Author: Natasha Lomas

Online platforms still not clear enough about hate speech takedowns: EC

In its latest monitoring report of a voluntary Code of Conduct on illegal hate speech, which platforms including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube signed up to in Europe back in 2016, the European Commission has said progress is being made on speeding up takedowns but tech firms are still lagging when it comes to providing feedback and transparency around their decisions. Tech companies are now assessing 89% of flagged content within 24 hours, with 72% of content deemed to be illegal hate speech being removed, according to the Commission — compared to just 40% and 28% respectively when the Code was first launched more than two years ago. However it said today that platforms still aren’t giving users enough feedback vis-a-vis reports, and has urged more transparency from platforms — pressing for progress “in the coming months”, warning it could still legislate for a pan-EU regulation if it believes it’s necessary. Giving her assessment of how the (still) voluntary code on hate speech takedowns is operating at a press briefing today, commissioner Vera Jourova said: “The only real gap that remains is transparency and the feedback to users who sent notifications [of hate speech]. “On average about a third of the notifications do not receive a feedback detailing the decision taken. Only Facebook has a very high standard, sending feedback systematically to all users. So we would like to see progress on this...

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WhatsApp adds support for Face ID/Touch ID biometric lock on iOS

WhatsApp users updating to the latest version of the messaging app on iOS will find a new setting lurking at the bottom of the ‘Privacy’ menu that adds support for Apple’s biometric authentication technologies. WhatsApp users on iOS can now tap into Apple’s biometrics for an extra layer of security Under the new setting, called ‘Screen Lock’, users of WhatsApp on iOS can tap through to another menu to add an additional layer of security by requiring either their facial biometric or a fingerprint to unlock the messaging app. iPhone users are either offered the ability to ‘require Face ID’ or ‘require Touch ID’ depending on their handset hardware. The change, in version 2.19.20 of the WhatsApp iOS app, is listed as:  • You can now require Face ID or Touch ID to unlock WhatsApp. Tap “Settings” > “Account” > “Privacy” and enable Screen Lock. While WhatsApp makes use of the respected Signal Protocol to protect users’ comms with end-to-end encryption, the best encryption in the world can’t offer any protection if a person gains possession of your unlocked device as they can just open the app and read everything in plain text. So the lack of a native lock option in WhatsApp has been a rather big security oversight. But one the messaging giant has at least now rectified on iOS. Albeit the setting is not enabled by default —...

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Facebook warned over privacy risks of merging messaging platforms

Facebook’s lead data protection regulator in Europe has asked the company for an “urgent briefing” regarding plans to integrate the underlying infrastructure of its three social messaging platforms. In a statement posted to its website late last week the Irish Data Protection Commission writes: “Previous proposals to share data between Facebook companies have given rise to significant data protection concerns and the Irish DPC will be seeking early assurances that all such concerns will be fully taken into account by Facebook in further developing this proposal.” Last week the New York Times broke the news that Facebook intends to unify the backend infrastructure of its three separate products, couching it as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg asserting control over acquisitions whose founders have since left the building. Instagram founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, left Facebook last year, as a result of rising tensions over reduced independence, according to our sources. While WhatsApp’s founders left Facebook earlier, with Brian Acton departing in late 2017 and Jan Koum sticking it out until spring 2018. The pair reportedly clashed with Facebook execs over user privacy and differences over how to monetize the end-to-end encrypted platform. Acton later said Facebook had coached him to tell European regulators assessing whether to approve the 2014 merger that it would be “really difficult” for the company to combine WhatsApp and Facebook user data. In the event, Facebook went on...

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Brexit backer’s insurance firm and leave campaign fined £120k by data watchdog

The UK’s data protection watchdog has issued fines against a pro-Brexit campaign, Leave.EU, and an insurance company owned by the largest individual donor to the leave cause, Arron Banks’ Eldon Insurance. The penalties have been handed down for what the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) dubs “serious breaches of electronic marketing laws” during the 2016 referendum on the UK’s European Union membership.  The fines — served under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, which governs electronic marketing — total £120,000 (~$157k); with Leave.EU fined a total of £60k (covering two incidents) and Eldon Insurance £60k. The ICO’s investigation found the two entities were closely...

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Leaked TikTok ad deck suggests it has 17M+ MAUs in Europe

An advertising pitch deck used by fast-growing short form video sharing app TikTok has leaked, providing a snapshot of usage in its biggest markets in Europe. The pitch deck was obtained by Digiday which says it was sent to a large (unnamed) European ad agency. Metrics and gender breakdowns for the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy are included in the deck. The slides are dated November 2018. Germany and France come out as the top European markets for the video sharing app, according to the deck, with 4.1M+ and 4M+ monthly active users respectively, and an average of 6.5BN and 5BN...

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Social media should have “duty of care” towards kids, UK MPs urge

Social media platforms are being urged to be far more transparent about how their services operate and to make “anonymised high-level data” available to researchers so the technology’s effects on users — and especially on children and teens — can be better understood. The calls have been made in a report by the UK parliament’s Science and Technology Committee which has been looking into the impacts of social media and screen use among children — to consider whether such tech is “healthy or harmful”. “Social media companies must also be far more open and transparent regarding how they operate and particularly how they moderate, review and prioritise content,” it writes. Concerns have been growing about children’s use of social media and mobile technology for some years now, with plenty of anecdotal evidence and also some studies linking tech use to developmental problems, as well as distressing stories connecting depression and even suicide to social media use. Although the committee writes that its dive into the topic was hindered by “the limited quantity and quality of academic evidence available”. But it also asserts: “The absence of good academic evidence is not, in itself, evidence that social media and screens have no effect on young people.” “We found that the majority of published research did not provide a clear indication of causation, but instead indicated a possible correlation between social media/screens and...

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Uber driven out of Barcelona again

Uber is suspending its professional taxi service in Barcelona from tomorrow almost a year after it re-entered the Catalan capital. The move follows the regional government agreeing new regulations for the vehicle for hire (VTC) sector aimed at making sure they do not compete directly with taxis. “The new restrictions approved by the Catalan Government leave us with no choice but to suspend UberX while we assess our future in Barcelona. We are committed to being a long term partner to Spanish cities and hope to work with the Catalan Government and the City Council on fair regulation for...

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Facebook’s VPN app puts spotlight on kids’ consent

Facebook could face fresh scrutiny in Europe following a TechCrunch report on its use of a VPN app to monitor people’s smartphone activity — including teenagers as young as 13. The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) told us it’s asked Facebook to provide more information on what data is collected via the market research program, codenamed ‘Project Atlas’, so that it can determine whether there are grounds for further investigation. “The Irish DPC only became aware of this story through this morning’s media reporting. Before we can make any assessment as to whether or not there are any data protection concerns,...

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