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From The Editors Technology

Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes Thinks It’s Time to Break Up the Company

In an opinion piece, published Thursday (May 9) in The New York Times, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has called for regulators to break up the company.

Hughes blames the company’s slipshod privacy practices, violent rhetoric, fake news, and its lackadaisical response to Russian propaganda for the sharp decline in “Mark’s personal reputation and the reputation of Facebook” in the last couple of years.

Despite the fact that Hughes co-founded Facebook fifteen years ago and hasn’t been a part of the company in any capacity in a decade, he feels “a sense of anger and responsibility” for the way the company has gone about conducting its affairs.

According to Hughes, Zuckerberg’s obsession for growth, even if it came at the expense of security and ethics, led him to misuse the overwhelming influence and unbridled power he wields in the company.

“Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government,” writes Hughes, going on to add that Zuckerberg is the sole deciding authority when it comes to Facebook’s algorithm configurations.

It effectively means that he is the one who determines “what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered.”

“I’m disappointed in myself and the early Facebook team for not thinking more about how the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders,” he adds.

And the fact that the people around Mark are of the yes-sir-you’re-right-sir kind; a support team that “reinforces his beliefs” rather than question them; is rather worrying, Hughes laments.

Not too long ago, Zuckerberg was under tremendous investor pressure to step down as Facebook chairman after an NYT report accused the company of hiring a Washington-based consultant, Definers Public Affairs, to malign its critics and competitors.

According to the report, “Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros.”

The NYT investigation also revealed that Facebook didn’t even spare its business relationships, “lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.”

The report went on to claim that a Definers affiliate called NTK Network – a conservative news site – ran dozens of articles attacking tech giants Apple and Google for indulging in “unsavory business practices.”

In fact, one particular story went to the extent of calling Apple CEO Tim Cook “hypocritical” for criticizing Facebook over privacy concerns, when the Cupertino-based company itself collects “reams of data from users.”

While an embattled Zuckerberg was still reeling from the NYT assault, another damaging piece by Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan came along to add to the man’s miseries.

Calling him an incapable leader of “the broken behemoth that is Facebook,” Sullivan wrote that Zuckerberg hides, denies, blame-shifts and “speaks in the worst kind of fuzzy corporate clichés.”

Citing what she called “two stunning pieces of journalism,” including the NYT story and another by feature writer Eli Saslow in the Washington Post, she said that Facebook is like a “rudderless ship sailing toward the apocalypse — and we’re all along for the ride.”

“A company with Facebook’s massive reach and influence requires robust oversight and that can only be achieved through an independent chair who is empowered to provide critical checks on company leadership,” Facebook investor and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer was quoted by Business Insider as saying, at the time.

All of Facebook’s woes can, essentially, be traced back to the “data breach” scandal involving British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, which surfaced in March 2018.

Facebook reportedly harvested the data of some 50 million Facebook users to help Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Cambridge Analytica, however, denied any wrongdoing on its part in regard to the alleged breach.

According to Facebook, Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge University professor, used an app on its platform to collect information from 270,000 users on the pretext of a “personality test” – which the users volunteered for – and then, in a clear breach of trust, shared the data with Cambridge Analytica.

The consultancy, in turn, used it to unfairly benefit Trump’s 2016 campaign; not only that, Kogan even shared the data of the volunteers’ friends.

Coming back to Thursday’s opinion piece, Hughes has also called for the creation of a dedicated agency to keep a strict vigil on tech companies.

Unhappy with Facebook’s monopolistic approach, and that’s putting it mildly, he suggests that the company should be broken up into multiple companies, and also forced to reverse its acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp to create a level playing field.

“First, Facebook should be separated into multiple companies. The F.T.C., in conjunction with the Justice Department, should enforce antitrust laws by undoing the Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions and banning future acquisitions for several years,” Hughes suggests.

Citing the antitrust claims against Whole Foods, which it settled by selling off Wild Oats brand and stores, he says that it’s still not too late for the Federal Trade Commission to act.

Hughes’ piece was bound to raise a few hackles in the Menlo Park company, and it did.

In a statement published by CNN’s Hadas Gold, former UK deputy prime minister and the current global affairs head at Facebook, Nick Clegg, said:

“Facebook accepts that success comes accountability. But “But you don’t enforce accountability by calling for the breakup of a successful American company.” 

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From The Editors

The U.S. Justice Department Wants Facebook to Help Eavesdrop on Suspect’s Messenger Conversations

Three people familiar with the case have told Reuters that the United States Justice Department (DOJ) is trying to make Facebook Inc. legally liable to break the encryption of its popular Messenger app so law enforcement agencies could eavesdrop on a suspect’s voice conversations.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the unnamed sources told the London-based news agency that the issue came to light in Fresno, California, in an ongoing investigation into the notorious MS-13 gang and its criminal activities.

At a sealed trial in a federal California court, the U.S. government on Tuesday (August 14) urged the court to hold Facebook in contempt for refusing to concede to the Messenger access demand by the concerned agencies.

Having been at the receiving end of a lot of privacy-related flak in recent months, the social networking giant is arguing in court that there’s no way it can access end-to-end encrypted Messenger conversations between two users, according to two of Reuter’s sources, who were briefed on the case.

Providers can, and do, decrypt services like ordinary Facebook text messages, or Gmail, among others, for targeted advertising purposes, and can make them available to law enforcement agencies on court-ordered requests.

However, when it comes to end-to-end encrypted services like Signal and Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp platforms, the exchange between users is direct and un-decryptable.

Both parties, Facebook as well as the Justice Department, have declined to comment on the sub judice matter, reports Reuters.

The case obviously reignites the debate over the legality of such demands on companies to alter their products in order to aid surveillance of suspects.

In fact, it is the latest in a series of privacy battles tech companies have been fighting with law enforcement agencies to protect personal data and communication history users have entrusted them with.

