Facebook to Keep Wraps on Political Ads Data Despite Researchers’ Demands

Facebook said it would not disclose information about political campaign advertising or related data such as how many users click on ads and if advertising messages are consistent across demographics, despite arguments from political scientists who want the data for research.

Details such as the frequency of ads, how much money was spent on them, where they were seen, what the messages were and how many people were reached would remain confidential under the company’s corporate policy, which is the same for political advertising as for commercial customers.

“Advertisers consider their ad creatives and their ad targeting strategy to be competitively sensitive and confidential,” Rob Sherman, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer, said in an interview on Wednesday, when asked about political ads.

“In many cases, they’ll ask us, as a condition of running ads on Facebook, not to disclose those details about how they’re running campaigns on our service,” he said. “From our perspective, it’s confidential information of these advertisers.”

Sherman said it would not make an exception for political advertising. “We try to have consistent policies across the board, so that we’re imposing similar requirements on everybody.”

Academics who study political campaigns worldwide said this kind of information fosters accountability by analyzing how candidates compete for votes and whether election systems live up to expectations of fairness. Transparency can also deter fraudulent ads, they said.

“We don’t have the capacity right now to track it, and nobody does, as far as we can tell,” said Bowdoin College professor Michael Franz, a co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which catalogs political ads on traditional television but has no means of doing so on Facebook.

Television has been the backbone of political advertising for decades, and local US broadcasters are required to disclose a wealth of details about the cost and schedules of ads. The ads can be seen by anyone with a television provided they are aired in their markets.

Online advertising, though, often targets narrow, more carefully constructed audiences, so for example an ad could be directed only to Democrats under 25 years of age.

Thousands of variations of online ads can be directed at select groups and the targeting can be extreme. Academics argue this is where the process can become very opaque.

“Candidates can speak out of both sides of their mouths,” said Daniel Kreiss, a communications professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Having some kind of digital repository of ads that are purchased during a particular cycle and linked to a particular source is a good, democratic thing for the public.”

No such repository exists, and the quandary for researchers is expected to worsen as more politicians use digital advertising because of its relatively low cost and opportunities for target marketing.

According to US President Donald Trump’s campaign, $70 million was spent for its ads on Facebook, more than on any other digital platform including Google, and Trump has credited Facebook with helping him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton last November.

Advertising on Facebook also figured prominently in recent elections in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, researchers said.

Britain is investigating how candidates use data to target voters.

Facebook to Keep Wraps on Political Ads Data Despite Researchers' DemandsFacebook ads generally disappear with the scroll of a thumb on a smartphone, and they have no permanent links. Advocates for transparency call them “dark ads.” Facebook calls them “unpublished posts.”

Researchers said that disclosure reports from the US Federal Election Commission are unhelpful because they show what campaigns pay to intermediaries, not to internet platforms.

The role of advertising online is as important to study as the effect of so-called “fake news,” which has received more attention than ads, scholars said.

“The holy grail, I think, of political analysis for the 2016 election is to figure out which communications from which entities had an effect on which jurisdictions in the United States,” said Nathan Persily, a Stanford University professor who writes about elections.

Facebook has such information and should make it available for study, Persily said.

Facebook’s Sherman said the company was open to hearing research proposals, but he doubted much could be achieved.

“Even if we were able to be more transparent in this area, it would only be a very small piece of an overall story,” he said.

Periscope Super Hearts Launched, Helps Live Stream Performers Earn Money

Twitter plans on Wednesday to launch a system for people to earn money by streaming live on its Periscope service, a first for Twitter and a way for the company to try to compete with YouTube and others in the search for Internet talent.

People watching Periscope will be able to send performers and broadcasters they like a gratuity using a variety of heart shapes that are, in effect, a virtual currency they can purchase, the company said.

Broadcasters who receive the equivalent of about $175 in “super hearts” will be designated “super broadcasters” and be able to cash out the money as earnings, the company said.

At first only broadcasters in the United States will be eligible, but Periscope plans to expand to other countries soon, it said.

Periscope Super Hearts Launched, Helps Live Stream Performers Earn Money“The spirit and the goal is for all broadcasters to be able to do this,” said Sara Haider, Periscope’s director of engineering.

After fees and payment processing, broadcasters will get about 70 percent of the remaining revenue, Twitter said. It declined to provide an estimate of its own potential revenue from the service.

Periscope, which Twitter launched in 2015, said it streamed 77 million hours of live, user-generated video in the first three months of this year. It does not release the number of viewers.

