technology

After FB, Netflix, more US tech giants turn to India for new apps release 

Besides organic growth, acquisitions are another strategy for these companies in India, especially since they are facing more scrutiny back home and in western Europe.

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India is emerging as the testing and acquisition playground for global consumer technology companies, especially the so-called FAANGs, according to a veteran internet analyst.

RBC Capital Markets’ Mark Mahaney, who calls himself Wall Street’s “oldest internet analyst” after covering the sector for more than two decades, said India is now more popular than markets like China because it has the same growth dynamics but with fewer regulations.

As one of the largest economies and most populous countries in the world, India has turned into a testing ground for companies such as Facebook Inc., which has used it to beta-test a payments feature for WhatsApp. Netflix Inc. rolled out a mobile plan in India at 199 rupees ($2.80), much cheaper than what it charges for a basic plan elsewhere, and has created original content to capture more market share.

India does have regulations but it doesn’t seem to be as protectionist as China,” said Mahaney. India has been considering a new law that would require personal data to be stored locally, which could impair the operations of the Internet giants but Mahaney remains confident they can still penetrate the market.

Besides organic growth, acquisitions are another strategy for these companies in India, especially since they are facing more scrutiny back home and in western Europe. “There’s an opportunity to build growth” in Asia, particularly in India, Mahaney said.

Amazon.com Inc. has already tried its hand at deals in the South Asian nation by attempting to acquire Indian e-commerce pioneer Flipkart Online Services Pvt., before it was snapped up by Walmart Inc. last year.

Facebook, Netflix, Amazon and Alphabet Inc. can all win big in India, said Mahaney, who has a buy rating on the stocks. “India is less than 5% of the Amazon’s total revenues but it has the potential” to get to that level within five years, Mahaney said.

Business Standard

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Comapnies

Whatsapp monitoring: FB moots ‘prospective’ solution, fails to appease govt

The issue of traceability has been a flashpoint between the government and WhatsApp.

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Facebook global executive Nick Clegg has proposed a “prospective” mechanism for WhatsApp to act on cases flagged by law enforcement agencies, but the government has refused to budge on its demand for traceability of messages.

The issue of traceability has been a flashpoint between the government and WhatsApp, and the Facebook-owned messaging platform has so far resisted India’s demand for identification of message originators, arguing that doing so would undermine its policy on privacy and end-to-end encryption.

A senior government official told PTI that Facebook Vice-President, Global Affairs and Communications, Nick Clegg, during his meeting with IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad last week mooted alternatives to absolute traceability of messages, including use of ‘meta data’ and machine intelligence for dealing with the issue, even offering to harness WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook linkages to provide assistance to law enforcement agencies.

When contacted, a Facebook spokesperson said: “Facebook cares deeply about the safety of people in India and Nick’s meetings this week provided opportunities to discuss our commitment to supporting privacy and security in every app we provide and how we can continue to work productively with the Government of India towards these shared goals.”

A person aware of WhatsApps’s position on the matter emphasised that the platform cannot read messages exchanged as they are encrypted.

It is learnt that Clegg in meetings with top authorities, including Home Minister Amit Shah, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval as well as IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on September 12, reiterated the US tech giant’s stance that it will abide by any lawful request for information by the Indian government, but it cannot read messages exchanged on its platforms.

Clegg told the officials that the company can provide ‘signals’ and meta data such as who calls were made to and duration, among others, of lawfully identified users, a source said.

Business Standard

APPS, CURRENT AFFAIRS, Latest News

Facebook plans to hire team of editors to help curate your news stories 

The Silicon Valley company said that journalists would help curate News Tab, a new section inside of the company’s mobile application that will surface the most recent and relevant stories for readers.

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Business Standard : Facebook has long relied on algorithms to select news stories for its users to see.

Now the social network wants to rely on something else for the same task, too: humans.

Specifically, Facebook plans to hire a team of editors to work on a news initiative called News Tab, which is its latest venture into the world of publishing.

The Silicon Valley company said that journalists would help curate News Tab, a new section inside of the company’s mobile application that will surface the most recent and relevant stories for readers. Facebook said it planned to hire seasoned journalists from various outlets for the roles and would put up job postings on its employment board on Tuesday.