Reuter says, according to experts, a ruling in favor of the government in the impending Messenger judgment is likely to set a precedent for the government to exploit against other “popular encrypted services such as Signal and Facebook’s billion-user WhatsApp, which include both voice and text functions.”

Authors Dan Levine and Joseph Menn of the Reuter article correctly note that “law enforcement agencies forcing technology providers to rewrite software to capture and hand over data that is no longer encrypted would have major implications for the companies which see themselves as defenders of individual privacy while under pressure from police and lawmakers.”

The standoff is somewhat reminiscent of the Apple-FBI court case in 2016, which saw the tech giant battle it out with the federal law enforcement agency that wanted Apple to break into an iPhone belonging to a slain terrorist, who was one of the perpetrators of the 2015 San Bernardino, California shooting that killed 14 people and gravely injured 22.

However, this time around it’s not a request for a one-off hacking into a dead criminal’s iPhone, but the government “seeking a wiretap of ongoing voice conversations by one person on Facebook Messenger,” says Reuter.

With President Donald Trump rarely missing a chance to cite the MS-13 gang as the direct consequence of the ineffective policies of the country’s immigration services, Zuckerberg’s continued refusal to comply may attract his ire.

In a South Carolina rally during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump had called for a boycott of all Apple products in response to the iPhone-related legal standoff between the Cupertino-based company and the FBI.

At the time, Apple based its case on the argument that the government’s pressure on the company to create software to breach the iPhone in question was in violation of the company’s First Amendment speech and expression rights.

The case did not end in a verdict, though, as the government chose to drop the litigation midway after investigators found an alternative way of getting into the device.

About MS-13

Based on National Institute of Justice-funded research and fieldwork, non-profit journalism and investigative organization InSight Crime reports that the MS-13, or the Mara Salvatrucha, is the largest, most formidable, and progressively most sophisticated street gang in the northern hemisphere.

The organization’s findings revealed that gang started small in the 1980s, spreading its ever-growing tentacles across half a dozen countries over time.

So notorious is the gang for its violent crimes that it has become a nemesis for law enforcement agencies in both hemispheres, and despite their concerted efforts, the gang continues to be a “persistent threat and shows signs of expanding its criminal portfolio.”

Some of Insight Crime’s major findings are bulleted below

  • The MS13 is a largely urban phenomenon that has cells operating in two continents
  • It’s a social organization first, and a criminal organization second
  • It’s is a diffuse organization of sub-parts, with no single leader or leadership structure that directs the entire gang
  • The MS13 has guidelines more than rules, which are subject to varying interpretations
  • MS13 violence is brutal and purposeful
  • The gang’s diffuse nature makes it hard for it to control its own expressions of violence
  • It’s is a hand-to-mouth criminal organization that depends on control of territory to secure revenue
  • The MS13 is a transnational gang, not a transnational criminal organization (TCO)
  • El Salvador’s MS13 leaders are trying to assert more control over the US East Coast
  • The MS13 is taking advantage of traditional migration patterns, not sending members to set up new cells
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From The Editors Technology Top 5

Top Five Key Takeaways from Mark Zuckerberg’s Recode Interview

In a 90-minute interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked on multiple issues, ranging from Facebook-related issues to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting; from political issues to Trump’s border policy, and more.
Five main takeaways

1. He spoke candidly about his views on the Sandy Hook School shooting and the Holocaust deniers.

Zuckerberg agrees that people who claim that the Sandy Hook shooting or the Holocaust never happened are without a doubt misinformed and totally wrong, but that does not mean they should be evicted from the platform.
“I agree that it is false,” he said.

“I also think that going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, “Hey, no, you’re a liar” — that is harassment, and we actually will take that down. But overall, let’s take this whole closer to home,” he said.

He then gave the example of people who deny that the Holocaust ever happened, saying that being Jewish, he found it profoundly unpleasant but that did not mean they should be thrown out of the platform, because people can and do get things wrong, including himself.

“I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong,” Zuckerberg said.

“It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly,” he said.

He continued: “I’m sure you do. I’m sure a lot of leaders and public figures we respect do too, and I just don’t think that it is the right thing to say, “We’re going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times.”

He added: “What we will do is we’ll say, “Okay, you have your page, and if you’re not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone, then you can put up that content on your page, even if people might disagree with it or find it offensive.” But that doesn’t mean that we have a responsibility to make it widely distributed in News Feed.”

2. He did not concur with the idea that there is no evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

“Well, the evidence that we’ve seen is quite clear, that the Russians did try to interfere with the election,” said the CEO of Facebook.

He said that Facebook had informed the concerned government authorities before the elections that a group of Russian military intelligence hackers was trying to sabotage the elections by Phishing the accounts of members of the Republican and Democratic National Committees.

Here’s how he explained it.

“We’ve tried to cooperate with the government and the different investigations that are going on — they obviously have much more context than this. But what we saw, before the election, was this Russian hacking group, part of Russian military intelligence, that I guess our government calls APT28. They were trying to do more traditional methods of hacking: Phishing people’s accounts, just getting access to people’s accounts that way.

“We, around the time of the election, had given this context to the FBI. They’ve clearly gone much further now, at this point, in terms of putting the whole story together. You could see that in the indictments that Mueller just issued over the last week or so. That’s the part that I actually think we got and were on top of.”

3. Zuckerberg accepted full blame for the Cambridge Analytica data breach and said that if anyone should be fired for the fiasco, it has to be him.

Earlier this year Facebook witnessed a sharp dip in its share value in the wake of the massive “data breach” scandal involving British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.

