Steve Wozniak shuts down his Facebook account in protest


The Woz is deactivating.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is bidding farewell to Facebook in reaction to its data privacy scandal.

“Users provide every detail of their life to Facebook and… Facebook makes a lot of advertising money off this,” he wrote in an email to USA Today. “The profits are all based on the user’s info, but the users get none of the profits back.”

Wozniak said he’d rather pay for Facebook than have his personal information used by advertisers.

He also said that at least over at Apple, they respect people’s privacy.

“Apple makes its money off of good products, not off you,” he wrote. “As they say, with Facebook, you are the product.”

Wozniak said he didn’t mind saying goodbye to his 5,000 Facebook friends. Still, he didn’t delete his Facebook account — just deactivated it — for fear that someone else would snatch up the screen name “stevewoz.”

“I don’t want someone else grabbing it, even another Steve Wozniak,” he said.

This surprise announcement comes as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday and Wednesday about the company’s ongoing data privacy scandal.

Facebook is under fire due to the potential misuse of user data by the political targeting firm Cambridge Analytica. The social media platform estimates that 87 million people, mostly in the US, may have had their personal data improperly shared.

Starting Monday, those millions of users will get a message in their news feeds letting them know their data was shared with Cambridge Analytica.

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Zuckerberg meets with lawmakers ahead of congressional hearings


Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg will hold meetings with some US lawmakers on Monday, a day before he is due to appear at congressional hearings over a political consultancy’s use of customer data, two congressional aides said Sunday.

The planned meetings on Capitol Hill are expected to continue through Monday afternoon and include some lawmakers from committees before which Zuckerberg is due to testify, said the aides, who asked not to be identified because the meetings have not been made public.

Facebook declined to comment.

Zuckerberg is scheduled to appear before a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees on Tuesday and the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.

Facebook has come under fire in recent weeks after it said the personal information of up to 87 million users, mostly in the United States, may have been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

A Facebook spokesman said Sunday that the company plans to begin telling affected users on Monday.

London-based Cambridge Analytica, which has counted President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign among its clients, has disputed Facebook’s estimate of the number of affected users.

Zuckerberg is expected in his testimony to recognize a need to take responsibility and acknowledge an initial failure to understand how many people were affected, a person briefed on the matter, who asked for anonymity, said Sunday.

Zuckerberg said in a conference call with reporters last week that he accepted blame for the data leak, which has angered users, advertisers and lawmakers, while also saying he was still the right person to head the company he founded.

On Friday, Facebook backed proposed legislation requiring social media sites to disclose the identities of buyers of online political campaign ads and introduced a new verification process for people buying “issue” ads.

The steps are designed to deter the kind of election meddling and online information warfare that US authorities have accused Russia of pursuing, Zuckerberg said Friday. Moscow has denied the allegations.

In February, US special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians and three Russian companies with interfering in the 2016 US presidential election by sowing discord on social media.

Zuckerberg, on the call with reporters, said Facebook should have done more to audit and oversee third-party app developers like the one hired by Cambridge Analytica in 2014.

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Most links on Twitter are shared by automated bots


The latest crop of social media influencers are bots.

Bots are responsible for two-thirds of the links to popular websites shared on Twitter, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center. Meaning automated machines — not humans — are generating and sharing a sizable bulk of Twitter’s content.

Researchers analyzed 1.2 million tweets that linked to 2,315 popular websites over 47 days during the summer of 2017. The websites were grouped into seven categories: news and current events, adult content, sports, celebrity, organizations or groups and commercial products or services. Overall, 66 percent of these links were shared by bots. Bots also shared an estimated 90 percent of all links to adult content sites and 76 percent of all links to sports sites.

“They share a significant portion of tweeted links to even the most prominent and mainstream publications and online outlets,” Aaron Smith, Pew’s associate director of research, said in a press release. “Since these accounts can impact the information people see on social media, it is important to have a sense their overall prevalence on social media.”

