Facebook boss faces European Parliament over data scandal

BRUSSELS: Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg faces tough questions later Tuesday at the European Parliament over the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal.

The social network boss’s appearance will be livestreamed to the public after angry EU lawmakers objected to initial plans to host the hearing in Brussels behind closed doors.

His grilling by the heads of the parliament’s political groups at around 1630 GMT, (0.30am Malaysia time) comes three days before the EU introduces sweeping new personal data protection rules, which the Facebook chief has now welcomed.

“Great news for EU citizens,” European Parliament President Antonio Tajani tweeted on Monday about the decision to stream the hearing after days of bitter wrangling.

MEPs had demanded that Zuckerberg show the transparency the scandal calls for.

Facebook admitted that up to 87 million users may have had their data hijacked by British consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which worked for US President Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign.

The Silicon Valley social network has told the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, that the personal data of up to 2.7 million Europeans may have been sent inappropriately to Cambridge Analytica, which has since filed for bankruptcy in the US.

Tajani, who first invited the young American billionaire to testify before parliament back in March, will meet him around 1600 GMT, followed by parliamentary leaders.

The Italian politician has warned Zuckerberg it would be a “big mistake” for him not to answer questions from an elected body that regulates a market of 500 million people, many of them Facebook users.

Tajani said MEPs want to know if “people used data for changing the position of the citizens,” including during the shock 2016 referendum for Britain to leave the EU.

In April, Tajani rejected Zuckerberg’s initial offer to send a more junior executive in his place.

Objecting to the latest plans for a closed-door hearing, MEPs insisted Zuckerberg face a grilling similar to his 10-hour interrogation in US Congress last month.

‘Hear the truth’

Guy Vehofstadt, leader of the ALDE liberals group in parliament, had vowed to boycott the interrogation if it were not public.

“I will attend the hearing with Mr Zuckerberg as webstreaming makes it now transparent and public,” Verhofstadt tweeted on Monday.

“EU citizens have been most affected by the recent scandal and deserve to hear the truth,” the former Belgian premier said, inviting Europeans to send him questions for Zuckerberg.

Udo Bullmann, of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, said it would have been a “farce” not to have a public event.

The Greens party said “pressure worked” on Zuckerberg.

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova paid Zuckerberg a backhanded compliment in recent weeks for having admitted that the Facebook scandal showed the need for strict new rules despite the reluctance of the US internet giants.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into effect on Friday, aims to give users more control over how their personal information is stored and used online, with big fines for firms that break the rules.

The laws will cover large tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter that use personal data as an advertising goldmine, as well as firms like banks and also public bodies.

Zuckerberg, who has repeatedly apologised for the massive data breach, told the US Congress in April that the more stringent EU rules could serve as a model globally. — AFP

Cement, extreme cold experiments to launch on Orbital cargo ship

TAMPA: Food for astronauts, new space gardening gear and an experiment to test how cement forms in weightlessness are poised to launch Monday to the International Space Station aboard Orbital ATK’s unmanned Cygnus spacecraft.

An extreme cold experiment and a European module to invite plug-and-play research are also among the three tons of cargo scheduled to blast off on an Antares rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia at 4:39 am (0839 GMT, 4.39 pm Malaysia time).

The Cygnus delivery is the ninth in a series of launches by Orbital ATK, under a US$1.9 billion, (RM7.56 billion) contract with Nasa to resupply the orbiting outpost. SpaceX also runs supply missions using it’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo vehicle.

Cloudy weather posed a 35% probability of postponing the launch, Nasa said. If delayed, other opportunities to launch open up Tuesday or Wednesday.

A total of 34 new experiments are on board, including one that will create the coldest man-made temperatures anywhere in the universe, called the new Cold Atom Lab (CAL) facility, which the US space agency hopes will lead to new breakthroughs in modern physics.

