Social Networks

Twitter Says It Accidentally Banned A Bunch Of Accounts (buzzfeed.com) 25

An anonymous reader shares a report: Over the past 24 hours, some Twitter users had their profiles replaced with a notice saying their accounts were now being "withheld in: Worldwide." The "country withheld" program run by Twitter typically prevents users based in a specific country from from seeing tweets sent by a withheld account. This was the first time people could recall the company withholding accounts globally, which was in effect a total ban for the user. At the time of writing, BuzzFeed News had identified 21 accounts that were being withheld worldwide, and users on Twitter were beginning to wonder if this was a new method being used by the company to suspend accounts. But a Twitter spokesperson tells BuzzFeed News that the worldwide withholdings were in fact the result of a bug. "We have identified a bug that incorrectly impacted certain accounts. We have identified a fix, are working to resolve the issue, and anticipate it will be fully resolved shortly," the spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
Youtube

YouTube To Hire More Than 10,000 Content Moderators on Staff Next Year To Stop Its Child Exploitation Problem (buzzfeed.com) 91

YouTube is adding more human moderators and increasing its machine learning in an attempt to curb its child exploitation problem, the company's CEO Susan Wojcicki said. From a report: The company plans to increase its content moderation workforce to more than 10,000 employees in 2018 in order to help screen videos and train the platform's machine learning algorithms to spot and remove problematic children's content. Sources familiar with YouTube's workforce numbers say this represents a 25% increase from where the company is today. In the last two weeks, YouTube has removed hundreds of thousands of videos featuring children in disturbing and possibly exploitative situations, including being duct-taped to walls, mock-abducted, and even forced into washing machines. The company said it will employ the same approach it used this summer as it worked to eradicate violent extremist content from the platform.
Censorship

Cloudflare's CEO Has a Plan To Never Censor Hate Speech Again (arstechnica.com) 394

"Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince hated cutting off service to the infamous neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer in August," reports Ars Technica. "And he's determined not to do it again. 'I'm almost a free-speech absolutist.' Prince said at an event at the New America Foundation last Wednesday. But in a subsequent interview with Ars, Prince argued that in the case of the Daily Stormer, the company didn't have much choice." From the report: Prince's response was to cut Daily Stormer off while laying the groundwork to make sure he'd never have to make a decision like that again. In a remarkable company-wide email sent shortly after the decision, Prince described his own actions as "arbitrary" and "dangerous." "I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet," Prince wrote in August. "It was a decision I could make because I'm the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company." He argued that "it's important that what we did today not set a precedent." Prior to August, Cloudflare had consistently refused to police content published by its customers. Last week, Prince made a swing through DC to help ensure that the Daily Stormer decision does not, in fact, set a precedent. He met with officials from the Federal Communications Commission and with researchers at the libertarian Cato Institute and the left-of-center New America Foundation -- all in an effort to ensure that he'd have the political cover he needed to say no next time he came under pressure to take down controversial content.

The law is strongly on Cloudflare's side here. Internet infrastructure providers like Cloudflare have broad legal immunity for content created by their customers. But legal rights may not matter if Cloudflare comes under pressure from customers to take down content. And that's why Prince is working to cultivate a social consensus that infrastructure providers like Cloudflare should not be in the censorship business -- no matter how offensive its customers' content might be.

Censorship

Apple, Google CEOs Bring Star Power as China Promotes Censorship (bloomberg.com) 38

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: Apple's Tim Cook and Google's Sundar Pichai made their first appearances at China's World Internet Conference, bringing star power to a gathering the Chinese government uses to promote its strategy of tight controls online. Apple's chief executive officer gave a surprise keynote at the opening ceremony on Sunday, calling for future internet and AI technologies to be infused with privacy, security and humanity. The same day, one of China's most-senior officials called for more aggressive government involvement online to combat terrorism and criminals. Wang Huning, one of seven men on China's top decision-making body, even called for a global response team to go well beyond its borders. It was Cook's second appearance in China in two months, following a meeting with President Xi Jinping in October. The iPhone maker has most of its products manufactured in the country and is trying to regain market share in smartphones against local competitors such as Huawei. "The theme of this conference -- developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits -- is a vision we at Apple share," Cook said. "We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace."
Businesses