Bots are nothing new, but the extent to which they infiltrate our feeds is relatively unknown — an issue that’s become of more concern in the era of fake news. Twitter itself said that 1.4 million users engaged with Russian propaganda spread by bots during the 2016 election.

But plenty of bots are anything but nefarious. The Netflix Bot automatically tweets when new shows or movies are added and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s bot randomly tweets images from the museum. Other bots tweet about grammar mistakes, game updates, or send alerts and updates during disasters like an earthquake or hurricane.

The Pew study stressed that they didn’t look at whether or not the bot tweets contained truthful information, or to what extent humans interacted with the content. Additionally, they stated that the bots didn’t exhibit any liberal or conservative bias in the links they shared.

“These findings illustrate the extent to which bots play a prominent and pervasive role in the social media environment,” said Smith. “Automated accounts are far from a niche phenomenon.”

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Uber is buying an electric bicycle startup


Ride-hailing company Uber Technologies said on Monday it has agreed to buy electric bicycle service JUMP Bikes, allowing Uber to offer US passengers an alternative to cars and further consolidating the crowded bike-sharing industry.

JUMP is a dockless electric bike service that has rolled out in San Francisco, where it has 250 bikes, and Washington. About 100 JUMP employees will join Uber, an Uber spokeswoman said. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The deal furthers Uber’s goal of offering “the fastest or most affordable way to get where you’re going, whether that’s in an Uber, on a bike, on the subway, or more,” said Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi.

JUMP bikes had already integrated its service with Uber’s smartphone app in San Francisco, so that users could find one of JUMP’s bright red bicycles by opening the Uber app. The Uber spokeswoman said the company had no plans to withdraw the standalone JUMP app.

“We’re excited to begin our next chapter and to play a significant part in the transition of Uber to a multi-modal platform” and help “shift millions of trips from cars to bikes,” said JUMP CEO Ryan Rzepecki.

With the addition of bicycles, Uber is taking a page from the playbook of competitors such as China’s Didi Chuxing. Uber has at times lagged rivals in certain markets because it has been limited to private car-hailing.

JUMP started in 2010 as Social Bicycles, evolving over the past eight years from selling bikes to operating its own fleets. JUMP bikes are unlocked and locked using a smartphone app. Because they are dockless, they can be left at any bike rack and their location is tracked via GPS.

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Hackers hit Iranian networks with US flag, elections warning


DUBAI — Hackers have attacked networks in a number of countries, including data centers in Iran, where they left the image of a US flag on screens along with a warning: “Don’t mess with our elections,” the Iranian IT ministry said Saturday.

“The attack apparently affected 200,000 router switches across the world in a widespread attack, including 3,500 switches in our country,” the Communication and Information Technology Ministry said in a statement carried by Iran’s official news agency IRNA.

The statement said the attack, which hit internet service providers and cut off web access for subscribers, was made possible by a vulnerability in routers from Cisco, which had earlier issued a warning and provided a patch that some firms had failed to install over the Iranian new year holiday.

A blog published Thursday by Nick Biasini, a threat researcher at Cisco’s Talos Security Intelligence and Research Group, said: “Several incidents in multiple countries, including some specifically targeting critical infrastructure, have involved the misuse of the Smart Install protocol …

“As a result, we are taking an active stance and are urging customers, again, of the elevated risk and available remediation paths.”

On Saturday evening, Cisco said those postings were a tool to help clients identify weaknesses and repel a cyberattack.

Iran’s IT Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi posted a picture of a computer screen on Twitter with the image of the US flag and the hackers’ message. He said it was not yet clear who had carried out the attack.

Azari-Jahromi said the attack mainly affected Europe, India and the United States, state television reported.

“Some 55,000 devices were affected in the United States and 14,000 in China and Iran’s share of affected devices was 2 percent,” Azari-Jahromi was quoted as saying.

In a tweet, Azari-Jahromi said the state computer emergency response body MAHER had shown “weaknesses in providing information to (affected) companies” after the attack, which was detected late Friday in Iran.

