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The social networking giant said in a blog post on Thursday that it is removing 559 pages–the public profiles of firms and celebrities–and 251 accounts, claiming that they were intentionally misleading people, engaging in “inauthentic behavior,” and posting spam.
Although a lot of the accounts and pages that Facebook typically removes involve scams intended to sell “fake sunglasses or weight loss ‘remedies,’” Facebook said that shady actors are increasingly sharing “sensational political content.”
This questionable political content, which Facebook said covers the gamut of the political spectrum, helps these bad actors “build an audience and drive traffic to their websites, earning money for every visitor to the site,” the company said.
“And like the politically motivated activity we’ve seen, the ‘news’ stories or opinions these accounts and pages share are often indistinguishable from legitimate political debate,” Facebook executives said in the post. “This is why it’s so important we look at these actors’ behavior–such as whether they’re using fake accounts or repeatedly posting spam–rather than their content when deciding which of these accounts, Pages or Groups to remove.”
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Facebook did not name in its blog post any of the pages and accounts that it removed, but several media outlets reported that they included groups with names like “Reverb Press,” “Nation in Distress,” “Right Wing News.” and “Snowflakes.”
The progressive non-profit Media Matters cited over the summer that Nation of Distress was one of the biggest spreaders of conspiracy theories and propaganda on Facebook.
Nation In Distress is one of the most popular (and extreme: https://t.co/F5drgCUm5x) right-wing meme pages on Facebook. In the past 72 hours, they have:
– pushed a conspiracy from fake news sites
– resurfaced an old Clinton conspiracy
– re-posted Russian propaganda pic.twitter.com/t2t5KyZRuG
— Natalie Martinez (@natijomartinez) August 21, 2018
Some of the other misleading pages previously highlighted by Media Matters included “Dean James III%”, “USA in Distress,” and “The voice of the people.” These pages are currently inaccessible, suggesting that Facebook removed them as well.
Fortune contacted Facebook for more information and will update this post if it responds.
Over the past year, Facebook has faced a reckoning over the way its plan to connect the next billion users to the internet has sown division, including spreading hate speech that incited ethnic violence in Myanmar and disseminating propaganda for a violent dictator in the Philippines. But even as the company admits that it was “too slow to prevent misinformation and hate” in Myanmar and makes promises to be more proactive about policing content “where false news has had life or death consequences,” Facebook’s efforts in the developing world appear to be speeding up rather than pausing to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.
In mid-August, Facebook said it was making progress in Myanmar by adding more Burmese speakers and changing its content-moderation policies to make it easier to report bad conduct and root out hate speech. By the end of this year, Facebook says, it expects to hire 100 Burmese speakers to review content. The changes come more than two years after Facebook pushed into Myanmar. During that time civil-society groups have repeatedly asked the company to do a better job patrolling hate speech, and UN investigators said Facebook had played a “determining role” in the killing of Rohingya Muslims.
But Facebook’s lack of preparedness in Myanmar has not halted its efforts to expand access to the internet—and to Facebook—in the Global South. A couple of weeks after touting its progress in Myanmar, Facebook quietly celebrated plans to expand Wi-Fi access in India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania through partnerships with companies that sell Wi-Fi hardware. In Tanzania, for example, the World Bank estimates that only 13 percent of people use the internet, roughly the same internet penetration in Myanmar in November 2015.
From Free Basics to Express Wi-Fi
Facebook’s efforts to connect the next billion fall under internet.org, which the company describes as an effort to get 4.5 billion unconnected people on the internet. Initially, Facebook’s preferred vehicle to spread connectivity was Free Basics, an app that provided free access to a limited number of websites. Amid criticism of that approach in India and elsewhere, Facebook in the past year has instead promoted a program called Express Wi-Fi, where local merchants or business owners offer affordable access to Wi-Fi hot spots, using Facebook’s Express software as a platform for billing and managing accounts.