The company is believed to have misused information inappropriately gained from 50 million Facebook users to manipulate its client Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

When asked in the Recode interview if someone deserved to be fired for the Cambridge Analytica breach, he said:

“Well, I think it’s a big issue. But look, I designed the platform, so if someone’s going to get fired for this, it should be me. And I think that the important thing going forward is to make sure that we get this right. In this case, the most important steps, in terms of, to prevent this from happening again, we’d already taken in 2014 when we had changed dramatically the way that the platform worked.

“But overall, I mean, this is an important situation, and I think again it’s … This to me is an example of, you get judged by how you deal with an issue when it comes up. And I think on this one, we’ve done the right things, and many of them I think we’d actually done years ago to prevent this kind of situation from happening again.”

4. Zuckerberg was critical of China’s policies concerning social media, with specific reference to Facebook.

“They do not share the values that we have,” he said.

“You can bet that if the government hears word that it’s election interference or terrorism, I don’t think Chinese companies are going to wanna cooperate as much and try to aid the national interest there.”

Asked about his situation in China now, he said:

“I mean, we’re blocked. Over the long term. I think it’s hard to have a mission of wanting to bring the whole world closer together and leave out the biggest country.”

5. He thinks that Trump’s stand on immigration that has seen children getting separated from their parents at the U.S. border is “terrible.”

“It was terrible,” he said.

“Terrible,” he repeated for effect and to, probably, emphasize how abhorrent the whole situation was.

When asked if he did anything more in that regard than just donate money, he said:

“Yeah, well I mean, the good news here is because we’ve been working on FWD for so long, it has established a lot of the infrastructure that now … When a crisis comes up, you can’t just spin this stuff up immediately. So they’re in there and they’re able to help out.

“But I mean, talking about social utility, one of the really proud moments recently of working at this company was the fact that a couple of people could start a fundraiser to raise $1500, enough to bail one person out, and they ended up raising more than $20 million.

“And this thing just went viral, and I think it’s a great example of when you give people a voice what positive things can happen, both substantively in terms of the fundraiser and just the widespread show of support, I think, is also really meaningful. And I think a combination of that and a number of other things like that may have been what led the administration to backtrack on the policy there.”

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From The Editors Technology

Facebook to Add Dating Feature to Target 200 Million ‘Single’ Users on Its Platform

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has, of late, been in the news for all the wrong reasons, is looking to put all that behind him, if his Tuesday keynote address at the company’s annual developers’ conference, F8, is anything to go by.

The face behind Facebook revealed that the company would be adding a dating layer to its social networking platform to help its 200 million single users to build “real, long-term relationships” and not just “hook-ups.”

“There are 200 million people on Facebook that list themselves as single, so clearly there’s something to do here,” Zuckerberg.

“This is going to be for building real, long-term relationships — not just for hookups,” he quipped, adding that the feature would be part of the main Facebook app and it would be left completely to the users’ discretion to register for the opt-in service or not.

“We have designed this with privacy and safety in mind from the beginning. Your friends aren’t going to see your profile, and you’re only going to be suggested to people who are not your friends.”

While many may question the timing of the announcement, which comes barely six weeks after the Cambridge Analytica controversy, it may actually work out to be a masterstroke from the Facebook CEO.

Offering a service that demands far greater security and data protection than ever before, that too at a time when the company is mired in a massive data breach scandal, Zuckerberg is, probably, using it as reverse psychology to gain back the lost confidence in the site.

“I know a lot of you are going to have questions about this,” said Zuckerberg. “We’ve designed this with privacy and safety in mind from the beginning.”

The dating service idea is something that Facebook has long considered but for some reason, it was kept on the backburners for years, until it saw some fruition on Tuesday, at least, in terms of intent.

The Facebook billionaire is of the opinion that there can’t be a better time than now to introduce the service on its platform– bearing in mind that 34 percent of marriages in the U.S. are the result of internet relationships.

He said that if the company remained “focused on helping people build meaningful relationships, then this is perhaps the most meaningful of all.”

This announcement is sure to have raised a few hackles in the ranks of existing dating sites like Tinder, OkCupid, eHarmony, JDate, and Match – companies that witnessed a sharp decline in their stock values following the announcement.

Facebook shares, on the other hand, went up by 1.1 percent, closing at $173.86 on the news.

The Facebook move, obviously aimed at increasing the time users spend on the platform – which has seen a substantial decline in recent times – poses a “big problem” for the competition mentioned above, says James Cordwell an analyst at Atlantic Equities, reports Reuters.

“But the initial functionality looks relatively basic compared to those offered by Match’s services, so the impact Facebook has on the dating space will be down to how well it executes in this area,” Cordwell, reportedly, said.

Facebook product chief Chris Cox shared the proposed dating service’s prototype, which seems to have been perceived along the lines of other mobile-oriented dating apps like Bumble and Tinder where you have full-page profile photos.

However, with the kind of user base and the corresponding data available at Facebook’s disposal, the service is supposed to be more community-based where “potential matches will be recommended based on dating preferences, things in common, and mutual friends.

They’ll have the option to discover others with similar interests through their Groups or Events,” explained Facebook.

Some important takeaways from the proposed dating service

  • Before a user can create a dating profile he/she will first have to opt-in, making it very much a discretionary choice.
  • The dating profile created will not be visible to friends; not even to users who aren’t on the dating platform.
  • The profile will never show up in the News Feed
  • Users can browse local Events as well as Groups with shared interests and if anything strikes their fancy, they can use the “unlock” option to access the profiles of other users of the feature, provided they have also unlocked that surface.
  • Facebook will then try and match them with people based on mutual interests and friends, taking into consideration other data that Facebook has on its users.
  • Users can browse through the profiles of the suggested matchups and if both parties are on the same page, a special conversation can be started in a dedicated messaging tool, separate from FB Messenger or WhatsApp.
  • For security reasons, only text messages will be allowed between parties, at least in the initial stages.

Some interesting reactions the Facebook dating service
announcement has elicited from, both, individuals and companies.