Hadi Sajadi, deputy head of the state-run Information Technology Organization of Iran, said the attack was neutralized within hours and no data was lost.

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Child advocates ask FTC to investigate YouTube


Read carefully through the fine print of YouTube’s terms of service and you might notice that you’ve affirmed you are old enough to watch it.

“If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the service,” the terms say. “There are lots of other great websites for you.”

It’s a warning that goes unheeded by millions of children around the world who visit YouTube to watch cartoons, nursery rhymes, science experiments or videos of toys being unboxed.

In a formal complaint being filed Monday, child advocates and consumer groups are asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate and impose potentially billions of dollars of penalties on Google for allegedly violating children’s online privacy and allowing ads to target them.

“Google profits handsomely from selling advertising to kid-directed programs that it packages,” said Jeff Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy, one of the groups that drafted the complaint. “It makes deals with producers and distributors of kids’ online programs worldwide. Google has built a global and very lucrative business based on kids’ deep connections to YouTube.”

YouTube’s business model relies on tracking IP addresses, search history, device identifiers, location and other personal data about its users so that it can gauge their interests and tailor advertising to them. But that model isn’t supposed to work for US children, who are protected by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. That’s a 20-year-old law that prohibits internet companies from knowingly collecting personal data from kids under 13 without their parents’ consent.

The coalition accuses YouTube of violating COPPA and deliberately profiting off luring children into what Chester calls an “ad-filled digital playground” where commercials for toys, theme parks or sneakers can surface alongside kid-oriented videos.

YouTube said in an emailed statement that it “will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve. Because YouTube is not for children, we’ve invested significantly in the creation of the YouTube Kids app to offer an alternative specifically designed for children.”

That toddler-oriented YouTube Kids app, launched in 2015, offers more parental controls but is not widely used — and uses the same videos and channels that kids can also find on the regular YouTube service.

Although it’s not known if the FTC will take action, the complaint comes at a time of increased public scrutiny over the tech industry’s mining of personal data and after the FTC opened an investigation last month into Facebook’s privacy practices.

“It seems like (the FTC) may be more reinvigorated and ready to take these issues seriously,” said Josh Golin, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which drafted the complaint along with the Center for Digital Democracy and a Georgetown University law clinic. Several other groups have signed on, including Common Sense Media, which runs a popular website for families and the advocacy division of Consumer Reports.

“I think the day of reckoning has arrived,” said US Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who co-authored COPPA in the 1990s and says he wants the FTC to look into the YouTube complaint. “Americans want to know the answers as to whether or not the privacy of their children is being compromised in the online world.”

FTC spokeswoman Juliana Gruenwald Henderson said in an email that the agency hasn’t yet received the letter but looks forward to reviewing it. The complaint was originally scheduled to be filed last week but was delayed after the shooting on Tuesday at YouTube’s California headquarters.

“We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously and have brought more than two dozen COPPA cases since the COPPA rule was enacted,” she said. The FTC’s investigations aren’t usually public, but it has previously settled child privacy cases with Yelp, mobile advertising network inMobi and electronic toy-maker VTech.

None of those platforms are as popular for kids as YouTube, which has toddler-themed channels with names like ChuChuTV nursery rhymes, which as of last week counted more than 16 million subscribers and 13.4 billion views. It also has more personality-driven programs that cater to preteens.

A former FTC attorney who now advises companies on COPPA compliance said a case against YouTube would not be straightforward because it’s a general-audience service, making it hard to tell if parents are curating content for their kids to watch or letting them use it on their own. Kandi Parsons said the FTC hasn’t yet set its targets on kid-directed channels within broader media websites, though that doesn’t mean it won’t.

“If the FTC thought that a service was directed to children and it was delivering online targeted advertising without consent, that could be a violation,” Parsons said. She said the FTC could send Google a civil subpoena seeking more information and also use other techniques to find out how the service is tracking its users.

