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New Mexico Armed Border Group Barred from Facebook Fundraising

Facebook Inc on Thursday barred a New Mexico-based paramilitary group that has stopped undocumented migrants near the U.S.-Mexico border from using its fundraising tools and said it would remove any of its posts that violated company policies.

Facebook made the statement after a civil rights organization asked it to block videos posted by the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), saying the clips violated its standards, which prohibit images showing criminal acts.

“People cannot use our fundraising tools for activities involving weapons,” said a Facebook spokesperson in a statement. “We will remove fundraisers this group may try to start on our service and any content that violates our Community Standards.”

Since February, the UCP has posted a string of videos showing members armed with semi-automatic rifles halting migrants in New Mexico and telling them to sit and wait for U.S. Border Patrol to arrest them.

The UCP says the videos demonstrate its work helping Border Patrol detain some 5,600 migrants in just 60 days during a surge in illegal crossings. Civil rights groups accuse the group of illegally detaining asylum-seekers.

“These videos include content showing possible assault, kidnapping and false imprisonment,” the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said in a statement Thursday asking Facebook to remove them.

UCP spokesman Jim Benvie did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a Facebook Live post on Tuesday, he described the group’s videos as “citizen journalism” showing reality on the border.

“There is a crisis at the border, we are being invaded,” Benvie said.

Social media policies

Facebook’s Community Standards bar users from publicizing crime, using hate speech or presenting arguments for restricting immigration policy, among other things, the spokesperson said.

PayPal and GoFundMe on Friday barred the UCP, citing policies that prohibit the promotion of hate or violence.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham last week called for an investigation of the group.

The FBI arrested the UCP’s commander, Larry Hopkins, on Saturday on federal weapons charges dating back to 2017.

Hopkins was assaulted in a New Mexico jail on Monday and hospitalized with broken ribs.

The UCP left its campsite Tuesday after Union Pacific Railroad accused it of trespassing, but Benvie said it would soon relocate to a nearby spot along the border.

“We’re not going to quit fighting, we’re not going to quit reporting,” he said.

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Canada to Seek Court Order to Force Facebook to Follow Privacy Laws

Facebook Inc broke Canadian privacy laws when it collected the information of some 600,000 citizens, a top watchdog said on Thursday, pledging to seek a court order to force the social media giant to change its practices.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien made his comments while releasing the results of an investigation, opened a year ago, into a data sharing scandal involving Facebook and the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

Though Facebook has acknowledged a “major breach of trust” in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the company disputed the results of the Canadian probe, Therrien said.

“Facebook’s refusal to act responsibly is deeply troubling given the vast amount of sensitive personal information users have entrusted to this company,” said Therrien.

Specifically, the company refused to voluntarily submit to audits of its privacy policies and practices over the next five years, he said.

“The stark contradiction between Facebook’s public promises to mend its ways on privacy and its refusal to address the serious problems we’ve identified “or even acknowledge that it broke the law ” is extremely concerning,” he added.

Facebook was not immediately available for comment. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner does not have the power to levy financial penalties, but it can seek court orders to force an entity to follow its recommendations.

It could take a year to obtain a court order, Therrien said.

The investigation revealed there was an “overall lack of responsibility” with people’s personal information that means “there is a high risk that” their data “could be used in ways that they do not know or suspect, exposing them to potential harms.”

Apart from privacy violations by Facebook, the investigation also highlighted problems with regulating social media. Facebook’s rejection of the watchdog’s recommendations revealed “critical weaknesses” in the current legislation, Therrien added, urging lawmakers to give his office more sanctioning power.

“We should not count on all companies to act responsibility and therefore a new law should ensure a third party, a regulator, holds companies responsible,” Therrien said.

Canadian Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, who this month said the government might have to regulate Facebook and other social media companies unless they did more to help combat foreign meddling in this October’s election, will react later on Thursday, a spokeswoman said.

Facebook said on Wednesday it had set aside $3 billion to cover a settlement with U.S. regulators probing revelations that the company had inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million of its users with Cambridge Analytica.

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US Adds Chinese e-commerce Site to ‘Notorious’ List for IP Protection

The U.S. Trade Representative said on Thursday it has added Pinduoduo.com, China’s third-largest e-commerce platform, to its “notorious markets” list for a proliferation of counterfeit products, as the agency also called out China as a priority to watch for intellectual property rights concerns.

In its annual review of trading partners’ protection of intellectual properties rights and so-called “notorious markets,” the U.S. Trade Representative said 36 countries warranted additional bilateral engagement over these issues. The agency kept China on the list and lifted Saudi Arabia up as a priority.

The release of the report comes as the United States and China are embroiled in negotiations to end a tit-for-tat tariff battle that has roiled supply chains and cost both countries billions. The two countries are due to resume talks in Beijing next week.