“CAL creates a temperature 10 billion times colder than the vacuum of space, then uses lasers and magnetic forces to slow down atoms until they are almost motionless,” Nasa said in a statement.

“Results of this research could potentially lead to a number of improved technologies, including sensors, quantum computers and atomic clocks used in spacecraft navigation.”

Also on board is the first European commercial system aimed at increasing researchers’ access to space lab by offering “plug-and-play” experiment cubes that are low-cost and easy to install and remove.

The International Commercial Experiment, or ICE Cubes Service, is a joint venture of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Belgian company Space Application Services.

For human explorers to set up camp on Mars, they will need to build habitats to live in and places to protect their gear, and one experiment aims to test how cement acts in space and whether it will harden up and set like it does on Earth.

Plant Habitat-01, an experiment that could boost astronauts’ ability to grow their own food, is also on board.

It contains “a closed environment unlike any other plant growth we have had to date on the station”, said Kirt Costello, ISS chief scientist.

“This will really allow us to look at all the variable parameters in an investigation and get down to the brass tacks of what is going on in microgravity.”

Three other plant boxes, where astronauts grow lettuce to eat, are already on board the ISS.

If all goes as planned with the launch, the cargo ship is scheduled to arrive Thursday morning at the space station.

During the rendezvous, Nasa flight engineer Scott Tingle will grapple the spacecraft using the space station’s robotic arm, called Canadarm2.

Cygnus will remain in space until July 15, when it will be loaded with trash and sent off to burn up on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. — AFP

Twitter tweak steps up fight against trolls

SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter said Tuesday it was stepping up its long-running battle against online trolls, trying to find offenders by looking at “behavioural signals”.

The new approach looks at behavioural patterns of users in addition to the content of the tweets, allowing Twitter to find and mute online bullies and trolls.

Even if the offending tweets are not a violation of Twitter policy, they may be hidden from users if they are deemed to “distort” the conversation, Twitter said.

The announcement is the latest “safety” initiative by Twitter, which is seeking to filter out offensive speech while remaining an open platform.

Twitter already uses artificial intelligence and machine learning in this effort but the latest initiative aims to do more by focusing on the actions of certain users in addition to the content.

“Our ultimate goal is to encourage more free and open conversation,” chief executive Jack Dorsey said.

“To do that we need to significantly reduce the ability to game and skew our systems. Looking at behaviour, not content is the best way to do that.”

A Twitter blog post said the move aims at “troll-like behaviour” which targets certain users and tweets with derisive responses.

“Some troll-like behaviour is fun, good and humorous. What we’re talking about today are troll-like behaviours that distort and detract from the public conversation on Twitter,” said the blog from Twitter executives Del Harvey and David Gasca.

“Some of these accounts and tweets violate our policies, and, in those cases, we take action on them. Others don’t but are behaving in ways that distort the conversation.”

Harvey and Gasca said the challenge has been to address “disruptive behaviours that do not violate our policies but negatively impact the health of the conversation”.

The new approach does not wait for people who use Twitter to report potential issues.

“There are many new signals we’re taking in, most of which are not visible externally,” the blog post said.

“Just a few examples include if an account has not confirmed their email address if the same person signs up for multiple accounts simultaneously, accounts that repeatedly tweet and mention accounts that don’t follow them or behaviour that might indicate a coordinated attack.”

In some cases, if the content is not a violation of Twitter policies, it will not be deleted but only shown when a user clicks on “show more replies”.

“The result is that people contributing to the healthy conversation will be more visible in conversations and search,” Harvey and Gasca wrote.

Twitter said its tests of this approach shows a four percent drop in abuse reports from search and eight percent fewer abuse reports from conversations. — AFP

Facebook shut 583 million fake accounts

PARIS: Facebook axed 583 million fake accounts in the first three months of 2018, the social media giant said Tuesday, detailing how it enforces “community standards” against sexual or violent images, terrorist propaganda or hate speech.

