Start Up: Facebook’s video and child problem, ZTE swallows huge fine, trolls dissected, and more

North Korean missiles are misfiring. Cyberwar, or chance? Probably cyberwar. Photo by danielkfoster437 on Flickr.

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A selection of 14 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook, rushing into live video, wasn’t ready for its dark side • WSJ

Deepa Seetharaman:


The live-video rush left unanswered many questions with which Facebook is still wrestling, especially how to decide when violence on camera needs to be censored. According to a tally by The Wall Street Journal, people have used Facebook Live to broadcast at least 50 acts of violence, including murder, suicides and the beating in January of a mentally disabled teenager in Chicago.

The company was sharply criticized last July for removing live video from Minnesota woman Diamond Reynolds, who showed her boyfriend, Philando Castile, dying after being shot by a police officer during a traffic stop. Facebook said the removal was due to a technical glitch and restored the video.

Mr. Zuckerberg, eyeing Snap Inc.’s Snapchat and Twitter Inc.’s Periscope, also budgeted more than $100m to pay media organizations and celebrities to post live videos, according to a person familiar with the rollout.

Nearly a year later, many publishers say Facebook Live viewership is lackluster. Facebook is still tinkering with ways for them to earn money from their broadcasts. Facebook doesn’t disclose viewer data or financial results for Facebook Live.

The bad and good consequences reflect the inherent tension in Mr. Zuckerberg’s vision of Facebook as a crucial part of the world’s “social infrastructure,” a term he used in a nearly 6,000-word manifesto last month.


Zuckerberg is repeatedly amazed that the world is more complicated than a PHP script.
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Facebook users warned not to share posts of missing children • Daily Telegraph

Cara McGoogan:


Facebook users have been warned not to share pictures of missing children as publicising their image could do more harm than good. 

Although it may seem like the best thing to do when a child is missing is to spread the word and a picture of them, law enforcement have urged users to avoid doing so.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has warned Facebook users that missing child posts could end up assisting people who want to cause the child further harm. 

“By sharing these photos you may be putting a life at risk,” the Kindersley RCMP warned. “Sometimes the missing children in the posts that you share are not actually missing. They may actually be hiding for their own safety.” 


As the RCMP explain, it can be that a malicious parent who has been forbidden access puts up the photo, claims they’re missing, tries to get at the child or other parent. Bad things can happen.

Getting confusing, isn’t it? Now read on..
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Facebook failed to remove sexualised images of children • BBC News

Angus Crawford:


Facebook has been criticised for its handling of reports about sexualised images of children on its platform.

The chairman of the Commons media committee, Damian Collins, said he had “grave doubts” about the effectiveness of its content moderation systems.

Mr Collins’ comments come after the BBC reported dozens of photos to Facebook, but more than 80% were not removed. They included images from groups where users were discussing swapping what appeared to be child abuse material.

When provided with examples of the images, Facebook reported the BBC journalists involved to the police and cancelled plans for an interview.

It subsequently issued a statement: “It is against the law for anyone to distribute images of child exploitation.”

Mr Collins said it was extraordinary that the BBC had been reported to the authorities when it was trying to “help clean up the network”.


This sounds like two parts of Facebook completely failing to coordinate. And failing to work too.
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Spies do spying, part 97: shock horror as CIA turn phones, TVs, computers into surveillance bugs • The Register

John Leyden:


WikiLeaks has dumped online what appears to be a trove of CIA documents outlining the American murder-snoops’ ability to spy on people.

The leaked files describe security exploits used to hack into vulnerable Android handhelds, Apple iPhones, Samsung TVs, Windows PCs, Macs, and other devices, and remote-control them to read messages, listen in via built-in microphones, and so on. The dossiers discuss malware that can infect CD and DVD disc file systems, and USB sticks, to jump air-gaps and compromise sensitive and protected machines – plus loads more spying techniques and tools.

Yes, government surveillance has a chilling effect on freedom of expression. But, no, none of this cyber-spying should be a surprise. Meanwhile, tech giants keep putting exploitable microphone-fitted, always-connected devices into people’s homes.

The tranche of CIA documents – a mammoth 8,761 files dubbed “Year Zero” – accounts for “the entire hacking capacity of the CIA,” WikiLeaker-in-chief Julian Assange boasted today. He said the documents show the intelligence agency had lost “control of its arsenal” of exploits and hacking tools, suggesting they were passed to the website by a rogue operative.


You’re wondering where the Russian leaks are? Seems Julian Assange likes doing that thing – what’s it called, breathing.
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ZTE to pay $892m to US, plead guilty in Iran sanctions probe • WSJ

Aruna Viswanatha, Eva Dou and Kate O’keeffe:


Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE Corp. has agreed to pay $892m and plead guilty to violating U.S. sanctions on Iran and obstructing a federal investigation, ending a five-year probe that has raised trade tensions between the U.S. and China.

The penalties, among the largest ever in a sanctions case, were imposed on ZTE for a six-year-long plan to obtain technology products from the U.S., incorporate them into ZTE equipment and ultimately ship the equipment to Iran, U.S. officials said.

