WhatsApp tests breaking free from smartphones

WhatsApp app is finally trying to fix its annoying features. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration)
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Updated 16 July 2021

WhatsApp tests breaking free from smartphones

  • WhatsApp currently don't work on desktop computers if the user's smartphone is offline or has zero battery

SAN FRANCISCO, US: Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp has announced the launch of a trial aimed at freeing its users from smartphones.
In a blog post on Wednesday, Facebook engineers said the new feature would allow for the hugely popular service be used on multiple “non-phone” devices without needing to connect to the smartphone app.
“With this new capability, you can now use WhatsApp on your phone and up to four other non-phone devices simultaneously — even if your phone battery is dead,” the blog post said.
Since its launch in 2009 as a smartphone messaging app, WhatsApp has amassed more than two billion users around the world and been acquired by Facebook.
WhatsApp can already be used on “companion devices,” such as computers, but exchanges are routed in such a way that if a person’s smartphone is offline or has zero battery, it won’t work.
Other issues can arise as well, such as frequent disconnection.
“The new WhatsApp multi-device architecture removes these hurdles” by no longer requiring a smartphone to perform every operation, the company said.
The new capability will be expanded more broadly as it is refined, Facebook added.
It also made assurances that WhatsApp’s security measures will still work under the new system.
“Each companion device will connect to your WhatsApp independently while maintaining the same level of privacy and security through end-to-end encryption that people who use WhatsApp have come to expect.”

 

 

 


Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened

Updated 20 September 2021

Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened

  • US journalist Danny Fenster appeared disheartened during a court hearing Monday, his lawyer said
  • Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the US
BANGKOK: US journalist Danny Fenster, imprisoned in Myanmar for almost four months while awaiting trial, appeared disheartened during a court hearing Monday, his lawyer said.
Fenster has been charged with incitement — spreading inflammatory information — an offense for which he could be sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment. The charge does not specify what he is accused of doing.
The military-installed government that took power in February has sought to curb independent news media by canceling their licenses and arresting dozens of journalists.
Fenster is being detained in Yangon’s Insein Prison, an overcrowded facility which for decades has housed political prisoners.
Lawyer Than Zaw Aung said Fenster seemed demoralized when he spoke with him in a video conference during Monday’s court hearing, his first opportunity to do so in more than a month. Hearings are conducted by video at a township court instead of in a special courtroom at the prison because of the coronavirus, which in the past few months has severely impacted Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
“His hair grew longer. He seemed disappointed and he told me in a frustrated tone that ‘I have nothing to say,’” the lawyer said. “I asked him if he had been vaccinated by the prison authorities, and he said no. His words showed that he is not feeling well. He didn’t request anything.”
Fenster said in mid-July that he believed he had contracted COVID-19 and was not given medicine he had requested. Prison authorities denied he was infected.
Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family. He is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an independent online news outlet based in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
“We are very concerned about Danny’s physical and mental health, particularly given his demeanor at today’s hearing,” said Thomas Kean, editor-in-chief of Frontier. “It’s totally understandable that he would be frustrated and disappointed -– he should never have been detained in the first place. Danny is now approaching four months in Insein Prison and there is no reason for the authorities to hold him a single day longer. He should be released immediately so he can go home to his family.”
Monday’s hearing was held to extend Fenster’s pre-trial detention, and set Oct. 4 for his next appearance. It was not clear if it could include allowing an application for release on bail.
Press associations and free speech organizations around the world have called for Fenster’s release, as has the US government.
“We remain deeply concerned over the continued detention of US citizen Danny Fenster who was working as a journalist in Burma,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this month after Fenster marked his 100th day in detention. The United States refers to Myanmar as Burma, its name before a military government changed it in 1989.
“Journalism is not a crime. The detention of Daniel Fenster and other journalists constitutes an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma,” Price said. “We continue to press Burma’s military regime to release Danny immediately. We will do so until he safely returns home to his family.”

