Facebook blames ‘faulty configuration change’ for nearly six-hour outage

Small toy figures are seen in front of displayed Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram logos in this illustration taken October 4, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
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Updated 05 October 2021

Facebook blames ‘faulty configuration change’ for nearly six-hour outage

  • Facebook outage was the largest ever tracked by web monitoring group Downdetector

Facebook blamed a “faulty configuration change for a nearly six-hour outage on Monday that prevented the company’s 3.5 billion users from accessing its social media and messaging services such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.
The company in a late Monday blog post did not specify who executed the configuration change and whether it was planned.
Several Facebook employees who declined to be named had told Reuters earlier that they believed that the outage was caused by an internal mistake in how Internet traffic is routed to its systems.
The failures of internal communication tools and other resources that depend on that same network in order to work compounded the error, the employees said. Security experts have said an inadvertent mistake or sabotage by an insider were both plausible.
“We want to make clear at this time we believe the root cause of this outage was a faulty configuration change,” Facebook said in the blog.
The Facebook outage is the largest ever tracked by web monitoring group Downdetector.
The outage was the second blow to the social media giant in as many days after a whistleblower on Sunday accused the company of repeatedly prioritizing profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation.
As the world flocked to competing apps such as Twitter and TikTok, shares of Facebook fell 4.9 percent, their biggest daily drop since last November, amid a broader selloff in technology stocks on Monday. Shares rose about half a percent in after-hours trade following resumption of service.
“To every small and large business, family, and individual who depends on us, I’m sorry,” Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer tweeted, adding that it “may take some time to get to 100 percent.”
“Facebook basically locked its keys in its car,” tweeted Jonathan Zittrain, director of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.
Twitter on Monday reported higher-than-normal usage, which led to some issues in people accessing posts and direct messages.
In one of the day’s most popular tweets, video streaming company Netflix shared a meme from its new hit show “Squid Game” captioned “When Instagram & Facebook are down,” that showed a person labeled “Twitter” holding up a character on the verge of falling labeled “everyone.”
Inside a Facebook group for ad buyers, one member wisecracked after service returned that “lots of people searched today ‘how to run Google ads for clients.’“
Facebook, which is the world’s largest seller of online ads after Google, was losing about $545,000 in US ad revenue per hour during the outage, according to estimates from ad measurement firm Standard Media Index.
Past downtime at Internet companies has had little long-term affect on their revenue growth, however.
Facebook’s services, including consumer apps such as Instagram, workplace tools it sells to businesses and internal programs, went dark noon Eastern time (1600 GMT). Access started to return around 5:45 p.m. ET.
Soon after the outage started, Facebook acknowledged users were having trouble accessing its apps but did not provide any specifics about the nature of the problem or say how many users were affected.
The error message on Facebook’s webpage suggested an error in the Domain Name System (DNS), which allows web addresses to take users to their destinations. A similar outage at cloud company Akamai Technologies Inc. took down multiple websites in July.
On Sunday, Frances Haugen, who worked as a product manager on the civic misinformation team at Facebook, revealed that she was the whistleblower who provided documents underpinning a recent Wall Street Journal investigation and a US Senate hearing last week on Instagram’s harm to teen girls.
Haugen was due to urge the same Senate subcommittee on Tuesday to regulate the company, which she plans to liken to tobacco companies that for decades denied that smoking damaged health, according to prepared testimony seen by Reuters.


Pakistan's PM orders restoration of Wikipedia 'with immediate effect'

Updated 06 February 2023

Pakistan's PM orders restoration of Wikipedia 'with immediate effect'

  • Pakistan blocked Wikipedia last week on grounds it failed to remove "blasphemous content" from its platform
  • "Unintended consequences" of blanket ban on Wikipedia outweigh its benefits, says committee formed by PM Sharif

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday ordered the restoration of online encyclopedia Wikipedia "with immediate effect", a couple of days after it was banned for uploading "blasphemous" content on its platform. 

Pakistan last week banned Wikipedia across the country, accusing the platform of deliberately not removing blasphemous content. Pakistan's telecommunication regulator said it provided the platform multiple chances to present its stance in a hearing but it failed to do so. 

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, and social media giants Facebook and YouTube have previously been banned for publishing content deemed sacrilegious.

The move drew flak from digital rights activists and proponents of free speech, who pointed out how the move would deprive millions across the country of free knowledge and research material. 

According to a statement by the Prime Minister's House (PMO), the premier constituted a three-member ministerial committee comprising the ministers of law, information and economic affairs to deliberate on the matter. 