Responding to calls for transparency after the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal, Facebook said those closures came on top of blocking millions of attempts to create fake accounts every day.

Despite this, the group said fake profiles still make up 3%-4% of all active accounts.

It claimed to detect almost 100 percent of spam and to have removed 837 million posts assimilated to spam over the same period.

Facebook pulled or slapped warnings on nearly 30 million posts containing sexual or violent images, terrorist propaganda or hate speech during the first quarter.

Improved technology using artificial intelligence had helped it act on 3.4 million posts containing graphic violence, nearly three times more than it had in the last quarter of 2017.

In 85.6% of the cases, Facebook detected the images before being alerted to them by users, said the report, issued the day after the company said about 200 apps had been suspended on its platform as part of an investigation into misuse of private user data.

The figure represents between 0.22% and 0.27% of the total content viewed by Facebook’s more than two billion users from Jan through March.

“In other words, of every 10,000 content views, an estimate of 22 to 27 contained graphic violence,” the report said.

Responses to rule violations include removing content, adding warnings to content that may be disturbing to some users while not violating Facebook standards; and notifying law enforcement in case of a “specific, imminent and credible threat to human life”.

Improved IT also helped Facebook take action against 1.9 million posts containing terrorist propaganda, a 73% increase. Nearly all were dealt with before any alert was raised, the company said.

It attributed the increase to the enhanced use of photodetection technology.

Hate speech is harder to police using automated methods, however, as racist or homophobic hate speech is often quoted on posts by their targets or activists.

Sarcasm needs human touch

“It may take a human to understand and accurately interpret nuances like … self-referential comments or sarcasm,” the report said, noting that Facebook aims to “protect and respect both expression and personal safety”.

Facebook took action against 2.5 million pieces of hate speech content during the period, a 56 increase over Oct-Dec. But only 38% had been detected through Facebook’s efforts — the rest flagged up by users.

The posts that keep the Facebook reviewers the busiest are those showing adult nudity or sexual activity — quite apart from child pornography, which is not covered by the report.

Some 21 million such posts were handled in the period, a similar number to October-December 2017.

That was less than 0.1% of viewed content — which includes text, images, videos, links, live videos or comments on posts — Facebook said, adding it had dealt with nearly 96% of the cases before being alerted to them.

Facebook has come under fire for showing too much zeal on this front, such as removing images of artwork tolerated under its own rules.

In March, Facebook apologised for temporarily removing an advert featuring French artist Eugene Delacroix’s famous work “Liberty Leading the People” because it depicts a bare-breasted woman.

Facebook’s head of global policy management Monika Bicket said the group had kept a commitment to recruit 3,000 more staff to lift the numbers dedicated to enforcing standards to 7,500 at the start of this year. — AFP

Football field-sized asteroid to shave by Earth

TAMPA: An asteroid around the size of a football field is expected to zoom by Earth on Tuesday, but at a safe distance, the US space agency said.

The space rock was discovered in 2010, but only recently did astronomers determine it would not collide with our planet, instead passing at a distance about halfway between the Earth and Moon.

Asteroid 2010 WC9 will make a “close approach” to Earth at 2204 GMT, (6.04am Malaysia time) Nasa said, noting its closest pass will be over the coast of Antarctica.

“At the time of closest approach, the asteroid will be no closer to Earth’s surface than about 193,000km.”

A good viewing spot for those equipped with a moderate, 20cm telescope, might be Cape Town, South Africa.

The asteroid is believed to be about 60m to 120m across.

Its speed should clock in at about 22.9km per second.

Nasa said this approach will be the closest to Earth — for this particular asteroid — for at least two centuries.

Next year, on Oct 17, 2019, the asteroid will make a distant flyby of Earth at 26.6 million miles.

More than 10,000 asteroids are known to be orbiting near Earth, and scientists regularly keep track of them to monitor for potential strikes. — AFP

Facebook suspends 200 apps over data misuse

WASHINGTON: Facebook said Monday it has suspended “around 200” apps on its platform as part of an investigation into misuse of private user data.

