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By Usama Jawad96
Mozilla calls out Facebook for its "counterproductive" approach to research
by Usama Jawad
A few hours ago, Facebook announced that it is blocking platform access for the New York University (NYU) Ad Observatory, which was studying the impact of political ads on social media. The company claimed that the reason for the ban is that the researchers built a browser extension that breached user privacy and collected personal data without their consent. Despite Facebook offering data in a privacy-protective manner and warning the NYU Ad Observatory multiple times, the researchers continued using their extension for unauthorized data scraping. Now, Mozilla has voiced support for the research group and called out Facebook for its counterproductive approach to the issue at hand.
In a statement to Neowin, Mozilla highlighted that it is a proponent of using data available on social media platforms to determine the spread of misinformation. As such, it has thoroughly tested the "Ad Observer" browser extension multiple times to ensure that it meets data privacy and collection standards, and reached the conclusion that Facebook's claims "do not hold up".
In a more detailed blog post, Mozilla's Chief Security Officer Marshall Erwin noted that the code for Ad Observer is open source. Following reviews of the code, Mozilla provided feedback to NYU Ad Observatory which made changes accordingly to comply with privacy standards. As such, even Mozilla promoted the extension to users of its Firefox browser. The company emphasized that the extension only collects ads, targeting parameters, and metadata linked to these ads. Users can also navigate to the "My Archive" tab to see what data has been collected by Ad Observer.
Erwin went on to say that:
This isn't the first time Mozilla has advocated for the NYU Ad Observatory. Back in October 2020, it penned an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, demanding that the company withdraw the cease-and-desist letter sent to the research group. It remains to be seen if Facebook will change its stance on the matter now, but the chances of that happening are quite low.
By Usama Jawad96
Facebook bans NYU Ad Observatory's accounts for unauthorized data scraping
by Usama Jawad
Facebook once again came under a lot of fire earlier this year when a couple of vulnerabilities were discovered that allowed hackers to scrape the email IDs of over 530 million users of the platform. Despite this revelation, the company stated that it would not be informing users affected by the data breach. It later went on to share several techniques and processes it employs to prevent unauthorized data scraping. Now, it has shut down Facebook access for the New York University (NYU) Ad Observatory project following the team's repeated violations of privacy regulations.
In a sternly worded blog post, Facebook explained that the aim of the NYU Ad Observatory was to study political ads. However, instead of using Facebook's privacy-protective methods, it resorted to building a browser extension that scrapes data from the platform. Facebook claims that this extension collected data related to usernames, ads, URLs to profiles, and information about "Why am I seeing this ad?". Some of this information is not publicly viewable on Facebook, and collected data from users who had not even installed the extension or consented to data collection.
The company reportedly informed the NYU Ad Observatory of potential privacy violations in the summer of 2020, even before the launch of the tool. In October, it sent a formal notice regarding the matter, giving the entity 45 days to comply. Even after this deadline, Facebook continued to engage with its researchers, but to no avail. Earlier this year, it gave them access to data related to Elections 2020 via the FORT Researcher Platform in a privacy-protective manner, but the project refused to utilize it and continued its activities.
As such, Facebook has now announced that it is effectively shutting down all accounts, pages, apps, and platform access for the NYU Ad Observatory. It went on to say that:
Facebook has emphasized that it will continue to work with responsible researchers and give them access to data in a privacy-protective manner when needed, but the concept of "research" cannot be a justification for breaching user privacy.
Twitter announces cautious launch of its Shop Module
by Paul Hill
Twitter has announced that a handful of businesses in the United States will be able to showcase their products in a new corner of Twitter called the Shop Module. Initially, people in the U.S. who use Twitter in English on iOS devices will be able to see the Shop Module. They will be able to scroll through products and make a seamless purchase through the in-app browser.
