Tag Archives: Moves
Mark Zuckerberg would like you to know that despite a scathing report in The New York Times, which depicts Facebook as a ruthless, self-concerned corporate behemoth, things are getting better—at least, the way he sees it.
In a lengthy call with reporters Thursday, and an equally lengthy “note” published on Facebook, the company’s CEO laid out a litany of changes Facebook is making, designed to curb toxic content on the platform and provide more transparency into the decisions Facebook makes on content. But perhaps the most consequential update is that the Facebook News Feed algorithm will now try to limit the spread of sensationalist content on the platform, which represents a major change from how the company has traditionally approached moderation. All of it is in service of restoring trust in a company whose public reputation—and the reputation of its leaders—have taken near constant body blows over the past two years.
“When you have setbacks like we’ve had this year that’s a big issue, and it does erode trust, and it takes time to build that back,” Zuckerberg said on the call. “Certainly our job is not only to have this stuff at a good level and to continually improve, but to be ahead of new issues. I think over the last couple of years that’s been one of the areas where we’ve been most behind, especially around the election issues.”
Zuckerberg’s words come a day after the Times published a damning report that portrays Facebook as not merely behind on issues of election interference, as Zuckerberg suggests, but actively working to downplay what it knew about that interference. It suggests that Facebook’s executives, wary of picking sides in a partisan battle over Russian interference in the 2016 election, aimed to minimize Russia’s role in spreading propaganda on the platform. The story states that Facebook’s former head of cybersecurity, Alex Stamos, was chastised by the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, for investigating Russian actions without the company’s approval and berated again for divulging too much information about it to members of Facebook’s board.
In his remarks, Zuckerberg flatly denied this allegation. “We’ve certainly stumbled along the way, but to suggest that we weren’t interested in knowing the truth or that we wanted to hide what we knew or that we tried to prevent investigations is simply untrue,” he said. (Stamos, for his part, tweeted earlier on Thursday that he was “never told by Mark, Sheryl or any other executives not to investigate.”)
The Times story also alleges that Facebook waged a smear campaign against its competitors through an opposition research firm called Definers Public Relations. The firm repeatedly worked to tie Facebook’s detractors, including groups like the Open Markets Institute and Freedom from Facebook, to billionaire George Soros. Critics say that in doing so, Facebook engaged with the same anti-Semitic tropes that have been used by white nationalists and other hate groups that regularly villainize Soros.
Zuckerberg denied having any personal knowledge of Definers’ work with Facebook, and said he and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, only heard about the relationship yesterday. That’s despite the fact that Definers often coordinated large-scale calls with the press on behalf of Facebook and its employees and, in at least one case, sat in on meetings between Facebook and the media.
After Zuckerberg read the story in the Times, he says Facebook promptly ended its relationship with the firm. “This type of firm might be normal in Washington, but it’s not the type of thing I want Facebook associated with, which is why we’re no longer going to be working with them.”
But while Zuckerberg said he had no knowledge of Definers’ work or its messaging, he defended Facebook’s criticism of activist groups like Freedom from Facebook. He said the intention was not to attack Soros, for whom Zuckerberg said he has “tremendous respect,” but show that Freedom from Facebook “was not a spontaneous grassroots effort.”
Zuckerberg declined to assign blame for the tactics allegedly employed by Definers, or to comment on broader personnel issues within Facebook itself. He said only that Sandberg, who has been overseeing Facebook’s lobbying efforts and who is portrayed unfavorably throughout the Times story, is “doing great work for the company.” “She’s been an important partner to me and continues to be and will continue to be,” Zuckerberg said. (Sandberg was not on the call.)
For the umpteenth time this year, Zuckerberg found himself working overtime to clean up Facebook’s mess, even as he wanted desperately to tout the progress the company’s been making. And it has made important progress. In Myanmar, where fake news on Facebook has animated a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya people, the company has hired 100 Burmese speakers to moderate content there and is now automatically identifying 63 percent of the hate speech it takes down, up from just 13 percent at the end of last year. Facebook has expanded its safety and security team to 30,000 people globally, more than the 20,000 people the company initially set out to hire this year. It’s also changed its content takedown process, allowing people to appeal the company’s decisions about content they post or report. On Thursday, Facebook announced that within the next year, it will create an independent oversight body to handle content appeals.