The investigation was launched after revelations that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica hijacked data on some 87 million Facebook users as it worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“The investigation process is in full swing,” said an online statement from Facebook product partnerships vice president Ime Archibong.

“We have large teams of internal and external experts working hard to investigate these apps as quickly as possible. To date, thousands of apps have been investigated and around 200 have been suspended — pending a thorough investigation into whether they did in fact misuse any data.”

Archibong added that “where we find evidence that these or other apps did misuse data, we will ban them and notify people via this website”.

The revelations over Cambridge Analytica have prompted investigations on both sides of the Atlantic and led Facebook to tighten its policies on how personal data is shared and accessed.

Facebook made a policy change in 2014 limiting access to user data but noted that some applications still had data obtained prior to the revision.

“There is a lot more work to be done to find all the apps that may have misused people’s Facebook data — and it will take time,” Archibong said.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg spent most of the past month on the fallout from revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s data hijacking, seeking to assuage fears that the California-based internet colossus can safeguard privacy while making money by targeting ads based on what people share about themselves.

Efforts to rebuild trust in Facebook include a review of all applications that had access to large amounts of user data.

The 200 applications Facebook said it suspended included one called myPersonality that collected psychological information shared by millions of members of the social network who voluntarily took “psychometric” tests.

“We suspended the myPersonality app almost a month ago because we believe that it may have violated Facebook’s policies,” Archibong said Monday in response to an AFP inquiry.

“We are currently investigating the app, and if myPersonality refuses to cooperate or fails our audit, we will ban it.”

About 40% of the people who took the tests also opted to share Facebook profile data, resulting in a large science research database, the University of Cambridge psychometrics centre said of the project on its website.

Security and encryption at the website used to share data with registered academic collaborators was meagre and easily bypassed, according to a report Monday in British magazine New Scientist. — AFP

Tesla reorganizing to speed up production

SAN FRANCISCO: Tesla chief Elon Musk told employees Monday the electric carmaker is being reorganized to speed up production of Model 3 vehicles — a key to profitability at the fast-growing firm.

“To ensure that Tesla is well prepared for the future, we have been undertaking a thorough reorganization of our company,” the memo obtained by AFP said.

“As part of the reorg, we are flattening the management structure to improve communication, combining functions where sensible and trimming activities that are not vital to the success of our mission.”

Musk noted that Tesla planned to continue rapidly hiring for key production positions.

During an earnings call early this month, Musk said Tesla was on the road to hitting goals in coming months for the more affordable Model 3 and achieving profitability by the end of this year.

“We are going to conduct a reorganization, restructuring of the company this month, and make sure we’re well set up to achieve that goal,” Musk said during the call.

“In particular the number of sort of third-party contracting companies that we’re using has really gotten out of control so we’re going to scrub the barnacles on that front.”

The word that some Tesla executives are being dropped at the curb came just a month after an internal memo offered productivity recommendations that included skipping the chain-of-command when it is more efficient.

“Any manager who attempts to enforce the chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere”, Musk said in an email to workers shared by Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry.

In the email, Musk decried excessive meetings as a “blight” and advised workers to walk out of them if they weren’t contributing.

Chowdhry said in his analyst note Monday that Tesla is improving the Model 3 production rate, and “it has a lot to do with Elon Musk getting hands-on and sleeping on the factory floor for almost two weeks”.

Tesla has set up a company in Shanghai focusing on technology development in China, a crucial market for the US firm as the country plans to scrap ownership limits for foreign automakers.

The US firm’s Hong Kong subsidiary established Tesla (Shanghai) Limited on May 10 with a registration capital of 100 million yuan (RM62 million), filings on the National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System showed on Monday.

Musk said during the earnings call that the California company will announce a China location for a new “Gigafactory” that will produce batteries as well as vehicles. — AFP