According to the firm, it had been looking at adding shopping features to Twitter as early as 2015 but decided to step back from those pursuits but going forward want to put more energy into the idea. The firm plans to use “the conversations that Twitter facilitates around products” to learn which brands people like and for deeper partnerships with businesses that could join its new Merchant Advisory Board.
The board will help Twitter to address the needs of businesses that join up with its Shop Module which will help to make the module more engaging for customers and more efficient for businesses.
Discussing how the Shop Module will help Professional Profiles on the platform, Twitter said:
If you qualify to use the Shop Module already, enjoy it. As for everyone else, you should keep in mind that this project is still in the very early stages so it could ultimately be axed if not enough people engage with the feature – as it did with Fleets earlier this month.
By Usama Jawad96
Youngsters signing up for Instagram will now have their accounts set to private by default
by Usama Jawad
Recently, Facebook has been focusing a lot on making Instagram a safe space for everyone. It announced efforts to protect kids from adults, a tool to filter offensive DMs, the ability to add pronouns on profiles, and content sensitivity controls for the platform. Now, it has announced that people under the age of 16 will have their accounts set to private by default when they sign up for Instagram.
Previously, Instagram allowed anyone who signed up to choose between private and public accounts, but its testing has indicated that most youngsters opt for the former. As such, moving forward, people under the age of 16 will have private accounts by default when they register for Instagram. In some countries, this minimum age threshold will be configured to 18.
The idea is to offer a safe environment for young people, allowing them to make friends and see the content they are interested in without being bothered by unsolicited interactions from adults in DMs or comments. It is important to note that while new accounts for youngsters will be private by default, account-holders will still have the option to change it to public. Similarly, those with existing public accounts will be notified about the benefits of private accounts and will also be informed about how to enable the configuration.
In a separate blog post, Facebook has also outlined how it is using artificial intelligence (AI) to roughly estimate the respective ages of its platform's users. This utilizes various signals including information shared across social media platforms owned by Facebook to determine your age. The company has highlighted that the technology isn't perfect yet but it is working to improve it so it can be applied across its other apps as well. In the same vein, this technology may also be used to remove the accounts of those who are below 13 years of age. Facebook and Instagram both require users to be over 13 years of age, but many below this threshold easily bypass the age gate by misrepresenting information.
The aforementioned technology is also used to prevent accounts exhibiting "potentially suspicious behavior" from interacting with youngsters on Instagram. Suspicious accounts won't be able to follow youngsters, see their comments, or offer interactions of any kind. The technology will be available in the U.S., Australia, France, the UK, and Japan initially, but will be expanded to more countries soon.
Finally, another major change coming to all Facebook platforms is regarding advertising. Advertisers will not be able to present targeted ads to people below the age of 18. This essentially means that advertisers will not have access to the interests of people below the age of 18. This change will not be configurable for people until they turn 18, at which point they will be informed about the targeting options used by advertisers. These changes will be rolled out in a few weeks.
By Fiza Ali
Facebook's Oculus Quest 2 will allow developers to produce mixed reality experiences
by Fiza Ali
Oculus Quest 2, Facebook’s virtual reality system, will receive an update that will allow developers to integrate real-life videos from the VR headset’s sensors into their games to produce mixed reality experiences. Its new application programming interface, Passthrough API Experimental, will make it possible for the developers to personalize how the setting of a player looks via their VR headset by exhibiting the real world onto particular in-game surfaces, and by using filters and effects.
Oculus stated that it could allow more synergic teleworking by integrating real-life keyboards and desks of workers to enhance productivity as well. Given that this is a mixed reality experience, users would also be capable of interacting with virtual content without having to give up on the capability to engage with their pets or roommates. In a forthcoming software update, Oculus said that the API will initially be available for Unity developers, "with support for other development platforms coming in the future."
Regarding privacy, the company stated:
Oculus announced that it will release a production version "later this year", implying that developers would be able to ship their games that employ Passthrough to players soon.
Source: Oculus via Gizmodo