Facebook hires blind engineer to improve tech

Matt King joined Facebook in June as the company’s first blind engineer. His mission is to improve Facebook for the visually impaired. With Billions of daily users, Facebook is one of the most visited sites on the web. Yet, much of it’s content is driven by visuals and images that software isn’t designed to translate.

King’s first big project at Facebook is to improve this experience for the visually impaired. His software gives broad descriptions of what may be in the photos shared on a users feed. It is the first step in looping a user in on what is on their timeline beyond the artificial intelligence that dictates the words on the screen. This software was officially released by Facebook on Tuesday. At a demo for the new software, the artificial intelligence describes a friend’s photo in the timeline as, “may contain sky, tree and outdoor.” A second photo from another Facebook contact is said to include “pizza.” The references fill a void that was not being addressed. Before this software, a visually impaired user would not have any information about the photo.

Matt King didn’t come into the world completely blind. He was born with  a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which destroys the retina. This made him legally blind at birth, but still able to see well enough to do schoolwork and ride his bike. But by the time he graduated Notre Dame with and electrical engineering degree, he was totally blind. He joined IBM in 1998, met the accessibility team which worked on making computing more accessible to this with disabilities, and ended up working with them for nearly two decades.

IBM’s accessibility department was created in 1985, well before most of Silicon Valley was thinking about the issue, partly in response to an IBM researcher who had gone blind.“The sense that was happening was that every person who was blind on the planet was losing access to the computer. There was no solution. You couldn’t write an email. You couldn’t go to work. You couldn’t go to school,” says Schwerdtfeger, an early member of the accessibility team who later worked closely with King.

“There were other blind people and several of them provided good input from the standpoint of a user, but what Matt brought to the table was an understanding of the technology underneath,” says one current IBM staffer. Looking for a chance to make more of an impact, Matt King left IBM and joined Facebook. The decision was somewhat personal for him, as King remembers the disappointment in creating his own Facebook page, and not know what was in the pictures. “Here’s one more thing, just like driving a car. Here’s another barrier for people who are blind,” said King. Now he is in a position to change that, and improve the platform for all its users. Kings technology will help the visually impaired, as well as those in situations where they cannot easily see their screens, such as when driving.

“The fact that you have somebody who has worked on accessibility who actually has the disability, is in a leadership position at probably the most pervasive application on the planet and is willing to put themselves out there like that,” Schwerdtfeger says, “that’s a big deal.”

Article via Mashable, 5 April 2016

Photo: First Ever Braille Library in Paradise, Mauritius by Exchanges Photos


Facebook exec arrested in WhatsApp case

Facebook is becoming the next tech giant to spar with law enforcement over privacy concerns.

Diego Dzodan, a Facebook executive, was arrested by Brazilian federal police on Tuesday for “repeated non-compliance with court orders”, according to a statement released by police. Brazilian police want information from a WhatsApp account that is linked to a drug trafficking investigation. WhatsApp is a messaging service that is used monthly by more than 1.5 billion people worldwide. Dzodan was taken into what the Brazilian police call preventative prison and could be held for a week or more.

Facebook wants to ensure that it maintains the privacy of its users from government intervention. In WhatsApp’s case, the company may not be able to help Brazilian authorities because it does not store users’ messages. In addition, WhatsApp is undergoing increased end to end encryption, which will make it even harder for the company to turn over user data. WhatsApp said in a statement that it disagreed with the Brazilian authorities on the case. “We are disappointed that law enforcement took this extreme step,” the messaging business said. “WhatsApp cannot provide information we do not have.”

Facebook, which bought WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion in 2014, condemned the Brazilian government’s move releasing this statement:

“We’re disappointed with the extreme and disproportionate measure of having a Facebook executive escorted to a police station in connection with a case involving WhatsApp, which operates separately from Facebook,” a spokesman said. “Facebook has always been and will be available to address any questions Brazilian authorities may have.”

This isn’t the first time Brazil has gone head to head with WhatsApp. In December, a judge ordered the shutdown of WhatsApp for the country for two days after not complying with a criminal investigation, but the ruling was overturned the next day.

