Facebook says 10 million U.S. users saw Russia-linked ads

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Some 10 million people in the United States saw politically divisive ads on Facebook that the company said were purchased in Russia in the months before and after last year’s U.S. presidential election, Facebook said on Monday.

Facebook, which had not previously given such an estimate, said in a statement that it used modeling to estimate how many people saw at least one of the 3,000 ads. It also said that 44 percent of the ads were seen before the November 2016 election and 56 percent were seen afterward.

The ads have sparked anger toward Facebook and, within the United States, toward Russia since the world’s largest social network disclosed their existence last month. Moscow has denied involvement with the ads.

Facebook has faced calls for increased U.S. regulation from U.S. authorities. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has outlined steps that the company plans to take to deter governments from abusing the social media network.

Earlier on Monday, Facebook said in a separate statement that it planned to hire 1,000 more people to review ads and ensure they meet its terms, as part of an effort to deter Russia and other countries from using the platform to interfere in elections.

The latest company statement said that about 25 percent of the ads were never shown to anyone.

“That’s because advertising auctions are designed so that ads reach people based on relevance, and certain ads may not reach anyone as a result,” Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president of policy and communications, said in the statement.

For 99 percent of the ads, less than $ 1,000 was spent, he said. The total ad spend was $ 100,000, the company has said.

Still, he said it was possible Facebook would find more Russia-linked U.S. ads as it continues to investigate.

Schrage, while criticizing the ad buyers for using fake accounts, also said many of the ads otherwise “did not violate our content policies” and could have remained if bought using real accounts.

“While we may not always agree with the positions of those who would speak on issues here, we believe in their right to do so – just as we believe in the right of Americans to express opinions on issues in other countries,” he wrote.

Facebook is working with others in the tech sector, including Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google, on investigating alleged Russian election meddling, Schrage added.

The 1,000 new workers represent the second time this year that Facebook has responded to a crisis by announcing a hiring spree. In May, it said it would hire 3,000 more people to speed up the removal of videos showing murder, suicide and other violent acts that shocked users.

Like other companies that sell advertising space, Facebook publishes policies for what it allows, prohibiting ads that are violent, discriminate based on race or promote the sale of illegal drugs.

With more than 5 million paying advertisers, however, Facebook has difficulty enforcing all of its policies.

The company said on Monday that it would adjust its policies further “to prevent ads that use even more subtle expressions of violence.” It did not elaborate on what kind of material that would cover.

Facebook also said it would begin to require more thorough documentation from people who want to run ads about U.S. federal elections, demanding that they confirm their businesses or organizations.

Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Apple Music for Android now has a widget, which leaves iOS users wanting


Apple Music for Android now has a widget, leaving iOS users swooning. It’s a simple addition; all you can do is control the playback. But the ability to pause, play and skip tracks without actually entering the app is a very Android feature. If you’re interested, here’s the full changelog: Add songs from the Apple Music catalog to playlists without having to add it to your library Redeem gift cards in Settings to renew your membership using iTunes credit See what’s playing on Beats 1 directly from the Radio tab — without having to tune in Tap the name of…

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Google is teasing Android users over the name of its newest OS

Android N_
Google definitely wins against Apple when it comes to naming versions of its operating systems. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai hinted in December 2015 that the company might be turning to its users for help naming Android N and it looks like he wasn’t being flippant after all. As Android Police reports, a number of users have started getting questions in the Google Opinion Rewards app about food beginning with the letter N. Of course, polls on the app are anonymized and could very well be from anyone but it sounds a little too coincidental for me. The first question asks the user to name…

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Former Vodafone boss backs India’s music-streaming service Saavn as it hits 18M users

Saavn-Logo

Mumbai-based music-streaming service Saavn announced Thursday that former Vodafone chief executive Arun Sarin has joined as an investor and strategic advisor.

The news comes less than three months after the company announced $ 100 million in fresh funding. At the time, it said it was adding one million new users per month, with 14 million in total.

As of today, that number has grown to 18 million monthly active users, which it says represents a tenfold increase in daily active users in India since last year.

Beyond that, it’s claiming more than 20 million songs (over 250 million streams per month) and a global team of 145 people across five offices.

“Music streaming is a core app on today’s smartphones, and Saavn is superbly positioned to grow rapidly in the fast expanding smartphone market in India,” Sarin said in a statement.

“As an innovative and nimble music-streaming company, at the heart of one of the world’s most valuable markets, Saavn hits all the right notes,” he added.

Meanwhile, the company’s cofounder and chief executive, Rishi Malhotra, said that over 90 percent of the service’s usage is driven by smartphones, and that it plans to “work more deeply with carriers in India and additional territories” in the coming months.

Sarin’s investment amount was not disclosed.