But by far the biggest news to come out of Thursday’s announcements is the change coming to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm. Zuckerberg acknowledged what most observers already know to be one of Facebook’s most fundamental problems: That sensationalist, provocative content, even content that doesn’t explicitly violate Facebook’s policies, tends to get the most engagement on the platform. “As content gets closer to the line of what is prohibited by our community standards, we see people tend to engage with it more,” he said. “This seems to be true regardless of where we set our policy lines.”
This issue is arguably what undergirds most of Facebook’s problems the past few years. It’s why divisive political propaganda was so successful during the 2016 campaign and why fake news has been able to flourish. Until now, Facebook has operated in a black-and-white environment, where content either violates the rules or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, it’s free to amass millions of clicks, even if the poster’s intention is to mislead and stoke outrage. Now Facebook is saying that even content that doesn’t explicitly violate Facebook’s rules might see its reach reduced. According to Zuckerberg’s post, that includes, among other things, “photos close to the line of nudity” and “posts that don’t come within our definition of hate speech but are still offensive.”
Zuckerberg called the shift “a big part of the solution for making sure polarizing or sensational content isn’t spreading in the system, and we’re having a positive effect on the world.”
With this move, Facebook is taking a risk. Curbing engagement on the most popular content will likely cost the company money. And such a dramatic change no doubt opens Facebook up to even more accusations of censorship, at a time when the company is fending off constant criticism from all angles.
But Facebook is betting big on the upside. If outrage is no longer rewarded with ever more clicks, the thinking goes, maybe people will be better behaved. That Facebook is prepared to take such a chance says a lot about the public pressure that’s been placed on the company these last two years. After all of that, what does Facebook have to lose?
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(Reuters) – Dell Technologies Inc said on Monday it would pay $ 21.7 billion in to buy back shares tied to its interest in software company VMware Inc (VMW.N), paving the computer maker’s way back to the public market without an initial public offering.
Dell said the cash and stock deal will value its equity at between $ 61.1 billion and $ 70.1 billion, more than twice the $ 24.9 billion that founder and Chief Executive Michael Dell and buyout firm Silver Lake paid to take company private in 2013.
The transaction will allow Dell to bypass the traditional IPO process, which would likely have involved grilling by stock market investors over its $ 52.7 billion debt pile.
It also means Dell will not have to raise any new money, because it will pay for the deal by issuing new shares and a $ 9 billion dividend it will receive from VMware.
Going public gives Michael Dell and Silver Lake the option to eventually sell down their stakes, even as they affirmed on Monday they had no plans to do so. Following the deal, Michael Dell will own 47 percent to 54 percent of the combined company, while Silver Lake will own between 16 percent and 18 percent.
A new public security gives Dell currency it can use to pay for acquisitions beyond cash. The security which Dell is buying back is a so-called tracking stock tied to its 81 percent economic stake in VMware. VMware specializes in virtualization, a technology which allows multiple systems and applications to run at the same time on the same server, which can cut companies’ IT costs.
Dell issued the stock in 2016 to buy data storage company EMC Corp for $ 67 billion, because it could not pay for the whole deal in cash. EMC owned the majority stake in VMware, which Dell inherited.
Such a security “tracks” or depends on the financial performance of a specific business unit or operating division of a company rather than the operations of a company as a whole.
Dell will exchange each share of VMware tracking stock (DVMT.N) for 1.3665 shares of its Class C common stock, or $ 109 per share in cash for a total cash consideration of not more than $ 9 billion.
Dell said it will list its Class C shares on the New York Stock Exchange following the completion of the deal that will eliminate its tracking stock. Following the deal, investors who owned the tracking stock will in aggregate account for between 20.8 percent and 31 percent of Dell’s ownership.
The transaction represents a premium of 28.9 percent to the closing price of the tracking stock on Friday. The stock was up 10 percent at $ 93 in afternoon trading. VMware shares also rose 10 percent to $ 161.75.
“We believe that this development is positive for VMware shares not only because it avoids the reverse merger scenario, but also because there is the possibility of VMware being taken out by Dell in the future as a ‘second step’ following this transaction,” FBN Securities analyst Shebly Seyrafi wrote in a note.
A STRING OF DEALS
Michael Dell has turned to dealmaking to transform his company from a PC manufacturer into a broader seller of information technology services to businesses, ranging from storage and servers to networking and cyber security.
His strategy is in sharp contrast to that of rival HP Inc (HPQ.N), which separated in 2016 from Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co (HPE.N), based on the reasoning that having two technology companies focusing separately on hardware and services would make them more nimble.