USTR also kept Alibaba Group’s taobao.com on the “notorious” list, even though the parent company has “taken some steps” to curb the offer and sale of copyright infringing products, according to the report.

The agency bumped Saudi Arabia up to priority in part due to an illicit service for pirated content called BeoutQ, the report said.

Despite “extensive engagement” in Saudi Arabia by both U.S. government and private stakeholders, treatment of intellectual property rights “continued to deteriorate,” USTR said.

 

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Irish Regulator Opens Inquiry Into Facebook Over Password Storage

Facebook’s lead regulator in the European Union, Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner, on Thursday said it had launched an inquiry into whether the company violated EU data rules by saving user passwords in plain text format on internal servers.

The probe is the latest to be launched out of Dublin into the social network giant. The Irish regulator in February said it had seven statutory inquiries into Facebook and three more into Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp.

Facebook in March announced that it has resolved a glitch that exposed passwords of millions of users stored in readable format within its internal systems to its employees.

The passwords were accessible to as many as 20,000 Facebook employees and dated back as early as 2012, cyber security blog KrebsOnSecurity, which first reported the issue, said in its report.

“The Data Protection Commission (DPC) was notified by Facebook that it had discovered that hundreds of millions of user passwords, relating to users of Facebook, Facebook Lite and Instagram, were stored by Facebook in plain text format in its internal servers,” the DPC said in a statement.

“We have this week commenced a statutory inquiry in relation to this issue to determine whether Facebook has complied with its obligations under relevant provisions of the GDPR,” it added.

The DPC said in February that it expected to conclude the first of its investigations into Facebook’s use of personal data this summer and the remainder by the end of the year.

Ireland hosts the European headquarters of a number of U.S. technology firms. Under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation’s (GDPR) “One Stop Shop”, the Irish commissioner is also the lead regulator for Twitter, LinkedIn Apple and Microsoft.

As part of regulations introduced last year, a firm found to have broken data processing and handling rules can be fined up to 4 percent of their global revenue of the prior financial year, or 20 million euros, whichever is higher.

Canada’s federal privacy commissioner on Thursday announced the results of a probe that found Facebook had committed serious contraventions of privacy law and failed to take responsibility for protecting the personal information of citizens.

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Brent Oil Hits $75 For First Time in 2019 as Russian Exports Cut

Brent oil rose above $75 per barrel on Thursday for the first time this year as quality concerns forced the suspension of some Russian crude exports to Europe while the United States prepared to tighten sanctions on Iran.

Brent crude futures were at $75.24 by 1156 GMT, up 67 cents. They earlier hit a session high of $75.60, their strongest since Oct. 31.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was at $66.14 per barrel, up 25 cents.

Poland and Germany have suspended imports of Russian crude via the Druzhba pipeline, citing poor quality. Trading sources said the Czech Republic had also halted purchases.

The pipeline can ship up to 1 million barrels per day, or 1 percent of global crude demand, with around 700,000 bpd of flows suspended, according to trading sources and Reuters calculations.

U.S. attempts to drive Iranian oil exports down to zero also boosted prices.

The United States this week said it would end all exemptions for sanctions against Iran, OPEC’s third-largest producer, demanding countries halt oil imports from Tehran from May or face punitive action from Washington.

The U.S. decision comes amid supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries since the start of the year aimed at propping up prices.

Still, Brian Hook, U.S. special representative for Iran and senior policy adviser to the secretary of state, said on Thursday “there is plenty of supply in the market to ease that transition and maintain stable prices.”

Consultancy Rystad Energy said Saudi Arabia and its main allies could replace lost Iranian oil.

“Saudi Arabia and several of its allies have more replacement barrels than what would be lost from Iranian exports,” said Rystad’s head of oil research, Bjoernar Tonhaugen.

“Since October 2018, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the UAE, and Iraq have cut 1.3 million bpd, which is more than enough to compensate for the additional loss,” he added.

On the supply side, U.S. crude production has risen by more than 2 million bpd since early 2018 to a record of 12.2 million bpd currently, making the United States the world’s biggest oil producer ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia.

In part because of soaring domestic production, U.S. commercial crude inventories last week soared to 460.63 million barrels, their highest since October 2017, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

 

 

 

 

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South Korean Economy Shrinks Unexpectedly in 1st Quarter

South Korea’s economy unexpectedly shrank in the first quarter, marking its worst performance since the global financial crisis, as government spending failed to keep up the previous quarter’s strong pace and as companies slashed investment. 

The shock contraction reinforced financial market views that the central bank is likely to make a U-turn on policy, shifting to an easing stance and possibly cutting interest rates to counter declining business confidence and growing external risks.

