May 26, 2018 - June 1, 2018
Facebook: We’re better at policing nudity than hate speech
(AP) — Getting rid of racist, sexist and
other hateful remarks on Facebook is more challenging than weeding out
other types of unacceptable posts because computer programs still
stumble over the nuances of human language, the company revealed this
released statistics that quantified how pervasive fake accounts have
become on its influential service, despite a long-standing policy
requiring people to set up accounts under their real-life identities.
From October to
December alone, Facebook disabled nearly 1.3 billion accounts — and that
doesn’t even count all the times the company blocked bogus profiles
before they could be set up.
Had the company not
shut down all those fake accounts, its audience of monthly users would
have swelled beyond its current 2.2 billion and probably created more
potentially offensive material for Facebook to weed out.
self-assessment showed its screening system is far better at scrubbing
graphic violence, gratuitous nudity and terrorist propaganda. Automated
tools detected 86 percent to 99.5 percent of the violations Facebook
identified in those categories.
For hate speech,
Facebook’s human reviewers and computer algorithms identified just 38
percent of the violations. The rest came after Facebook users flagged
the offending content for review.
All told, Facebook
took action on nearly 1.6 billion pieces of content during the six
months ending in March, a tiny fraction of all the activity on its
social network, according to the company.
The report marked
Facebook’s first breakdown on how much material it removes for violating
its policies. It didn’t disclose how long it takes Facebook to remove
material violating its standards. The report also doesn’t cover how much
inappropriate content Facebook missed.
“Even if they
remove 100 million posts that are offensive, there will be one or two
that have some really bad stuff and those will be the ones everyone
winds up talking about on the cable-TV news,” said Timothy Carone, who
teaches about technology at the University of Notre Dame.
Instead of trying
to determine how much offending material it didn’t catch, Facebook
provided an estimate on how frequently it believes users saw posts that
violated its standards, including content that its screening system
didn’t detect. For instance, the company estimated that for every 10,000
times that people looked at content on its social network, 22 to 27 of
the views may have included posts that included impermissible graphic
The report also
doesn’t address how Facebook is tacking another vexing issue — the
proliferation of fake news stories planted by fabricators trying to sway
elections and public opinion.
Fake accounts on
Facebook have been drawing more attention because Russian agents
allegedly used them to buy ads to try to influence the 2016 election in
Even though it has
been focusing on shutting down bogus accounts, Facebook has said that 3
to 4 percent of its active monthly users are fake. That means as many as
88 million fake Facebook accounts were still slipping through the cracks
in the company’s policing system through March.
It’s not surprising
that Facebook’s automated programs have the greatest difficulty trying
to figure out differences between permissible opinions and despicable
language that crosses the line, Carone said.
“It’s like trying
to figure out the equivalent between screaming ‘Fire!’ in a crowded
theater when there is none and the equivalent of saying something that
is uncomfortable but qualifies as free speech,” he said.
Facebook said it
removed 2.5 million pieces of content deemed unacceptable hate speech
during the first three months of this year, up from 1.6 million during
the previous quarter. The company credited better detection, even as it
said computer programs have trouble understanding context and tone of
Facebook took down
3.4 million pieces of graphic violence during the first three months of
this year, nearly triple the 1.2 million during the previous three
months. In this case, better detection was only part of the reason.
Facebook said users were more aggressively posting images of violence in
places like war-torn Syria.
transparency comes as the Menlo Park, California, company tries to make
amends for a privacy scandal triggered by loose policies that allowed a
data-mining company to harvest personal information on as many as 87
million users. The content screening has nothing to do with privacy
protection, though, and is aimed at maintaining a family-friendly
atmosphere for users and advertisers.
May 19, 2018 - May 25, 2018
How Google aims to simplify your life with AI
CEO Sundar Pichai speaks about managing kids’ screen time at the Google
I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday, May 8. (AP Photo/Jeff
Ryan Nakashima and Mae Anderson
Mountain View, Calif. (AP) —
Google put the spotlight on its artificial intelligence smarts at its
annual developers conference last week, announcing new consumer features
aimed at simplifying your life.
Many of the updates have a
practical bent, designed to ease tasks such as composing emails, making
lists, navigating city streets and lessening the digital distractions
that have increasingly addled people’s lives as a result of previous
tech industry innovations.
One of the biggest crowd-pleasers
for the thousands of software developers who gathered at the outdoor
conference was an augmented reality feature on Google Maps that helps
people get walking directions. Users will be able to follow arrows — or
possibly a cartoon-like creature — that appear on a camera view showing
the actual street in front of them.
Some new features for Android
phones also aim to improve people’s digital well-being, including a new
“shush” mode that automatically puts a phone in “do not disturb” mode if
you flip it face down on a table. And a “wind down” mode will fade the
screen to grey at a designated time to help you disconnect before bed.