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From The Editors Technology

Oculus’s Latest VR headset “Oculus Go” Is Here

Facebook-owned Oculus’s Latest VR headset, Oculus Go, is here, and today we’re going to review this virtual reality contraption to see if it’s worth spending the $199 price attached to it.

The first thing that strikes you about the Oculus Go is its minimalist and easy to use architecture, with no smartphone or PC needed to connect to it for it to work – a truly standalone VR headset, with only the main unit and the wireless controller to worry about, and that’s about it.

It’s, what you can say, is the midway option between the less expensive and pretty much basic Samsung Gear VR headset – or the Google Daydream VR, which is useless without a smartphone connected to it – and the hardcore PC gaming Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.

Let’s start by checking out what is included in the box before we actually get into the good and the bad of the headset.

In addition to the headset and the controller, it comes bundled with an accessories box, which includes a 5-volt 2-amp-rated fast charging adaptor, a manual, a wrist strap and two AA batteries for the controller, a lens cleaning cloth, a micro USB cable and, last but not least, a ‘glasses spacer’ – a really handy inclusion for bespectacled users.

It is, for sure, one of the more comfortable headsets out there on the market today, with a generous amount of breathable foam around the eyes, three adjustable spandex head straps secured with Velcro, not to mention the gray matt finish plastic that accounts for the shell.

It may be a little bit on the heavier side but it does compensate for it with the even weight distribution as compared to, say, the Samsung Gear VR headset which has to accommodate a phone up front.

On top of the headset, you have your power button and a volume adjuster, while a micro USB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack have been made available on the side, which is a bonus of sorts, considering the fact that the onboard speakers built into the headset strap ensure a decent enough 3D sound quality. The microphone on the bottom of the Oculus Go allows you to chat with people.

From a specifications perspective, well, the Snapdragon 821 processor and 32GB or 64GB of onboard storage are reminiscent of a Xiaomi phone.

The lightweight ambidextrous controller fits perfectly into the contours of your right or left hand and has a touchpad which doubles as a button, including a trigger designed for your forefinger – a handy feature for interacting with VR environments.

The wrist strap included in the accessories box is there to stop you from inadvertently hurling it across the room and damaging stuff.

Before you can start using your Oculus Go, you need to download and sign in to the Oculus Go Companion on a supported device, which can be any Android phone running 6.0 Marshmallow or higher, or any iPhone running iOS10 or above.

Once you’re done with the downloading, plug in your Oculus Go headset into your wall socket using the included micro USB cable, or the power adaptor if you happen to be outside the U.S, to charge it up.

While the unit is charging, press and hold down the power button on the headset to start it up; then, follow the simple instructions on the app to connect the headset via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

You’ll be asked to insert the batteries in the controller, after which you need to select the right-handed or left-handed option; of course, this can always be changed in the settings.

Then, you’ll have to endure a demo video and a few health and safety warnings that you need to give your consent to before you’re through to the Oculus Store screen that immediately starts synching your headset to the newest version of the software, which may take 15 minutes, or so.

You can use the intervening time to browse the store to check out the games and apps available for download, most of which do support the Go, with a few that are only compatible with the Oculus Rift

Once the software upgrade is complete and after you’re through with the quick tutorial and choosing your background landscape, you’ll find yourself on the main menu where you’ll see options for recently used apps, or coming events, as well as tabs for new apps and games, with all your setting options down at the bottom of the screen.

Compared to the Gear, Rift and Vive, the picture quality of the Go is closer to the more expensive Rift or Vive than the modest Gear.

The Go is, in fact, equipped with newer second-gen lenses than those on the Rift, which combine exceptionally well with the 2560 x 1440 resolution LCD screen to give a higher per-eye resolution than the Rift, which says a lot about this lower priced headset.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to rate the Oculus Go on a par with devices that are 2-3 times more expensive, at least in so far as the lenses and picture quality are concerned.

The standalone capability of the Go makes it even more endearing; gone are those pesky cables going over that shoulder of yours, although one has to concede that this is no hard-core gaming VR headset, but, then, it was never intended to be one.

The Go is, in fact, a very efficient media entertainment device, apparently offering in excess of 1,000 great VR experiences, including loads of games like Rush, Coaster Combat, and Pet Lab, to name a few.

The Oculus Go is an even better machine to watch stuff on; you have the Netflix and the Hulu apps, as well as loads of video – including 3D stuff from the Oculus Store and even National Geographic to choose from.

The presence of a web browser is a pretty useful inclusion as well, especially if you are a YouTube lover.

One app that really stands out – and this is, probably, a subjective observation – is the Melody VR which lets you watch artists in concert, or in a personal space like their balconies, playing your favorite music, with the decent quality built-in speakers only adding to the experience.

Somewhat along the lines of the Play Station ‘Home,’ the Oculus Room allows you to join a public room, or invite your buddies from your friends’ list to join you in a virtual space to do stuff together, like play games, listen to music or just chat – indeed, a great way to hang out with your mates, especially those you don’t’ get to see a lot of.

Summing it up, from a purely gaming perspective, the Oculus Go offers an impressive range of games that are fun but better suited to younger kids.

By no stretch of the imagination is it going to take over from your gaming console or your PC but, as mentioned before, it’s not even making an attempt to do that. Honestly, at the price it’s being made available for, this comparison is rather unjustified.

The $199 price tag also justifies the absence of 3D position tracking; the single controller; and the fact that it’s running on a 2016 phone processor.

The battery life isn’t much to harp about; just about 2 to 2 ½ hours, depending on what you’re doing on it, and it takes as long as three hours to fully juice it up, which is a pretty long wait, one has to say.

While it’s quite comfortable to use, it does leave some reddish marks around the forehead area, as well as the nose and eyes if used for extended periods, which in the scribe’s case was around the 15-minute mark.

