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Ethical Tech

Facebook’s Oversight Board demands answers on celebrity rules

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Facebook’s oversight board said on Tuesday that it will set in motion an urgent examination process to inspect whether the social networking platform is mitigating posts for famous personages, leading to a direct content rules breach, according to Wall Street inquiry.

Facebook’s oversight board is an independent group assigned by the platform to observe its moderation policies concerning politicians, athletes, celebrities, and other high-profile users.

The board revealed that it has already initiated an examination plan that demands Facebook executives to submit any data related to the Cross-Check Program, or popularly referred to as” XCheck.” It demanded proof of clarity to determine whether these allegations are true, and from there, it would work accordingly based on the findings.

“In light of recent developments, we are looking into the degree to which Facebook has been fully forthcoming in its responses in relation to cross-check, including the practice of whitelisting,” the board wrote in a statement.

Whitelisting is a cybersecurity strategy where users only act on their personal computers following exclusive administrator permission.

Initially, the XCheck program was initiated to take measures against all kinds of distinguished and famed accounts, which later exponentially grew to involve millions of accounts. 

Presumably, Facebook’s program was established to prohibit “PR fires,” or any type of unwanted press caused by removing photos, posts, and other types of content on the platform. In this case, these high-profile users are immune to any outcome disclosed by XCheck, or any moderating process for that matter. It aims to deliver additional premium control over the platform’s posts.

Thus, by being excluded from the program’s functionality, millions of celebrities are safeguarded from any future regulation on their profile, meaning Facebook is perpetually and intentionally misleading its oversight board on its rules.

“Mark Zuckerberg has publicly said Facebook allows its more than three billion users to speak on equal footing with the elites of politics, culture, and journalism, and that its standards of behavior apply to everyone, no matter their status or frame. In private, the company has built a system that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s report.

At the moment, Facebook’s oversight board will monitor the social networking’s conduct by investigating its cross-check program and will eventually release the findings to the public.

The board’s decision will entirely be based on the tech giant’s transparency regarding its freedom of speech and human rights policies, be it supportive or opposing to its program’s own guidelines.

While Facebook has publicly vowed to follow the board’s demands on its users’ regulations, it also has the right not to submit itself to extensive recommendations as it is not compelled legally to abide by its rules.

Daryn is a technical writer with thorough history and experience in both academic and digital writing fields.

Ethical Tech

Facebook personnel were asked to restrain news

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Once more, the social networking giant is under the spotlight.

Facebook’s employees have effortlessly acted to restrain right-wing platforms, ignoring managers’ objections to prevent any future political clash on its platform, reported by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

In-house debates between the tech giant’s managers and employees were driven by recent worries that Facebook is inversely dealing with news outlets based on their political stance.

The WSJ’s report highlighted how Facebook dealt with Breitbart’s news, with the titan’s employees pursuing the website’s News Tab function, by removing certain information following protests concerning George Floyd’s death last year.

“I can also tell you that saw drops in trust in CNN 2 years ago: would we take the same approach for them too?” a senior researcher responded after following an employee’s question about removing Breitbart from Facebook.

Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, informed employees that “we need to steel ourselves for more bad headlines in the upcoming days, I’m afraid.”

Clegg’s statement comes as a follow-up to WSJ’s latest report in a series of groundbreaking blows around Facebook’s way of managing news on its platform, in addition to its ever-growing thirst for profit at the expense of its users.

It seems that voices are rising against the titan’s misconduct towards its users, as a new whistleblower emerged to the scene on Friday and informed the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that the company has endlessly disregarded worries around spreading hate speech and the infectious rollout of false information out of fear it would jeopardize its monetary growth.

While the new whistleblower’s name has yet to be revealed, the individual submitted the testimony under oath. In addition, the testimony added that one Facebook communications official, Tucker Bunds, perceived hate speech as a “flash in the pan” and went further to say that even though “some legislation will get pissy,” Facebook is “printing money in the basement.”

In parallel, an employee who worked at the company informed The Post that the whistleblower’s statements about Tucker Bounds are truthful.

“That’s how Tucker talks,” the former employee stated.