Still, the company avoided a more devastating outcome: a supply cutoff of U.S. components, which the Commerce Department slapped on ZTE in March 2016, prompting the company to come forward to negotiate the eventual settlement, according to U.S. authorities. The Commerce Department suspended the sanctions during the talks and, in conjunction with the settlement agreement, it will now move to fully remove them, officials said.


Dodged a bullet there.
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Spammergate: the fall of an empire • MacKeeper™ blog

Chris Vickery:


A cooperative team of investigators from the MacKeeper Security Research Center, CSOOnline, and Spamhaus came together in January after I stumbled upon a suspicious, yet publicly exposed, collection of files. Someone had forgotten to put a password on this repository and, as a result, one of the biggest spam empires is now falling.

Additional coverage can be seen over at CSOOnline.

The leaky files, it turns out, represent the backbone operations of a group calling themselves River City Media (RCM). Led by known spammers Alvin Slocombe and Matt Ferris, RCM masquerades as a legitimate marketing firm while, per their own documentation, being responsible for up to a billion daily email sends.


This might even give MacKeeper some redemption. It knows all about leaking millions of user records from unsecured databases. Though it’s still ahead on losing lawsuits from the FTC where it pays a $2m settlement.
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Nintendo Switch review • Polygon

Polygon staff:


there is something remarkable about seeing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild running in portable mode, followed by that “wow” moment of docking the console and continuing on a television. It’s hard not to wonder if we’re staring at the future of portable gaming, with Nintendo and the Switch promising to bridge the gap between mobile and console.

While Nintendo has corrected much of what doomed the Wii U on the hardware front, its success on the software front is not only less clear, it’s in many cases entirely opaque. As with the Wii U, the Switch’s entire online infrastructure is being patched into the system on the same day it reaches consumers. None of these features, or even a clear understanding of what they will be, were made available to reviewers. This … is not a good litmus test for Nintendo’s future success in this arena.

Since Nintendo’s Game Boy, the desire has been to play games — real games — wherever you are. The Switch offers that promise, but the details — or absence of detail — leave a lot to be desired.


It has rocketed off the shelves, unlike the Wii U. It’s not the most amazing industrial design, but seems to satisfy those who like Nintendo. And it does seem to have managed to be a hybrid – both a portable console and something you can use with a dedicated TV.
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Lithium-Ion battery inventor introduces new technology for fast-charging, noncombustible batteries • The University of Texas at Austin


A team of engineers led by 94-year-old John Goodenough, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin and co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery, has developed the first all-solid-state battery cells that could lead to safer, faster-charging, longer-lasting rechargeable batteries for handheld mobile devices, electric cars and stationary energy storage. 

Goodenough’s latest breakthrough, completed with Cockrell School senior research fellow Maria Helena Braga, is a low-cost all-solid-state battery that is noncombustible and has a long cycle life (battery life) with a high volumetric energy density and fast rates of charge and discharge. The engineers describe their new technology in a recent paper published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

“Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted. We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today’s batteries,” Goodenough said.

The researchers demonstrated that their new battery cells have at least three times as much energy density as today’s lithium-ion batteries. A battery cell’s energy density gives an electric vehicle its driving range, so a higher energy density means that a car can drive more miles between charges. The UT Austin battery formulation also allows for a greater number of charging and discharging cycles, which equates to longer-lasting batteries, as well as a faster rate of recharge (minutes rather than hours).


Braga’s contribution seems significant, but she strangely doesn’t get a mention in the headline or first paragraph.
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We’re all internet trolls (sometimes) • WSJ

Christopher Mims:


Admit it: At one point or another, you have probably said something unpleasant online that you later regretted—and that you wouldn’t have said in person. It might have seemed justified, but to someone else, it probably felt inappropriate, egregious or like a personal attack.

In other words, you were a troll.

New research by computer scientists from Stanford and Cornell universities suggests this sort of thing—a generally reasonable person writing a post or leaving a comment that includes an attack or even outright harassment—happens all the time. The most likely time for people to turn into trolls? Sunday and Monday nights, from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Trolling is so ingrained in the internet that, without even noticing, we’ve let it shape our most important communication systems. One reason Facebook provides elaborate privacy controls is so we don’t have to wade through drive-by comments on our own lives.


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Uber employees lose faith and explore exit • FT

Leslie Hook:


Recruiters in the Bay Area and executives at rival companies say they have seen an uptick in job applications from Uber employees, as its workers lose faith in the company’s leadership and start to doubt the value of their stock options.

Uber has gone from crisis to crisis over the past five weeks, prompting increasing numbers of employees to explore the idea of leaving a start-up that was once considered one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious and lucrative workplaces.

“I have seen quite a few people who have been looking to leave Uber,” said one recruiter, who previously worked at the car-hailing company. “One of the main reasons is lack of faith in senior leadership.”


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Collection of 13,500 nastygrams could advance war on trolls • MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite:


Misogyny, racism, profanity—a collection of more than 13,500 online personal attacks has it all.

The nastygrams came from the discussion pages of Wikipedia. The collection, along with over 100,000 more benign posts, has been released by researchers from Alphabet and the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit behind Wikipedia. They say the data will boost efforts to train software to understand and police online harassment.

