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Facebook improves photo descriptions for the visually impaired
by Paul Hill
Facebook has announced that it has improved its automatic alternative text (AAT) feature. AAT was introduced in 2016 as a way to generate alternative text on photos to help the visually impaired understand what was going on in the picture, with today’s update the feature can detect the content of images ten times more reliably and provide better information.
According to the social network, the boost in concepts and improvements in reliability mean that AAT can provide information on more pictures. Facebook said that it can detect activities, landmarks, types of animals and more – an example description generated by AAT could read “May be a selfie of 2 people, outdoors, the Leaning Tower of Pisa.”
In the previous iteration of AAT, if you uploaded a picture of two friends having their photos taken and people in the background were passing by, AAT would generate a message saying “May be an image of five people” as it included those in the background; the new iteration is more intelligent and incorporates positional location and the relative size of elements. The new system would say there are two people in the centre of the photo and others scattered towards the fringes of the image.
Artificial intelligence has been introducing great benefits for those that are visually impaired in recent years. When internet connections were slow, alt text was frequently used as a back-up against photos not loading, the alt text could be used by screen readers to tell visually impaired people what the image was showing. As connections got faster, alt text wasn’t used as much but artificial intelligence tools like AAT are now able to fill the gap and provide good descriptions of what’s shown in a shot.
by Paul Hill
WhatsApp's planned changes have also attracted the attention of Turkish authorities which have launched an antitrust probe. In response to the criticism, WhatsApp delayed the enforcement of its new terms by three months so they won’t be enacted until May 15; ultimately, this will give India more time to pressure the firm over the planned changes.
According to Reuters, the Ministry, writing to WhatsApp head Will Cathcart, said:
Accompanying the letter are several questions that India’s IT ministry would like WhatsApp to answer, they ask about which categories of data WhatsApp collects from Indian users, the permissions sought by WhatsApp and the utility of each of these permissions, whether WhatsApp captures information about other running apps, what user profiling goes on and how WhatsApp’s privacy policies differ from country to country.
WhatsApp has not provided comments to the media about the changes but it previously said the policy wouldn’t affect the privacy of users’ messages with personal contacts. Reuters reports that WhatsApp is running an advertising campaign in India to help quell people’s fears and keep them using the app.
Hungary could copy Poland in sanctioning social media firms
by Paul Hill
Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga took to Facebook earlier today to announce that she will be consulting with the Hungarian Competition Authority about sanctioning social media firms that engage in ‘unfair commercial practices’. She named Facebook as a firm that tries to reduce the reach of Christian, conservative, and right-wing opinions and that she has personal experience of her posts being "shadow banned".
Her announcement to go after social media firms comes just days after the Polish government said it was looking to introduce a free speech social media law that would create a free speech council that could issue fines to social media firms if they delete content or ban users who do not break Polish laws.
Aside from meeting with the Hungarian Competition Authority, Varga also convened a meeting of the country’s Digital Freedom Committee to look into the issue. She said that the committee also works at the EU level to help regulate global tech companies. Both Hungary and Poland have said that this issue must be tackled by the EU but are working for national solutions in the meantime.
It’s unclear how much support other EU countries would provide to such proposals but German Chancellor Angela Merkel previously stated that Donald Trump’s ban from Twitter was problematic so Poland and Hungary may find some support there.
Source: Judit Varga (Facebook) via Reuters
By News Staff
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Polish government eyeing free speech social media law
by Paul Hill
According to a report from BBC News, the Polish government has proposed a new law that would fight so-called political correctness online and promote free speech. The new law, if passed, would establish a free speech council that would attempt to stop social media firms from deleting content or banning users who do not contravene Polish laws.
Any company that was found to be blocking users or deleting their content would be subject to a 50 million zloty ($13.4 million) fine if the content didn’t violate Polish laws. The proposal was announced by the Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro on Friday, less than a week after the government’s ideological ally, U.S. President Donald Trump was finally banned from Twitter after years of incendiary use of the platform.
The free speech council would consist of experts, not politicians, who have been appointed for six-year terms by a three-fifths majority vote in the nation’s parliament. Commenting on the law, Justice Minister Ziobro said:
The Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki is also in support of the law stating that freedom of speech online is a priority for him and has spoken out against political correctness. According to reports, the prime minister is planning to lobby the European Union to regulate online censorship as he believes domestic regulations may be ineffective without the continent’s support.
It’s too early to tell if his attempts will be a success or not but German Chancellor Angela Merkel said President Trump’s ban from Twitter was problematic so the Polish government’s ideas may get some support from other leaders.
Source: BBC News