A worse-than-expected downturn in the memory chips sector hit first quarter capital investment, while slumping exports amid the Sino-U.S. trade dispute erased gains from private consumption, the Bank of Korea said Thursday.

Gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter declined a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent from the previous quarter, the worst contraction since a 3.3 percent drop in late 2008 and sliding from 1 percent growth in October-December, the Bank of Korea said Thursday.

None of the economists surveyed in a Reuters poll had expected growth to contract. The median forecast was for a rise of 0.3 percent.

Government spending

“Government spending failed to keep up the bumper boost of the fourth quarter, especially for construction investment, while a drop in business investment was worse than expected due to a downturn in the chips sector,” a BOK official said, adding there was also a strong base effect after solid fourth-quarter growth.

The grim data came a day after the Moon Jae-in government unveiled a 6.7 trillion won ($5.9 billion) supplementary budget to tackle unprecedented air pollution levels and boost weak exports.

Capital investment tumbled 10.8 percent, the worst reading since 1998, while construction investment inched down 0.1 percent, the BOK said.

Exports fall

Exports fell 2.6 percent quarter-on-quarter, a sharper drop than the 1.5 percent decline in the previous three months.

Private consumption gained by 0.1 percent because of a rise in demands for durable goods.

From a year earlier, Asia’s fourth-largest economy grew 1.8 percent in the January-March quarter, compared with 2.5 percent growth in the poll and 3.1 percent in the final quarter of 2018.

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Facebook Beats Profit Estimates, Sets Aside $3B for Privacy Penalty


Facebook on Wednesday blew away Wall Street profit estimates in the first quarter as it kept a lid on the costs of making its social networks safer, and set aside $3 billion to cover a settlement with U.S. regulators, calming investors who had worried about the outcome of a months-long federal probe.

Shares of the world’s biggest online social network jumped more than 10% after hours.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has been investigating revelations that Facebook inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million of its users with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

The probe has focused on whether the sharing of data and other disputes violated a 2011 agreement with the FTC to safeguard user privacy. Facebook set aside $3 billion to cover anticipated costs associated with the settlement, but said the charges could reach as high as $5 billion.

Civil penalty

If the settlement is in that range, it would be the largest civil penalty paid to the agency, said David Vladeck, a former FTC official now at Georgetown Law School.

“Everyone expected there would be a substantial civil penalty in this case,” said Vladeck. “There’s no question that Facebook is going to have to settle this matter. Investors want this behind them.”

The accrual cut the company’s net income in the first quarter to $2.43 billion, or $0.85 per share.

Excluding the $3 billion it set aside, Facebook would have earned $1.89 a share, up from $1.69 the year prior and easily beating analysts’ average estimate of $1.63 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Total first-quarter revenue rose 26% to $14.9 billion from $12.0 billion last year, compared to analysts’ average estimate of $15.0 billion.

Shares rise 

Shares of Facebook rose 10% to $200.50 in after-hours trade, demonstrating the company’s resilience despite a series of scandals over improperly shared user data and propaganda that made it the target of political scrutiny across the globe.

The company’s shares lost a third of their value last year, after executives first warned about costs associated with its drive to improve safety and slowing growth in revenue and operating margin.

Total expenses in the first quarter were $11.8 billion, up 80% compared with a year ago. The operating margin fell to 22% from 46% a year ago, but would have been 42%  without the one-time expense.

“This is a strong report suggesting that advertisers still see value in Facebook’s platform, as they did before the controversies and scandals erupted,” said Haris Anwar, senior analyst at financial markets platform Investing.com.

Expenses will grow

Executives have forecast that expenses will grow 40% to 50%  in 2019, but say they expect the downward trend to taper off after this year as revenue from new ways of pushing ads and facilitating transactions offset the security spending.

Monthly and daily users of the main Facebook app compared to last quarter were both up 8% to 2.38 billion and 1.56 billion, respectively.

Estimates were for 2.4 billion monthly users and 1.6 billion daily users, according to Refinitiv averages.

 

 

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Microsoft Surges Toward Trillion-Dollar Value as Profits Rise

Microsoft said profits climbed in the past quarter on its cloud and business services as the U.S. technology giant saw its market value close in on the trillion-dollar mark.

Profits in the quarter to March 31 rose 19 percent to $8.8 billion on revenues of $30.8 billion, an increase of 14 percent from the same period a year earlier.

Microsoft shares gained some 3% in after-hours trade, pushing it closer to $1 trillion in value. 

It ended the session Wednesday with a market valuation of some $960 million, just behind Apple but ahead of Amazon.

In the fiscal third quarter, Microsoft showed its reliance on cloud computing and other business services which now drive its earnings, in contrast to its earlier days when it focused on consumer PC software.

