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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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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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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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New Zealand, France Plan Bid to Tackle Extremism on Social Media

In the wake of the Christchurch attack, New Zealand said on Wednesday that it would work with France in an effort to stop social media from being used to promote terrorism and violent extremism.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement that she will co-chair a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on May 15 that will seek to have world leaders and CEOs of tech companies agree to a pledge, called the Christchurch Call, to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

A lone gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15, while livestreaming the massacre on Facebook.

Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with 50 counts of murder for the mass shooting.

“It’s critical that technology platforms like Facebook are not perverted as a tool for terrorism, and instead become part of a global solution to countering extremism,” Ardern said in the statement.

“This meeting presents an opportunity for an act of unity between governments and the tech companies,” she added.

The meeting will be held alongside the Tech for Humanity meeting of G7 digital ministers, of which France is the chair, and France’s separate Tech for Good summit, both on 15 May, the statement said.

Ardern said at a press conference later on Wednesday that she has spoken with executives from a number of tech firms including Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Google and few other companies.

“The response I’ve received has been positive. No tech company, just like no government, would like to see violent extremism and terrorism online,” Ardern said at the media briefing, adding that she had also spoken with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg directly on the topic.

A Facebook spokesman said the company looks forward to collaborating with government, industry and safety experts on a clear framework of rules.

“We’re evaluating how we can best support this effort and who among top Facebook executives will attend,” the spokesman said in a statement sent by email.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network with 2.7 billion users, has faced criticism since the Christchurch attack that it failed to tackle extremism.

One of the main groups representing Muslims in France has said it was suing Facebook and YouTube, a unit of Alphabet’s Google, accusing them of inciting violence by allowing the streaming of the Christchurch massacre on their platforms.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said last month that the company was looking to place restrictions on who can go live on its platform based on certain criteria.

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Twitter Shares Jump; Growth Attributed to Fight Against Abuse

Shares in Twitter Inc jumped 13 percent Tuesday after the social media company reported quarterly revenue above analyst estimates, which executives said was the result of weeding out spam and abusive posts and targeting ads better.

New ad formats, partnerships with content providers like the U.S. National Basketball Association and efforts to patrol abusive content are helping Twitter better compete for advertising dollars, executives said.

Social media companies have been under pressure over privacy concerns and political influence activity. Twitter has removed thousands of spam and suspicious accounts, which it blamed for sequential declines in monthly users in recent quarters.

Twitter executives said they saw opportunities for selling ads that earn revenue when users visit websites or download apps, citing success with major brands like Walt Disney Co. The company is looking to grow its sales team in 2019 to better serve big advertisers.

“Something where you see a blending of performance and brand is the Star Trek ad that Disney is running right now, where I click through to make sure that I’d be notified when more information was available about the next Star Wars,” Twitter Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal told analysts.

Twitter said pre-roll ads, or promotional messages that play before videos, are also growing.

The company said its monthly active users (MAU) rose 9 million to 330 million from the previous quarter, much better than Wall Street’s average estimate that it would lose 2.2 million users, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Still, MAUs were down 6 million from a year earlier.

It was Twitter’s last quarter of disclosing MAUs.

From now on it will only provide “monetizable” daily active users (mDAUs), created to measure people exposed to advertising and exclude those who access Twitter via text messages or aggregating sites like TweetDeck.

For the first quarter, Twitter said mDAUs rose to 134 million, up 12 percent from a year ago.

Analysts were encouraged by signs the company had found ways to sustainably grow users and revenue, but said the new way of measuring users could make comparisons with rivals like Facebook Inc more difficult.

“People are not impressed with a made up metric and their reluctance to give us actual users,” said analyst Michael Pachter at Wedbush Securities. “I don’t think the stock can get out of its own way until they come clean and report the same metrics everyone else does.”

Forecast largely below Wall Street

For the first quarter, Twitter’s revenue rose 18 percent to $787 million from the year-ago quarter, topping analyst estimates of $776.1 million.

But Twitter also forecast revenue for the second quarter largely below analyst estimates, and said that it would continue to spend heavily on cleaning up Twitter as well as new ad products.

Ad sales jumped 18 percent to $679 million. In the United States, ad revenue rose by 26 percent.

Total operating expense including cost of revenue rose by 18 percent from the first quarter a year ago. The company reiterated that operating expenses would grow about 20 percent in 2019.

Twitter reported quarterly profit of $191 million, or 25 cents a share, compared with $61 million, or 8 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding a $124.4 million tax benefit, the company earned 9 cents per share.

The results appeared to catch the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump, who called for the creation of “more, and fairer” social media companies, repeating his claim that Twitter is biased against Republicans, without presenting evidence.

“We enforce the Twitter Rules dispassionately and equally for all users, regardless of their background or political affiliation,” a Twitter representative said. “We are constantly working to improve our systems and will continue to be transparent in our efforts.”

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Will Smith, NASA, Fortnite Among 2019 Webby Award Winners

Actor Will Smith, NASA, Fortnite and Disney are among the 2019 Webby Award winners for internet excellence.

The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences announced the winners Tuesday.

Smith’s The Jump won a Webby for events and live stream video while Disney was chosen the WebbyMedia Company of the Year for earning the most honors across all Webby categories with 32 wins overall. Fortnite is recognized in the game category, and NASA won for best overall social presence.

Actress Issa Rae is the Webby video person of the year for using the internet to showcase breakthrough content from diverse creators. Activist Greta Thunberg scored a Webby for social movement of the year for igniting the #FridaysForFuture global movement for climate justice.

The 23rd annual Webby Awards will be presented in New York City on May 13.

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EU Wary of Fake Online Accounts as Europe Elections Approach

The European Union is praising Facebook, Google and Twitter for tackling disinformation while urging the social media giants to do more in clamping down on fake accounts.

Under an EU code of conduct, the three companies report routinely on their efforts to stop election interference. Facebook, for one, has been criticized for being a tool for foreign interference in elections.

Tuesday’s reports say Facebook, Google and Twitter are tightening advertising policy and surveillance, particularly with election-targeted ads.

But the commission urges them to share fake account data with outside experts and researchers.

Millions of people across the 28-nation bloc will vote in the May 23-26 European Parliament elections.

Polls show nationalist and populist parties could make significant gains, while mainstream parties would lose seats but retain control over the assembly.

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