Express Wi-Fi has raised fewer red flags because, unlike Free Basics, users can access the full internet. Facebook provides financial support to set up the hot spots, but the company says Express Wi-Fi is not supposed to be a profit center. Rather, Facebook wants partners to get enough financial return to keep expanding connectivity efforts.
Facebook would not disclose how many Express Wi-Fi hot spots there are or how the program has grown, but it is clearly part of Facebook’s larger push into Africa. Three of the five countries where Express Wi-Fi has launched are in Africa. In March, Facebook launched an Express Wi-Fi app in the Google Play store in Kenya and Indonesia. Facebook’s ISP partner in Kenya, Surf, says it has 1,100 Express Wi-Fi hot spots in the country, up from 100 in February 2017. In September, Facebook announced a partnership with The Internet Society, an American nonprofit, to improve internet connections throughout Africa.
Digital rights advocates in Africa say Facebook has evolved its approach after the problems in Myanmar. Facebook is working more closely with civil society groups, sending more delegations, recruiting native language speakers, planning for contentious elections, and hosting digital literacy efforts.
Ephraim Percy Kenyanito, a digital program officer at the East Africa office for Article 19, a nonprofit that defends freedom of expression, says Facebook’s decision to hire more Africans, especially from civil society groups, has made it easier for concerns to be heard, if not always addressed. During the 2017 presidential election in Kenya, for example, Facebook responded when advocates reported hate speech or fake news, but the company did not always protect female journalists who became targets for harassment on the platform after writing critical stories about politicians. “They’re trying to get there, but they need to do better.”
Still, some of the civil society groups say Facebook’s efforts often fall short. Advocates say it’s hard to get straight answers from Facebook about its content-moderation process, plans for hiring native language speakers, meetings with the government, or the goal of its connectivity efforts, leaving some to suspect that Facebook’s recent overtures are more of a public relations campaign. As governments elsewhere crack down on Facebook and Free Basics, they worry Facebook is targeting Africa because there are fewer protections for user privacy and freedom of online expression. (Kenyanito says only about half of the 50 countries in the African Union have data protection and privacy laws.) What’s more, some critics also suspect that Express Wi-Fi is just a way for Facebook to rebrand its connectivity efforts as something less controversial.
Julie Owono, executive director of Internet Without Borders, says Facebook is facing the same explosive ingredients in Africa that it encountered in Myanmar, including unstable regimes, ethnic tensions, and a flood of new users. She fears that Facebook’s reliance “on algorithms to solve complex issues” means that the brunt of preventing abuse may once again fall on nonprofits. Facebook has pledged to hire 20,000 content moderators in 2018, but will not disclose where those people will be located, partly to protect them.
The need for real transparency became clear during Facebook’s recent activities in Cameroon, which holds elections on Sunday. In September, Facebook helped sponsor a symposium on digital rights and election safety in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital. Facebook’s presence shows that the company is “a bit more humble than a few years ago, when they thought they had the solutions to every problem,” Owono says. But just one month earlier, civil society groups were blindsided by news that Facebook met with government officials about fighting fake news during the election. Activists feared Facebook might be planning to censor accounts at the government’s behest. Although concerns were eventually assuaged, Facebook’s initial scripted statements only fueled confusion.
Negotiating with the government becomes fraught in repressive regimes where political parties can manipulate Facebook’s platforms—and may shut down internet access during elections or to silence dissent. “During political moments, the same political actors are the ones fueling misinformation and memes,” says Grace Bomu, a tech policy advocate based in Kenya.
Facebook says it has met with a range of stakeholders in Cameroon, including civil society groups and human rights activists, and made no agreements with the government.
In a statement to WIRED, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We know we were initially too idealistic” about connecting people worldwide, “and didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse or thinking through all the ways people could use the tools on the Facebook platform to do harm. That’s why we have invested in people and technology to build better safeguards. This includes the roll out of third party fact-checking, better detection of bad content, improved enforcement of our policies, and deeper support for digital literacy efforts. There is always more to do, and that’s why we have a dedicated team of product, policy, and partnerships experts who are focused on helping to keep the platform safe.”
