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Facebook Q2 Profit Nearly Doubles as Monthly Active Users Top 3 Billion

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 31 July 2020

Facebook reported Thursday that its quarterly profit had nearly doubled and users grew despite a boycott by advertisers and the pandemic-induced economic turmoil.

The leading social network said it made a profit of $5.2 billion (roughly Rs. 38,877 crores) on $18.7 billion (roughly Rs. 1.39 lakh crores) in revenue in the recently ended quarter, as the number of people using the platform monthly rose to 2.7 billion.

“This was a strong quarter for us, especially compared to what we expected at the start,” chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said.

Shares in the Silicon Valley-based technology giant were up six percent in after-market trades following release of the earnings figures.

The number of people using the tech giant’s overall “family” of apps including WhatsApp and Messenger each month topped three billion, according to Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg said he could not predict when Facebook employees would return their offices, in light of surge in coronavirus cases.

“It is incredibly disappointing because it seems like the US could have avoided this current surge in cases if our government had handled this better,” Zuckerberg said.

Facebook expected as much as half of its employees to be working from home on a long-term basis in the next five to ten years.

Defending the story

Zuckerberg sought to highlight the importance of technology firms during the crisis, as he recounted his testimony at a Congressional antitrust hearing along with CEOs of Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet at a panel investigating market dominance.

“As I said yesterday the tech industry is an American success story,” Zuckerberg said.

“Products, we build have changed the world for the better and improved people’s lives.”

Use of Facebook has surged as people staying close to home due to the pandemic turn to the platform to virtually connect with friends and loved ones.

“Imagine going through this pandemic two decades ago when the internet was nascent Facebook didn’t even exist,”Zuckerberg said.

He remained adamant that Facebook does not want hate speech on the social network, despite criticism that the social network does not do enough to fight misinformation and vitriol.

Organisers of a Facebook ad boycott have vowed to continue their campaign, saying the social network’s top executives have failed to offer meaningful action on curbing hateful content.

The boycott aimed at pressing Facebook to act on toxic and hateful content has the support of more than 900 companies and organizations.

Zuckerberg said he was “troubled” by calls for regulators to make it more difficult to target advertising, saying such a move would hurt businesses trying to connect with customers, especially during economic turmoil.

“This would reduce opportunities for small businesses so much that would probably be felt at a macroeconomic level,” Zuckerberg said.

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Facebook Said to Be Questioned on WhatsApp’s Privacy Terms by Parliamentary Panel

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By Reuters | Updated: 21 January 2021

Facebook executives will field questions from a parliamentary panel on Thursday about the changes to WhatsApp’s privacy, a source said, days after the messaging platform was asked by the country’s technology ministry to withdraw them.

The panel will ask why Facebook needed to change WhatsApp’s privacy policy and how it will impact users, the source said. WhatsApp did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.

The messaging platform earlier this month kicked off a storm when it informed users it was preparing a new privacy policy, under which it could share limited user data, including phone number and location, with Facebook and its group firms.

Demand for rival applications such as Signal and Telegram surged on privacy concerns and WhatsApp last week decided to delay the new policy launch to May from February.

With 400 million users, India is WhatsApp’s biggest market, and the messaging service has big plans for the country’s growing digital payments space, including selling health insurance via partners.

Facebook last year invested $5.7 billion (roughly Rs. 41,600 crores) in the digital unit of Mukesh Ambani-led conglomerate Reliance Industries, with a big part of that aimed at drawing in ten of millions of traditional shop owners to use digital payments via WhatsApp.

Earlier this week, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in an email to WhatsApp boss that the new privacy policy terms take away choice from Indian users.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Twitter to Reset @POTUS Account Today Following Joe Biden’s Inauguration

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By Associated Press | Updated: 20 January 2021

It’s a Twitter user’s worst nightmare: Wake up to find most of your followers gone. But that’s exactly what will happen on Wednesday to the official presidential accounts on Twitter. No, not @realDonaldTrump — he’s already been banned for life. This is the fate awaiting lesser-known accounts such as @POTUS, @WhiteHouse, @FLOTUS and @VP. (POTUS is the official acronym for President of the United States; FLOTUS refers to the First Lady.)

These institutional accounts don’t belong any particular individual — they’re reserved for official government use by those in the current administration. Twitter will transfer them to President-elect Joe Biden once he is officially inaugurated on Wednesday. Minus, that is, most of their followers.

That’s unlike the previous Twitter transition, when then-President Barack Obama’s official accounts were transferred to President Donald Trump with followers intact. This time, these accounts stand to lose tens of millions of followers at Twitter’s dictate. People dropped by these accounts, in addition to those who follow “relevant Biden and Harris accounts” such as @KamalaHarris, will receive notifications that they can follow them.

Biden’s current account — @PresElectBiden — will transform into @POTUS once Biden himself becomes POTUS.

Biden’s team does not appear happy about this. The President-elect’s digital director, Rob Flaherty, tweeted last week that the follower reset is “Absolutely, profoundly insufficient.”

In Twitter’s view, the reset gives users the choice on whether or not to follow the new accounts.

The company says it has not made a decision on whether it will now take this approach during transfers of power. But spokesman Nick Pacilio said it is the policy in other countries.

As for Trump’s @POTUS account? It will be archived as @POTUS45, just as the Obama administration’s account was archived as @POTUS44.

That’s not the case for @realdonaldtrump, though. While it’s been extensively archived by other platforms and researchers, it has vanished from Twitter itself. That alone has raised criticisms from academics and others who believe it should also be part of the public record, easily searchable and accessible to anyone.