The company’s digital concierge,
known only as the Google Assistant, is getting new voices — including
one based on that of musician John Legend — later this year. It will
also encourage kids to be polite by thanking them when they say please,
similar to a feature Amazon is bringing to its Alexa voice assistant.
The assistant may also soon be
talking with ordinary people at businesses for tasks such as restaurant
reservations, although the feature is still in development.
Google said it will roll out the
technology, called Duplex, as an experiment in coming weeks. “We really
want to work hard to get this right,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who
kicked off the conference, known as Google I/O.
Other changes are more immediate.
Gmail is getting an autocomplete feature that uses machine learning to
offer suggestions for finishing half-completed sentences. For example,
“I haven’t seen you” might be autocompleted to “I haven’t seen you in a
while and I hope you’re doing well.” You can accept the completion by
hitting the tab key.
The Google Photos app aims to get
smarter about suggesting who you might want to share photos with.
Whenever it recognizes a photo of one of your Google contacts, it can
suggest sharing the photo with that person. It will also convert photos
to PDFs and automatically add color to black-and-white photos or make
part of a color photo black and white. The changes are coming in the
next two months.
The search giant aims to make its
assistant and other services so useful that people can’t live without
them — or the search results that drive its advertising business. But it
also wants to play up the social benefits of AI and how it’s being used
to improve health care, preserve the environment and make scientific
Pichai didn’t emphasize the privacy
and data security concerns that have put companies like Facebook,
Twitter and Google in the crosshairs of regulators. But he did say the
company “can’t just be wide eyed about the innovations technology
“We know the path ahead needs to be
navigated carefully and deliberately,” he said. “Our core mission is to
make information more useful, accessible and beneficial to all of
May 12, 2018 - May 18, 2018
China’s JD.com looks to Silicon Valley
center for innovation
Dr. Hui Cheng, the head of robotics research
at JD.’s Silicon Valley Research Center. (Michael Toth via AP)
This undated image provided by JD.com shows
an autonomous delivery vehicle. (JD.com via AP)
New York (AP) -
Self-driving delivery vehicles that are polite to pedestrians? Faster
and more precise robotic arms? JD.com, the largest challenger to
Alibaba’s e-commerce empire in China, is investing in technology to
speed up warehouse operations and delivery to shoppers who want service
In China, it’s testing drone
delivery, has opened an automated warehouse that’s improved on manual
sorting, and it’s testing deliveries using unmanned vehicles at
universities in Beijing. It also uses these self-driving vehicles that
look like rolling ice cream carts to move goods inside its warehouses.
Though it does not sell in the
United States, the Beijing-based online retailer is also leaning on its
2-year-old research and development lab in Silicon Valley to recruit top
talent and get access to tech startups. The goal: Bring that expertise
back to China.
Dr. Hui Cheng, the head of robotics
research at JD.’s Silicon Valley Research Center, recently spoke with
The Associated Press about the priorities of the lab, the “spoiled”
Chinese consumer and the prospect of talking robots. Under Cheng, who
previously worked on Amazon Go’s cashier-less store project, JD is
working on areas like artificial intelligence.
Cheng says the center’s main goal
is to serve people in China and Southeast Asia. He says he’s not
planning to use the center as a foothold to launch in the U.S. and
directly challenge Amazon.
The following interview was edited
for length and clarity.
How is the Chinese consumer different from the American consumer?
(Chinese consumers) are a bit spoiled. It’s all about free service.
Also, they’re expecting high-quality products. We can directly deliver
to people’s doors, a bit different from the U.S. where they just drop it
off. Our delivery employees are in charge of certain geographical areas
and are very familiar with the customers in those areas. They know when
they’ll be home. They call when they get there. They’re very
What are your main priorities at the Silicon Valley center?
We’ve been testing indoor and outdoor autonomous deliveries. Robotic
arms. We’re developing state-of-the-art technologies in many areas like
artificial intelligence and natural-language processing.
What about the autonomous cars?
are emphasizing social robots. How are they going to be part of the
social environment? How are they going to interact with pedestrians? How
will they be polite? We don’t want them to be considered threatening or
Will they be able to talk?
are developing a lot of natural-dialogue capabilities so they will know
how to speak in the future.
Has the Uber pedestrian crash slowed research into autonomous vehicles?
Our vehicles operate on sidewalks at about five or six miles per hour
and they’re much smaller than passenger cars. They’re extremely safe.
Are you testing drone work in Silicon Valley?
There’s some cutting-edge technology (in Silicon Valley), but we are not
actively testing or developing software in drones.
