Facebook Spaces unveiled as new virtual reality ‘hang out’ space

A conference worker passes a demo booth at Facebook's annual F8 developer conference, Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in San Jose, Calif. (AP)
Updated 19 April 2017

Facebook Spaces unveiled as new virtual reality ‘hang out’ space

DUBAI: On Tuesday, Facebook unveiled its newest platform at its annual developers’ conference, a place you can hang out with your social media friends in virtual reality (VR).
Facebook Spaces gives users the opportunity to create a personalized avatar using their Facebook photos. Through this avatar, users can interact with others in a virtual world.
The test version of Facebook Spaces is based on the use of Oculus Rift headgear.
Facebook Spaces lets Rift users “hang out” with friends in virtual worlds as if they were in the same room in the real world, according to a demonstration by Rachel Franklin, who heads the social VR team at the California-based firm.
“We have only just scratched the surface of social virtual reality technology,” she said.
While kicking off the conference in the heart of Silicon Valley, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg also launched a mission to make smartphone cameras windows to augmented reality, focusing on what people have in hand instead of waiting for high-tech eyewear.
He called smartphone cameras an initial and promising platform for augmented-reality features in applications tailored to synch with the social network.
“I am confident now we are going to push this augmented-reality platform forward,” Zuckerberg said, predicting the technology would eventually be incorporated into eyeglasses.
“We are going to make the camera the first mainstream augmented-reality platform.”
He noted an array of things that could easily fill their roles virtually, such as game boards or television screens, with users being able to easily play or view without need for physical versions.
An upbeat Zuckerberg, who fired off jokes, also showed how digital plants, animals, masks and more could be added to real scenes viewed through smartphone cameras in the same manner that games such as Pokemon Go let people catch animated creatures in the world around them.
“Augmented reality will help us mix the digital and the physical in new ways,” Zuckerberg said during a keynote presentation.
(With AFP)


Facebook wraps up deals with Australian media firms, TV broadcaster SBS excluded

The agreement between tech companies and news outlets entails that tech giants must pay for news content. (File/AFP)
Updated 59 min 48 sec ago

Facebook wraps up deals with Australian media firms, TV broadcaster SBS excluded

  • Facebook announces deals with most of the Australia's s largest news outlets, excluding TV broadcaster SBS and smaller publishers

SYDNEY: Facebook Inc. has told Australian publishers it has stopped negotiating licensing deals, an email to the industry seen by Reuters showed, a move which came just six months after the passing of a law designed to make tech giants pay for news content.
While Facebook has announced deals with most of the country’s largest news outlets, some companies including TV broadcaster SBS and smaller publishers have been left out in the cold, raising questions about the scope and effectiveness of the ground-breaking law.
Australia is the only country with a law where the government may set the fees if negotiations between tech giants and news providers fail, but the rejected companies are left with little recourse for the time being and are waiting for the government to review the law in 2022 as planned.
Facebook’s regional head of news partnerships, Andrew Hunter, said in an August email to publishers it had “now concluded” deals where it would pay Australian companies for content on its just-launched “Facebook News” channel.
Nick Shelton, founder of Broadsheet Media, a website which publishes entertainment news, reviews and listings and was rebuffed by Facebook, said the decision to close off on new deals was “clearly an attempt from Facebook to cap their exposure to independent publishers.”
The Special Broadcasting Service, or SBS, one of Australia’s five national free-to-air broadcasters and the country’s main source of foreign language news, said Facebook declined to enter negotiations despite months of attempts and that it was surprised and disappointed. It noted it had successfully concluded a deal with Google.
“This outcome is at odds with the Government’s intention of supporting public interest journalism, and in particular including the public service broadcasters in the Code framework with respect to remuneration,” an SBS spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday.
Hunter said in the email to publishers, which has not been made public, that rejected publishers would continue to benefit from clicks directed from Facebook and recommended they tap a new series of industry grants.
In a separate statement to Reuters, Hunter said content deals were “just one of the ways that Facebook provides support to publishers, and we’ve been having ongoing discussions with publishers about the types of news content that can best deliver value for publishers and for Facebook.”
Facebook did not respond directly to questions about the statements from Broadsheet Media and SBS.
The US social media giant has inked deals with a range of large Australian big media companies including News Corp. and the Australian Broadcasting Corp. and has a collective bargaining arrangement with rural publishers. But only a handful of independent and smaller publishers have reached deals.
Other rejected publishers include the Conversation, which publishes public affairs commentary by academics, Reuters has previously reported. That prompted a rebuke from the regulator which drafted the law. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission declined to comment on Wednesday.
Under the law, which drove Facebook to block third-party content on newsfeeds briefly in the country in February, Facebook and Google must negotiate with news outlets for content that drives traffic to their websites or face possible government intervention.
But before there can be any government intervention, the federal treasurer must determine that either Facebook or Google failed to negotiate in good faith, a step known as “designation.” A representative for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was not immediately available for comment.
Facebook’s rejection of SBS and the Conversation flies in the face of law’s core proposition that it “should be required to compensate public interest journalism,” said Peter Lewis, director of the Center for Responsible Technology, a think tank.
“The treasurer has no alternative but to revisit designating Facebook to ensure that it meets its commitments to public interest journalism in Australia.”