Tim Wu: Why the Courts Will Have to Save Net Neutrality (nytimes.com) 251

Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia who first coined the term "net neutrality," writes for the New York Times: Allowing such censorship is anathema to the internet's (and America's) founding spirit. And by going this far, the F.C.C. may also have overplayed its legal hand. So drastic is the reversal of policy (if, as expected, the commission approves Mr. Pai's proposal next month), and so weak is the evidence to support the change, that it seems destined to be struck down in court. The problem for Mr. Pai is that government agencies are not free to abruptly reverse longstanding rules on which many have relied without a good reason (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled), such as a change in factual circumstances. A mere change in F.C.C. ideology isn't enough. As the Supreme Court has said, a federal agency must "examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action." Given that net neutrality rules have been a huge success by most measures, the justification for killing them would have to be very strong. It isn't. In fact, it's very weak. From what we know so far, Mr. Pai's rationale for eliminating the rules is that cable and phone companies, despite years of healthy profit, need to earn even more money than they already do -- that is, that the current rates of return do not yield adequate investment incentives. More specifically, Mr. Pai claims that industry investments have gone down since 2015, the year the Obama administration last strengthened the net neutrality rules.
United Kingdom

Pornhub Owner May Become the UK's Gatekeeper of Online Porn (yahoo.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Yahoo News: Mindgeek may be the most powerful company that you've never heard of, or at least, a company you'll claim never to have heard about in polite company. It's the conglomerate that owns some of the world's most visited porn sites, including Pornhub, RedTube and YouPorn. Far from simply being a popular and free way for people to consume adult content, it may soon have a powerful political role in the UK that will ensure its dominance for decades to come. That's because, within the next year, Mindgeek may become the principal gatekeeper between the country's internet users and their porn. In April, the UK passed the Digital Economy Act 2017, legislation that mandated that any website showing adult content must verify the ages of its visitors. It was pushed through in response to concerns that children were being corrupted by easy access to and exposure to adult content at an early age. Section 15(1) of the bill requires that "pornographic material" not be published online, on a "commercial basis," unless it is "not normally accessible by those under 18." The bill has several flaws, not least the number of vague proposals it contains, and the ad hoc definition of what pornography actually is. Section 17 of the same act outlined the creation of an "age-verification regulator," the digital equivalent of a bouncer standing between you and your porn. This gatekeeper will have the right, and duty, to demand you show proof of age, or else refuse you access. In addition, the body will be able to impose fines and enforcement notices on those who either neglect or circumvent the policy. [...] The Open Rights Group believes that the BBFC will then hand over the actual mechanisms of the age verification platform to a third party in the private sector. Mindgeek has had several conversations with officials and is currently pushing its own age verification platform, AgeID. If selected, this platform could become the principal wall between Britons and their pornography -- giving Mindgeek enormous power in the market.
Censorship

Hitler Quote Controversy In the BSD Community 500

New submitter Seven Spirals writes: Recently, the FreeBSD folks have removed Fortune with a fairly predictable far right 4chan condemnation. Then last weekend saw a lively debate on NetBSD's current-users mailing list about the inclusion of Hitler quotes in the Fortune database with dozens of posts falling on the left and right. The quotes themselves are fairly tame material probably intended as cautionary. However, the controversy and the reaction of BSD users has been real and very diverse. So far, the result has been to pull Fortune out of FreeBSD and to relocate the quotes into the "offensive" database in NetBSD's case.
Censorship