“Leading organizations of every size in every industry trust the Microsoft cloud,” chief executive Satya Nadella said in a statement.

Commercial cloud revenue rose 41% from a year ago to $9.6 billion, which now makes up nearly a third of sales, Microsoft said.

Some $10.2 billion in revenue came from the “productivity and business services” unit which includes its Office software suite for both consumers and enterprises, and the LinkedIn professional social network.

The “more personal computing” unit which includes its Windows software, Surface devices and gaming operations generated $10.6 billion in the quarter.

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Technology Ethics Campaigners Offer Plan to Fight ‘Human Downgrading’

Technology firms should do more to connect people in positive ways and steer away from trends that have tended to exploit human weaknesses, ethicists told a meeting of Silicon Valley leaders on Tuesday.

Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin are the co-founders of the nonprofit Center for Humane Technology and the ones who prompted Apple and Google to nudge phone users toward reducing their screen time.

Now they want companies and regulators to focus on reversing what they called “human downgrading,” which they see as at the root of a dozen worsening problems, by reconsidering the design and financial incentives of their systems.

Before a hand-picked crowd of about 300 technologists, philanthropists and others concerned with issues such as internet addiction, political polarization, and the spread of misinformation on the web, Harris said Silicon Valley was too focused on making computers surpass human strengths, rather than worrying about how they already exploit human weaknesses.

If that is not reversed, he said, “that could be the end of human agency,” or free will.

Problems include the spread of hate speech and conspiracy theories, propelled by financial incentives to keep users engaged alongside the use of powerful artificial intelligence on platforms like Alphabet Inc’s YouTube, Harris said.

YouTube and other companies have said they are cracking down on extremist speech and have removed advertising revenue-sharing from some categories of content.

Active Facebook communities can be a force for good but they also aid the dissemination of false information, the campaigners said. For example, a vocal fringe that oppose vaccines, believing contrary to scientific evidence that they cause autism, has led to an uptick in diseases that were nearly eradicated.

Facebook said in March it would reduce the distribution of content from groups promoting vaccine hoaxes.

In an interview after his speech, Harris said that what he has called a race to the bottom of the brainstem – manipulation of human instincts and emotions – could be reversed.

For example, he said that Apple and Google could reward app developers who help users, or Facebook could suggest that someone showing signs of depression call a friend who had previously been supportive.

Tech personalities attending included Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, early Facebook funder turned critic Roger McNamee and MoveOn founders Joan Blades and Wes Boyd. Tech money is also backing the Center, including charitable funds started by founders of Hewlett Packard, EBay, and Craigslist.

The big companies, Harris said, “can change the incentives.”

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Multisensory VR Allows Users to Step Into a Movie and Interact with Objects

Imagine stepping into a movie or virtual world and being able to interact with what’s there. That’s now possible through the magic of Hollywood combined with virtual reality technology.  For $20, the company Dreamscape takes visitors through a multi-sensory journey. Currently in Los Angeles, creators say they plan on opening more virtual reality venues across the U.S. and eventually to other countries.

  Once visitors step through these doors, they leave behind reality and embark on a journey to another world.

“We see Dreamscape as a travel agency that will take you on adventures that transcend time, space and dimension,” Bruce Vaughn, Dreamscape Immersive chief executive officer, said.   

Vaughn used to work on Disney theme park attractions and special effects.  

Imagine a trip to a zoo filled with alien creatures from outer space or going on a treasure hunt or an underwater adventure. That’s the world visitor Zach Green stepped into when he entered a Dreamscape room. 

“I kind of forgot I was in Earth for a second and I was actually under the ocean,” Green expressed.

Dreamscape makes it possible by combining Hollywood storytelling with the expertise of building theme parks. These ingredients are brought to life through virtual reality says motion picture screenwriter and producer Walter Parkes who is also co-founder and chairman of the board of Dreamscape.   

“Our technology allows us at Dreamscape to actually track your full body, all of your movements and render you in an avatar. We use the word registration where we’re actually registering you as a human presence inside a virtual world is very unique,” Parkes said.

Visitor Robin McMillan is wowed by the experience.

“I think it’s probably the future of entertainment in terms of a completely immersive experience. You kind of forget you’re in a room,” McMillan said.

Before stepping into the virtual world, travelers would first have to put on four sensors, one on each hand and one on each foot, have a backpack on and virtual reality goggles. Now they’re ready to step inside. 

“We blur that line between the physical and the virtual by letting you actually reach out and pet an alien creature or have a torch that actually lights your way and it’s physically there,” Vaughn said.

That’s not all. Each person’s backpack computer and the sensors in the room trigger special effects such as wind, mist and ground vibrations.  Six people at a time can take part in the 10 minute experience interact. The company is already planning new worlds for travelers to visit.

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