“Our goal is to see how can we help people discuss the most controversial and important topics in a productive way all across the Internet,” says Lucas Dixon, chief research scientist at Jigsaw, a group inside Alphabet that builds technology in service of causes such as free speech and fighting corruption (see “If Only AI Could Save Us From Ourselves”).

Jigsaw and Wikimedia researchers used a crowdsourcing service to have people comb through more than 115,000 messages posted on Wikipedia discussion pages, checking for any that were a personal attack as defined by the community’s rules. The collaborators have already used the data to train machine-learning algorithms that rival crowdsourced workers at spotting personal attacks. When they ran it through the full collection of 63 million discussion posts made by Wikipedia editors, they found that only around one in 10 attacks had resulted in action by moderators.


Because we might not be able to change how people are.
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Trump inherits a secret cyberwar against North Korean missiles • The New York Times

David Sanger and William Broad on a US scheme to make North Korean missiles fail on liftoff:


The Times inquiry began last spring as the number of the North’s missile failures soared. The investigation uncovered the military documents praising the new antimissile approach and found some pointing with photos and diagrams to North Korea as one of the most urgent targets.

After discussions with the office of the director of national intelligence last year and in recent days with Mr. Trump’s national security team, The Times agreed to withhold details of those efforts to keep North Korea from learning how to defeat them. Last fall, Mr. Kim was widely reported to have ordered an investigation into whether the United States was sabotaging North Korea’s launches, and over the past week he has executed senior security officials.

The approach taken in targeting the North Korean missiles has distinct echoes of the American- and Israeli-led sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program, the most sophisticated known use of a cyberweapon meant to cripple a nuclear threat. But even that use of the “Stuxnet” worm in Iran quickly ran into limits. It was effective for several years, until the Iranians figured it out and recovered. And Iran posed a relatively easy target: an underground nuclear enrichment plant that could be attacked repeatedly.

In North Korea, the target is much more challenging. Missiles are fired from multiple launch sites around the country and moved about on mobile launchers in an elaborate shell game meant to deceive adversaries. To strike them, timing is critical.

Advocates of the sophisticated effort to remotely manipulate data inside North Korea’s missile systems argue the United States has no real alternative because the effort to stop the North from learning the secrets of making nuclear weapons has already failed. The only hope now is stopping the country from developing an intercontinental missile, and demonstrating that destructive threat to the world.


Consider next what happens if North Korea does attain a nuclear ICBM capability. And who would be negotiating.
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Mobile internet prices in Nigeria are dropping, so why are its user numbers falling too? • Quartz Africa

Yomi Kazeem:


At the start of last year, Nigeria seemed on course to clock an important milestone: hitting 100 million mobile internet users. But that’s no longer the case. New data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) shows a steady decline the country’s internet user numbers, despite a fall in mobile internet data prices.

Since mid-2016, mobile internet prices in Nigeria have fallen to less than a third of what they were in 2015 after the regulator removed a data floor price, leaving telcos to set prices as low as possible.

The most obvious reason for the continuing slide is the clampdown on unregistered sim cards by NCC, the telecoms industry regulator. Unregistered sim cards, Nigeria’s government has previously claimed, have allowed Boko Haram terrorists and other criminals communicate undetected by the country’s mobile networks.

MTN, Nigeria’s largest operator, felt the brunt of the clampdown on unregistered sim cards when it was slapped with a record N$5.1bn fine in a long-running dispute which it later settled for N$1.7bn. Since Oct. 2015, when NCC announced it was fining MTN for not deactivating unregistered sim cards, the operator has lost over 10.8 million internet subscribers.


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What it feels like to be an open-source maintainer • Nolan Lawson

Nolan Lawson:


Outside your door stands a line of a few hundred people. They are patiently waiting for you to answer their questions, complaints, pull requests, and feature requests.

You want to help all of them, but for now you’re putting it off. Maybe you had a hard day at work, or you’re tired, or you’re just trying to enjoy a weekend with your family and friends.

But if you go to, there’s a constant reminder of how many people are waiting.

When you manage to find some spare time, you open the door to the first person. They’re well-meaning enough; they tried to use your project but ran into some confusion over the API. They’ve pasted their code into a GitHub comment, but they forgot or didn’t know how to format it, so their code is a big unreadable mess.

Helpfully, you edit their comment to add a code block, so that it’s nicely formatted. But it’s still a lot of code to read.

Also, their description of the problem is a bit hard to understand. Maybe this person doesn’t speak English as a first language, or maybe they have a disability that makes it difficult for them to communicate via writing. You’re not sure. Either way, you struggle to understand the paragraphs of text they’ve posted.

Wearily, you glance at the hundreds of other folks waiting in line behind them. You could spend a half-hour trying to understand this person’s code, or you could just skim through it and offer some links to tutorials and documentation, on the off-chance that it will help solve their problem. You also cheerfully suggest that they try Stack Overflow or the Slack channel instead.


And so it goes on, and on – Lawson’s account makes you understand how bugs can stay hidden or unfixed for years in open source projects: one person can’t scale.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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