Skype Vanishes From App Stores in China (nytimes.com) 37

Skype, Microsoft's Internet phone call and messaging service, has been unavailable for download from a number of app stores in China, including Apple's, for almost a month (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source), The New York Times reported on Tuesday. From the report: "We have been notified by the Ministry of Public Security that a number of voice over internet protocol apps do not comply with local law. Therefore these apps have been removed from the app store in China," an Apple spokeswoman said Tuesday in an emailed statement responding to questions about Skype's disappearance from the app store. "These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business." The removal led to a volley of complaints from Chinese users on internet message boards who were no longer able to pay for Skype's services through Apple. The users said that the disruption began in late October. Skype, which is owned by Microsoft, still functions in China, and its fate in the country is not yet clear. But its removal from the app stores is the most recent example of a decades-long push by China's government to control and monitor the flow of information online.
Google

Eric Schmidt Says Google News Will 'Engineer' Russian Propaganda Out of the Feed (vice.com) 356

Justin Ling, writing for Motherboard: Eric Schmidt, Executive Chariman of Alphabet, says the company is working to ferret out Russian propaganda from Google News after facing criticism that Kremlin-owned media sites had been given plum placement on the search giant's news and advertising platforms. "We're well aware of this one, and we're working on detecting this kind of scenario you're describing and deranking those kinds of sites," Schmidt said, after being asked why the world's largest search company continued to classify the Russian sites as news. Schmidt, in an interview at the Halifax International Security Forum over the weekend, name-checked two state-owned enterprises. "It's basically RT and Sputnik," Schmidt added. "We're well aware and we're trying to engineer the systems to prevent it."
Social Networks

Report Claims That 18 Nation's Elections Were Impacted By Social Engineering Last Year (bbc.com) 235

sqorbit writes: Independent watchdog group Freedom House released a report that claims that 18 nation's elections were "hacked." Of the 65 countries that Freedom House monitors, 30 appear to be using social media in order to affect elections by attempting to control online discussions. The report covers fake news posts, paid online opinion writers and trolling tactics. Other items in the report speak to online censorship and VPN blocking that blocks information within countries to interfere with elections. The report says net freedom could be aided by: large-scale programs that showed people how to spot fake news; putting tight controls on political adverts; and making social media giants do more to remove bots and tune algorithms to be more objective.
EU

New EU Consumer Protection Law Contains a Vague Website Blocking Clause (bleepingcomputer.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: The European Union (EU) has voted on Tuesday, November 14, to pass the new Consumer Protection Cooperation regulation, a new EU-wide applicable law that gives extra power to national consumer protection agencies, but which also contains a vaguely worded clause that also grants them the power to block and take down websites without judicial oversight. The new law "establishes overreaching Internet blocking measures that are neither proportionate nor suitable for the goal of protecting consumers and come without mandatory judicial oversight," Member of the European Parliament Julia Reda said in a speech in the European Parliament Plenary during a last ditch effort to amend the law. "According to the new rules, national consumer protection authorities can order any unspecified third party to block access to websites without requiring judicial authorization," Reda added later in the day on her blog. This new law is an EU regulation and not a directive, meaning its obligatory for all EU states, which do not have to individually adopt it.
The Internet

China Cyber Watchdog Rejects Censorship Critics, Says Internet Must Be 'Orderly' (reuters.com) 78

China's top cyber authority on Thursday rejected a recent report ranking it last out of 65 countries for press freedom, saying the internet must be "orderly" and the international community should join it in addressing fake news and other cyber issues. From a report: Ren Xianliang, vice minister of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), said the rapid development of the country's internet over two decades is proof of its success and that it advocates for the free flow of information. "We should not just make the internet fully free, it also needs to be orderly... The United States and Europe also need to deal with these fake news and rumors," Ren told journalists without elaborating.
Censorship