YouTube, a unit of Alphabet, said in February it was rolling out live streaming from mobile devices for users with more than 10,000 subscribers, expanding its own bid to help online performers make money.

Twitter Lite Launched, a Faster Version Optimised for Slower Connections

Twitter Inc is launching a faster version of its mobile service on Wednesday aimed at people with sporadic connections or little data on their smartphone plans, hoping to pick up users in harder-to-reach emerging markets.

The company calls the version Twitter Lite and it will be aimed largely at users outside the United States. Twitter Lite works through a web browser, not a stand-alone phone application, but its appearance and functionality are nearly identical to what app users experience, according to a preview shown to Reuters.

The launch comes on the heels of similar products from other US tech firms. Facebook Inc released Facebook Lite in 2015 and on Tuesday, Alphabet Inc’s YouTube unveiled a low-data mobile app designed for India.

San Francisco-based Twitter lags behind those companies in building a user base. It had 319 million average monthly active users at the end of last year, up 4 percent year-over-year but still a fraction of Facebook’s 1.9 billion users.

A primary reason in some parts of the world is how much data its app and earlier website consumed, Keith Coleman, Twitter’s vice president of product, said in an interview.

“We didn’t feel like we were reaching these other countries well enough, and this will allow us to do it faster, cheaper and with a better experience than we’ve had before,” he said.

Twitter Lite Launched, a Faster Version Optimised for Slower ConnectionsThe company estimates that, with several changes it is making to its mobile website, mobile.twitter.com, users will see their average data consumption on the browser version go down 40 percent.

With an additional data-saving feature users can turn on, data consumption will drop some 70 percent on average, said Patrick Traughber, a Twitter product manager. The reduction will come from differences such as initially displaying previews of pictures instead of full pictures.

Like YouTube, Twitter is eyeing India’s 1.3 billion people, and it timed the release of Twitter Lite in part to coincide with the start this week of a major cricket event there, the Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 tournament.

Cricket is the most popular sport in India and following sports in real time is one of the main ways people use Twitter, which unlike many other social media networks still has a chronological timeline to emphasize immediacy.

Other countries where the company said it expects Twitter Lite to be most useful include Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.

Twitter Pulls Lawsuit Over Anti-Trump Account, Says Summons Withdrawn

Twitter Inc on Friday dropped a lawsuit it filed the previous day against the US Homeland Security Department, saying the government had withdrawn a summons for records about who was behind an account critical of President Donald Trump.

A lawyer for the social media company, Mark Flanagan, wrote in court papers that a US Justice Department lawyer told Twitter about the withdrawal of the summons on Friday and that the demand “no longer has any force or effect.”

It was not immediately clear why the government had withdrawn the summons, or whether it had closed an investigation it said it was conducting. The Justice Department, which defends federal agencies in court, declined to comment. The Homeland Security Department, which issued the summons, had no immediate comment.

The abrupt end to the dispute may indicate that Justice Department lawyers did not like their chances of succeeding in a fight about speech rights, said Jamie Lee Williams, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for digital rights.

“It seemed like a blatant attempt to censor or chill the people behind this account, or to retaliate against people who are speaking out against this administration,” Williams said.

“This could have been a huge loss for the administration in court,” she added.

Twitter cited freedom of speech as a basis for not turning over records about the account, @ALT_uscis. The people behind the account have not disclosed their identities, but the use of “ALT” with a government agency acronym has led many to assume government employees are behind such tweets.

The lawsuit said the account “claims to be” the work of at least one federal immigration employee.

The acronym US CIS refers to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the account describes itself as “immigration resistance.” Trump has vowed to build a wall along the US border with Mexico and has promised to deport millions of illegal immigrants.

Twitter Pulls Lawsuit Over Anti-Trump Account, Says Summons WithdrawnFollowing Trump’s inauguration in January, anonymous Twitter feeds that borrowed the names and logos of more than a dozen US government agencies appeared to challenge the president’s views on climate change and other issues. They called themselves “ALT” accounts.

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment beyond the court papers, and the company has declined to say whether it has received demands about other anti-Trump accounts.

Social media companies frequently receive requests from governments under seal, though the requests are typically about a criminal proceeding or national security matter.

This summons came from an office that investigates employee corruption, misconduct and mismanagement.

Lawmakers of both parties questioned the propriety of the summons.

Republican senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Mike Lee of Utah sent a letter on Friday to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, asking what protocols existed to protect free speech in agency investigations.

