Start Up No.1434: Facebook says it catches more hate speech, Stadia has a birthday, solar power from space?, BuzzFeed buys HuffPo, and more


Noooo! Your one-word emails are polluting the atmosphere, according to some bonkers analysis. CC-licensed photo by Martin Sharman on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Counted and certified. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook AI catches 95% of hate speech; company still wants mods back in office • Ars Technica

Kate Cox:

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About 95% of hate speech on Facebook gets caught by algorithms before anyone can report it, Facebook said in its latest community-standards enforcement report. The remaining 5% of the roughly 22 million flagged posts in the past quarter were reported by users.

That report is also tracking a new hate-speech metric: prevalence. Basically, to measure prevalence, Facebook takes a sample of content and then looks for how often the thing they’re measuring—in this case, hate speech—gets seen as a percentage of viewed content. Between July and September of this year, the figure was between 0.10% and 0.11%, or about 10-11 views of every 10,000.

Facebook also stressed—in both its news release and in a call with press—that while its in-house AI is making strides in several categories of content enforcement, COVID-19 is having a continued effect on its ability to moderate content.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt our content-review workforce, we are seeing some enforcement metrics return to pre-pandemic levels,” the company said. “Even with a reduced review capacity, we still prioritize the most sensitive content for people to review, which includes areas like suicide and self-injury and child nudity.”

The reviewers are critical, Facebook Vice President of Integrity Guy Rosen told press in a call. “People are an important part of the equation for content enforcement,” he said. “These are incredibly important workers who do an incredibly important part of the job.”

Full-time Facebook employees who are employed by the company itself are being told to work from home until July 2021 or perhaps even permanently.

In the call with reporters, Rosen stressed that Facebook employees who are required to come in to work physically, such as those who manage essential functions in data centers, are being brought in with strict safety precautions and personal protective equipment, such as hand sanitizer, made available.

Moderation, Rosen said, is one of those jobs that can’t always be done at home. Some content is simply too sensitive to review outside of a dedicated workspace where other family members might see it, he explained, saying that some Facebook content moderators are being brought back into offices “to ensure we can have that balance of people and AI working on those areas” that need human judgement applied.

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And yet there’s still plenty that people might call hate speech left there. The problem is always that the standards applied are essentially American; it’s a sort of cyber-monoculture, a cyber-imperialism, where when you go on Facebook you’re living in Facebookland, which applies its own culture – borrowed heavily from the US.
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Stadia is a year old today — and it’s still not a viable alternative to console and PC gaming • Android Police

Taylor Kerns:

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With strong fundamentals from the start, I’d assumed Stadia would be a breakout hit by now. Next-gen home consoles have landed, and they are not cheap: the top-of-the-line new PlayStation and Xbox are both 500 bucks. By contrast, the barrier to entry for Stadia is extremely low. If you have an adequate internet connection, it’s practically nonexistent: Destiny 2 is now completely free on Stadia, no subscription required, and you can play it on just about any hardware you have laying around. Google’s been more keen to discount controller/Chromecast bundles lately, too, and it even gave them away for free to YouTube Premium subscribers all over the world — a generous and smart move that surely increased the platform’s brand awareness.

But unless you can’t afford a PlayStation or an Xbox (which, to be clear, is not a possibility I’m discounting —  they’re expensive), there’s very little reason to choose Stadia over either of those consoles. PlayStation 5 has Spider-Man: Miles Morales (with optional ray tracing!) and a new Ratchet & Clank; Xbox Series X has Halo Infinite and Forza. Stadia has… Gylt and a version of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla that’s locked at 30 frames per second.

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It’s always about the content, isn’t it. That’s how disruption can work: being able to do what you want on something cheaper.
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Solar power stations in space could be the answer to our energy needs • The Conversation

Amanda Jane Hughes and Stefania Soldini are lecturers in engineering at the University of Liverpool:

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A space-based solar power station could orbit to face the Sun 24 hours a day. The Earth’s atmosphere also absorbs and reflects some of the Sun’s light, so solar cells above the atmosphere will receive more sunlight and produce more energy.

But one of the key challenges to overcome is how to assemble, launch and deploy such large structures. A single solar power station may have to be as much as 10 kilometres squared in area – equivalent to 1,400 football pitches. Using lightweight materials will also be critical, as the biggest expense will be the cost of launching the station into space on a rocket.

One proposed solution is to develop a swarm of thousands of smaller satellites that will come together and configure to form a single, large solar generator. In 2017, researchers at the California Institute of Technology outlined designs for a modular power station, consisting of thousands of ultralight solar cell tiles. They also demonstrated a prototype tile weighing just 280 grams per square metre, similar to the weight of card.

Recently, developments in manufacturing, such as 3D printing, are also being looked at for this application. At the University of Liverpool, we are exploring new manufacturing techniques for printing ultralight solar cells on to solar sails. A solar sail is a foldable, lightweight and highly reflective membrane capable of harnessing the effect of the Sun’s radiation pressure to propel a spacecraft forward without fuel. We are exploring how to embed solar cells on solar sail structures to create large, fuel-free solar power stations.