It’s, certainly, a recommended buy when you consider its ease of use; its great picture quality; the impressive collection of simple games and great apps; the included web browser; and good sound-quality – and, all of that for just $199.

However, if you’re looking for the best gaming experience in virtual reality AND if you are willing to shell out $400, the Oculus Rift is what you should be considering.

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From The Editors Technology

Facebook Used the Services of a Doctor to Convince U.S. Hospitals to Share Patient Information

According to a Thursday report by CNBC, Facebook had recently been in negotiations with a number of top hospitals and other healthcare groups in the United States, including Stanford Medical School and the American College of Cardiology, to share patient data like details of their ailments and prescriptions without revealing their identity.

The purpose behind this data-sharing request was a Facebook-proposed research project, directed at helping healthcare facilities provide dedicated care or treatment to patients needing them the most.

The proposal, which never managed to make it beyond the planning phase, was put on hold in the wake of the massive “data breach” scandal involving British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.

The social networking giant’s efforts to test the waters for the proposed data-sharing were led by cardiologist Freddy Abnousi.

The fact that personal details like name, age and address were not being sought by the social networking giant – which of late has been in the news for all the wrong reasons – might make you wonder what purpose the nameless medical records would serve.

Well, the plan was to match the hospital-shared information about patients’ illnesses and prescriptions with information already available on Facebook’s massive database, so that patients needing special care and treatment could be identified and targeted by health caregivers.

A technique known as hashing, which has been “one of the most effective tools commonly used to compress data for fast access and analysis, as well as information integrity verification,” would have made it possible for Facebook to effectively give a name and face to the hospital medical records.

The patients, however, were not informed of the proposed data sharing; hence, the question of patient consent does not even arise here.

Of course, this reignites the debate over data security and Facebook’s intentions behind amassing such a vast amount of user data, which it has not been able to protect, intentionally or unintentionally, in spite of Zuckerberg’s tall claims and pledges.

Last month, Facebook witnessed a sharp dip in its share value following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The British firm, reportedly, misused information inappropriately gained from 50 million Facebook users to manipulate its client Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

According to Zuckerberg, Aleksandr Kogan – a Cambridge University professor/researcher -developed an app and used it on Facebook to gather information from some 300,000 users on the pretext of a personality test, which the users voluntary shared along with their friends’ data, thereby giving Kogan access to tens of millions of FB accounts.

However, in a clear breach of trust, Kogan not only shared the data of the wilful participants but also the personal information of their friends with Cambridge Analytica, which, in turn, used the information to unfairly benefit Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Cambridge Analytica, however, has denied any wrongdoing on its part in regard to the alleged breach.

Coming back to Facebook’s medical data-sharing endeavors, Regina Dugan, who was head of Facebook’s “Building 8” experiment projects group until she left in October of 2017, had been working with Abnousi on the project.

In what appears to be an attempt to defend its actions, Facebook provided CNBC with a quote from Cathleen Gates, the interim CEO of the American College of Cardiology, in which she discusses the advantages of the proposed plan.

“For the first time in history, people are sharing information about themselves online in ways that may help determine how to improve their health,” reads Gates’ statement.

“As part of its mission to transform cardiovascular care and improve heart health, the American College of Cardiology has been engaged in discussions with Facebook around the use of anonymized Facebook data, coupled with anonymized ACC data, to further scientific research on the ways social media can aid in the prevention and treatment of heart disease – the #1 cause of death in the world,” says Gates.

“This partnership is in the very early phases as we work on both sides to ensure privacy, transparency and scientific rigor. No data has been shared between any parties,” she concludes.

“Consumers wouldn’t have assumed their data would be used in this way,” said Aneesh Chopra – President of health software company CareJourney and co-founder & EVP of Hunch Analytics.

“If Facebook moves ahead (with its plans), I would be wary of efforts that repurpose user data without explicit consent,” he added.
Here’s how Facebook explained the plan in another statement to CNBC.

“The medical industry has long understood that there are general health benefits to having a close-knit circle of family and friends.

But deeper research into this link is needed to help medical professionals develop specific treatment and intervention plans that take social connection into account.

“With this in mind, last year Facebook began discussions with leading medical institutions, including the American College of Cardiology and the Stanford University School of Medicine, to explore whether scientific research using anonymized Facebook data could help the medical community advance our understanding in this area. This work has not progressed past the planning phase, and we have not received, shared, or analyzed anyone’s data.

“Last month we decided that we should pause these discussions so we can focus on other important work, including doing a better job of protecting people’s data and being clearer with them about how that data is used in our products and services.”

Talking about the Cambridge Analytica debacle, Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged in a recent Facebook post that not only was this a “breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook,” but also a violation of the trust between the company and the people who expect Facebook to protect their data. “We need to fix that,” he assured.

Here are the key points of how Facebook intends to prevent “bad actors from accessing people’s information.”

One: Investigate old apps that had access to huge amounts of data and thoroughly audit all apps showing questionable activity.

Developers who do not agree to the auditing, or those found to have “misused personally identifiable information,” will be banned on the platform.

Two: Apps that users have not accessed for three or more months will be blocked from accessing user information. Also, the amount of data an app can access will be limited to username, profile photo, and email address. Any developer seeking more information will be required to get prior approval and also sign a contract.

Three: The Facebook privacy settings tool which allows users to revoke apps’ permissions to user data, will now appear on top of the News Feed, making it easier for users to keep track of the apps they have allowed to access their data.

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From The Editors Technology

Mark Zuckerberg Announces Measures to Curb Cambridge Analytica-Like User Data Breaches

Better late than never!

Or is it a case of “Too Late the Hero”?

Well, it took Mark Zuckerberg five long days to speak out on the raging controversy surrounding the alleged misappropriation of Facebook’s user information by British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.