Big Tech targeted by US and EU in draft memo ahead of tech and trade meeting

The move will be among announcements on tech, climate, trade and supply chains likely to be made at a US-EU Trade & Technology Council. (File/AFP)
Updated 23 September 2021

Big Tech targeted by US and EU in draft memo ahead of tech and trade meeting

  • The US and the EU plan to take a more unified approach to limit the growing market power of Big Tech companies

WASHINGTON: The United States and European Union plan to take a more unified approach to limit the growing market power of Big Tech companies, according to a draft memo seen by Reuters.
The move will be among announcements on tech, climate, trade and supply chains likely to be made at a US-EU Trade & Technology Council meeting on Sept. 29 in Pittsburgh.
With the US and Europe trying to restrain the growing power of American tech giants such as Alphabet’s Google , Facebook, Apple and Amazonom Inc. , such cooperation has become critically important for regulators on both sides of the Atlantic — and would make it harder for the US tech industry to fight new rules.
This month, the White House announced that the council would meet for the first time on Sept. 29 in Pittsburgh. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and the European Union’s trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis are scheduled to attend along with European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager.
The White House, which is coordinating with different agencies on the meeting, declined to comment on the memo. Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The council has 10 working groups for areas such as strengthening trade, economic relations and shared democratic values, according to the draft memo.
The group focused on tech company regulation will “exchange information on our respective approaches to technology platform governance, seeking convergence where feasible,” the memo says.
There are many examples where the two continents could cooperate more. Google, which faces several antitrust lawsuits in the US related to its advertising business, also faces a wide-ranging investigation related to ad technology in the EU.
“We have identified common issues of concern around gatekeeper power by major platforms and the responsibility of online intermediaries,” the memo says, adding that more can be done to combat misinformation.
“This includes in particular the responsibility of online intermediaries to safeguard democratic processes from the impact of their business activities. Areas of common ground... include content moderation and fair competition,” the memo said.
The group will tackle areas such as hate speech, algorithmic amplification and data access for researchers, the memo says.
The council’s climate and clean tech group will work to identify trade and investment opportunities in low- and zero-carbon technologies and products, according to the memo. The supply chain working group will focus on securing supplies of pharmaceuticals, critical minerals and clean energy.
The council will also work to address the shortage of semiconductor chips in a way that is “balanced and of equal interest for both parties” and will avoid a “subsidy race.”
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that European Union ambassadors have postponed discussions to prepare for the meeting in protest of Washington’s submarine agreement with Australia at France’s expense.
A spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council said preparations for the meeting were continuing.
Several tech trade groups in Washington said the industry does not want the European approach to digital regulation to be adopted in the United States.
“The risk is that the European side will press the United States to harmonize its regulations with the EU by taking a precautionary approach... which would skewer America’s leading tech companies,” said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a tech think tank based in Washington.
“We shouldn’t do that, nor do we need to. Our interests are broadly aligned and compatible, particularly when it comes to China,” Atkinson said.


US court orders Facebook to release records of anti-Rohingya content for genocide case

Updated 23 September 2021

US court orders Facebook to release records of anti-Rohingya content for genocide case

  • Social media giant had refused to release the data, saying it would violate a US law
  • ‘Facebook taking up the mantle of privacy rights is rich with irony’

A US federal judge has ordered Facebook to release records of accounts connected to anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar that the social media giant had shut down, rejecting its argument about protecting privacy as “rich with irony.”
The judge in Washington, D.C, on Wednesday criticized Facebook for failing to hand over information to investigators seeking to prosecute the country for international crimes against the Muslim minority Rohingya, according to a copy of the ruling.
Facebook had refused to release the data, saying it would violate a US law barring electronic communication services from disclosing users’ communications.
But the judge said the posts, which were deleted, would not be covered under the law and not sharing the content would “compound the tragedy that has befallen the Rohingya.”
“Facebook taking up the mantle of privacy rights is rich with irony. News sites have entire sections dedicated to Facebook’s sordid history of privacy scandals,” he wrote.
A spokesperson for Facebook said the company was reviewing the decision and that it had already made “voluntary, lawful disclosures” to another UN body, the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown that refugees said including mass killings and rape. Rights groups documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.
Myanmar authorities say they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities.
The crackdown by the army, during the rule of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government, did not generate much outcry in the Buddhist-majority nation, where the Rohingya are widely derided as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Gambia wants the data for a case against Myanmar it is pursuing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, accusing Myanmar of violating the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide.
In 2018, UN human rights investigators said Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that fueled the violence.
A Reuters investigation that year found more than 1,000 examples of hate speech on Facebook, including calling Rohingya and other Muslims dogs, maggots and rapists, suggesting they be fed to pigs, and urging they be shot or exterminated.
Facebook said at the time it had been “too slow to prevent misinformation and hate” in Myanmar.
In Wednesday’s ruling, US magistrate judge Zia M. Faruqui said Facebook had taken a first step by deleting “the content that fueled a genocide” but had “stumbled” by not sharing it.
“A surgeon that excises a tumor does not merely throw it in the trash. She seeks a pathology report to identify the disease,” he said.
“Locking away the requested content would be throwing away the opportunity to understand how disinformation begat genocide of the Rohingya and would foreclose a reckoning at the ICJ.”
Shannon Raj Singh, human rights counsel at Twitter, called the decision “momentous” and “one of the foremost examples of the relevance of social media to modern atrocity prevention & response.”