…Another major challenge will be getting the power transmitted back to Earth. The plan is to convert electricity from the solar cells into energy waves and use electromagnetic fields to transfer them down to an antenna on the Earth’s surface. The antenna would then convert the waves back into electricity. Researchers led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have already developed designs and demonstrated an orbiter system which should be able to do this.

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Nice idea. Wouldn’t want to get in the way of the energy beam.
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BuzzFeed to acquire HuffPost in stock deal with Verizon Media • WSJ

Benjamin Mullin and Keach Hagey:

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BuzzFeed Inc. has agreed to acquire Verizon Media’s HuffPost in a stock deal, the companies said Thursday, uniting two of the larger players in digital media as companies across the sector search for ways to jump-start growth.

The acquisition is part of a larger deal between BuzzFeed and Verizon Media, a unit of Verizon Communications. Under the pact, the companies will syndicate content on each other’s platforms and look to jointly explore advertising opportunities. Verizon Media will get a minority stake in BuzzFeed as a result of the tieup, the companies said.

Verizon Media is also making an undisclosed cash investment in BuzzFeed in addition to the stock deal for HuffPost, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed’s founder and chief executive, will run the combined company. BuzzFeed will lead the search for a new editor in chief of HuffPost.

In a joint statement, the companies said BuzzFeed and HuffPost have complementary audiences and will benefit from greater scale. Financial terms for the deal weren’t disclosed, including the valuation for HuffPost.

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Peretti was one of the founders of HuffPo (along of course with Arianna Huffington, who exploited the get-people-to-write-for-free model so popular in 2005 for all she was worth). Now, tougher questions get asked about how sites will wash their faces. It’s still a challenge for Buzzfeed, and it’s hard to know how HuffPo will manage: it’s become commoditised beyond redemption.
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Italian police use Lamborghini to transport donor kidney 300 miles in two hours • Jalopnik

Elizabeth Blackstock:

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In what may be one of the most Italian things that has ever happened, the Italian State Police rushed a donor kidney from Padua to Rome for a transplant in a Lamborghini Huracan. Last week’s journey is around 300 miles, but with the help of a specially-outfitted supercar, the police made it happen in just about two hours at an average speed of 143 mph—and that’s a journey that normally takes around six.

The police posted a video of the Lambo after the completed journey, and it is just delightful.

Yes, the Italian Police own a Lamborghini and use it as a regular ol’ patrol vehicle most of the time. It’s outfitted with lights, a police computer, and other equipment for traffic stops and arrests. That said, though, the machine isn’t exactly ideal for the day-to-day (where, exactly, do you intend to put someone that you’ve arrested?). It’s still cool as hell for these more extreme circumstances, though.

But for this specific instance, the frunk came in handy. The police force turned it into a refrigerated compartment for organ transport or the delivery of other temperature-sensitive medical supplies.

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Not seized from drug dealers; they actually buy Lambos for the police force from time to time.
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Thanks for polluting the planet: emails blamed for climate change • Financial Times

George Parker, Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan and Leslie Hook:

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British officials working on plans to tackle climate change have alighted on a new threat to the planet: millions of unnecessary emails sent every day, including those that say nothing more than “thanks”.

The UK, which is hosting the UN COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow next year, is looking at innovative ways to cut carbon emissions — and the footprint left by web users has drawn its attention.

Officials have been particularly taken by research suggesting that more than 64m unnecessary emails are sent by Britons every day, pumping thousands of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere owing to the power they consume.

“We’ve been looking at research suggesting that if you reduced those emails by just one a day, you would save a lot of carbon,” said one person involved in COP26 preparations.

The issue of unnecessary emails was raised in a recent paper from the National Cyber Security Centre, a London-based agency charged with making the country’s online life secure. The NCSC declined to comment.

…One piece of open source information referred to by officials relates to research commissioned by Ovo Energy last November, which suggested that if each person in the UK sent one fewer email a day it could cut carbon output by more than 16,000 tonnes a year.

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Absolutely flipping barking mad. This would only be true if people were powering their machines on and off in order to send those emails. In reality, the machines were on anyway. The emails are a marginal load. Just now, Apple Mail is using 0.0% of the CPU on my eight-year-old machine. But the machine’s using energy.

If this is the quality of analysis in the runup to COP26, we’re all toast.
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Sign up • Logic School

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We welcome all tech workers — whether you’re a project manager, warehouse worker, software engineer, or ride share driver. Applicants must not be full time K-12 or university students. 

When is Logic School?

Logic School runs for twelve (12) weeks, from March 8 through May 31st, 2021. 

What will I learn by the end of 12 weeks?