Navalny allies accuse YouTube, Telegram of censorship in Russian election

Navalny’s camp said YouTube had also taken down one of their videos that contained the names of 225 candidates they had endorsed. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 September 2021

Navalny allies accuse YouTube, Telegram of censorship in Russian election

  • Navalny’s allies already accused Alphabet’s Google and Apple of buckling under Kremlin pressure
  • Russia has for years sought sovereignty over its part of the Internet

MOSCOW: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s allies accused YouTube and Telegram of censorship on Saturday after the video platform and messaging app restricted access to their anti-government voting recommendations for Russia’s parliamentary election.
Navalny’s allies already accused Alphabet’s Google and Apple of buckling under Kremlin pressure on Friday after the companies removed an app from their stores that the activists had hoped to use against the ruling party at the election.
Voting began on Friday and runs until late on Sunday.
The app gives detailed recommendations on who to vote for in an effort to challenge the party that backs President Vladimir Putin. It is one of the few levers Navalny’s allies have left after a sweeping crackdown this year.
Telegram’s founder Pavel Durov, who has carved out a libertarian image and resisted past censorship, said the platform would block election campaign services, including one used by Navalny’s allies to give voter recommendations.
He said the decision had been taken because of a Russian ban on campaigning once polls are open, which he considered legitimate and is similar to bans in many other countries.
Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh condemned the move.
“It’s a real disgrace when the censorship is imposed by private companies that allegedly defend the ideas of freedom,” she wrote on Twitter.
Ivan Zhdanov, a political ally of Navalny, said he did not believe Telegram’s justification and that the move looked to have been agreed somehow with Russia’s authorities.
Late on Saturday, Navalny’s camp said YouTube had also taken down one of their videos that contained the names of 225 candidates they had endorsed.
“The video presentation of the smart voting recommendations for the constituencies with the nastiest (United Russia candidates) has also been removed,” they wrote.
Navalny’s camp said it was not a knockout blow as their voting recommendations were available elsewhere on social media.
But it is seen as a possible milestone in Russia’s crackdown on the Internet and its standoff with US tech firms.
Russia has for years sought sovereignty over its part of the Internet, where anti-Kremlin politicians have followings and media critical of Putin operate.
Navalny’s team uses Google’s YouTube widely to air anti-corruption videos and to stream coverage and commentary of anti-Kremlin protests they have staged.
’Dangerous precedent’
The ruling United Russia Party is widely expected to win the election despite a ratings slump. The voting, which opened on Friday and runs through Sunday, follows the biggest crackdown on the Kremlin’s domestic opponents in years.
The Navalny team’s Telegram feed continued to function normally on Saturday, and included links to voter recommendations available in Russia via Google Docs.
On a separate Telegram feed also used by the team, activists said Russia had told Google to remove the recommendations in Google Docs and that the US company had in turn asked Navalny’s team to take them down.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his statement, Durov said Google and Apple’s restrictions of the Navalny app had set a dangerous precedent and meant Telegram, which is widely used in Russia, was more vulnerable to government pressure.
He said Telegram depends on Apple and Google to operate because of their dominant position in the mobile operating system market and his platform would not have been able to resist a Russian ban from 2018 to 2020 without them.
Russia tried to block Telegram in April 2018 but lifted the ban more than two years later after ostensibly failing to block it.
“The app block by Apple and Google creates a dangerous precedent that will affect freedom of expression in Russia and the whole world,” Durov said in a post on Telegram.


Facebook to target harmful coordination by real accounts using playbook against fake networks

Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook to target harmful coordination by real accounts using playbook against fake networks

  • Facebook is taking a more aggressive approach to shut down coordinated groups of real-user accounts engaging in certain harmful activities
  • The move could have major implications for how the social media giant handles political and other coordinated movements

LONDON: Facebook is taking a more aggressive approach to shut down coordinated groups of real-user accounts engaging in certain harmful activities on its platform, using the same strategy its security teams take against campaigns using fake accounts, the company told Reuters.
The new approach, reported here for the first time, uses the tactics usually taken by Facebook’s security teams for wholesale shutdowns of networks engaged in influence operations that use false accounts to manipulate public debate, such as Russian troll farms.
It could have major implications for how the social media giant handles political and other coordinated movements breaking its rules, at a time when Facebook’s approach to abuses on its platforms is under heavy scrutiny from global lawmakers and civil society groups.
Facebook said it now plans to take this same network-level approach with groups of coordinated real accounts that systemically break its rules, through mass reporting, where many users falsely report a target’s content or account to get it shut down, or brigading, a type of online harassment where users might coordinate to target an individual through mass posts or comments.
The expansion, which a spokeswoman said was in its early stages, means Facebook’s security teams could identify core movements driving such behavior and take more sweeping actions than the company removing posts or individual accounts as it otherwise might.
In April, BuzzFeed News published a leaked Facebook internal report about the company’s role in the Jan. 6 riot on the US Capitol and its challenges in curbing the fast-growing ‘Stop the Steal’ movement, where one of the findings was Facebook had “little policy around coordinated authentic harm.”
Facebook’s security experts, who are separate from the company’s content moderators and handle threats from adversaries trying to evade its rules, started cracking down on influence operations using fake accounts in 2017, following the 2016 US election in which US intelligence officials concluded Russia had used social media platforms as part of a cyber-influence campaign — a claim Moscow has denied.
Facebook dubbed this banned activity by the groups of fake accounts “coordinated inauthentic behavior” (CIB), and its security teams started announcing sweeping takedowns in monthly reports. The security teams also handle some specific threats that may not use fake accounts, such as fraud or cyber-espionage networks or overt influence operations like some state media campaigns.
Sources said teams at the company had long debated how it should intervene at a network level for large movements of real user accounts systemically breaking its rules.
In July, Reuters reported on the Vietnam army’s online information warfare unit, who engaged in actions including mass reporting of accounts to Facebook but also often used their real names.
Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. Others have criticized the company over allegations of censorship, anti-conservative bias or inconsistent enforcement.
An expansion of Facebook’s network disruption models to affect authentic accounts raises further questions about how changes might impact types of public debate, online movements and campaign tactics across the political spectrum.
High-profile instances of coordinated activity around last year’s US election, from teens and K-pop fans claiming they used TikTok to sabotage a rally for former President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to political campaigns paying online meme-makers, have also sparked debates on how platforms should define and approach coordinated campaigns.