But Tessa Wandia, who works at iHub, a hackerspace for technologists and entrepreneurs in Kenya, says Facebook’s connectivity efforts steer users toward choosing Facebook. In Africa, for instance, the Express Wi-Fi app can feature a prominent link to Free Basics, with the tagline “See popular websites for free,” a tempting offer for users in a region where data plans can be relatively expensive. Wandia believes Facebook may be using Express Wi-Fi “to make people quiet down” about Free Basics, and “convince us that they really do have a philanthropic angle.” Facebook says it offers partners the option of including Free Basics in Express Wi-Fi, but it’s not required.
Concerns about social media’s influence are not theoretical. In March, for example, Cambridge Analytica executives were caught on tape bragging about influencing Kenya’s presidential elections in 2017 and 2013. The controversial political consultancy reportedly experimented in Africa in part because of lax privacy rules and access to government data from willing politicians. A case study on Cambridge Analytica’s website says polling data was used to target social media ads to youth voters. Wandia says she reported some inflammatory ads that spread on social media, which contained misinformation and were used to psychologically manipulate citizens. “We have to be worried about how Kenyans are influenced, how they are making decisions,” she says.
To be sure, many of these worries stem from Facebook’s staggering popularity, and would likely exist even without efforts like Express Wi-Fi or Free Basics. Telecom operators in Africa, for instance, often include free use of WhatsApp or Facebook as part of a data bundle to entice users who want to use those services.
But Facebook’s continued push to connect the globe raises questions about who bears responsibility for unintended consequences, which have disproportionately affected people in the Global South. After the violence in Myanmar, we now know how Facebook’s promises to help the developing world can play out.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that a former government official in Sri Lanka had been warning Facebook about abuse on its platform by the Sri Lankan government since 2014. Facebook began to address concerns after the government shut down access, but won’t disclose how many content moderators it has hired.
Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to connect the next billion has been greeted with suspicion since it was announced in 2015, but tensions boiled over when Facebook tried to push Free Basics in India as a philanthropic act. “This isn’t about Facebook’s commercial interests—there aren’t even any ads in the version of Facebook in Free Basics,” Zuckerberg wrote in an op-ed in the Times of India. Eventually, the Indian government banned programs like Free Basics, which favored some content over others.
Some of the skepticism towards Express Wi-Fi is residual distrust from those days. For example, Zuckerberg said Free Basics was for people who had never accessed the Internet before and all content providers were welcome to apply. But a study of Free Basics published by Global Voices, a media organization of advocates and journalists from 170 countries, in August 2017, found that it was often marketed to urban millennials, who used it as a way to access Facebook for free. Within the app, users may have a harder time identifying fake news. The report found that the only local news sites prominently displayed in Kenya and Ghana had either faced pressure to fire journalists or were “known for sensational coverage” and questionable standards.
Facebook says the report reflects the experience of Global Voices volunteers in a limited number of countries, not the people benefitting from the program.
Facebook says it does not track whether expanding Express Wi-Fi has led to more Free Basics users because the programs are separate. But Mark Summer, CEO of Surf the Kenyan ISP working with Facebook, says Free Basics is “very popular,” with Surf’s Express Wi-Fi users. Although Express Wi-Fi is billed as a way to connect communities with limited access, Surf has placed hot spots in major towns and focused on lower-class to middle-class users, who typically already have other, more expensive options, Summer says. “It’s not super low-end users like slum areas or refugee camps and very much not the high end areas where upper class to high income people,” he says. “We provide it in the neighborhoods where the people go and work and shop, where they go on and buy food and go to restaurants and cafes where people sit out and congregate.”
