Outage highlights how vital Facebook has become worldwide

When all three services went dark Monday, it was a stark reminder of the power and reach of Facebook. (AFP)
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Updated 05 October 2021

Outage highlights how vital Facebook has become worldwide

  • When all three services went dark Monday, it was a stark reminder of the power and reach of Facebook
  • The outage is just one example of how entrepreneurs and small businesses are vulnerable any time Facebook or others introduce a new feature or make some other change that affects the way the sites function

NEW YORK: The six-hour outage at Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp was a headache for many casual users but far more serious for the millions of people worldwide who rely on the social media sites to run their businesses or communicate with relatives, fellow parents, teachers or neighbors.
When all three services went dark Monday, it was a stark reminder of the power and reach of Facebook, which owns the photo-sharing and messaging apps.
Around the world, the loss of WhatsApp left many at a loss. In Brazil, the messaging service is by far the most widely used app in the country, installed on 99 percent of all smartphones, according to tech pollster Mobile Time.
WhatsApp has become essential in Brazil to communicate between friends and families, but also at work — with many businesses using it to stay in touch with customers — at college, and for everyday transactions such as ordering food.
Offices, various services and even the courts had trouble making appointments, and phone lines became overwhelmed.
Hundreds of thousands of Haitians in their homeland and abroad fretted over the WhatsApp outage.
Many of the country’s more than 11 million people depend it to alert one another about gang violence in a particular area or to talk to relatives in the US about money transfers and other urgent issues, while Haitian migrants traveling to the US rely on it to find each other or share key information such as safe places to sleep.
Nelzy Mireille, a 35-year-old unemployed woman who depends on money sent from relatives abroad, said she stopped at a phone repair shop in the capital of Port-au-Prince because she thought her phone was malfunctioning.
“I was waiting on confirmation on a money transfer from my cousin,” she said. “I was so frustrated.”
“I was not able to hear from my love,” complained 28-year-old Wilkens Bourgogne, referring to his partner, who was in the neighboring Dominican Republic, buying affordable goods to bring back to Haiti.
He said he was concerned about her safety since they were unable to communicate for seven hours as Haiti struggles with a spike in gang violence.
“Insecurity makes everyone worry,” he said.
Meanwhile, for small businesses, the Facebook and Instagram outages meant hundreds or thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
“Today’s outage brought our reliance on Facebook — and its properties like Whatsapp and Instagram — into sharp relief,” said Brooke Erin Duffy, professor of communications at Cornell University. She said there are sprawling categories of workers whose livelihoods depend on the platforms functioning.
She said the outage is just one example of how entrepreneurs and small businesses are vulnerable any time Facebook or others introduce a new feature or make some other change that affects the way the sites function.
Sarah Murdoch runs a small Seattle-based travel company called Adventures with Sarah and relies on Facebook Live videos to promote her tours. She estimated the outage cost her thousands of dollars in bookings.
“I’ve tried other platforms because I am wary of Facebook, but none of them are as powerful for the type of content I create,” Murdoch said. As for her losses, “it may only be a few people, but we are small enough that it hurts.”
Heather Lynton has run a portrait studio in Lynton, Indiana, for 18 years. She takes photographs for schools and sports teams and makes yard signs with the photos. She has her own website but said parents and other customers most often try to reach her through social media.
She said she might have lost three or four bookings for photo sessions at $200 a client.
“A lot of people only have a specific window when they can do ordering and booking and things like that,” she said. “If they can’t get a direct answer, they go to someone else.”


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”.