision for the future of communities on Facebook, which brings features from Groups and Pages together in one place.

Here’s an overview of everything that was announced at the recent Facebook Communities Summit.

More Options For Facebook Group Admins

Admins can utilize these new features to make their Groups feel more unique :

  • Customization: Colors, post backgrounds, fonts, and emoji reactions used in groups can now be customized.
  • Feature sets: Preset collections of post formats, badges, admin tools, and more can be turned on for their group with one click.
  • Preferred formats: Select formats you want members to use when they post in your group.
  • Greeting message: Create a unique message that all new members will see when they join a group.
Facebook groups new featuresScreenshot from about.fb.com/news, November 2021.

Stronger Connections For Members

Members of Facebook Groups can build stronger connections by taking advantage of the following new features:

  • Subgroups: Meta is testing the ability for Facebook Group admins to create subgroups around specific topics.
  • Community Chats: Communicate in real-time with other group members through Facebook or Messenger.
  • Recurring Events: Set up regular events for member to get together either online or in person.
  • Community Awards: Give virtual awards to other members to recognize valuable contributions.
Facebook groups new featuresScreenshot from about.fb.com/news, November 2021.

New Ways To Manage Communities

New tools will make it easier for admins to manage their groups:

  • Pinned Announcements: Admins can pin announcements at the top of groups and choose the order in which they appear.
  • Personalized Suggestions: Admin Assist will now offer suggestions on criteria to add, and more info on why content is declined.
  • Internal Chats: Admins can now create create group chats exclusively for themselves and other moderators.
Facebook groups new featuresScreenshot from about.fb.com/news, November 2021.

Monetization & Fundraisers

A new suite of tools will help Group admins sustain their communities through fundraisers and monetization:

  • Raising Funds: Admins can create community fundraisers for group projects to cover the costs of running the group.
  • Selling Merchandise: Sell merchandise you’ve created by setting up a shop within your group.
  • Paid Memberships: Create paid subgroups that members can subscribe to for a fee.
Facebook groups new featuresScreenshot from about.fb.com/news, November 2021.

Bringing Together Groups & Pages

Facebook is introducing a new experience that brings elements of Pages and Groups together in one place.

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This will allow Group admins to use an official voice when interacting with their community.

Currently, Admins post to a Facebook Group it shows that it’s published by the individual user behind the account.

When this new experience rolls out, posts from Admins will show up as official announcements posted by the group. Just like how a post from a Facebook Page shows that it’s published by the Page.

Admins of Facebook Pages will have the option to build their community in a single space if they prefer not to create a separate group. When this change rolls out, Page admins can utilize moderation tools accessible to Group admins.

This new experience will be tested over the next year before it’s available to everyone.

Source: Meta Newsroom


Featured Image: AlesiaKan/Shutterstock

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