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, sent a separate letter on Friday to US Customs and Border Protection, which is part of Homeland Security, requesting an investigation into why and how the summons was issued.

South Korea’s Election Commission Asks Facebook to Help Prevent Fake News

South Korea’s National Election Commission (NEC) on Thursday asked US social network giant Facebook to help prevent the circulation of fake news that may affect the outcome of the upcoming presidential polls.

The request was filed in a meeting with Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global politics and government outreach manager, Yonhap News Agency reported.

“NEC Secretary-General Kim Dae-nyeon and Katie Harbath discussed ways to prevent circulation or spread of fake news, slander and false propagandas via Facebook, and (for Facebook) to take part in the commission’s efforts aimed at boosting the voter turnout rate,” the commission said in a statement.

South Korea's Election Commission Asks Facebook to Help Prevent Fake NewsFake news is yet to become a serious problem, but the number of fake news stories apparently is on a sharp rise ahead of the May 9 election.

According to an earlier report, only some 1,600 fake news stories appeared online in 2014, but the number shot up to over 77,000 in less than three months between the start of this year and March 9, the day before former President Park Geun-hye was removed from office by a Constitutional Court decision that upheld her parliamentary impeachment over a series of corruption charges.

Noting that some 18 million people here subscribed to Facebook, Kim expressed hope that Facebook will help make the upcoming presidential election here a fair and clean election, the NEC added.

Facebook F8 Set to Kick Off: How to Watch Live and What to Expect

Facebook is set to kick off its annual developer conference tonight at 10:30pm IST (1.00pm New York Time), and just like every year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg will outline the company’s future plans, share what’s next on Messenger, WhatsApp, and its other products, and possibly introduce its latest VR efforts for the social platform.

Facebook’s annual developer conference aka Facebook F8 will be live streamed at FBF8.com. You can register yourself on the F8 website with your Facebook account or email right away, to receive an alert when the stream goes live.

Last year, Facebook highlighted chatbots at its event, and the entire of last year saw Facebook attempting to make bots fly in Messenger. In this year’s two-day schedule, Facebook F8 is hosting a bot workshop hinting that it’s not giving up on the idea just yet. Facebook has been adding Snapchat-like features to all its products, and we could see more such ‘initiatives’ at Facebook F8.

Facebook F8 Set to Kick Off: How to Watch Live and What to Expect“This year’s sessions feature a wide range of topics across the Facebook family of apps and services – with relevance to developers and businesses. With sessions and experiences featuring the latest products and innovations, there’s something for everyone. You’ll learn about new features, best practices and ways to make the world more open and connected,” the company writes on its F8 page.

Facebook could also highlight its future VR efforts, just like last year where it revealed the 360 degree camera called Surround 360. The Facebook F8 schedule also suggest that an announcement on Facebook’s enterprise edition Workplace may be in the offing.

Facebook Live Cleveland Murder Suspect Said to Commit Suicide

A murder suspect who police said posted a video on Facebook of the killing of a Cleveland man fatally shot himself after a “brief pursuit” by Pennsylvania State Police officers on Tuesday, police said.

Steve Stephens was accused of shooting Robert Godwin Sr., 74, on a sidewalk on Sunday before fleeing in a car and uploading a video of the murder to Facebook, becoming the focus of a nationwide manhunt.

Pennsylvania State Police officers found Stephens in Erie County, Pennsylvania, after getting a tip around 11 a.m. local time from a “concerned citizen” who saw Stephens at a McDonald’s, Major William Teper Jr. of the Pennsylvania State Police told a news conference on Tuesday afternoon. Local media said an employee at the restaurant’s drive-through window called police.

Stephens had left the restaurant but stopped briefly when officers located his car nearby. He sped away, and police then hit his car with their vehicle, causing him to lose control and spin out, at which point Stephens shot himself, Teper said.

Stephens, who had no prior criminal record, was not suspected in any other killings, Cleveland officials said. Stephens said in a separate video on Facebook on Sunday that he had already killed a dozen others.

The shooting marked the latest video clip of a violent crime to turn up on Facebook, raising questions about how the world’s biggest social media network moderates content.

The company will do all it can to prevent content like Stephens’ post, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told Facebook’s annual conference for software developers on Tuesday in San Jose, California.

Facebook Live Cleveland Murder Suspect Said to Commit SuicideFacebook on Monday said it would review how it monitors violent footage and other objectionable material in response to the killing after Stephens’ post was visible on the social media site for about two hours.

