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Facebook Political Advertisements Ban Creates Confusion Ahead of US Presidential Elections

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 29 October 2020

Confusion over political ads at Facebook marred the onset of what was supposed to be a cooling period ahead of the US presidential election.

Mistakes implementing a ban on new paid advertisements at Facebook during the week leading up to November 3 had rival parties complaining the leading social network was undermining campaign efforts.

“We’re investigating the issues of some ads being paused incorrectly, and some advertisers having trouble making changes to their campaigns,” Facebook product manager Rob Leathern said in a tweeted message when the ban kicked in on Tuesday.

“We’re working quickly on these fixes.”

California-based Facebook has tightened its rules on political advertising ahead of the 2020 election. In particular, it has prohibited attempts to undermine the electoral process.

The social media network also banned new political advertising in the week before the November 3 election. That ban kicked in on October 27.

Political advertisements could sidestep the ban by getting in position at Facebook prior to the deadline, with those behind them deciding when to activate them.

President Donald Trump’s campaign displayed in a paid posts library at Facebook included what appeared to be a victory advertisement.

The animated advertisement showed a cartoon sunrise along with a smiling Trump head atop a flitting bird and a soundtrack featuring an agonised cry of “No” after the claim Trump was still president.

Megan Clasen, a senior media advisor for Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, tweeted a screen capture of a Trump ad with a picture of the president and a message that “Election Day Is Today.”

Former vice president Joe Biden’s campaign was told by Facebook they could not launch advertisements saying election day was “today” or even “tomorrow,” Clasen said in the tweet.

To be in position to be used in the days ahead, advertisements in the Facebook library have to have run at least once, if even to a just a very limited audience.

“When Facebook’s latest ad policies were announced, we warned that they contained major loopholes that would likely enable election misinformation,” said Media Matters president Angelo Carusone.

“Now we are seeing those warnings come to life.”

Democratic political strategist Eric Reif put out word on Twitter that he and other were working to have advertisements mistakenly removed by Facebook restored at the social network.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg was grilled on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, with decisions regarding political content a hot button topic.

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Google Chrome 87 Getting Chrome Actions Feature, to Allow Users to Type Commands in Address Bar

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By ANI | Updated: 27 November 2020 

Tech giant Google is gradually rolling out a new feature to Google Chrome 87 that allows the user to type commands in the address bar that perform specific browser actions.

According to Mashable, this new feature is called Chrome Actions and allows the user to type in a command, causing an action to be displayed in the address bar search results. When the user selects that action, it will be executed in the browser.

The new option can help user directly search in Google or the engine of choice and even present calculations and unit conversions even before pressing ”Enter”. Its next trick might appeal to a certain class of users who are more used to entering commands in a terminal or envision themselves giving orders to the browser through typed commands.

As reported by Mashable, the new feature called ‘Chrome Actions, will let the user type in some keywords and phrases, which can take the form of commands, to initiate some actions. Like other non-search results, these actions are presented in the suggestion list that user has to either click or if it is currently selected already, hit Enter to take effect.

Techdows lists some of those actions that are already known including: delete history, update browser, launch incognito mode, update credit card info, edit passwords, translate this.

Depending on one’s typing skills, these commands might be faster than digging through menus or click on things. They are not also enabled by default and the user will at least have to dig through chrome://flags to turn them on.

As the site points out, this is not a Google innovation and other browsers have had a similar feature even before Chrome Actions arrived.

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China App Ban: Chinese Foreign Ministry Criticises India’s Move to Ban More Apps

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 25 November 2020

China on Wednesday said it was firmly opposed to India’s decision to block 43 more Chinese apps on national security grounds, claiming the move violated WTO rules.

India on Tuesday blocked 43 more Chinese mobile apps, including Alibaba’s e-commerce app AliExpress, in a fresh wave of web sanctions amid its border standoff with China.

The banned applications were a threat to the “sovereignty and integrity of India”, an official statement said in New Delhi.

