UK lawmakers question tech attempts to stem coronavirus conspiracies

UK lawmakers question tech attempts to stem coronavirus conspiracies

UK lawmakers question tech attempts to stem coronavirus conspiracies

UK lawmakers questioned whether social media giants are doing enough to stop the spread of false information, after a conspiracy theory that 5G technology is contributing to the Covid-19 pandemic led to a spate of attacks on telecom masts and engineers.

Representatives from Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Twitter Inc were asked to appear before the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee on Thursday to explain how their companies are tackling disinformation. It didn’t go well.

“We will be writing to all of your organisations with a series of questions and, frankly, we will be expressing our displeasure at the quality of the answers – well, the lack of answers – we received today,” chairman Julian Knight concluded after more than an hour of questioning via conference call.

The Silicon Valley giants outlined measures they’ve taken to combat fake news, such as Facebook’s move to restrict WhatsApp message forwarding and promote official guidance on the pandemic. But the panel of British lawmakers often interjected bluntly and deemed the testimony unsatisfactory.

Legislators demanded to know how Twitter was cracking down on world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, if they spread misinformation. The company’s UK head of government relations, Katy Minshall, was also grilled about the prevalence of bots on the site, which are automated accounts that perform repetitive tasks, such as sharing fake news stories.

“We’re really proud of the progress we’ve made over the past couple of years,” said Minshall, responding to a question about online abuse.

“Well I don’t know why,” interrupted member of Parliament John Nicolson.

Google public policy manager Alina Dimofte was asked why YouTube didn’t tackle 5G conspiracy videos earlier. It banned such videos on April 7 after a spate of attacks on towers and telecom engineers.


MP Steve Brine said that, during the session, he found a Facebook post from his district inciting the destruction of a 5G mast, which has been baselessly linked to the spread of Covid-19.

More than 60 telecom masts have been attacked in the UK in the past few weeks as the theory has gained traction and even made it onto mainstream TV shows.

Brine added that he was “astonished” that Facebook’s UK Public Policy Manager Richard Earley had not personally discussed the issues with chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg or its vice president for global affairs and communication, Nick Clegg. Clegg is also the former UK deputy prime minister.

TikTok, the most downloaded app in the world outside of China during the crisis, avoided questioning. The relatively new social media site was not asked to appear despite also hosting conspiracy theories. – Bloomberg

Google's takes steps to cut down on spam extensions in Chrome - Latest News

Google’s takes steps to cut down on spam extensions in Chrome – Latest News

NEW DELHI: In order to cut down the number of low quality and misleading Chrome extensions, Google has announced new rules for the Chrome Web Store.

The company claims that due to the success and popularity of the browser, the Chrome Web Store sees a lot of spammers and fraudsters. The company also mentions that these spammers are the reason for the rise of duplicate and spammy extensions, which are flooding the Chrome Web Store with low-quality content.

The tech giant mentions that starting August 27, Google will enforce a new set of rules which will delist a large number of extensions. The purpose of the rules is to cut down the number of spammy extensions. Google also said that developers of over 200,000 extensions on the Chrome Web Store will have until August 27 to make adjustments to their extensions so that they fall in line with the new rules.

The company has also listed the things which will not be allowed going forward. Here’s what will not be allowed in the future:

* Developers cannot submit duplicate extensions anymore. (e.g. Wallpaper extensions that have different names but provide the user with the same wallpapers when installed.)

* Extensions are not allowed to use “keyword spam” techniques to flood metadata fields with multiple terms and have the extension listed across multiple categories to improve the extension’s visibility in search results.

* Developers are not allowed to use misleading, improperly formatted, non-descriptive, irrelevant, excessive, or inappropriate metadata. Extension metadata needs to be accurate, and Google intends to be strict about it.

* Developers are now forbidden from inflating product ratings, reviews, or install counts by illegitimate means, such as fraudulent or paid downloads, reviews, and ratings.

* Extensions that have only one purpose, such as launching a web page or an app, are not allowed anymore.

* Extensions that abuse browser notifications to spam users with ads or other messages have also been banned.

Fitbit expected to launch smartwatch for kids with 4G connectivity this year

Fitbit expected to launch smartwatch for kids with 4G connectivity this year

Google-owned Fitbit is said to launch a new smartwatch specifically for kids, according to a report by Engadget that cites a source close to the matter.

As per the report, this alleged kids smartwatch by Fitbit will offer 4G connectivity support. For this, the company has acquired Doki Technologies, the company that made the world’s first kids smartwatch with video calling support — in 2016 — called DokiWatch.

As per the report, Doki has apparently notified its customers hat it is ending the support for dokiWatch, dokiWatch S and dokiPal on July 1 through an email.

The upcoming Fitbit smartwatch for kids is expected to be launched later this year, claims the report even though both Fitbit and Doki denied to comment on any developments on the subject matter. However, according to the Hong Kong Companies Registry, Doki’s director is now listed as “Andrew Paul Missan,” is Fitbit’s executive vice president, general counsel and secretary, points out the report. The date of Missan’s appointment is listed to be October 22, 2019, which the report suggests is likely to be the date of Fitbit’s acquisition as well.