May 5, 2018 - May 11, 2018
How Facebook ads target you
Facebook made $40 billion in advertising
revenue last year, second only to Google when it comes to its share of
the global digital advertising market. Even with a recent decision to
stop working with outside data brokers to help advertisers target ads
based on things like offline purchases or credit history, this number is
expected to grow sharply this year. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
New York (AP) - If you want
to tailor a Facebook ad to a single user out of its universe of 2.2
billion, you could.
Trying to pitch your boutique bed
and breakfast to a 44-year-old “trendy mom” who lives in Seattle, leans
conservative and is currently traveling in the Toronto area but hasn’t
booked a hotel for the night yet? Go right ahead. Interested in
mail-ordering pet treats to a 32-year-old cat owner in Madison,
Wisconsin who enjoys Japanese food, doesn’t like pizza and has an
anniversary coming up in the next two months? Not a problem.
Targeting ads, it turns out, is
almost infinitely customizable - sometimes in surprising ways. The ads
you might see can be tailored to you down to the most granular details -
not just where you live and what websites you visited recently, but
whether you’ve gotten engaged in the past six months, are interested in
organic food or share characteristics with people who have recently
bought a BMW, even if you’ve never expressed interest in doing so
Facebook made $40 billion in
advertising revenue last year, second only to Google when it comes to
its share of the global digital advertising market. Even with a recent
decision to stop working with outside data brokers to help advertisers
target ads based on things like offline purchases or credit history,
this number is expected to grow sharply this year.
Here are some ways advertisers can
target you through Facebook:
Monitoring your Facebook activity
By now you’ve probably gathered
that Facebook uses things like your interest, age and other demographic
and geographic information to help advertisers reach you. Then there’s
the stuff your friends do and like - the idea being that it’s a good
indicator for what you might do and like. So, if you have a friend who
has liked the New Yorker’s Facebook page, you might see ads for the
magazine on your Facebook feed.
But that’s just the tip of the
iceberg. Facebook and advertisers can also infer stuff about you based
on things you share willingly. For example, Facebook categorizes users
into an “ethnic affinity” based on what it thinks might be their
ethnicity or ethnic influence. It might guess this through TV shows or
music you’ve liked. Often, Facebook is wrong - and while it’s possible
to remove it, you can’t change it. There is also no “ethnic affinity”
option for whites.
While there are plenty of good
reasons advertisers may want to target people of a particular ethnicity,
this became a problem for Facebook in 2016, when ProPublica found that
it let advertisers exclude specific ethnic groups from seeing their ads.
When it comes to housing and employment ads, this is illegal.
In late 2017, Facebook said it was
temporarily blocking advertisers’ ability to target based on ethnic
affinity, along with other things such as religious or LGBT affinity.
Advertisers can still target those groups - just not exclude them.
Facebook, which said it is conducting an audit of how the feature can be
misused, did not say when it would lift the block.
While some advertisers want to
reach large swaths of people, others like more specific targeting. As
Facebook explains in a guide for advertisers, it’s possible to refine an
ad’s audience on things like what people post on their timelines, apps
they use, ads they click, demographics such as age, gender and location,
and even the mobile device they use or their network connection. Based
on this information, advertisers can either include or exclude
categories such as homeowners, “trendy moms,” people who moved recently,
conservatives, or people interested in cooking, for example.
That said, Facebook warns
advertisers not to narrow their audience too much by being overly
specific, which can make the ads less effective - since fewer people
will see them.
you off Facebook
An ad offering called “custom
audiences” lets advertisers target anyone who has already bought stuff
from them or has visited their websites. They can also target anyone who
has shared an email address or downloaded their app. So, if you use
Netflix, you may see an ad on Facebook for a new TV show that might
interest you. Or, if you gave your email address when you bought a pair
of slippers from Land’s End, you might get an ad for an upcoming slipper
sale, since Facebook has your email address too.
Then there are “lookalike
audiences.” These are people who are similar to a business’s existing
customer base, but are not customers themselves. This can help
advertisers reach people in different countries, for example.
Advertisers can use this tool by first uploading their customers’ data
through the “custom audiences” feature. Then, Facebook’s algorithms look
for people similar to them. In addition, advertisers can also install a
Facebook “pixel” on their site, a piece of code that tracks what people
do off of Facebook.
A new type of ad Facebook launched
recently, this lets businesses target people who have already shown
interest in them. It uses “retargeting” - that sometimes-annoying way
that a handbag you looked on a website can follow you around the
internet regardless of whether you want to buy it. Dynamic ads, though,
go a step further, and know if you were just browsing or if you put that
handbag in your online shopping cart, and may nudge you with a 10
percent of coupon.