Advocates say Google knows what it is doing. They point to its “Google Preferred” program that allows advertisers on YouTube to pay a premium to get their ads on the most popular videos. The program includes a “Parenting & Family Lineup” that has featured channels such as ChuChu TV, Fox’s BabyTV and Seven Super Girls, whose topics include “fluffy unicorn slime.”

YouTube does “age-gate” to block children who identify themselves as under 13 from starting an account that allows users to post videos, but an account isn’t needed to watch videos on the platform.

“It’s laughable if Google execs claim that they think the parent is in charge of the online viewing behaviors of tens of millions of children,” Chester said. “Children are watching this content by themselves. Google is trying to look the other way.”

Chester, who helped create COPPA in the 1990s, said he’s confident that the FTC will take a serious look after years of letting Google off the hook for pretending that kids weren’t using YouTube.

“They created a successful model monetizing kids’ data on YouTube and really did not want to think about the consequences,” he said. “Google is one of those companies that has failed to address its ethical dilemmas in a serious way.”

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Tech startup sues Apple over Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor


Apple has been slapped with a patent infringement lawsuit over the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor, according to a report from Axios. Filed by a company called OmniMedSci, the lawsuit alleges that Apple met with OmniMedSci over a period of years to discuss incorporating the company’s technology into the Apple Watch. While the negotiations did not yield a partnership, the lawsuit alleges that Apple went ahead and used OmniMedSci’s technology without a deal in place.

The suit, not surprisingly, was filed in the Eastern district of Texas and, per usual, is seeking an injunction and damages. As for OmniMedSci itself, it’s a Michigan-based tech startup founded by Mohammed Islam. An MIT graduate who currently teaches in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at the University of Michigan, Islam’s specialty is optical and laser technology. A 2015 write-up on Islam in Crain’s Detroit Business dubbed him the “poster child for a patenting professional.”

While Apple hasn’t yet issued a statement on the pending lawsuit, the details of OmniMedSci’s suit are somewhat familiar. If you recall, Apple back in 2016 was sued by a Biometric sensor company named Valancell. There, Apple was also accused of stealing heart sensor technology that ultimately found its way into the Apple Watch. Further, Valancell also claims that it was in talks with Apple about a licensing partnership only to see Apple incorporate its technology outright.

It will certainly be interesting to see how these suits play out, especially given that the heart rate sensor on the Apple Watch has become one of the device’s most prominent and impactful features. Just a few weeks ago, a study published in JAMA Cardiology revealed that the Apple Watch can detect abnormal heart rhythms with a 97 percent accuracy rate.

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Zuckerberg says Facebook didn’t do enough to prevent privacy scandal


WASHINGTON — Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told Congress in written testimony released Monday that the social media network did not do enough to prevent misuse of data and apologized.

“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm…,” he said in testimony released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”

Zuckerberg is scheduled to appear before two congressional committees Tuesday and Wednesday to answer questions about Facebook’s admission that the personal information of up to 87 million users, mostly in the United States, may have been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” his testimony continued. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

Facebook said Sunday the company plans to begin telling affected users on Monday. The company’s data practices are under investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission.

Zuckerberg also said Facebook’s major investments in security “will significantly impact our profitability going forward.” Facebook shares were up 1.7 percent in midday trading.

London-based Cambridge Analytica, which counts President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign among its past clients, has disputed Facebook’s estimate of the number of affected users.

On Friday, Facebook backed proposed legislation requiring social media sites to disclose the identities of buyers of online political campaign ads and introduced a new verification process for people buying “issue” ads, which do not endorse any candidate but have been used to exploit divisive subjects such as gun laws or racism.

The steps are designed to deter online information warfare and election meddling that US authorities have accused Russia of pursuing, Zuckerberg said Friday. Moscow has denied the allegations.

Zuckerberg’s testimony said the company was “too slow to spot and respond to Russian interference, and we’re working hard to get better.”

He vowed to make improvements, adding it would take time, but said he was “committed to getting it right.”

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