News Tab is part of the company’s effort to highlight real-time journalism and news. It will exist outside of the News Feed, Facebook’s never-ending stream of status updates and friend requests.

Our goal with the News Tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience for people,” said Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships. “To start, for the Top News section of the tab we’re pulling together a small team of journalists to ensure we’re highlighting the right stories.”

Facebook has been under pressure for spreading misinformation and disinformation to millions of its users. In 2016, Russian operatives manipulated Facebook and disseminated false news stories across its network to influence the outcome of the American presidential election. On Monday, Facebook also revealed that China was behind Facebook pages and groups that were sowing disinformation about the protests in Hong Kong.

Facebook is now working to restore its reputation as a place where people can find trusted sources of information. The company has scrambled to hire security researchers and third-party content reviewers to deal with the proliferation of bad content.

At the same time, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, has overhauled the News Feed to focus less on news publishers and marketers, and more on personal interactions between users. As a result, Facebook is looking for other places on its network to show news.

CURRENT AFFAIRS, technology

Facebook, Tesla want to read your mind: here’s why you should be worried

If mind-reading devices become the normal way to interact with computers, we may end up with little choice but to use them in order to keep up with more productive colleagues.

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Not content with monitoring almost everything you do online, Facebook now wants to read your mind as well. The social media giant recently announced a breakthrough in its plan to create a device that reads people’s brainwaves to allow them to type just by thinking. And Elon Musk wants to go even further. One of the Tesla boss’ other companies, Neuralink, is developing a brain implant to connect people’s minds directly to a computer.

Musk admits that he takes inspiration from science fiction, and that he wants to make sure humans can “keep up” with artificial intelligence. He seems to have missed the part of sci-fi that acts as a warning for the implications of technology.

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These mind-reading systems could affect our privacy, security, identity, equality and personal safety. Do we really want all that left to companies with philosophies such as that of Facebook’s former mantra, “move fast and break things”?

Though they sound futuristic, the technologies needed to make brainwave-reading devices are not that dissimilar to the standard MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and EEG (electroencephalography) neuroscience tools used in hospitals all over the world. You can already buy a kit to control a drone with your mind, so using one to type out words is, in some ways, not that much of a leap. The advance will likely be due to the use of machine learning to sift through huge quantities of data collected from our brains and find the patterns in neuron activity that link thoughts to specific words.

A brain implant is likely to take a lot longer to develop, and it’s important to separate out the actual achievements of Neuralink from media hype and promotion. But Neuralink has made simultaneous improvements in materials for electrodes and robot-assisted surgery to implant them, packaging the technology neatly so it can be read via USB.

Facebook and Neuralink’s plans may build on established medical practice. But when companies are collecting thoughts directly from our brains, the ethical issues are very different.

Any system that could collect data directly from our brains has clear privacy risks. Privacy is about consent. But it is very difficult to give proper consent if someone is tapping directly into our thoughts. Silicon Valley companies (and governments) already surreptitiously gather as much data on us as they can and use it in ways we’d rather they didn’t. How sure can we be that our random and personal thoughts won’t be captured and studied alongside the instructions we want to give the technology

Comapnies, CURRENT AFFAIRS

Yes, privacy crackdowns matter: Facebook is starting to feel the pinch 

Analysts have been looking for Facebook’s growth rate to come in under 25 per cent for the rest of this year.

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It’s easy to believe that Facebook Inc. is an unstoppable advertising force built on pervasive human surveillance and that meek regulatory or legislative efforts do nothing to stop it.

Despite those concerns, the privacy reckoning for Facebook and the rest of the internet is denting the company’s ad machine.

Facebook spooked investors a bit on Wednesday during a conference call to discuss its second-quarter earnings. Executives said revenue growth would slow more than the company previously expected at the end of this year and into 2020, in part because of various restrictions or self-imposed limitations on Facebook’s data harvesting.

Facebook didn’t spill all the details about the scope of this growth sag or the causes. Europe’s strict data privacy rules, imposed last year, require Facebook to obtain explicit permission from people for all sorts of data harvesting that is considered normal in the US, and executives have said that some Europeans are saying no.

Facebook’s revenue growth in Europe is slower than the pace in the US and Canada and in the Asia-Pacific region. Facebook has also said the European data rules are having an impact outside of that continent, perhaps because of more attention on Facebook’s privacy practices.