Meanwhile, last month, the company launched its latest fitness band in India, called Fitbit Charge 4 — the successor of the Fitbit Charge 3 which the company launched in 2018.

The Fitbit Charge 4 comes in Black, Rosewood, and Storm Blue/Black colour options and is priced at Rs 14,999. The company has also launched the Charge 4 Special Edition granite reflective/black woven band priced at Rs 16,999. The company also claims that users can customise Charge 4 using new accessory bands. Some of the features that are offered by Fitbit 4 are wireless sync, Sleep Mode, App Dashboard, Payments, Spotify Control, Do Not Disturb Mode, On-Wrist Stats, etc.

YouTube brings personalised topics to iOS - Latest News

YouTube brings personalised topics to iOS – Latest News

NEW DELHI: Tech giant Google has introduced an Android-only YouTube feature on iOS now. Last year, Google rolled out a new option which gave YouTube users more control over their HomePage and Up Next videos. Along with these two features Google also included personalized ‘topics’ on Home in the Up next video suggestions. This feature was exclusive to Android users only but now the company has introduced the same for iOS as well.

Google has announced that it is rolling out personalized topics on Home and Up Next YouTube on the web and on iOS.

In an official post, the company said, “Previously, this feature was only available in English on the YouTube Android app, so we’re excited to announce that we’re rolling this out over the next couple of weeks to more devices (iOS app and on Desktop) as well as more languages (French, Portuguese and Spanish)!”

The company has also revealed that it plans to add more topics personalized for you including more types of YouTube Mixes, Creators, Music, Gaming, and Learning topics.

Recently, Google said that it would start showing text and links from third-party fact-checkers to US viewers, part of efforts to curb misinformation on the site during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The information panels, launched in Brazil and India last year, will highlight third-party, fact-checked articles above search results for topics such as “covid and ibuprofen” or false claims like “COVID-19 is a bio-weapon,” as well as specific searches such as “did a tornado hit Los Angeles.”

In 2018, YouTube started using information panels that surfaced links to sources such as Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia for topics considered prone to misinformation

Google Kills Off Social Network Shoelace

Google Kills Off Social Network Shoelace

Search engine giant axes yet another social network only available in New York, to help people find group activities for people with similar interests

Google is not having much luck with its social networking ventures, with the news that it is closing down another experiment in the area.

Google’s Area 120 division had launched Shoelace in mid 2019, and it was only available in New York and only for iOS users. The idea was that Shoelace would help people with similar interests find group activities and explore NYC.

But Google has now announced that the iOS app will not move out of its experimental phase, and instead the app will be closed down on 12 May, amid the global Coronavirus pandemic.

App closure

“Like all projects within Area 120, Shoelace was an experiment,” Google revealed in a FAQ.

“We’re proud of the work that we accomplished and the community that we built, but given the current health crisis, we don’t feel that now is the right time to invest further in this project,” it added.

Google said it had no plans to reboot Shoelace in the future.

After 12 May all user account data will be deleted, but people can request an exported version of their data before that time.

Social failures?

Google is not afraid to try tech experiments, but the firm doesn’t seem to have enjoyed much success with its social networking offerings over the years.

Google announced in October 2018 for example that it was shutting down Google+ (for consumers) because of low user engagement.

It should be noted that Google had been in hot water over its decision not to reveal a data breach in Google+ that exposed the private data of up to 500,000 users, to hundreds of third-party app developers.

And then in December 2018 Google said it was accelerating the “sunsetting” (i.e forced retirement) of its Google+ social network after the discovery of a fresh bug.

Google+ had originally been scheduled to be shutdown for consumers in August 2019. But that deadline was bumped up to 2 April 2019, but in in the end Google+ was actually shut down for many in February 2019.

Facebook rival

It should be remembered that Google+ had been intended to be a rival to the mighty Facebook (despite Google’s claims to the contrary).

The arrival of Google+ saw it replace its previous incarnation, namely Google Buzz.

When Google+ was launched on June 2011, things seemed initially promising, but the truth was that the product never came close to matching the number of users that Facebook enjoyed.

Indeed, as Facebook’s growth continued unchecked over the years, it seemed that Google+ was being quietly retired by the search engine giant.

Matters were not helped when Vivek “Vic” Gundotra, the man responsible for Google+, announced his resignation in April 2014 amid rumours that Google was scaling down its social networking project.

Google had also angered many users when it integrated YouTube accounts with Google+. It later reserved that decision.

But the search engine gave Google+ a facelift in 2015 as the firm sought to continue shifting its focus away from people and more towards personal interests and communities.

Yet despite that, Google+ struggled to attract new users outside of a dedicated fanbase, making its decision to pull the plug on the consumer version an easy one to make.

Quiz: Are you a Google expert?