Ellery Biddle, advocacy director of Global Voices, says the availability of Free Basics through Express Wi-Fi can influence users’ media choices. “If you have the one thing that is cheaper than everyone else, it makes it really easy to spread a lot of information quickly,” he says. Facebook successfully neutralized many internet.org critics by positioning its work as a choice between bringing affordable internet access to the neediest members of society or elite concerns about the purity of internet access. But Nikhil Pahwa, founder of news site MediaNama and a key voice during the fight over Free Basics in India, says Facebook does not have to play a central role in expanding access. Fostering competition can lower data prices. Since regulators passed a net neutrality rule in India, he says prices have dropped roughly 90 percent. “There is no need for Free Basics lately,” he says.
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LONDON (Reuters) – WhatsApp, the popular messaging service owned by Facebook Inc (FB.O), is raising its minimum age from 13 to 16 in Europe to help it comply with new data privacy rules coming into force next month.
It is not clear how or if the age limit will be checked given the limited data requested and held by the service.
Facebook, which has a separate data policy, is taking a different approach to teens aged between 13 and 15 in order to comply with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law.
It is asking them to nominate a parent or guardian to give permission for them to share information on the platform, otherwise they will not see a fully personalized version of the social media platform.
But WhatsApp, which had more than 1.5 billion users in January according to Facebook, said in a blog post it was not asking for any new rights to collect personal information in the agreement it has created for the European Union.
“Our goal is simply to explain how we use and protect the limited information we have about you,” it said.
WhatsApp, founded in 2009, has come under pressure from some European governments in recent years because of its end-to-end encrypted messaging system and its plan to share more data with its parent, Facebook.
Facebook itself is under scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers around the world since disclosing last month that the personal information of millions of users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, setting off wider concerns about how it handles user data.
WhatsApp’s minimum age of use will remain 13 years in the rest of the world, in line with its parent.
GDPR is the biggest overhaul of online privacy since the birth of the internet, giving Europeans the right to know what data is stored on them and the right to have it deleted.
Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and some other tech firms have said they plan to give people in the United States and elsewhere the same protections and rights that Europeans will gain.
European regulators have already disrupted a move by WhatsApp to change its policies to allow it to share users’ phone numbers and other information with Facebook to help improve the product and more effectively target ads.
WhatsApp suspended the change in Europe after widespread regulatory scrutiny. It said on Tuesday it still wanted to share the data at some point.
“As we have said in the past, we want to work closer with other Facebook companies in the future and we will keep you updated as we develop our plans,” it said.
Other changes announced by WhatsApp on Tuesday include allowing users to download a report detailing the data it holds on them, such as the make and model of the device they used, their contacts and groups and any blocked numbers.
“This feature will be rolling out to all users around the world on the newest version of the app,” it said.
The blog post also points to safety tips on the service, such as the ability to block unwanted users, and delete and report spam.
Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Adrian Croft
Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) investors have enjoyed many years of nice returns, albeit with some volatility along the way. The company is working hard on establishing itself as a reliable dividend grower as well as offering returns in terms of capital appreciation.
Rock-solid fundamentals, rising earnings and a huge cash hoard which is now being repatriated are all strong arguments for this stock to be part of any conservative dividend growth portfolio.
This chart basically behaves pretty much exactly the way you would want it to behave. Apart from a correction from mid 2015 to mid 2016 this stock has moved steadily from $ 61 five years ago until the current $ 168, a multiple of 2.75x. Adding in a dividend yield during that time of approximately 1.5% translates into an average annual total return of about 24%. Considering the sheer size of this company that is nothing short of impressive.
Apple’s Dividend History
Though Apple used to pay dividends back in the early 1990’s, I don’t really consider that relevant as the company was quite different back then. The relevant history starts in the summer of 2012. In August of that year the company started paying dividends again, at a split-adjusted quarterly rate of $ 0.38. The level was increased in May 2013 to a split-adjusted quarterly rate of $ 0.436. Ever since, a new and higher dividend has been paid each May.