 

Article via CNET, 1 March 2016; The New York Times, 2 March 2016

Photo: WhatsApp / iOS by Álvaro Ibáñez [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


How to combat online shaming

The ability to use social media to shame and hurt people online is called online shaming. You may have heard of versions of online shaming going by names like cyber bullying or revenge porn. Although you may be aware of online shaming, many of us still feel helpless to stop it. Technology has the power to transform people’s lives, but in the wrong hands, it can be used to destroy lives.

One story that captured the attention of the world was that of Tyler Clementi. On Sept. 22, 2010 Tyler went to the George Washington Bridge connecting New York City and New Jersey, and updated his Facebook status: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” The day before, Tyler’s roommate had posted a video of Tyler being intimate with another man without Tyler’s knowledge. The public humiliation was too unbearable for Tyler and he made the decision to end his life.

Tyler’s family took steps to help ensure that online shaming like what happened to Tyler would be addressed. “When we started the foundation, one of the reasons was because we had media attention,” says Jane Clementi.”So many people saw what was going on and no one spoke up,” she says. “No one reached out to Tyler.”

The Tyler Clementi Foundation focuses on helping adults clearly communicate their expectations for respectful behavior. They believe in  turning bystanders into “upstanders” who won’t condone bullying, no matter where it takes place. Since 2011, the Clementi family has spoken to thousands of people about not only calling out harassment, but also comforting and helping the victim. But awareness is not enough to solve the problem. That’s why the foundation partnered with New York Law School to launch the Tyler Clementi Institute for CyberSafety last fall. The institute helps give legal advice and council to parents dealing with cyber bullying, as well as victims of nonconsensual porn, another term for revenge porn or cyber exploitation.

Removing nonconsensual porn has gotten somewhat easier in the last year thanks to Internet and social media companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook adopting streamlined request processes. (In contrast, though, content that merely bullies breaks no laws; the threshold to successfully report and remove such comments is much higher.) In the past, the online shaming was confined to certain forums and message boards. But the rise of social media over the last decade has amplified the effects. Social media “can be easily exploited for shaming,” said Gabriella Coleman, a professor at New York University who studies media and culture. “It’s a good platform.”

In 2009, Brett Ligon, the newly elected district attorney in Montgomery County, Tex., decided to post on Twitter the names of drivers arrested on charges of drunken driving. He wanted to send a message that drunken driving would not be tolerated while he was district attorney. But not everyone was pleased. A handful of people who were named on Twitter complained to The Houston Chronicle after they found out their drunken driving arrests had been widely broadcasted. “I haven’t been proven guilty,” Linda Owens told the newspaper in January. “What happened to our rights?”

So what can you do about online shame? If you are a victim of cyberbullying or revenge porn make sure to keep records of what you are receiving. Giving the police urls and content may allow them to trace the IP address of your attacker. If pictures are involved, remember that pictures carry copyrights. If the picture is a selfie then you may be able to force the pictures off of sites since it violates copyright law. Online shame is not always a crime, as our laws have not yet caught up to our online environments. This is slowly being rectified as over half of all states now have revenge porn laws and legislation meant to ban revenge porn nationally is being pushed through congress.

The most important thing that any of us can do is be an “upstander“. Speak up when you see someone being harrassed. Stop the spread of malicious materials online. Don’t forget to comfort the victim and make sure that they know they are supported.

 

Article via Mashable, 21 February 2016; The New York Times,26 December 2010; Wired, 24 July 2013; DeleteCyberbullying; EndRevengePorn.org

Photo: Cyber Bullying: Hand Reach by iris [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Facebook sets things straight with India

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg is trying to set things straight after tweets from board member Marc Andreessen put the company’s image in hot water. Andreessen reacted to the Indian telecom regulator’s ban on Facebook’s Free Basics service by bringing up India and colonialism.

Zuckerberg was quoted as saying, “I found the comments deeply upsetting, and they do not represent the way Facebook or I think at all.”