“The Tucker quote, as much as I disagree with it, really does reflect the attitude during 2017,” he added.

Facebook’s whistleblower Frances Haugen’s statement to the SEC encouraged other employees to come forward and speak against the company’s misconduct to enlarge its financial growth at the expense of its users. At the end of the day, the social networking giant managed to grow its supremacy while operating in the dark.

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U.S. Senate anti-discrimination bill weighs on Big Tech firms

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On Thursday, a bipartisan entity of senators revealed plans to welcome a nondiscrimination bill as pressure rises on the U.S. Senate to legislate a new set of laws prohibiting tech platforms from preferencing the company’s commodities and services over their rivals.

After months of negotiations and hearings, the Senate has finally spoken, and its latest bill targets global retail giant Amazon.

The American Choice and Innovation Online Act, ushered by Senators Amy Klobuchar and Chuck Grassley will forbid Big Tech firms such Apple, Google, and Amazon from abusing their sovereignty to detriment competitor firms that employ their platforms to promote their products.

While the recently legislated bill holds a similar dialect and shares the same name from the Judiciary Committee, the Senate’s version is slightly more distinctive.

“When dominant tech companies exclude rivals and kill competition, it hurts small businesses and can increase costs for YOU,” Klobuchar said in a tweet.

“My new bipartisan legislation with [Grassley] will establish new rules of the road to prevent large companies from boxing out their smaller competitors,” she added.

The legislation news surfaced after Reuters reported Wednesday that the e-commerce titan was abusing marketplace search engine data to replicate famous merchandise and exploit findings leaning towards Amazon’s own replicate products.

In parallel, an examination from The Markup revealed that the retail company positions its commodities before its rivals.

It is worth noting that this isn’t the first time these allegations surfaced. Third-party users have always vocalized their opposition to the way Amazon handles its business. These competitive conducts were a part of an antitrust investigation led by the House for almost a year now.

Apart from Amazon, the bill is also directed at implementing change into Apple and Google’s way of managing their app stores. These tech moguls have excelled at prohibiting other firms from obtaining preference for companies’ first-party apps and software.

The Epic Games butterfly effect

While in this legal case, Apple was the bigger beneficiary from the court’s ruling, yet one thing did not go according to plan for the iPhone parent company, and the same goes for Alphabet’s unit, Google.

Earlier this year, the iOS developer was ordered to permit developers to direct its software developers to send consumers a payment option different than the one extended by Apple. The case that managed to break down the competitive walls the company has set for itself to expand its dominion on the market. 

One month after the U.S. federal court revealed its verdict, the iOS developer appealed the ruling, a move that put on hold any future legal actions on the case. Apple’s appeal came after judge Yvonne Rogers governed that the company is abusing its position to relish in anti-competitive behavior.

On another note, the household gaming company revealed in August, court documentation during an anti-trust lawsuit against Google. Within it, Epic laid out an elaborate plot presented by the search engine, showing its tactical scheme to acquire the gaming firm to empower Play Store’s supremacy, after the gaming platform refused to succumb to Google’s Premier Device Program deal.

A deal that offers Android manufacturers exclusive rights to adopt Play Store as a default store, resulting in the substation of third-party payment options.

Even though the ruling was appealed, it still managed to demonstrate to tech companies that competitive behavior from their part will be faced with scrutinizing examination by the federal court.

Heavy tension is on the rise for Congress to execute its authority on online e-commerce platforms and Big Tech app stores, as tech companies are feeding their hunger for power at the expense of small to medium-sized enterprises.

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Android’s apps trail users’ device interaction, research finds

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Google, device manufacturers, and third-party apps could be probing deeper into users’ on-device habits by creating a tailing road to survey their every interaction through Android’s apps OS, a Trinity College’s study revealed.

Data breaches and password leaks have taken the world by a swoop the minute a global conceptualization broke out that no one is safe. Some of the most prominent names in the tech industry found themselves heavily exposed to some of the most memorable data breaches since the emergence of the digital era, such as Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and of course, Google, with its 2018 data breach.