In a 937-word Facebook post, the billionaire CEO has laid out a series of corrective measures to secure user data, while taking full responsibility for everything that takes place on the social networking site.

“I started Facebook, and at the end of the day I’m responsible for what happens on our platform. I’m serious about doing what it takes to protect our community,” wrote Zuckerberg.

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you,” he said.

All this, however, is somewhat contrary to what his vice president and General Counsel, Paul Grewal, said over the weekend. His statement appeared to be a blatant attempt to absolve Facebook of all responsibilities concerning the data leak in question.

“The claim that this is a data breach is completely false,” Grewal had said. “Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent. People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”

While Zuckerberg’s version is not much different from that of Grewal, he has at least owned up to lapses on the part of Facebook and has pledged to take necessary steps to address privacy and security-related issues, in an attempt to make Facebook a breach-proof platform, if you will.

But, before Zuckerberg went on to outline those steps, he tried to explain the company’s position on what had actually transpired between his company and Cambridge Analytica – the subject of the ongoing crisis.

According to Zuckerberg, Aleksandr Kogan – a Cambridge University professor/researcher -developed an app and used it on Facebook to gather information from some 300,000 users on the pretext of a personality test, which the users voluntary shared along with their friends’ data, thereby giving Kogan access to tens of millions of FB accounts.

“In 2013, a Cambridge University researcher named Aleksandr Kogan created a personality quiz app. It was installed by around 300,000 people who shared their data as well as some of their friends’ data. Given the way our platform worked at the time this meant Kogan was able to access tens of millions of their friends’ data,” Zuckerberg wrote in his post.

However, in a clear breach of trust, Kogan not only shared the data of the wilful participants but also the personal information of their friends with Cambridge Analytica, which, in turn, used the information to unfairly benefit Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Zuckerberg further said that the company made big-time changes to the platform in 2014 to put a leash on abusive apps, by limiting the amount of information these offending programs could access.

“In 2014, to prevent abusive apps, we announced that we were changing the entire platform to dramatically limit the data apps could access,” reads the post.

“Most importantly, apps like Kogan’s could no longer ask for data about a person’s friends unless their friends had also authorized the app. We also required developers to get approval from us before they could request any sensitive data from people. These actions would prevent any app like Kogan’s from being able to access so much data today,” he wrote, explaining the steps taken at the time.

However, the horse had already bolted with the personal data of 50 million users, before Mr. Zuckerberg got down to locking the stable door.

And, here’s a harsh reminder of that: Donald Trump did become, and is, the President of the United States of America.

According to Zuckerberg, it wasn’t until 2015 that the company came to know from The Guardian that the data collected by Kogan somehow found its way to Cambridge Analytica, after which, the company put pressure on Kogan and Analytica to provide written guarantees that all user information had been wiped clean from their records.

“In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica,” reads Zuckerberg’s post.

“It is against our policies for developers to share data without people’s consent, so we immediately banned Kogan’s app from our platform, and demanded that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data. They provided these certifications.”

However, the latest developments suggest that the said data may not have been actually deleted by the concerned parties, which, again, is a breach of the formal certifications they gave to Facebook in 2015.

“Cambridge Analytica claims they have already deleted the data and has agreed to a forensic audit” by a company Facebook has hired to investigate the matter, Zuckerberg said.

“We’re also working with regulators as they investigate what happened,” he added.

The Facebook CEO acknowledged that not only was this a “breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook,” but also a violation of the trust between the company and the people who expect Facebook to protect their data. “We need to fix that,” he asserted.

Here are the key points of his plans to prevent “bad actors from accessing people’s information.”

One: Investigate old apps that had access to huge amounts of data and thoroughly audit all apps showing questionable activity. Developers who do not agree to the audit or those found to have “misused personally identifiable information” will be banned on the platform.

Two: Apps that users have not accessed for three or more months will be blocked from accessing user information. Also, the amount of data an app can access will be limited to username, profile photo, and email address. Any developer seeking more information will be required to get prior approval and also sign a contract.

Three: The Facebook privacy settings tool which allows users to revoke apps’ permissions to user data, will now appear on top of the News Feed, making it easier for users to keep track of the apps they have allowed to access their data.

While these steps may prevent new apps from doing a Cambridge Analytica again, it “doesn’t change what happened in the past,” said the beleaguered CEO.

“We will learn from this experience to secure our platform further and make our community safer for everyone going forward,” he pledged – and we hope.

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From The Editors Technology

Facebook Shares Take a Hard Hit in the Aftermath of Cambridge Analytica “Data Breach” Scandal

Facebook witnessed a sharp dip in its share value in the wake of the massive “data breach” scandal involving British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica. The company, reportedly, misused information inappropriately gained from 50 million Facebook users to manipulate its client Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Cambridge Analytica, however, has denied any wrongdoing on its part in regard to the alleged breach.

According to Facebook, Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge University professor, used an app on its platform to collect information from 270,000 Facebook users on the pretext of a “personality test” – which the users volunteered for – and then, in a clear breach of trust, shared the data with Cambridge Analytica, which, in turn, used it to unfairly benefit Trump’s 2016 campaign. Not only that, Kogan even shared the data of the volunteers’ friends. The news was first reported by the New York Times.

“The claim that this is a data breach is completely false,” Facebook vice president and General Counsel Paul Grewal said on Saturday. “Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent. People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”

The alleged breach has not gone down well with both U.S. and U.K. authorities.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey made it clear through online posts that an investigation into the blatant breach was being initiated, while British Parliament member Damian Collins has indicated that he would be speaking to Analytica head Alexander Nix to testify as to why he had incorrectly told the MPs in February that his company had not accessed user data from Facebook.

Collins also made it clear that Mark Zuckerberg will be called on to testify on the possibility of the social media manipulation having influenced the 2016 Brexit vote.