• Be comfortable discussing structural inequities, and if/when tech has deepened structural inequities with your community, co-workers and the broader public.
• Gain hands-on experience in advocating for change in tech through working towards a Logic School final project.
• Have reflected on your theory of change, and who your community is.
• Feel confident in advocating and articulating (through writing or other forms) inequities in tech.
• Be familiar and knowledgeable about a range of writing and research on tech and the tech industry, especially from the fields of critical race theory, economics and sociology.
• Be part of a supportive network and community in the tech industry who you can seek advice and encouragement from in the future, especially in discussing race/ethnicity/gender/sexuality/nationality/class across the industry’s internal and external practices.
• Be part of strengthening and building forms of collective action that will solidify into new practices and infrastructures throughout the industry.

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Free, thanks to the Omidyar Network. Can someone sign Mark Zuckerberg up for it? (Or you could join if you’ve got the time..)
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Google RCS global, Messages testing end-to-end encryption • 9to5Google

Abner Li:

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In mid-2019, Google decided to take over and speed up the launch of RCS. A little over 17 months later, Google announced today that it has completed a global rollout of RCS, while Messages will start testing end-to-end encryption.

RCS, or Rich Communication Services, allows for advanced messaging features like typing indicators, read receipts, higher-resolution photos and videos, larger group conversations, and interactive experiences with businesses.

Since carriers were taking quite some time to implement this big upgrade over SMS/MMS, Google last year stepped in by offering its cross-compatible RCS implementation directly to Messages users around the world. It started in the UK and France, with a major expansion to the US that November.

Google today has completed a global rollout of RCS for all Android phones. As such, those with carriers lacking support can download the Google Messages app from the Play Store. That said, availability “in some cases” depends on device and service providers. You’ll see an in-app prompt to enable or can visit Settings – Chat features.

To mark that occasion, Google is addressing one of the biggest criticisms about the standard its consumer messaging strategy is relying on. Google Messages will soon start testing end-to-end encryption in one-to-one conversations.

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Of course, you’ll both need to have encryption capability enabled on your phones. This comes as the British government is wittering on again about “terrorists” and “paedophiles” using encryption. Pretty soon, if this is enabled (query: will Apple include it?) everyone will be using encrypted messaging all the time, though don’t expect those confirmation texts you get to use it anytime soon. (Google’s using the Signal encryption protocol.) At Android Police, they complain that “Since Apple won’t bring iMessage to Android, and since RCS and the Universal Profile are open standards Apple could implement at any time, either way, it’s on Apple to plug the gap here, as its lack of action on either front widens the messaging gap between the closed iOS bubble and the rest of the world.” Now, in case you’re wondering why you might want a default encryption system for phone messages, read on…
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Messaging app Go SMS Pro exposed millions of users’ private photos and files • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:

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Security researchers at Trustwave discovered the flaw in August and contacted the app maker with a 90-day deadline to fix the issue, as is standard practice in vulnerability disclosure to allow enough time for a fix. But after the deadline elapsed without hearing back, the researchers went public.

Trustwave shared its findings with TechCrunch this week.

When a Go SMS Pro user sends a photo, video or other file to someone who doesn’t have the app installed, the app uploads the file to its servers, and lets the user share a web address by text message so the recipient can see the file without installing the app. But the researchers found that these web addresses were sequential. In fact, any time a file was shared — even between app users — a web address would be generated regardless. That meant anyone who knew about the predictable web address could have cycled through millions of different web addresses to users’ files.

Go SMS Pro has more than 100 million installs, according to its listing in Google Play.

TechCrunch verified the researcher’s findings. In viewing just a few dozen links, we found a person’s phone number, a screenshot of a bank transfer, an order confirmation including someone’s home address, an arrest record, and far more explicit photos than we were expecting, to be quite honest.

Karl Sigler, senior security research manager at Trustwave, said while it wasn’t possible to target any specific user, any file sent using the app is vulnerable to public access. “An attacker can create scripts that could throw a wide net across all the media files stored in the cloud instance,” he said.

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Why So Many Pictures Of Genitals, Traumatised Security Researchers Ask God. Still, now you see why RCS might be useful.
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YouTube will run ads on some creator videos, but it won’t give them any of the revenue • The Verge

Julie Alexander:

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Starting today, YouTube will begin running ads on some creators’ videos, but it won’t give them a portion of the ad revenue because they’re not big enough to be enrolled in its Partner Program.

When advertisements run on YouTube videos, those creators typically receive a portion of the revenue through their role in YouTube’s Partner Program. With the new monetization rules, a creator who is not in the partner program “may see ads on some of your videos,” according to an update to the platform’s Terms of Service.

Prior to the update, YouTube says these videos only received ads in limited circumstances, like if they were monetized by a record label as part of a copyright claim. The update will mostly affect smaller creators without a huge viewership; YouTube’s Partner Program requires creators to have accrued 4,000 total hours of watch time over the last 12 months and have more than 1,000 subscribers.

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Shorter version: YouTube’s keeping more of its ad revenue for itself.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1434: Facebook says it catches more hate speech, Stadia has a birthday, solar power from space?, BuzzFeed buys HuffPo, and more

  1. Although it’s been a while, last time beaming power from orbit came up, they used microwaves (and a 50 km collection area), and hence a person could walk around in that no problem. Difficulties turn up if they try to make it smaller (complications in the beam, weather patterns etc..).

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