The committee said Wikipedia is a "useful" website that supports the dissemination of knowledge and information for the general public. "Blocking the site in its entirety was not a suitable measure to restrict access to some objectionable contents / sacrilegious matter on it," the committee said. 

The committee said further that the "unintended consequences" of the blanket ban outweigh its benefits.

"Based on the above recommendation, the Prime Minister is pleased to direct that the website (Wikipedia) may be restored with immediate effect," the PMO stated.

The statement said that the prime minister had constituted a separate cabinet committee comprising the ministers of IT, law, information, commerce and communications that may "co-opt any expert members or seek opinion from expert individuals/organizations to reach its findings."

The committee would review the suitability of the PTA's action of blocking Wikipedia to restrict access to blasphemous content. It would also explore and recommend alternative measures to remove or block blasphemous material on Wikipedia and other online sites and provide any other recommendations to control unlawful online content "in a balanced manner."

In September 2020, Pakistan blocked Tinder, Grindr and three other dating apps for not adhering to local laws, with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) saying it had taken the decision to curb the “negative effects of immoral/indecent content streaming.”


Tesla’s Elon Musk found not liable in trial over 2018 ‘funding secured’ tweets

Updated 05 February 2023

Tesla’s Elon Musk found not liable in trial over 2018 ‘funding secured’ tweets

  • Tesla shareholders claimed Musk misled them when he tweeted on Aug. 7, 2018, that he was considering taking the company private at $420 per share
  • Shares of Tesla rose 1.6 percent in after-hours trading following the verdict and Musk tweeted that "he wisdom of the people has prevailed"

SAN FRANCISCO: A US jury on Friday found Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk and his company were not liable for misleading investors when Musk tweeted in 2018 that he had “funding secured” to take the electric car company private.
Plaintiffs had claimed billions in damages and the decision also had been seen as important for Musk himself, who often takes to Twitter to air his views.
The jury came back with a unanimous verdict roughly two hours after beginning deliberations.
Musk was not present in court when the verdict was read but soon tweeted that he was “deeply appreciative” of the jury’s decision.
“Thank goodness, the wisdom of the people has prevailed,” he said.
Nicholas Porritt, a lawyer for the investors, said in a statement, “We are disappointed with the verdict and are considering next steps.”
Shares of Tesla rose 1.6 percent in after-hours trading following the verdict.
“A dark chapter is now closed for Musk and Tesla,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said. Ives added that some Tesla investors feared Musk might have to sell more Tesla stock if he lost.
The world’s second-richest person has previously created legal and regulatory headaches through his sometimes impulsive use of Twitter, the social media company he bought for $44 billion in October.
Minor Myers, who teaches corporate law at the University of Connecticut and who had previously called the investors’ case strong, called the outcome “astounding.”
The US anti-securities fraud law “has always been thought to be this great bulwark against misstatements and falsehoods,” he said. “This outcome makes you wonder if it is up to the job in modern markets,” he said, adding that Musk himself was likely to “double down” on his communication tactics after the verdict.
Musk’s attention has been divided in recent months between Tesla, his rocket company SpaceX and now Twitter. Tesla investors have expressed concerns that running the social media company has taken up too much of his focus.
’Bad word choice’
Tesla shareholders claimed Musk misled them when he tweeted on Aug. 7, 2018, that he was considering taking the company private at $420 per share, a premium of about 23 percent to the prior day’s close, and had “funding secured.”
They say Musk lied when he tweeted later that day that “investor support is confirmed.”
The stock price soared after the tweets and then fell again after Aug. 17, 2018, as it became clear the buyout would not happen.
Porritt during closing arguments said the billionaire CEO is not above the law, and should be held liable for the tweets.
“This case ultimately is about whether rules that apply to everyone else should also apply to Elon Musk,” he said.
Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro countered that Musk’s “funding secured” tweet was “technically inaccurate” but that investors only cared that Musk was considering a buyout.
“The whole case is built on bad word choice,” he said. “Who cares about bad word choice?“
“Just because it’s a bad tweet doesn’t make it fraud,” Spiro said during closing arguments.
An economist hired by the shareholders had calculated investor losses as high as $12 billion.
During the three-week trial, Musk spent nearly nine hours on the witness stand, telling jurors he believed the tweets were truthful. 
Musk later testified that he believed he could have sold enough shares of his rocket company SpaceX to fund a buyout, and “felt funding was secured” with SpaceX stock alone.
Musk testified that he made the tweets in order to put small shareholders on the same footing as large investors who knew about the deal. But he acknowledged he lacked formal commitments from potential backers.
The verdict is another victory for Musk and his lawyer Spiro after they won a defamation lawsuit against the billionaire in 2019 over his tweet calling a cave explorer a “pedo guy.” 