Facebook, meanwhile, is sticking to its previous policy of “duplicating” all 11 million followers of the official White House Facebook and Instagram accounts to the new administration. Trump’s POTUS and related accounts, meanwhile, will be archived and Biden will get a new one.

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WhatsApp Asked to Withdraw Changes to Privacy Policy by MeitY

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 19 January 2021

The Indian government has asked WhatsApp to withdraw the recent changes in the privacy policy of the messaging app, saying unilateral changes are not fair and acceptable.

In a strongly worded letter to WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) said India is home to the largest user base of WhatsApp globally and is one the biggest markets for its services.

The proposed changes to the WhatsApp Terms of Service and Privacy Policy “raise grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens,” it wrote.

The ministry asked WhatsApp to withdraw the proposed changes and reconsider its approach to information privacy, freedom of choice and data security.

Stating that Indians should be properly respected, it said, “any unilateral changes to the WhatsApp Terms of Service and Privacy would not be fair and acceptable.”

The MeitY letter comes a day after the Delhi High court said that accepting the new privacy policy of instant messaging app WhatsApp was a “voluntary” thing and one can choose to not join the platform if one did not agree with its terms and conditions.

“Even Google Maps captures all your data and stores it,” the court said.

“It is a private app. Don’t join it. It is a voluntary thing, don’t accept it. Use some other app,” Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva said to the petitioner, a lawyer, who has challenged WhatsApp’s new privacy policy, which was earlier slated to come into effect in February but has now been deferred till May.

The court further said it could not understand what data would be leaked according to the petitioner and since the issue requires consideration, it will be listed on January 25 due to paucity of time on Monday.

The central government also agreed with the court that the issue needs to be analysed.

WhatsApp and Facebook, represented by senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Mukul Rohatgi, told the court that the plea was not maintainable and many of the issues raised in it were without any foundation. They further told the court that private chat messages between family and friends would remain encrypted and cannot be stored by WhatsApp and this position would not change under the new policy.

The change in policy would only affect the business chats on WhatsApp, they said.

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Twitter, Periscope, Pinterest Face Advertising Ban in Turkey

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 January 2021

Turkey’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority has imposed advertising bans on Twitter, Periscope and Pinterest under a new social media law, according to decisions published in the country’s Official Gazette on Tuesday.

The law, which critics say will muzzle dissent, requires social media companies to appoint local representatives in Turkey. On Monday, Facebook joined other companies in saying it would be appointing such a representative.

YouTube, owned by Alphabet’s Google, said a month ago it had decided to appoint a representative.

The decisions in the Official Gazette said the advertising bans went into effect from Tuesday. Twitter, its live-streaming app Periscope, and image sharing app Pinterest were not immediately available to comment.

The law allows authorities to remove content from platforms, rather than blocking access as they did in the past. The move has caused concern as people turn more to online platforms after Ankara tightened its grip on mainstream media.

In previous months Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter had faced fines in Turkey for not complying with the law. Companies that do not follow the law will ultimately have their bandwidth slashed by 90 percent, essentially blocking access.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook to Use AI in Predicting if COVID-19 Patients Need Better Healthcare

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By ANI | Updated: 19 January 2021

American social media giant Facebook is publishing a research conducted by its artificial intelligence (AI) unit in an effort to help healthcare providers predict in advance if a COVID-19 patient may need more intensive care solutions and adjust resources accordingly.

Facebook in a recent detailed blog post said that it had developed two AI models, one based on a single chest X-ray, and another from a series of X-rays that could help forecast if a patient infected by COVID-19 is likely to get worse. A third model predicts the amount of extra oxygen a COVID-19 patient might need.

The research, which can help produce predictions based on chest X-rays, has been done in collaboration with NYU Langone Health’s Predictive Analytics Unit and Department of Radiology.

Facebook’s AI models in general did a better job than a human when it came to forecasting a patient’s need for more intensive care resources up to four days in advance.

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Facebook to Appoint Turkey Envoy to Comply With Media Law

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 19 January 2021

Facebook said on Monday it will appoint a representative in Turkey to comply with a new social media law aimed at forcing platforms to quickly remove contentious posts.

The US social media giant’s announcement came a day before it and other non-complying platforms were due to face advertising bans in Turkey.

Media freedom advocates view the law as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s effort to limit political discourse and stifle dissent – a drive that gained added momentum after he survived a failed coup in 2016.

But Facebook said its decision did not mean it was changing the way it handles government requests to take down content.

It said its representative would be withdrawn if Facebook felt it was being forced to compromise on its principles and community standards.

“We would like to underline the importance of our platform as a place where users can exercise their right to freedom of expression,” Facebook said in a statement.

Turkey’s new social media regulations entered into force in October after being rammed through parliament by Erdogan’s ruling party.

They require platforms with more than one million unique daily users to appoint representatives who can handle court orders to take down offending content within 48 hours.

Facebook’s continued refusal to appoint an envoy threatened to see its bandwidth cut by 90 percent in May.

Turkey’s deputy minister for infrastructure Omer Fatih Sayan tweeted that Monday’s decision also covers Facebook-owned Instagram.

Access to websites and content had already been partially restricted in the nation of 83 million people before the latest regulations entered into force.

Twitter last year listed Turkey – along with Russia and Japan – among the top three countries responsible for 86 percent of all requests to take down posts.

Social media firms have diverged in their approach to Turkey’s new law.

Facebook’s Russian equivalent VK opened a local office in November but Twitter and YouTube along with Facebook all got fined that same month for failing to comply.

The Chinese short videos app TikTok said it would open a Turkish office earlier this month.

Twitter has not yet announced a decision to name a Turkish envoy.

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