The dividend is growing nicely and reliably each and every year. Between May 2013 and May 2017, when the dividend was last hiked, it increased from $ 0.436 to $ 0.63. That is 44% or an annual average increase of 9.6%. If we look at the last couple of years the annual rate of increase has been very close to this – at 10.6% in 2015, 9.6% in 2016 and 10.5% in 2017.
This trend suggests that the board targets a very consistent percentage-wise increase every year, where it sees through temporary ups and downs in its business. Comments from Tim Cook also suggests that consistency is a priority. Raises will continue to come, though probably not special dividends.
The payout ratio is not so consistent. It has always been comfortably low but has oscillated between 30% in 2014 to a low of 21% in late 2015 before reaching its current level of 26%. As payout ratios go this one is nothing to worry about. At triple the current level I would start to be concerned. Even with no earnings growth, they could continue hiking the dividend at 10% per year for many years to come.
Upcoming Dividend Hike
As mentioned above, May is the month the dividend has been hiked every year since 2013. In conjunction with presenting its first quarter results, the company also announces updates to its capital returns program. This year, it will present its first quarter results on May 1. This will be a very interesting day indeed.
First of all, investors will of course be interested in following the results from operations and how the iPhone X is doing. Further, particularly dividend growth investors will be following closely to see what the dividend hike will be. Lastly, people will want to know the size of the buyback program, the size of which will be decided both by the company’s results but also the amount of cash repatriated due to the new tax code.
Apple has said it will pay approximately $ 38 billion in a one-time tax to repatriate overseas cash. After paying that tax it will still have more than $ 200 billion left for either acquisitions, buybacks or dividends.
Considering that the underlying business is going quite well with EPS coming in at $ 9.21 in 2017, up 11% from $ 8.31 in 2016, the board has plenty of room to increase the dividend. With the payout ratio as low as it is I will consider a 10% hike as a floor.
Then we get to the upside. Though the company has tended to go for smooth dividend increases and funneling surplus cash to buybacks instead, the sheer size of the cash hoard now suggests that some of this will be channeled to dividends as well. The board must be comfortable that the new level will be sustainable and not be so high that it’s difficult to continue with 10% hikes in the years down the road. It is therefore unlikely to be a massive increase – it would make the board’s job harder down the line.
However, a hike which corresponds to the highest hike it has offered since reinstating the dividend, is quite possible in my mind. The highest increase it has had in recent history is the May 2013 increase of 15% to a split-adjusted dividend of $ 0.436. I believe such a hike is quite possible for two reasons. First, there is an expectation in the investor community that some of the massive cash hoard will go towards an extra large increase. Two, such an increase will not be so large as to make the board uncomfortable as to the sustainability of the dividend.
I therefore think the dividend will be hiked by 10-16% this spring for a new quarterly dividend of between $ 0.69-$ 0.73. I think it is more likely to be at the high end of that range rather than the low end.
A constant risk for Apple is that a competitor will come up with a product that is vastly more appealing than its most important product, the iPhone. It has weathered competition very well so far, but in an innovative space like this, you never know when a new player comes along. After all, Nokia displaced Ericsson and Apple subsequently displaced Nokia in the mobile phone space. Another risk, as it is a global company, is fluctuation of currencies. An appreciating U.S. dollar will decrease foreign earnings when reported in dollars. Privacy has been on the agenda for some time and has really come to the forefront in recent weeks due to the Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) scandal. Some people are concerned about the possibility of having your health records on your iPhone. Apple has taken a clear stand on privacy but the risk of an adverse event and hence bad publicity will not go away.
The analysis so far shows a rock solid company with a huge cash hoard and growing EPS. However, if the multiple is too high when you buy, even such a company may eventually turn out to be a bad investment.
In order to gauge whether Apple is reasonably priced or not, I will compare it to two global competitors, Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).