ChatGPT maker fields tool for spotting AI-written text

Updated 01 February 2023

ChatGPT maker fields tool for spotting AI-written text

  • But the company said the detection tool is still "imperfect"

SAN FRANCISCO: Creators of a ChatGPT bot causing a stir for its ability to mimic human writing on Tuesday released a tool designed to detect when written works are authored by artificial intelligence.
The announcement came amid intense debate at schools and universities in the United States and around the world over concerns that the software can be used to assist students with assignments and help them cheat during exams.
US-based OpenAI said in a blog post Tuesday that its detection tool has been trained “to distinguish between text written by a human and text written by AIs from a variety of providers.”
The bot from OpenAI, which recently received a massive cash injection from Microsoft, responds to simple prompts with reams of text inspired by data gathered on the Internet.
OpenAI cautioned that its tool can make mistakes, particularly with texts containing fewer than 1,000 characters.
“While it is impossible to reliably detect all AI-written text, we believe good classifiers can inform mitigations for false claims that AI-generated text was written by a human,” OpenAI said in the post.
“For example, running automated misinformation campaigns, using AI tools for academic dishonesty, and positioning an AI chatbot as a human.”
A top French university last week forbade students from using ChatGPT to complete assignments, in the first such ban at a college in the country.
The decision came shortly after word that ChatGPT had passed exams at a US law school after writing essays on topics ranging from constitutional law to taxation.
ChatGPT still makes factual mistakes, but education facilities have rushed to ban the AI tool.
“We recognize that identifying AI-written text has been an important point of discussion among educators, and equally important is recognizing the limits and impacts of AI generated text classifiers in the classroom,” OpenAI said in the post.
“We are engaging with educators in the US to learn what they are seeing in their classrooms and to discuss ChatGPT’s capabilities and limitations.”
Officials in New York and other jurisdictions have forbidden its use in schools.
A group of Australian universities have said they would change exam formats to banish AI tools and regard them as cheating.
OpenAI said it recommends using the classifier only with English text as it performs worse in other languages.

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Russian court fines Amazon’s Twitch $57,000 over Ukraine content

Updated 31 January 2023

Russian court fines Amazon’s Twitch $57,000 over Ukraine content

  • Court said Twitch failed to remove “fakes” from its platform

LONDON: A Russian court on Tuesday fined streaming service Twitch 4 million roubles ($57,000) for failing to remove what it said were “fakes” about Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, the Interfax news agency reported.
Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Moscow has long objected to foreign tech platforms’ distribution of content that falls foul of its restrictions, with Russian courts regularly imposing penalties.


Facebook seeks to block $3.7 bln UK mass action over market dominance

Updated 30 January 2023

Facebook seeks to block $3.7 bln UK mass action over market dominance

  • Tech giant claims lawsuit is “entirely without merit,” ignore added “economic value”

LONDON: Facebook on Monday asked a London tribunal to block a collective lawsuit valued at up to 3 billion pounds ($3.7 billion) over allegations the social media giant abused its dominant position to monetise users’ personal data.
Meta Platforms Inc, the parent company of the Facebook group, is facing a mass action brought on behalf of around 45 million Facebook users in Britain.
Legal academic Liza Lovdahl Gormsen, who is bringing the case, said Facebook users were not properly compensated for the value of personal data that they had to provide to use the platform.
Her lawyers said users should get compensation for the economic value they would have received if Facebook was not in a dominant position in the market for social networks.
But Meta said the lawsuit was “entirely without merit” and should not be allowed to proceed. Its lawyers said the claimed losses ignore the “economic value” Facebook provides.
Lovdahl Gormsen’s lawyers on Monday asked the Competition Appeal Tribunal to certify the case under the UK’s collective proceedings regime – which is roughly equivalent to the class action regime in the United States.
A decision to certify collective proceedings will depend on whether the tribunal decides that the individual cases can appropriately be dealt with together, rather than on their merits.
Ronit Kreisberger, representing Lovdahl Gormsen, told the tribunal that “Meta’s data practices violate the prohibition on abusive conduct by dominant firms”.
“There is unquestionably a case for Meta to answer at trial,” Kreisberger argued.
But lawyers representing Meta said the lawsuit wrongly assumes that any “excess profits” it might make equates to a financial loss suffered by individual Facebook users.
This approach “takes no account whatsoever of the significant economic value of the service provided by Facebook”, Marie Demetriou said in court documents.
She said Lovdahl Gormsen’s estimate of potential claimants’ total losses – 3 billion pounds, including interest – is “at the very least wildly inflated”.