Facebook spent over $13 bln on safety, security since 2016

Updated 21 September 2021

Facebook spent over $13 bln on safety, security since 2016

  • The social media giant said it now has 40,000 people working on safety and security
  • Facebook played down the negative effects on young users of its Instagram app

DUBAI: Facebook Inc. said on Tuesday it has invested more than $13 billion in safety and security measures since 2016.
This comes days after a newspaper reported the company had failed to fix “the platform’s ill effects” researchers had identified.
The social media giant said it now has 40,000 people working on safety and security, compared with 10,000 five years ago.
Facebook played down the negative effects on young users of its Instagram app and had a weak response to alarms raised by employees over how the platform is used in developing countries by human traffickers, the Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing a review of internal company documents.
“In the past, we didn’t address safety and security challenges early enough in the product development process,” the company said in a blog post
“But we have fundamentally changed that approach.”
Facebook said its artificial intelligence technology has helped it block 3 billion fake accounts in the first half of this year. The company also removed more than 20 million pieces of false COVID-19 and vaccine content.
The company said it now removes 15 times more content that violates its standards on hate speech across Facebook and its image-sharing platform Instagram than when it first began reporting it in 2017.


Netflix offers free plan in Kenya to entice new subscribers

The free plan started on Monday and will roll out across Kenya in the coming days. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 September 2021

Netflix offers free plan in Kenya to entice new subscribers

  • Netflix offers free mobile plan with one-quarter of its TV shows and movies in Kenya to increase frowth
  • The free plan is available on Android mobile phones and will not have ads

LOS ANGELES: Netflix Inc. on Monday began offering a free mobile plan with about one-quarter of its TV shows and movies in Kenya, a strategy aimed at sparking growth in a key African market, the company told Reuters.
The free plan is available on Android mobile phones and will not have ads. It features Netflix movies and TV shows such as dramas “Money Heist” and “Bridgerton” and African series “Blood & Water,” plus some of the programming the company licenses from others. Netflix hopes the free plan will lead to users signing up for a paid option with more content.
The world’s largest streaming video service is looking to add customers outside of more saturated markets such as the United States, where new subscriber signups have slowed at a time when competition for online audiences has intensified.
Executives remain bullish on the long-term future, noting there are large markets where streaming television is just starting to take hold. To attract customers in Africa, Netflix is investing in locally made programming such as “Queen Sono” and “Jiva!” and has partnered with production studios in Nigeria.
“If you’ve never watched Netflix before — and many people in Kenya haven’t — this is a great way to experience our service,” Cathy Conk, director of product innovation at Netflix, said in a blog post. “And if you like what you see, it’s easy to upgrade to one of our paid plans so you can enjoy our full catalog on your TV or laptop as well.”
The free plan started on Monday and will roll out across Kenya in the coming days.
The non-paying Netflix subscribers in Kenya will not be counted in the paid total the company reports each quarter, a spokesperson said.
Netflix has experimented with free offers before. In 2020, it made some episodes of series such as “Stranger Things” and movies including “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” available around the world for no charge via web browsers.
The free plan in Kenya is broader. It will look similar to paid Netflix profiles to give viewers a feel for the service, the spokesperson said. Shows that are not included in the free plan will be marked with a lock icon. Clicking on one of those titles will encourage the user sign up for a paid option.
Anyone 18 or older in Kenya can enroll in the free plan and create up to five profiles. No payment information will be required.
Some functions, such as the ability to download a show or movie, will not be available under the free plan.
Netflix, which streams in more than 190 countries, has taken other steps to boost usage in Africa, including creation of a paid mobile-only plan and partnerships with local telecom operators to ease payments.
The company reported 209 million paying customers worldwide at the end of June. New member pickups slowed in the first half of 2021 after a boom early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Africa currently is a relatively small market for streaming TV subscriptions. Digital TV Research projects Netflix will lead subscription video on demand services on the continent with 6.26 million paying customers in 2026, followed by Walt Disney Co’s Disney+.