Now, digital privacy has presented itself as a fundamental element to safeguard companies, governmental agencies, and even users from any malicious attack that could fall upon any establishment’s “secure” infrastructure to reach our personal accounts.

For those who have a preferential turn towards Android phones and are worried about their privacy – as they should be – you probably covered the basic steps to maintain the defensive barrier against any security violation on any device.

The decision of securing your devices is rightfully yours, this aspect is undeniable, but what if all the extra measures you are taking to shield your devices are not enough? What if all those steps still cannot prevent any future hack?

Dublin’s Trinity College researchers published a paper elaborating how Android mobile OS, specifically devices created by Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei, and Realme, transmit a significant volume of information to the OS developer and third-party platforms. Some of these platforms are Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Facebook, and many more.

image credit: Trinity College Research

It goes without saying that at heart, users always knew their devices were not safe from outside digital privacy violation, but what does it mean coming from the manufacturers and the OS developers themselves? Particularly if we perceive this from an aspect that the Big Tech companies have been promoting their “safeguarding users’ privacy” ideology when in reality, they too have a hand in breaching their own digital privacy rules?

“The analysis of whether mobile apps disclosed sensitive information to their associated back-end servers has been the focus of much research, especially with the view of risks such as user de-anonymization, location tracking, behavior profiling, and cross-linking of data by different stakeholders in the device/software supply chain,” the paper revealed.

The most acute part of this scenario is that even if users were willing to opt-out, they can’t. The approach is embedded into the core of their device’s software, users have no option, or a choice for that matter, of reconfiguring its settings.

Most of the liability falls on what is known as “system apps” that come pre-installed into the system by the hardware manufacturer to provide a number of services, such as camera or messaging apps. These services are referred to as “read-only memory” (ROM) and are embedded into Android devices and cannot be deleted or modified.

Trinity’s research unveiled that these applications are endlessly sending the device’s data to the manufacturing company, which in return is sending the latter to more than one third-party app, even if users did not access the apps.

For example, when Microsoft and Samsung partnered up to branch Android and Windows together, this unity had more than meets the eye.

When Samsung devices come bundled up with Microsoft bloatware, packaged with the third-party app, LinkedIn, the hard-coded networking platform continuously relays to Microsoft servers detailed data about the device, such as unique identifiers and the amount of Microsoft apps installed on the user’s phone. 

In parallel, the aggregated pinged data is sent to third-party analytics providers that the apps might intertwine with. Meaning, Google Analytics also has access to the device’s data, as this plug-in is a pre-installed system app embedded into the core Android software.

As for the hard-coded apps that demand advanced embedded credentials, often used on a day-to-day basis, send an exponentially larger mass of data revealing each interaction made on the platform, such as when and for how long users are using the app. These platforms share with Google Analytics certain specifics data with the search engine’s analytical branch.

The research paper single-handedly addressed a multitude of scenarios where these platforms are in direct breach of some undisclosed privacy breach. 

Now, it is true that none of these data records can single out one device from a profusion of devices. However, when intertwined, they breed the ultimate “fingerprint” wielded to track any device, even if users opt-out.

In its defense, the search engine giant does include several “developer rules” aimed at thwarting certain invasive apps. These rules inform developers that they cannot connect a device’s special ad ID with a more tenacious element for any genre of ad-related function.

“I reset, a new advertising identifier must not be connected to a previous advertising identifier or data derived from a previous advertising identifier without the explicit consent of the user,” Google elaborated on the matter.

“You must abide by a user’s ‘Opt-out of Interest-based Advertising’ or ‘Opt-out of Ads Personalization setting. If a user has enabled this setting, you may not use the advertising identifier for creating user profiles for advertising purposes or for targeting users with personalized advertising,” the company added in its statement.

While these tracking features are embedded into the nucleus of Android devices, the question remains, what is the manufacturers’ role in this tracking framework? Is it simply to track the users’ movement, or is there a superior purpose that we are not familiar with?

Chances are, as regulators are continuously probing into these tech companies’ demeanor in breaching digital data privacy, this too might get exposed to a much more elevated scale of investigative regulatory behavior, if federal governmental figures recognized this issue as an identifiable form of data breach. 

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