House Intelligence committee top Democrat Adam Schiff has demanded that Analytica be “thoroughly investigated” and has said that Facebook must explain how and why information of millions of users ended up with Kogan, who then made it available to Analytica.

While the Republican majority on the House intelligence committee has arrived at the conclusion that there was no Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, Schiff has denounced the decision, saying that the Democratic minority would continue its crusade against such activity in the interest of the nation.

“This raises serious questions about the level of detail that Cambridge Analytica knew about users, whether it acquired that information illegally and whether it sought to abuse that information in support of President Trump’s political campaign in the United States or Brexit in the United Kingdom,” Schiff reportedly told the Guardian.

“The company has repeatedly touted its ability to influence voters through ‘psychographic’ targeting and has claimed it was the fundamental reason that Donald Trump won the 2016 election.

Indeed, it may be that through Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign made use of illegitimately acquired data on millions of Americans in order to help sway the election,” he added.

Facebook has suspended the account of whistleblower Chris Wylie and his former employer Cambridge Analytica and its associates, as well as the academic Kogan from its platform, “pending further investigation.”

Wylie, however, has said that it wasn’t fair of Facebook to publicly attack him when he was actually trying to help in the investigations into the breach, accusing the social site of having knowledge of all that was happening, and yet sitting on the matter for two years.

“They acknowledged my offer but then turned around and shot the messenger. I’m trying to make amends for my mistakes and so should Facebook,” Wylie is believed to have told the Guardian.

“Facebook has known about this for at least two years and did almost nothing to fix it. This is not new. And it’s only by coming forward that Facebook is now taking action. People need to know this kind of profiling is happening.”

Damian Collins has been scathing in his attack on Facebook, calling for additional information from the tech giant in regards to the breach and the circumstances surrounding it.

“Data has been taken from Facebook users without their consent and was then processed by a third party and used to support their campaigns. Facebook knew about this, and the involvement of Cambridge Analytica with it,” he said.

We need to hear from people who can speak about Facebook from a position of authority that requires them to know the truth,” said Collins. “Someone has to take responsibility for this. It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to stop hiding behind his Facebook page.”

It was only Nix who lied in front of the parliamentary inquiry last month, but Facebook representatives also denied the fact that Analytica had access to and used confidential user data.

However, while justifying its decision to suspend Analytica and Wylie, Facebook admitted to knowing about the breach in 2015.

“In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our ‘platform policies’ by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica,” the Facebook statement said.

Collins has openly accused the social networking giant of “deliberately avoiding answering straight questions” in its testimony to the investigating committee.

“We think this episode is another indication of systemic problems at Facebook,” said Brian Wieser, an analyst at New York-based brokerage Pivotal Research Group. However, he does not foresee any immediate fallout for Facebook in so far as its business is concerned. He says it’s unlikely that advertisers would “suddenly change the trajectory of their spending growth on the platform”.

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From The Editors Technology

Facebook Faces Flak for Asking Users if Paedophiles’ Requests for Children’s Sexual Pics Should be Allowed

Facebook is kicking itself for its “stupid and irresponsible” survey asking users if it was alright for men to ask underage girls for sexually explicit pictures.

Thousands of Facebook’s more than two billion users were asked to respond to questions that were not only injudicious and reckless but also bordered on being criminal in nature, if one were to be really honest about the whole thing.

To give you an idea of the ludicrousness of the survey, one of the questions asked:

“There are a wide range of topics and behaviors that appear on Facebook. In thinking about an ideal world where you could set Facebook’s policies, how would you handle the following: a private message in which an adult man asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures.”

The choice of answers given to the respondents included:

  • “This content should be allowed on Facebook, and I would not mind seeing it.”
  • “This content should be allowed on Facebook, but I don’t want to see it.”
  • “This content should not be allowed on Facebook, and no one should be able to see it.”
  • “I have no preference on this topic.”

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Another question, asking users who should decide the rules governing such sexually explicit pedophile requests to 14-year-olds, offered the following options for respondents to pick from:

  • “Facebook decides the rules on its own.”
  • “Facebook decides the rules with advice from external experts.”
  • “External experts decide the rules and tell Facebook.”
  • “Facebook users decide the rules by voting and tell Facebook.”
  • “I have no preference.”

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What really came across as surprising is the fact that none of the answers talk about the arbitration of a law enforcement agency, or even a child welfare organization, in a matter as sensitive as crime against underage children.

The ill-advised move attracted condemnation and contempt from various quarters.

Author of “Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media” and University of Florida law professor Stacey Steinberg feels that Facebook will be better off using its popularity to help pedophile victims and their families, rather than indulging in mindless surveys.

“Working with law enforcement is an important first step, but Facebook can do even more. Instead of asking questions such as the ones posed in this survey, Facebook can use its reach to help families and victims,” she said.

Yvette Cooper MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee thought the survey was not only “stupid and irresponsible” but was illegal, as well. Here’s what she said.

“This is a stupid and irresponsible survey. Adult men asking 14-year-olds to send sexual images is not only against the law, it is completely wrong and an appalling abuse and exploitation of children. I cannot imagine that Facebook executives ever want it on their platform but they also should not send out surveys that suggest they might tolerate it or suggest to Facebook users that this might ever be acceptable.”

Yvette Cooper MP (Picture: Getty)
Yvette Cooper MP (Picture: Getty)

Cyber Civics and CyberWise founder Diana Graber finds it “hard to believe” that Facebook could be so insensitive regarding an issue such as this, calling the Facebook move “disgusting.”

“It is hard to believe that Facebook could be so utterly tone-deaf when it comes to this issue,” she said. “The fact that Facebook would even pose this question theoretically is disgusting.”

Digital citizenship expert and technology ethicist David Ryan Polgar was a little easier in his condemnation – if one can call it that – saying that the Facebook “misstep” was taken with “good intentions” that didn’t come across to the general public in the manner intended.