Stephens is not believed to have known Godwin, a retired foundry worker who media reports said spent Easter Sunday morning with his son and daughter-in-law before he was killed.

Beech Brook, a behavioural health facility in a Cleveland suburb where Stephens had worked since 2008, said in a statement on Tuesday that Stephens had cleared an extensive background check.

In interviews, some of Godwin’s relatives forgave his killer.

“I forgive him because we are all sinners,” Robby Miller, Godwin’s son, said in an interview with CNN.

Others were less sympathetic.

“All I can say is that I wish he had gone down in a hail of 100 bullets,” Godwin’s daughter, Brenda Haymon, told CNN. “I wish it had gone down like that instead of him shooting himself.”

Microsoft’s LinkedIn Now Has Over 500 Million Members

The professional social network LinkedIn said Monday its membership had swelled to 500 million, as its user base showed steady growth following its acquisition last year by Microsoft.

“We recently crossed an important and exciting milestone,” LinkedIn vice president Aatif Awan said in a blog post.

“We now have half a billion members in 200 countries connecting, and engaging with one another in professional conversations and finding opportunities through these connections on LinkedIn.”

Microsoft’s $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn which was completed in December was the biggest-ever deal for a social media company.

At the time of the announcement last June, LinkedIn had 433 million registered users.

Microsoft's LinkedIn Now Has Over 500 Million MembersThe acquisition aims to position the former tech sector leader as a Facebook-like entity oriented to business, with an array of services centered around cloud computing.

Awan said LinkedIn has some 10 million active job listings, access to nine million companies, and more than 100,000 articles published every week.

“A professional community of this size has never existed until now,” he wrote.

“The impact of half a billion professionals connecting and communicating is very real, and very accessible to anyone who wants to take part today.”

UK Government Complains After Twitter Cuts Data Access

The British government has complained to Twitter over a block on access to data from the social network, which it was reportedly using to track potential terror attacks, officials said Wednesday.

“The government has protested against this decision and is in ongoing discussions with Twitter to attempt to get access to this data,” a Home Office spokesman said.

UK Government Complains After Twitter Cuts Data AccessPrime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman declined to specify exactly what the data was and why it was important, saying only that “we wish to have access to this information”.

But he told reporters: “The fight against terrorism is not just one for the police and the security services. Social media and tech companies have a role to play.”

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that the government had been tracking terms related to potential terror attacks via a third-party firm, but this had now been blocked.

In a blog posting in November, Twitter executive Chris Moody said the firm encouraged developers to create products that used real-time data from the social network “in the public interest”, for example tracking emergencies and natural disasters.

“Recent reports about Twitter data being used for surveillance, however, have caused us great concern,” he wrote.

He said that tracking or profiling protesters or activists was “absolutely unacceptable and prohibited”, including via Twitter’s application software programmes.

“We prohibit developers using the Public APIs and Gnip data products from allowing law enforcement – or any other entity – to use Twitter data for surveillance purposes. Period,” he said.

WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter in List of Apps Banned in Jammu and Kashmir for One Month

The Jammu and Kashmir government on Wednesday banned all social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp for one month in the Valley in order to prevent “anti-national and anti-social elements” from spreading “inflammatory messages”.

Mobile Internet services have remained suspended in the Valley since April 19 following widespread students’ unrest.

The Home Department order, written by R.K. Goyal, Principal Secretary to Government, in this regard read: “On careful examination of all relevant factors, it is observed that the use of social media platforms, which are being misused by anti-national and anti-social elements by transmitting inflammatory messages in various forms, are immediately required to be regulated/curbed”.

The order places a blanket ban on social networking platforms including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, QQ, WeChat, Qzone, Tumblr, Google+, Baidu, Skype, Viber, Line, Snapchat, Pinterest, Telegram, Reddit, Snapfish, YouTube (upload), Vine, Xanga, Buzznet, and Flickr.

WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter in List of Apps Banned in Jammu and Kashmir for One MonthThe order cites Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 read with the Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007, to note the Central Government or State Government has the power to take possession of licensed telegraphs and order stoppage of transmission or interception or detention of messages. The order directed all Internet service providers (ISPs) that any message or picture through the above-mentioned social networking platforms should be immediately banned.

The ban remains effective till further orders or for a period of one month, whichever is earlier.

The authorities had also blocked over 300 WhatsApp groups that, the government said, had been spreading rumours to stoke passions among the youth during the volatile situation in Kashmir.

The Home Department issued the order to this effect in exercise of powers conferred under the Indian Telegraph Act, an official said in Jammu.