Facebook rolls out new messaging, business tools for brands

Facebook will begin testing the ability for brands to send emails through Facebook Business Suite
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook rolls out new messaging, business tools for brands

  • Facebook rolls out new feature that allows businesses to find and chat with potential customers on the app
  • The new features will help Facebook offer personalized shopping experiences to its users

LONDON: Facebook Inc. is rolling out new ways for businesses to find and chat with potential customers on its apps, the social media company said Thursday, as it seeks to become an online shopping destination.
The new features will help Facebook, already a leader in digital advertising, offer personalized shopping experiences to its users, said Karandeep Anand, vice president of business products at Facebook.
Businesses will now be able to add a button on their Instagram profiles to let people send a WhatsApp message to the company with one click.
Integrating WhatsApp is particularly important for customers in countries such as India and Brazil, where the Facebook-owned messaging app is widely used, Anand said.
Facebook said it will begin testing the ability for brands to send emails through Facebook Business Suite, a feature that lets businesses manage their presence across the social media site’s apps, in order to simplify how companies reach customers.
It will also test new work accounts to let employees manage business pages without needing to log in with their personal accounts.
The new business tools come a day after WhatsApp began testing a new feature in São Paulo, Brazil, to let users find shops and services through a directory in the app for the first time, part of an effort to bolster ecommerce on the service.


Facebook bans German accounts under new ‘social harm’ policy

The action is the first under Facebook’s new policy focused on preventing “coordinated social harm.” (File/AFP)
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook bans German accounts under new ‘social harm’ policy

  • Facebook removes almost 150 accounts and pages linked to anti-lockdown demonstrators in Germany under new policy to halt the spread of misinformation

LONDON: Facebook removed almost 150 accounts and pages linked to anti-lockdown demonstrators in Germany, the company announced Thursday, under a new policy focused on groups that spread misinformation or incite violence but who don’t fit into the platform’s existing categories of bad actors.
The accounts on Facebook and Instagram spread content linked to the so-called Querdenken movement, a disparate group that has protested lockdown measures in Germany and includes vaccine and mask opponents, conspiracy theorists and some far-right extremists.
Posts from the accounts included one making the debunked claim that vaccines create viral variants and another that wished death upon police officers who broke up violent anti-lockdown protests in Berlin.
The action is the first under Facebook’s new policy focused on preventing “coordinated social harm,” which company officials said is an attempt to address content from social media users who work together to spread harmful content and evade platform rules.
Under its long-standing guidelines, Facebook has removed accounts that use false personas or spread hate speech or make threats of violence. The new policy is intended to catch groups that work together in an attempt to get around the rules, while still spreading harmful content.
In the case of the Querdenken network, Facebook said multiple account holders used both individual and duplicate accounts to spread content that violated Facebook’s rules on COVID-19 misinformation, hate speech, bullying and incitement of violence.
It was that coordinated effort to deceive, along with the harmful content and a history of past violations, that prompted Facebook’s action, according to Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy.
“Simply sharing a belief or affinity with a particular movement or group wouldn’t be enough” to warrant a similar response, he told reporters on a conference call Thursday.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has put some Querdenker adherents under surveillance as the movement has become increasingly radicalized and its protests have attracted neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists.

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