“The misstep with the survey seems to be a situation of good intentions that did not fully appreciate the rightful anger and frustration the general public feels towards the current online environment,” he said.

Facebook – as can be expected in the face of the backlash it has been subjected to – went into damage control mode, with no choice but to accept its “mistake.”

“We run surveys to understand how the community thinks about how we set policies,” Facebook’s vice president of product Guy Rosen wrote in a tweet.

“But this kind of activity is and will always be completely unacceptable on FB. We regularly work with authorities if identified. It shouldn’t have been part of this survey. That was a mistake,” he added.

In another attempt at minimizing damage to the social media’s image, a Facebook spokesperson said that the company already has a child grooming prohibition in place and that it was doing its bit to bring offenders to book, working in tandem with law enforcement authorities. He assured that the survey had been withdrawn.

“We sometimes ask for feedback from people about our community standards and the types of content they would find most concerning on Facebook,” said the spokesperson.

“We understand this survey refers to offensive content that is already prohibited on Facebook and that we have no intention of allowing so have stopped the survey,” he added.

He went on to say, “We have prohibited child grooming on Facebook since our earliest days; we have no intention of changing this and we regularly work with the police to ensure that anyone found acting in such a way is brought to justice.”

In a similar survey in November last year, which left as bad a taste in the mouth as the one under discussion, Google showed pictures of four minors and asked users, “Which child do you like the best?”

The survey was detected by Sky News on a UK website “trialing the Google Surveys service.”

“Google Surveys provide businesses with a simple platform for conducting consumer research to inform marketing decisions, such as testing which image would work best in a marketing campaign,” Google told Sky News.

“While we don’t believe at this time that the survey was the result of any malicious behavior, we quickly recognized that it was distasteful and the survey has been removed,” said the tech giant.

Speaking to Sky News, an employee at the hosting site confessed that the survey was “incredibly embarrassing.”

Categories
From The Editors Technology

Mark Zuckerberg Announces Radical Changes to Facebook News Feed

Tired of all the public messages overwhelming your Facebook timeline? Well, if you are, it’s time to rejoice, as the social networking giant is working on changing your news feed to accommodate more content from your friends and family and less from “businesses, brands, and media,” as part of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year’s resolution to “fix” Facebook.

In a move to ensure that user time is “well spent” on this massive virtual platform, shared by two billion users throughout the world, Zuckerberg wrote in his Thursday post that the inception of the site was based on the core purpose of helping people “stay connected” and bringing them “closer together” with those who mattered the most.

“Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness,” he explained.

The recent feedback the company has been getting from the Facebook community about the influx of “public content — posts from businesses, brands, and media” overwhelming our “personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other,” is the reason behind this impactful decision which could and, in all likelihood will, translate into huge losses for Facebook in terms of advertising revenue.

“It’s easy to understand how we got here. Video and other public content have exploded on Facebook in the past couple of years.

Since there’s more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what’s in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do — help us connect with each other,” he explained, to the delight of all, except the publishers, and understandably so.

The social networking billionaire philanthropist acknowledges Facebook’s responsibility to ensure that the site’s services are not only about “fun to use but also good for people’s well-being.”

So, with the help of “academic research” and Facebook’s “own research with leading experts at universities,” it became apparent that “passively reading articles or watching videos — even if they’re entertaining or informative” did not compare with the sense of well-being that we experience “when we use social media to connect with people we care about.”

“Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions,” he said.

All said and done, the announcement is kind of redundant after Facebook added the “Snooze” button in December this past year, that affords its two billion users better control over the content in their News Feed.

Using the newly added Snooze option in the top-right menu (…) next to each post on your News Feed, you can temporarily mute not only posts from “businesses, brands and media” but also from friends and family who test your nerves with unwanted or irritating posts.

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“We’re testing new ways to give people control over their News Feed so they can stay connected with the stories they find most relevant,” Facebook told TechCrunch at the time.

Some scenarios where the Snooze button comes in handy are:

  • Students Snoozing friends, pages and groups that could prove to be major distractions before and during exams
  • Snoozing over-zealous friends and groups bombarding your News Feed with stuff that you could well do without, getting them back on when sanity prevails.
  • Snoozing brands when they go overboard with their holiday deals.
  • Snoozing an ex- whose posts you are better-off without – until you get a hold of your emotions.

The best part about the Snooze feature is that the friend, group, or page being “snoozed” will not get any notification of your action – so, nobody gets offended.

And, when the 30-day snooze is about to expire, Facebook notifies you about it. It’s up to you, then, to allow the muted friend, relative, group, or page back onboard your News Feed or shut them up for another month in the interest of your sanity.

“One of the things that I’m most proud of and I think is really key to our success is this testing framework we’ve built,” Zuckerberg had told Reid Hoffman on the podcast Masters of Scale, explaining the Snooze feature. “At any given point in time there isn’t just one version of Facebook running, there’s probably 10,000.”

“One of our core News Feed values is giving people more control. Over the next week, we’re launching Snooze, which will give you the option to temporarily unfollow a person, Page or group for 30 days.

By selecting Snooze in the top-right drop-down menu of a post, you won’t see content from those people, Pages or groups in your News Feed for that time period,” the Facebook team had said about the feature.

All these recent announcements are coming at a time when the company is facing serious questions about the platform’s adverse effect on children’s psyche and society in general, with a former Facebook employee going as far as to say that social networking platforms are destroying the very fabric of society.

“Social networks are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. The short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works and eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other,” former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiy said during an interview at Stanford University in November.

Coming back to Zuckerberg’s Thursday announcement, he closed with the following words.

“At its best, Facebook has always been about personal connections. By focusing on bringing people closer together — whether it’s with family and friends, or around important moments in the world — we can help make sure that Facebook is time well spent.”