The Ministry of Electronics and IT issued the order for blocking the access of these apps by users in India based on the comprehensive reports received from Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Center, Ministry of Home Affairs, the release said.

Earlier on June 29 this year, the government had blocked access to 59 mobile apps and on September 2, another 118 apps were banned under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.

The ban had come in the backdrop of border tensions with China in eastern Ladakh since May.

Asked for his reaction to the latest ban on Chinese apps by India, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing in Beijing that China expresses serious concern over India’s move.

“Since June this year four times India has imposed restrictions on smart phone apps that have Chinese backgrounds under the pretext of national security,” he said.

“This behaviour violates market principles and World Trade Organisation rules, severely undermines the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies. China firmly rejects it,” the spokesman said.
Zhao said Chinese government always asks its companies to abide by international rules and local laws and regulations when doing business overseas.

“Following the market principles, the Indian government has the responsibility to protect their lawful rights and interests of international investors, including Chinese companies”, he said.

He said the nature of China India economic and trade cooperation is mutually beneficial.

“We urge the Indian side to immediately correct its discriminatory behaviour and avoid further damage to bilateral cooperation,” he said.

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Google Messages to Get End-to-End Encryption for Android Users

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 20 November 2020

Google said Thursday it will be rolling out end-to-end encryption for Android users, making it harder for anyone, including law enforcement, to read the content of messages.

“End-to-end encryption ensures that no one, including Google and third parties, can read the content of your messages as they travel between your phone and the phone of the person you’re messaging,” said Google product lead Drew Rowny in announcing the rollout.

Google’s move is part of an upgrade from SMS to the Rich Communication Services (RCS) standard with additional features for images and videos.

It will be available for people communicating using Android-powered devices.

The move brings additional privacy and security to Google’s messaging application, but comes amid rising complaints from law enforcement agencies around the world that strong encryption may enable criminals to hide their tracks.

Digital rights activists have long supported strong encryption to allow users to avoid snooping by governments and cybercriminals. But some governments have warned the technology could hinder criminal investigations.

End-to-end encryption is already available on some services such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp, but the company has been facing resistance over its plan to bring full encryption to its Messenger app.

Last year, US Attorney General William Barr joined with British and Australian counterparts in urging Facebook to abandon its encryption, claiming the plan court hurt investigations into child exploitation.

Civil liberties groups countered that a lack of encryption or privileged access for law enforcement could hurt privacy and security for all Internet users, creating holes that could be exploited by bad actors.

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Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Makes Comeback With Sunshine Contacts App

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 19 November 2020

Former Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer began her comeback to the tech scene Wednesday with the launch of a new mobile app aimed at helping people organise their contacts.

The startup created by Mayer after her departure from Yahoo in 2017 unveiled its app called Sunshine Contacts, which “automatically creates a comprehensive set of your personal and professional contacts from disparate places like your phone, online address books, and email,” according to the company.

“The essential technologies that help us stay connected to those who matter most are antiquated,” said Mayer, co-founder and CEO of Sunshine, which was previously known as Lumi Labs.

“At Sunshine, we believe there’s an immense opportunity to make the mundane magical. It’s been an extremely challenging and rewarding problem to tackle and we’re just getting started.”

Sunshine, based in Silicon Valley, has raised $20 million (roughly Rs. 150 crores) in capital and plans to launch a series of other applications.

The Sunshine Contacts app, which is free and available for the Apple iOS operating system, aims to help users create more organisation of their personal and professional contacts.

“If you are like most people, the contact cards on your phone are messy: they haven’t been updated in years, there are tons of duplicates, many are incomplete, some have out of date information,” according to the Sunshine website.

With the app, “your previously, static messy contact cards are then magically organised and updated with the latest info.”

Mayer left Yahoo in 2017 after failing to engineer a turnaround of the once-dominant Internet company, and finally negotiating a sale to telecom giant Verizon.

Yahoo was sold for less than $5 billion (roughly Rs. 37,100 crores), capping a long decline from when it had a peak market value of some $125 billion (roughly Rs. 9,27,700 crores) in 2000.