As Chief Operating Officer Sheryl
Sandberg explained in a recent earnings call, dynamic ads let Holiday
Inn target people who searched for hotels on its website but hadn’t yet
booked. The ads these Facebook users saw had a video personalized to the
dates and places they searched for. The result: the hotel chain got
three times the return on what it spent on these ads than on their
previous ad campaigns, according to Sandberg.
April 28, 2018 - May 4, 2018
Question of sales tax on online purchases goes to high court
April 13, 2018, photo, packages from Internet retailers are delivered with
the U.S. Mail in an apartment building mail room in Washington. Clicking
“checkout” on an online purchase could cost more after a Supreme Court case
being argued. (AP Photo/Jessica Gresko)
Washington (AP) - Sales Tax: $0.
Online shoppers have gotten used to seeing that line on
checkout screens before they click “purchase.” But a case before the Supreme
Court could change that.
At issue is a rule stemming from two, decades-old
Supreme Court cases: If a business is shipping to a state where it doesn’t
have an office, warehouse or other physical presence, it doesn’t have to
collect the state’s sales tax.
That means large retailers such as Apple, Macy’s,
Target and Walmart, which have brick-and-mortar stores nationwide, generally
collect sales tax from customers who buy from them online. But other online
sellers, from 1-800 Contacts to home goods site Wayfair, can often sidestep
charging the tax.
More than 40 states are asking the Supreme Court to
reconsider that rule in a case being argued Tuesday. They say they’re losing
out on “billions of dollars in tax revenue each year, requiring cuts to
critical government programs” and that their losses compound as online
shopping grows. But small businesses that sell online say the complexity and
expense of collecting taxes nationwide could drive them out of business.
Large retailers want all businesses to “be playing by
the same set of rules,” said Deborah White, the president of the litigation
arm of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents more than
70 of America’s largest retailers.
For years, the issue of whether out-of-state sellers
should collect sales tax had to do mostly with one company: Amazon.com. The
online giant is said to account for more than 40 percent of U.S. online
retail sales. But as Amazon has grown, dotting the country with warehouses,
it has had to charge sales tax in more and more places.
President Donald Trump has slammed the company,
accusing it of paying “little or no taxes” to state and local governments.
But since 2017, Amazon has been collecting sales tax in every state that
charges it. Third-party sellers that use Amazon to sell products make their
own tax collection decisions, however.
The case now before the Supreme Court could affect
those third-party Amazon sellers and many other sellers that don’t collect
taxes in all states - sellers such as jewelry website Blue Nile, pet
products site Chewy.com, clothing retailer L.L. Bean, electronics retailer
Newegg and internet retailer Overstock.com. Sellers on eBay and Etsy, which
provide platforms for smaller sellers, also don’t collect sales tax
States generally require consumers who weren’t charged
sales tax on a purchase to pay it themselves, often through self-reporting
on their income tax returns. But states have found that only about 1 percent
to 2 percent actually pay.
States would capture more of that tax if out-of-state
sellers had to collect it, and states say software has made sales tax
Out-of-state sellers disagree, calling it costly and
extraordinarily complex, with tax rates and rules that vary not only by
state but also by city and county. For example, in Illinois, Snickers are
taxed at a higher rate than Twix because foods containing flour don’t count
as candy. Sellers say free or inexpensive software isn’t accurate, more
sophisticated software is expensive and that collecting tax nationwide would
also subject them to potentially costly audits.
“For small businesses on tight margins, these costs are
going to be fatal in many cases,” said Andy Pincus, who filed a brief on
behalf of eBay and small businesses that use its platform.
The case now before the Supreme Court involves South
Dakota, which has no income tax and relies heavily on sales tax for revenue.
South Dakota’s governor has said the state loses out on an estimated $50
million a year in sales tax that doesn’t get collected by out-of-state
In 2016 the state passed a law requiring those sellers
to collect taxes on sales into the state, a law challenging the Supreme
Court precedents. The state, conceding it could win only if the Supreme
Court reverses course, has lost in lower courts.
South Dakota says the high court’s previous decisions
don’t reflect today’s world. The court first adopted its physical presence
rule on sales tax collection in a 1967 case dealing with a catalog retailer.
At the time, the court was concerned in part about the burden collecting
sales tax would place on the catalog company. The court reaffirmed that
ruling in 1992.
It’s unclear how the justices might align on the
question this time. But three justices - Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and
Anthony Kennedy - have suggested a willingness to rethink those decisions.
Kennedy has written that the 1992 case was “questionable even when decided”
and “now harms states to a degree far greater than could have been
“Although online businesses may not have a physical
presence in some states, the Web has, in many ways, brought the average
American closer to most major retailers,” he wrote in suggesting the days of
inconsistent sales tax collection may be numbered. “A connection to a
shopper’s favorite store is a click away regardless of how close or far the