Dell’s strategy is beginning to pay off, as companies look to one-stop shops to help them manage their IT infrastructure on the cloud. Dell reported consolidated adjusted cash flow of $ 2.4 billion in its latest quarter, up by a third year-on-year. Its total debt has also gone down by $ 4.6 billion since the EMC deal.
“Dell is a very different company than it was five years or so years ago. And we’re seeing tremendous momentum inside the business,” Michael Dell told analysts on a conference call.
Dell had also said earlier this year it was considering a full merger with VMware. However, a special committee of VMware’s board of directors formed to safeguard the interest of VMware minority shareholders pushed back against the terms that Dell was proposing, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Reporting by Carl O’Donnell in Bangalore and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty
SAN FRANCISCO/BEIJING (Reuters) – When Apple Inc begins hosting Chinese users’ iCloud accounts in a new Chinese data center at the end of this month to comply with new laws there, Chinese authorities will have far easier access to text messages, email and other data stored in the cloud.
That’s because of a change to how the company handles the cryptographic keys needed to unlock an iCloud account. Until now, such keys have always been stored in the United States, meaning that any government or law enforcement authority seeking access to a Chinese iCloud account needed to go through the U.S. legal system.
Now, according to Apple, for the first time the company will store the keys for Chinese iCloud accounts in China itself. That means Chinese authorities will no longer have to use the U.S. courts to seek information on iCloud users and can instead use their own legal system to ask Apple to hand over iCloud data for Chinese users, legal experts said.
Human rights activists say they fear the authorities could use that power to track down dissidents, citing cases from more than a decade ago in which Yahoo Inc handed over user data that led to arrests and prison sentences for two democracy advocates. Jing Zhao, a human rights activist and Apple shareholder, said he could envisage worse human rights issues arising from Apple handing over iCloud data than occurred in the Yahoo case.
In a statement, Apple said it had to comply with recently introduced Chinese laws that require cloud services offered to Chinese citizens be operated by Chinese companies and that the data be stored in China. It said that while the company’s values don’t change in different parts of the world, it is subject to each country’s laws.
“While we advocated against iCloud being subject to these laws, we were ultimately unsuccessful,” it said. Apple said it decided it was better to offer iCloud under the new system because discontinuing it would lead to a bad user experience and actually lead to less data privacy and security for its Chinese customers.
As a result, Apple has established a data center for Chinese users in a joint venture with state-owned firm Guizhou – Cloud Big Data Industry Co Ltd. The firm was set up and funded by the provincial government in the relatively poor southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou in 2014. The Guizhou company has close ties to the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party.
The Apple decision highlights a difficult reality for many U.S. technology companies operating in China. If they don’t accept demands to partner with Chinese companies and store data in China then they risk losing access to the lucrative Chinese market, despite fears about trade secret theft and the rights of Chinese customers.
Apple says the joint venture does not mean that China has any kind of “backdoor” into user data and that Apple alone – not its Chinese partner – will control the encryption keys. But Chinese customers will notice some differences from the start: their iCloud accounts will now be co-branded with the name of the local partner, a first for Apple.
And even though Chinese iPhones will retain the security features that can make it all but impossible for anyone, even Apple, to get access to the phone itself, that will not apply to the iCloud accounts. Any information in the iCloud account could be accessible to Chinese authorities who can present Apple with a legal order.
Apple said it will only respond to valid legal requests in China, but China’s domestic legal process is very different than that in the U.S., lacking anything quite like an American “warrant” reviewed by an independent court, Chinese legal experts said. Court approval isn’t required under Chinese law and police can issue and execute warrants.
“Even very early in a criminal investigation, police have broad powers to collect evidence,” said Jeremy Daum, an attorney and research fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center in Beijing. “(They are) authorized by internal police procedures rather than independent court review, and the public has an obligation to cooperate.”
Guizhou – Cloud Big Data and China’s cyber and industry regulators did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Guizhou provincial government said it had no specific comment.
There are few penalties for breaking what rules do exist around obtaining warrants in China. And while China does have data privacy laws, there are broad exceptions when authorities investigate criminal acts, which can include undermining communist values, “picking quarrels” online, or even using a virtual private network to browse the Internet privately.
Apple says the cryptographic keys stored in China will be specific to the data of Chinese customers, meaning Chinese authorities can’t ask Apple to use them to decrypt data in other countries like the United States.