The company’s most recent series C round in July was led by New York-based hedge fund Tiger Global Management, and at the time it said that it expects to hit 20 million users by the end of the year.

But while the service may be the market leader on its home turf in India, it certainly has its work cut out if it hopes to expand globally — an area in which Sarin’s expertise will no doubt help. That said, the company did not make any mention of expansion plans today.

In general, the music-streaming space has been busy.

Earlier this week, we reported that Deezer is planning an IPO later this year as the battle with rivals Spotify and Apple Music heats up. And Google Play Music continues to expand with its official entry into Japan a few weeks ago.

Microsoft’s Groove Music just announced support on Sonos speakers, and Spotify hasn’t managed to keep out of headlines either: On Wednesday it launched its new “Mix Mates” playlist generator to help friends find music they share in common. (We also heard rumors that Spotify will be supported on Google’s upcoming second-generation Chromecast.)

The announcements from Saavn today are encouraging, but it’s only just the beginning of the global music-streaming wars — and versus many of the other big players, its user numbers are still relatively low.

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Following Google’s lead, telecoms and users can join in the fight against robocalls

robocalls

For the first time, Google joined the legal fight last week against robocalls.

It filed suit against a search engine optimization firm in California for robocalls that promised better results from its search engine. It also set up a new Web page for reporting robocall scams.

But even mighty Google can only do but so much to counter the epidemic of robocalls. Carriers can and should do more to combat them, according to Jan Volzke, vp of reputation services for identity management firm Whitepages.

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We’re at “at a point where we have no trust in a phone call,” he told me in a recent conversation.

In case you’re one of the six people in the U.S. who haven’t encountered such “extremely urgent” robocalls, here’s one Googlized version that also touts Bing and Yahoo. (Although it’s of the same ilk, it’s not clear if this robocall is from the company Google is suing.)

But things could change. In early summer, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) strengthened carriers’ hand in combatting robocalls.

In a big breakthrough this past June, the FCC gave the carriers the green light to block unwanted calls. The carriers had asked the federal agency to decide if they could legally offer call-blocking, given their common carrier status and other issues. Under common carrier, all traffic needs to be handled in the same manner.

Yes, the agency said. You, the carriers, can block calls.

The FCC also gave consumers additional latitude in how they grant consent and in their ability to block calls. They said consent could be withdrawn at any time, consent is automatically removed if a landline or cell number gets assigned to someone else, and text messages count as robocalls.

Previously, Volzke pointed out, it was difficult to undo consent once you gave it, and “now all robocallers must allow you to get out of it.”

If there is any doubt you have opted out, the FCC clarified that later in the summer — the burden is on the robocalling business to show the user has opted in or that there is an existing business relationship.

Carriers now “need to get serious” about the fight, Volzke said.

As one example of their weak response, he said that carriers offer “these services for a ridiculous $ 4.99 a month to block up to ten [robocalling phone numbers], and then you have to renew it every 30 days.”

He’s not alone in his frustration. The attorneys-general of dozens of states have written to the carriers to take care of this.

But robocalls have not been declining since the FCC’s decision in June. In fact, Volzke said, the amount of mobile spam and robocalls that Whitepages blocks monthly is up about 40 percent since then.

He pointed to several remaining structural issues, such as the fact that unwanted calls can involve multiple carriers and the solution would best be industry-wide. And right now carriers can only block calls as the result of each subscriber’s request — that is, it’s still onesies.

So robocalling — even, probably, robocalling that drops Google’s name — is not going away anytime soon.

As we await the ultimate battle, Volzke offers a few tips:

  • The number one thing that affects the robocalls you get is the amount of consent you’ve given. In most cases, your phone number is the key to granting consent. So, treat your phone number with a level of confidentiality just below that of your Social Security number. He noted with amazement that people list their primary phone number on Facebook and Craigslist, where it can be scooped by a spider.
  • “Get a second phone number” for public postings, he advised, and be careful when you give your number to people or sites you don’t know. “No one reads all the fine print,” Volzke pointed out.
  • If you’re already on robocallers’ list, he suggests getting an app to filter the calls by originating phone number — assuming we’re talking about your smartphone and not your landline. (Not coincidentally, Whitepages offers a robocall- and robotext-blocking app for Android and iOS devices.)
  • Next step up is call blocking for a specific phone number, although the bad guys may well change their number after a while.
  • If that still doesn’t help, and you’re still getting multiple robocalls, Volzke said that getting a new phone number is “sometimes the only option.” That is, until the carriers get their act in gear.

By the way, Whitepages is an identity data company, not the phone book. They are involved in robocall issues because a) phone numbers are a key identifier, and b) they recently bought robocall blocker NumberCop.

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