Afghanistan Clarifies It Will Not Block WhatsApp, Telegram (reuters.com) 18

The Afghan government will not block the instant messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram, a spokesman told news agency Reuters on Monday, following days of controversy after reports the services would be suspended. From a report: "Government of Afghanistan isn't going to ban any social media platforms. WhatsApp and Telegram to continue operating in Afghanistan," Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman to government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah wrote on Twitter. The row over instant messaging services began after a letter from Afghanistan's telecoms regulator to Internet service providers telling them to block the services "without delay" was circulated on social media platforms last week.
The Courts

Advice To Twitter Worker Who Deactivated Trump's Account: 'Get A Lawyer' (thehill.com) 271

An anonymous reader quotes The Hill: A prominent attorney for cybersecurity issues has this advice to the unnamed Twitter worker said to have pulled the plug on President Trump's Twitter account: "Don't say anything and get a lawyer." Tor Ekeland told The Hill that while the facts of the case are still unclear and the primary law used to prosecute hackers is murky and unevenly applied, there is a reasonable chance the Twitter worker violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act...widely considered to be, as Ekeland explained it, "a mess." Various courts around the country have come up with seemingly contradictory rulings on what unauthorized access actually means. Ekeland said the Ninth Circuit, covering the state of California, has itself issued rulings at odds with itself that would have an impact on the Trump Twitter account fiasco as a potential case. The Ninth Circuit ruled that employees do not violate the law if they exceed their workplace computer policies. It has also ruled that employees who have been told they do not have permission to access a system cannot legally access it. Depending on which ruling a court leans on the hardest, a current Twitter employee without permission to shutter accounts may have violated the law by nixing Trump's account.
Ekeland points out that just $5,000 worth of damage could carry a 10-year prison sentence.

Friday the New York Times also reported that the worker responsible wasn't even a Twitter employee, but a hired contractor, adding that "nearly every" major tech company uses contractors for non-technical positions, including Google, Apple, and Facebook.
Google

Google Wins Ruling to Block Global Censorship Order (fortune.com) 89

A U.S. judge has partially blocked a recent decision by Canada's Supreme Court that requires Google to delete search results not just in Canada, but in every other country too. From a report: Citing the violation of American laws as well as a threat to speech, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila agreed to grant Google a temporary injunction, which means the company can show the search results in the United States. The search results in question are part of an intellectual property dispute between a Canadian industrial firm called Equustek and a rival company that is reportedly misusing Equustek's trademarks to poach its business. In response, Equustek obtained an injunction in Canada that treated Google as a defendant even though it had no direct relationship with either company. In a controversial decision in June, Canada's highest court agreed by a 7-2 margin to leave the injunction in place.
Twitter

Twitter Employee Blamed For Deleting President Donald Trump's Account (npr.org) 377

A reader shares an NPR report: With the push of a button, an employee at Twitter accomplished for a brief few minutes on Thursday what President Trump's closest advisors have reportedly been trying unsuccessfully to do for months: shut down the seemingly never-ending tweet stream at @realDonaldTrump. Perhaps it was an act of civil disobedience, or maybe just a "take this job and shove it" moment, but shortly before 7 p.m., the president's personal account kicked back the error message "does not exist." By 7:03 p.m., it was up and running again and within about a half-hour, new presidential tweets were forthcoming. The folks at Twitter leapt into action to find out what had happened: "Earlier today @realdonaldtrump's account was inadvertently deactivated due to human error by a Twitter employee. The account was down for 11 minutes, and has since been restored. We are continuing to investigate and are taking steps to prevent this from happening again," the company said in a statement. Two hours later, the company said, "Through our investigation we have learned that this was done by a Twitter customer support employee who did this on the employee's last day."
The Internet