Companies such as Apple Inc. that control important online gateways are also trying to crack down on the types of broad data collection in which Facebook and others engage. And Facebook itself has imposed limits on types of sometimes-creepy information marketers had used to target ads and closed down some of Facebook’s own ad-targeting categories, including ones that should not have existed.

Facebook has also promised a long-delayed feature that would allow people to decouple their internet browsing history from their Facebook user profiles. The company has warned advertisers that this “clear history” feature will make Facebook’s ads less personalised. (It should be said that Facebook hasn’t done much to limit the kinds of data the company itself harvests on billions of people.)

Business Standard

APPS, CURRENT AFFAIRS, technology

Instagram’s trial to hide number of ‘likes’ may save users’ self-esteem 

Without a public tally of likes, it is likely that comments will become an even stronger indicator of how people are interacting with a particular Instagram post.

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Instagram is running a social media experiment in Australia and elsewhere to see what happens when it hides the number of likes on photos and other posts.

If you have an Instagram account, you’ll get to see the numbers but your followers won’t – at least, not automatically. They will be able to click and see who liked your post, but will have to count the list of names themselves.

The trial is taking place right now in six countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. Canada has just finished its trial.

It’s a bold move by Instagram, but arguably a necessary one. There is growing concern about the effect of social media on young people’s mental health and self–esteem.

Instagram explained:

We want your friends to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.

Likes, and their public tallying, have become the heart of Instagram and many other social media platforms. By hiding them, does Instagram risk devaluing a crucial currency?

Receiving loads of likes can feel like getting a gold star. It’s a public affirmation that you’re doing good work – a useful bit of quantitative feedback on your photographic skills or creativity. Under the new trial you’ll still get the gold star, but in private, and without broader recognition.

Nevertheless, the mental health repercussions of counting likes cannot be ignored. The design of social media promotes social comparison. You don’t have to spend long on Instagram to find a plethora of people who are evidently better-looking, more successful, and more glamorous than you.

As a result, young people can be left feeling inadequate and unworthy. Teens report that social media makes them feel closer to friends (78%), more informed (49%), and connected to family (42%). Yet many teens also report feeling pressure to always show the best versions of themselves (15%), overloaded with information (10%), overwhelmed (9%), or the dreaded “fear of missing out” (9%). These positive and negative reactions can see-saw, depending on a person’s particular mindset at the time.

Business Standard

APPS, CURRENT AFFAIRS

Facebook plans to double women employees globally in 5 years 

The world’s largest social-media company also wants half of its US workforce to be from underrepresented groups by 2024.

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Facebook aims to double the percentage of women working at the social media giant around the world over the next five years, while simultaneously doubling the number of black and Hispanic employees in the US, setting new diversity goals for the organisation.

The world’s largest social-media company also wants half of its US workforce to be from underrepresented groups by 2024.

“We envision a company where in five years, at least fifty-per cent of our workforce is made up of women, people who are Black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islanders, people with two or more ethnicities, people with disabilities and veterans,” Maxine Williams, Facebook’s chief diversity officer, wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

Facebook released the new targets alongside its annual diversity report, which details the ethnic and gender breakdown of its workforce.

“In doing this, we aim to double our number of women globally and Black and Hispanic employees in the US. It will be a company that reflects and better serves the people on our platforms, services and products,” she added.

In the report, the company said women currently make up 36.9 per cent of staff, up from 36.3 per cent last year and 31 per cent in 2014.

At senior leadership level, women account for 32.6 per cent of staff, up from 30 per cent last year.

Williams said the company had achieved higher representation of women in leadership by focusing on hiring and growing female leaders. In technical roles, though, women account for just 23 per cent of staff.

The proportion of black and Hispanic staff in the company stands at 3.8 and 5.2 per cent of Facebook’s workforce respectively, up from 3.5 and 4.9 per cent in 2018.

Facebook said on Tuesday it had increased the number of black women at the company twenty-five fold since 2014. For black men, this was tenfold.

Facebook has put the most effort into diversifying its technical workforce, “so there is an irony and a frustration on our part that we have not been able to grow more,” she added.

Last November, a now-former employee went public with an internal blog post saying Facebook had a “black people problem,” and that the company was not doing enough to support black employees or black users.

Business Standard