First of all, Microsoft’s earnings multiple looks really high. The company posted a loss in the fourth quarter of 2017, which obviously skews the earnings multiple quite a bit. Even so, in addition to losing the Price/Earnings category, it also loses the Price/Sales category while actually coming out on top in the yield category.
Apple comes in second on Price/Sales, beaten by Samsung. Second place is apparently where Apple is supposed to be in this competition as that is the spot it lands in the two other categories as well. Considering the enormous cash level of Apple, I consider the stock to be quite attractive at these levels.
The analyst community expects Apple to turn out an average annual EPS growth rate over the next five years of 13.2%. If we assume that the multiple stays the same – not unreasonable as the multiple is at a decent level – and adding in the yield of 1.5%, we arrive at an expected annual total shareholder return of 14.7%. That has to be considered a nice expected return no matter what kind of investor you are.
At these levels this stock should be added by dividend growth investors, with an emphasis on growth. The current yield is not too impressive but the growth rate is solid and will likely be higher than normal this year. Further, given the solid fundamentals of this company, you can sleep well at night knowing the money will keep flowing in.
Apple is working methodically to establish itself as a reliable dividend grower. It has consistently increased its dividend by 10%, giving investors predictability. The strong underlying fundamentals together with a huge cash pile make it an almost certainty that this predictable dividend growth will continue for many more years to come. This year, due to the repatriation of overseas cash, the hike will likely be larger with a potential hike of almost 16% to $ 0.73. If you’re looking for a fat yield, there are probably better opportunities out there. If, on the other hand, you are a dividend growth investor looking for a high long term growth rate of the dividend, this stock should be in your portfolio.
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
Editor’s Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.
LONDON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Streaming music leader Spotify said on Thursday it has a clear path to profit as it spelled out to investors its growth plans and how it aims to fend off big rivals Apple Inc and Amazon.com Inc ahead of an April 3 listing.
Chief Executive Daniel Ek made a direct pitch to retail investors during a public webcast that stood in place of a traditional closed-door “road show” typically used to woo institutional investors in initial public offerings (IPOs).
The Stockholm-based company’s stock will hit the public markets in a unusual direct listing without traditional underwriters. Spotify must convince investors that its business is sound and that investors who buy shares in the public market debut won’t be hurt by unexpected volatility.
“You won’t see us ringing any bells or throwing any parties,” Ek said. “Since Spotify isn’t selling any stock in the listing, we’re really entirely focused on the long-term performance of the business.”
Ek portrayed Spotify as an underdog not tied to a major technology company. He pointed out that Spotify has more than twice as many paying users as its nearest rival, Apple, and that its strategy is to be an ubiquitous music service across phones, smart speakers and desktops from various makers.
Because the company will not issue any new shares, it did not specify a listing price. Based on private transactions, it is valued at roughly $ 19 billion, according to Reuters calculations. It has hired brokerage Morgan Stanley to match buy and sell orders to set its opening trading price.
Spotify has warned investors it faces a variety of risks.
It says the royalty costs it pays to artists and publishers are so difficult to calculate that in the past it has been unsure how much it owed, prompting what are known as “material weaknesses in internal controls” for each of the past three years with the danger of more in the future.
In addition, its music services are primarily delivered over devices such as Apple’s iPhone and Amazon.com’s Echo series of speakers, which could emphasize their own services over Spotify’s.
“Operating losses have grown with revenue, but the trend towards profitability is clear when you look at operating losses as a percentage of revenue,” the company said in the presentation in New York.
Revenue grew 39 percent to 4.09 billion euros ($ 5.04 billion) in 2017 from 2.95 billion euros in 2016, it said in a securities filing. At the same time, net financing costs of 855 million euros pushed up operating losses to 378 million euros from 349 million euros.
Reporting by Eric Auchard in London and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Susan Thomas and Peter Henderson
Image Cloud computing can be a highly competitive market, both for the companies that provide a cloud service and the employees that help those …