The comments that he refers to start with Andreessen’s tweet, “Another in a long line of economically suicidal decisions made by the Indian government against its own citizens,” referencing the Free Basics ban. He continues saying, “Denying world’s poorest free partial Internet connectivity when today they have none, for ideological reasons, strikes me as morally wrong.”

Indian entrepreneur Vivek Chachra reportedly tweeted in response that the Free Basics argument that some Internet is better than no Internet sounded like a “justification of Internet colonialism.” To which Andreessen responded, “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?”

Zuckerberg wants to bring the Internet to the entire planet by 2020. India would be a major factor in making that goal come true. Andreessen’s comments make it appear as though Facebook may have other motives for expanding into India, and may jeopardize future growth in that market. Some say that Facebook should ask Andreessen to step down, and make an example out of him showing that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated.

In response, Zuckerberg has made statements of his own, via Facebook, to combat the controversy. India “has been personally important to me and Facebook….I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the need to understand India’s history and culture” and “I look forward to strengthening my connection to the country.”

Facebook has withdrawn Free Basics from India and continues to weather the storm of this controversy.

Article via TechNewsWorld, 12 February 2016

Photo: facebook global by Global Panorama [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Facebook to fight hate speech

Facebook is promising to fight hate speech amid the European refugee crisis.

“In the past year, we’ve seen millions of people come together online to support refugees and stand in solidarity with the victims of terror attacks,” wrote Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in a post on Monday. “But we’ve also heard voices of hate growing louder. With extremism damaging lives and societies across the world, challenging those voices has never been more important.”

The company did not disclose a particular plan, but they did announce the Online Civil Courage Initiative, meant to empower users to fight against hate speech. It also appears that Facebook will be backing more powerful non-governmental organizations which are already involved in fighting radicalism and hate speech online.

The Online Civil Courage initiative is yet another effort to prevent hate speech on social media. In December, Facebook and other companies like Google and Twitter agreed to remove instances of hate speech within 24 hours, in accordance with an agreement with Germany authorities. German politicians and celebrities also voiced concern about rising hatred on social media, as nearly 1.1 million migrants and refugees entered the country in 2015 alone. Last August, Germany’s minister of justice asked Facebook to remove racist posts targeting asylum seekers.  Three months after that prosecutors opened a criminal investigation because they suspected that Facebook failed to take down a wave of anti-immigrant posts on the social network, inciting racial hatred.

Following the terror attacks in Paris, France also called on Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google and Microsoft to combat extremist propaganda and expand safety tools in the event of a future attack.

“Hate speech has no place online — or in society,” Sandberg said. “Together, we can make sure the voices of peace, truth and tolerance are heard. Love is louder than hate.”

 

Article via Mashable, 19 January 2016

Photo:Facebook icon by Jurgen Appelo[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Summit to combat terrorists using social media

Federal administration officials collaborated with senior executives from several large tech firms at last week’s summit on terrorist communication via social media. General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey and Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin represented the Department of Justice at the conference. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple, and other large Silicon Valley companies attended. The meeting was part of President Obama’s overall mission as announced last week to combat violent extremism both internationally and domestically.

“Today’s developments reflect President Obama’s commitment to take every possible action to confront and interdict terrorist activities wherever they occur, including online,” said National Security Council representative Ned Price.

Multiple tech firms discussed their goals to prevent communication between terrorists on their social media outlets. “We explained our policies and how we enforce them—Facebook does not tolerate terrorists or terror propaganda and we work aggressively to remove it as soon as we become aware of it,” said a Facebook spokesperson.

The summit came after the Department of Homeland Security’s and the Department of Justice’s announcement of the Countering Violent Extremism Task Force, an amalgamation of different agencies given the task of “discourage[ing] violent extremism and undercut[ting] terrorist narratives” with an additional goal to “build relationships and promote trust” with certain communities across the country, said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.

Article via TechNewsWorld, 13 January 2016

Photo: President Obama Talks to the Crew of Atlantis (P052009PS-0698) by NASA HQ PHOTO. [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]