Privacy lawyers say the changes represent a big downgrade in protections for Chinese customers.
“The U.S. standard, when it’s a warrant and when it’s properly executed, is the most privacy-protecting standard,” said Camille Fischer of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Apple has given its Chinese users notifications about the Feb. 28 switchover data to the Chinese data center in the form of emailed warnings and so-called push alerts, reminding users that they can chose to opt out of iCloud and store information solely on their device. The change only affects users who set China as their country on Apple devices and doesn’t affect users who select Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan.
The default settings on the iPhone will automatically create an iCloud back-up when a phone is activated. Apple declined to comment on whether it would change its default settings to make iCloud an opt-in service, rather than opt-out, for Chinese users.
Apple said it will not switch customers’ accounts to the Chinese data center until they agree to new terms of service and that more than 99.9 percent of current users have already done so.
Until now, Apple appears to have handed over very little data about Chinese users. From mid-2013 to mid-2017, Apple said it did not give customer account content to Chinese authorities, despite having received 176 requests, according to transparency reports published by the company. By contrast, Apple has given the United States customer account content in response to 2,366 out of 8,475 government requests.
Those figures are from before the Chinese cyber security laws took effect and also don’t include special national security requests in which U.S. officials might have requested data about Chinese nationals. Apple, along with other companies, is prevented by law from disclosing the targets of those requests.
Apple said requests for data from the new Chinese datacentre will be reflected in its transparency reports and that it won’t respond to “bulk” data requests.
Human rights activists say they are also concerned about such a close relationship with a state-controlled entity like Guizhou-Cloud Big Data.
Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, said the Chinese Communist Party could also pressure Apple through a committee of members it will have within the company. These committees have been pushing for more influence over decision making within foreign-invested companies in the past couple of years.
Reporting by Stephen NellisEditing by Jonathan Weber and Martin Howell
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Video: Supercomputing has an undisputed champion — Linux
Margarita Manterola, a Google Engineer, quietly announced Google would move from Ubuntu to Debian-testing for its desktop Linux at DebConf17 in a lightning talk. Manterola explained that Google was moving to gLinux, a rolling release based on Debian Testing.
This move isn’t as surprising as it first looks. Ubuntu is based on Debian. In addition, Google has long been a strong Debian supporter. In 2017, Debian credited Google for making [sic] “possible our annual conference, and directly supports the progress of Debian and Free Software.”
Debian Testing is the beta for the next stable version of Debian. With gLinux, that means it’s based on the Debian 10 “Buster” test operating system.
Google takes each Debian Testing package, rebuilds it, tests it, files and fixes bugs, and once those are resolved, integrates it into the gLinux release candidate. GLinux went into beta on Aug. 16, 2017.
Don’t bother looking for this new Linux distro. You won’t be able to find it. GLinux, like Goobuntu before it, is strictly for internal Google use.
Linux is not Google’s only desktop operating system. Google also uses macOS, Windows, and the Linux-based Chrome OS across its fleet of nearly a quarter-million workstations and laptops. Google isn’t using its mysterious Fuchsia operating system in production.
Google’s IT staff uses Pupper’s Standalone approach for two reasons. Standalone doesn’t require a large infrastructure of Puppet configuration servers. Instead, the desktops pull the cryptographically verified configuration files from a web host, then verifies the data locally, and applies the configurations. In addition, by not using a server-client model, this enables the company to commit to its BeyondCorp access model, which does away with using internal networks for corporate access.
BeyondCorp is Google’s enterprise security model, which uses the concept of zero trust networks. It works by shifting access controls from the network perimeter to individual devices and users. This enables employees to work securely from any location without a traditional virtual private network (VPN).
For Goobuntu, and now gLinux, Google uses PXE to netboot the standard Linux desktop installer image. These new Linux images are automatically built in the form of compressed tar-format archives. These images are then placed on an HTTPS server alongside Debian pre-seed files that automate the host setup portion of the installation. This installation process is integrated with Puppet and host update infrastructure to ensure every desktop is configured as intended at install. This allows Google to reinstall gLinux from the network in about 30 minutes.
Google wouldn’t officially comment on when the changeover from Goobuntu to gLinux would be completed. Sources say it should be well under its way by this summer.
At the OpenStack Summit Boston, security experts talked about cloud security misconceptions and what’s working well in cloud security today.