Facebook is Tracking Facebook Haters #1347



Facebook is tracking those they think are a threat to Facebook employees, executives via the Facebook App. While I understand companies have to protect their employees, but using their own app to track those on a blacklist is to me a huge invasion of privacy. I am not even sure this is legal in all countries. While I understand their reasoning it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

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AI is Coming to Take Your Jobs



President Donald Trump has signed an Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence.

Reuters summarized it as “an executive order asking federal government agencies to dedicate more resources and investment into research, promotion and training on artificial intelligence, known as AI.” Reuters pointed out that there was no specific funding announced for the initiative.

According to Reuters:

AI and deep machine learning raise ethical concerns about control, privacy, cybersecurity, and is set to trigger job displacements across industries and companies experts say.

The executive order comes after the White House held a meeting on AI in May with more than 30 major companies including Ford Motor Co., Boeing Co., Amazon.com, Inc., and Microsoft Corp.

Personally, this makes me feel uncomfortable. I’ve no idea what these companies (and others like them) will spend on replacing their current systems with AI – but I suspect it will cost them less than paying a human worker to do the same job. Robots and AI systems don’t need sick days, or health insurance coverage, or raises.

The executive order appears to require grants for training programs in high school, undergraduate programs, graduate fellowship, and alternative education. It does not include any AI training for people who are currently working in industries that are likely to invest in AI.

American workers now have to worry not only about robots coming to take their jobs, but also being replaced by AI.


Is Huawei Finished in America? #1346



Huawei is about to be banned from doing business with American companies and countries we consider partners. If the President really brings the hammer down one has to wonder what the government really has on Huawei. It has to be something major as this would be beyond anything ever done to a company before.

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Paris is Suing Airbnb for Illegal Advertisements



The city of Paris is suing Airbnb for violating a French law that requires advertisements about short term rentals to include a registration number.

Under French law, home owners in Paris can rent out their places on short-term rental platforms for up to 120 days a year. Advertisements must include a registration number to help ensure properties are not rented out for longer. This law was passed in 2018.

Paris is suing Airbnb for publishing 1,000 illegal rental adverts. Those who break this law can be punished by fines of 12,500 euros per illegal posting. This means Airbnb could end up paying 12.5 million euros, which comes to $14.2 million.

Reuters reported that France is Airbnb’s second-largest market after the United States. Paris, one of the most visited cities in the world, is its biggest single market, with around 65,000 homes listed.

Paris is absolutely serious about the 2018 law. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, “The goal is to send a shot across the bows to get it over with unauthorized rentals spoil some Parisian neighborhoods.” It appears that Airbnb may have to pay the fine if it wants to continue it’s business in Paris.

A spokeswoman for Airbnb told Reuters that the company implemented measures to help Paris users of its website comply with European rules. The spokeswoman said the rules in Paris were “inefficient, disproportionate and in contravention of European rules.”

This problem could have been entirely prevented if Airbnb paid attention to the Paris rule regarding short-term rentals and advertisements. I think Airbnb will have difficulty convincing a court that it did not break the Paris law.

If Airbnb ends up not being allowed to continue its business in Paris – it could potentially result in good things for the people who live in the city. CityLab reported about a study that found that spikes in Airbnb listings were strongly linked to rent increases in some of the largest US metro areas. Rent increases tend to make it very hard for low-income people to find affordable housing.

Perhaps this was what the mayor of Paris meant when she said that unauthorized rentals spoil some Parisian neighborhoods.


Google+ Offers Download of Data



Announced back in October, Google+ is coming to an untimely demise on 2nd April, leaving many of us somewhat uncomfortable with the thought of having to move house over to Facebook. Never mind Facebook’s total disregard for privacy, the user interface is complete rubbish…

While Google+ may be ending, Google is making it easy to retrieve information from the service and all users should have received an email giving the details of what needs to be done.

The download and save links to a support page which provides guidance on downloading all your Google+ information, including photos. It’s straightforward to do, but Google does take a few days to assemble the data and make it ready for download. Google then makes the data set available for around a week. I requested the download on 3rd February and received a notification that it was ready on 7th Feb.

Once downloaded, the archive can be unpacked. Google sorts the data into folders relating to your activity on Google+ and provides some additional html files to make browsing the data a little easier. Having said that, if you are only after your pictures, a quick search from a file manager for jpg will get quick results.

My online life with Google+ was quite small at 108 MB, but a friend who was an enthusiastic contributor to the server downloaded several gigs of data.

While it’s sad to see Google+ going away, it’s great to see Google making it easy to retain your Google+ data.


Cable Companies want Fast Lanes! #1345



Cable companies after fighting net neutrality tooth and nail are looking to get Congress to give them the rights of fast lanes while claiming that they do not want throttling or bandwidth limits imposed. The cable companies know where the dead bodies are buried and the want the fast lane cash. They are not stupid, but with a divided Congress it is simply not going to happen.

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Germany Ordered Facebook to Restrict How it Collects and Combines Data



Germany’s Bundeskartellamt has prohibited Facebook from combining user data from different sources. This decision is not yet final, and Facebook has one month to appeal the decision to the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court.

The decision covers the following data sources:

  • Facebook-owned services like WhatsApp and Instagram can continue to collect data. However, assigning the data to Facebook user accounts will only be possible subject to the users’ voluntary consent. Where consent is not given, the data must remain with the respective service and cannot be processed in combination with Facebook’s data.
  • Collecting data from third-party websites and assigning them to a Facebook user account will also only be possible if users give their voluntary consent.
  • If consent is not given for data from Facebook-owned services and third party websites, Facebook will have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data. Facebook is to develop proposals for solutions to this effect.

The Bundeskartellamt points out that many users are not aware that use of Facebook is subject to Facebook being able to collect an almost unlimited amount of any type of user data from third party sources, allocate those to the users’ Facebook accounts, and use them for numerous data processing processes.

It notes that third-party websites that include embedded “Like” or “Share” buttons enable data to flow to Facebook. The Bundeskartellamt said: “It is not even necessary, e.g. to scroll over or click on a “Like” button. Calling up a website with an embedded “Like” button will start the data flow. Millions of such interfaces can be encountered on German websites and on apps”.

The BBC reported that the UK-based campaign group Privacy International has said that if the German ruling holds, Facebook should extend the same rights to its other users.

Facebook, as you would expect, disagrees with the Bundeskartellmt. Facebook says it complies with the GDPR. Facebook claims that “using information across services helps to make them better and protect people’s safety”. Facebook says it will make the Bundeskartellmt defend these important arguments in court.