Russia's Anti-VPN Law Goes Into Effect (theregister.co.uk) 185

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: A Russian law that bans the use or provision of virtual private networks (VPNs) will come into effect Wednesday. The legislation will require ISPs to block websites that offer VPNs and similar proxy services that are used by millions of Russians to circumvent state-imposed internet censorship. It was signed by President Vladimir Putin on July 29 and was justified as a necessary measure to prevent the spread of extremism online. Its real impact, however, will be to make it much harder for ordinary Russians to access websites ISPs are instructed to block connections to by Russian regulator Roskomnadzor, aka the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media. The law is just one part of a concerted effort by the Russian government to restrict access to information online. While Russia does not appear to be going the same route as China -- which has a country wide, constantly maintained censorship apparatus, known as the Great Firewall of China -- it is clearly following its lead. At the same time as Putin signed the VPN legislation, he signed another that will come into effect in January. That law, like a similar one passed by the Chinese government earlier this year, will require operators of messaging services to verify their users' identities through phone numbers. And it will require operators to introduce systems to cut off any users that are deemed by the Russian government to be spreading illegal content.
Privacy

The New York Times Launches Tor Onion Service To Overcome Censorship, Ensure Privacy (betanews.com) 69

Mark Wilson quotes a report from BetaNews: The New York Times has announced that it is launching a Tor Onion Service version of its website. The new, more secure way to access the site will open it up to people around the world whose internet connections are blocked or monitored. It also caters to a growing breed of people who are concerned about what their web browsing habit might reveal and who have turned to Tor to protect their privacy. The new service is described as "experimental and under development," and some features of the website -- such as the ability to comment -- do not work. The NYT warns that fine-tuning of performance and features may mean there are periods of downtime, but the long-term aim is to completely replicate the main website as an Onion Service.
China

YouTube Suspends Account of Popular Chinese Dissident (freebeacon.com) 154

schwit1 brings news about an exiled Chinese billionaire with 500,000 followers on YouTube. The Washington Free Beacon reports:YouTube has suspended the video account of popular Chinese dissident Guo Wengui amid a mounting pressure from the Beijing government to silence one of its critics. According to a person familiar with the action, YouTube issued what the company calls a 'strike' against Guo, who since the beginning of the year has created an online sensation by posting lengthy videos in which he reveals details of corruption by senior Chinese officials. The suspension involves a 90-day block on any new live-stream postings of videos and was the result of a complaint made against a recent Guo video for alleged harassment. The identity of the person or institution who issued the complaint could not be learned... Other videos by Guo posted prior to the suspension remain accessible.
The suspension coincides with this week's once-every-five-years congress of the Chinese Communist party to reveal which top officials will serve President Xi Jinping, according to Financial Times, adding that "China's choreographed politics is not designed for public participation or questioning."
Advertising

Ask Slashdot: Is Deliberately Misleading People On the Internet Free Speech? 503

Slashdot reader dryriver writes: Before anyone cries "free speech must always be free," let me qualify the question. Under a myriad of different internet sites and blogs are these click-through adverts that promise quick "miracle cures" for everything from toenail fungus to hair loss to tinnitus to age-related skin wrinkles to cancer. A lot of the ads begin with copy that reads "This one weird trick cures....." Most of the "cures" on offer are complete and utter crap designed to lift a few dollars from the credit cards of hundreds of thousands of gullible internet users. The IQ boosting pills that supposedly give you "amazing mental focus after just 2 weeks" don't work at all. Neither do any of the anti-ageing or anti-wrinkle creams, regardless of which "miracle berry" extract they put in them this year. And if you try to cure your cancer with an Internet remedy rather than seeing a doctor, you may actually wind up dead.

So the question -- is peddling this stuff online really "free speech"? You are promising something grandiose in exchange for hard cash that you know doesn't deliver any benefits at all.

Long-time Slashdot reader apraetor counters, "But how do you determine what is 'true'?" And Slashdot reader ToTheStars argues "It's already established that making claims about medicine is subject to scrutiny by the FDA (or the relevant authority in your jurisdiction)." But are other things the equivalent of yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theatre? Leave your best thoughts in the comments. Is deliberately misleading people on the internet free speech?

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