She was named CEO at Yahoo in 2012 after more than a decade at Google, becoming one of the few women to head a major Silicon Valley tech firm.

Mayer’s Sunshine co-founder is Enrique Munoz Torres, a former head of search and advertising at Yahoo and a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Twitter Apologises to Parliament Panel for Geo-Tagging Ladakh in China

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 November 2020

Social media giant Twitter has apologised to a parliamentary panel for showing a northern Himalayan region as part of China, promising to make corrections by month-end, the panel’s chief said on Wednesday.

Twitter’s chief privacy officer Damien Kieran sent an apology letter to the Joint Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill after the company geo-tagged India’s northern territory of Ladakh in neighbouring China, the panel’s head Meenakashi Lekhi told Reuters.

“They have apologised in writing for hurting feelings of Indians,” said Lekhi, also a lawmaker from the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“We are committed to protecting assets of India – both physically and digitally”.

Twitter has assured the panel that the matter will be resolved by November 30, she added.

Twitter executives last month appeared before the panel to explain the error, with Lekhi accusing the company of disrespecting India’s sovereignty.

The mistake came to light after some Twitter users tagged their posts as being in Ladakh but the geo-tag showed their location in China.

Twitter at the time said the mistake had been quickly fixed.

Nuclear-armed India and China fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962, and are currently locked in a months-long military stand-off along their contested Himalayan border that includes the region of Ladakh.

The territory is claimed in full by arch-rivals India and Pakistan, while China claims a portion in the east known as the Aksai Chin.

The country’s lawmakers and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government have been at odds with US tech giants.

Lekhi last month criticised Amazon, threatening coercive action against the e-commerce giant after it failed to appear before her panel, while Facebook has been questioned by another parliament panel over its content regulation practices.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Google Pay Adds Paid Promotions, Opens Waitlists for Bank Accounts With Citigroup

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 November 2020

Alphabet’s Google on Wednesday relaunched its US payments app, introducing paid promotions to the service and opening a waitlist for bank accounts being launched next year with Citigroup and 10 other institutions.

The new Google Pay app, like its predecessor which will be discontinued eventually, enables contactless payments in stores and money transfers. But now users can transact with groups of people, search transactions, view analytics and explore cashback offers from merchants including Burger King and Target.

Google will receive a distribution fee for those promotions, opening a small new line of revenue for the advertising giant. Transactions will not affect the ads that users see on other Google services, it said.

The new functionality brings US Google Pay up to par with its counterpart in India, where mobile payments are the norm, while escalating the global battle among tech companies, merchants and banks over consumers and their financial data.

“Our goal is to be the all-in-one app that gives users more value and control out of their money,” said Caesar Sengupta, who oversees Google’s payment initiatives. Pay has more than 150 million monthly users spanning 30 countries.

Alibaba, Apple, Samsung, and PayPal also offer mobile wallets aiming to be hubs for shopping and banking, with the companies battling over security and other features.

For instance, Google said its web search technology makes its app more useful for budgeting and sifting through transactions to spot granular categories such as “Mexican restaurants” or “T-shirts.”

The new US app works at over 1,00,000 restaurants, 30,000 gas stations and 400 cities’ parking meters, Google said.

Google first discussed adding banking accounts a year ago, but did not solicit customers for the service, dubbed Plex, until Wednesday. Partners such as Citi starting next year will activate checkings and savings accounts with no monthly fees, overdraft charges or minimum balance rules.

The Citi Plex users will get free access to its network of 60,000 ATMs nationwide, the megabank said on Wednesday. The offering is Citi’s first bundled savings and checking account.

“This collaboration gives us a platform to drive significant scale in our Retail Bank,” said Citi’s incoming Chief Executive Jane Fraser.

The newest Plex partners include Green Dot, Seattle Bank and The Harbor Bank of Maryland.

Sengupta said one goal was “to gamify saving and make it a lot more fun.”

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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