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Monthly Archives: May 2017

Software Used to Monitor Lyft Drivers

The investigation is focused on Uber’s use of a special program internally called “Hell,” said people with knowledge of the proceedings, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Uber had used the program to gain an edge over Lyft in markets where both companies operated, these people said.

A spokesman for Uber confirmed that the ride-hailing company was cooperating with the investigation but declined further comment. A spokesman for the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan declined to comment, while the F.B.I.’s New York office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The investigation was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.

While Uber appointed a new chief executive last month, the ride-hailing company continues to grapple with the fallout from past actions under Travis Kalanick, its former chief. Mr. Kalanick prized aggression in building Uber, which often resulted in tactics and practices that skirted the boundaries of the law — and that have led to multiple legal headaches.

The Justice Department is also looking into another Uber software program, named “Greyball,” which was used to evade law enforcement in cities where the company’s ride-hailing service was not allowed to operate. Separately, Uber is dealing with an inquiry over accusations that one of its employees bribed officials in India, and the company continues to be entangled in a legal battle over intellectual property theft with Waymo, a major competitor in the race to conquer self-driving car technology.

The “Hell” program was essentially a competitive intelligence initiative created by Uber to challenge Lyft for drivers and riders. According to the people familiar with the investigation, Uber employees used the program to monitor drivers who worked for both services. Uber would then use financial incentives to persuade drivers to work for Uber more frequently instead of Lyft.

The existence of the “Hell” program was uncovered this year by a technology news site, The Information, which said Uber ended the effort in 2016.

One key question, according to one of the people with knowledge of the investigation, is whether Uber engaged in some kind of unlawful computer access as part of its scheme.

Phones and Laptops at U.S. Illegal

Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, claims the plaintiffs’ First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated when United States agents searched, and in some cases confiscated, their devices without a warrant. The government has said those searches happen to fewer than one-hundredth of one percent of international travelers, and that they are authorized by the same laws that allow border agents to look through suitcases without a judge’s approval.

But privacy activists say the laws, which were crafted with luggage in mind, shouldn’t apply to digital devices that contain vast amounts of personal data related to the device owners and others they have contacted.

“I felt humiliated and violated,” Diane Maye, a professor, former Air Force captain and one of the plaintiffs, said in an interview.

The searches, which began under the George W. Bush administration and became more common during the Obama administration, have sharply increased in the past year. According to the most recent data available, there were nearly 15,000 searches from October 2016 to March 2017, compared with 8,383 in the same period a year before.

David Lapan, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said he could not comment on pending litigation but that “we absolutely believe the searches are lawful.”

In March, Joseph B. Maher, the acting general counsel for the agency, defended the practice in a USA Today opinion piece.

“These electronic media searches have produced information used to combat terrorism, violations of export controls, and convictions for child pornography, intellectual property rights violations and visa fraud,” he wrote. “This authority is critical to our mission, and Customs exercises it judiciously.”

While police officers on the street cannot compel you to hand over your phone without probable cause, border agents can search and confiscate digital devices as easily as they can your luggage. Courts have long held that customs officials have an interest in enforcing immigration laws and keeping contraband out.

But at least one major judicial case has acknowledged that cellphones are not the same as suitcases. In a 2014 Supreme Court decision that made it harder for police to search cellphones without a warrant, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that the devices contained “the privacies of life.”

The policies that direct border agents are written to allow the digital searches “with or without individualized suspicion.” But it’s not clear what, exactly, border agents are searching through when they seize devices.

In June, Kevin McAleenan, the acting commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, wrote in a letter to lawmakers that agents are not permitted to look at data stored solely in the “cloud.” According to the letter, which was first reported by NBC News, agents would be limited to data stored directly on the device, including photos, text messages, call histories and contacts.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed Freedom of Information Act requests in March to learn how the government was using its authority, but said that so far it has received only heavily redacted reports.

Jameel Jaffer, the institute’s executive director, said that the searches could have a chilling effect on journalists, lawyers and doctors, who often travel with their devices and have a professional obligation to shield the identities of their sources, clients and patients and the information they provide.

“It’s hard to see how the kind of unfettered authority that border agents have been invested with can be reconciled with the limits the constitution places on government power,” Mr. Jaffer said.

Of the 11 people who filed the lawsuit, 10 are American citizens and one is a permanent resident. They include journalists, students, a NASA engineerand an artist.

While the government cannot compel travelers to unlock their phones, several of the plaintiffs said they were intimidated. Four of them said their devices were confiscated; one of them, Suhaib Allababidi, a business owner from Texas, said the government kept an unlocked phone of his for two months, and hadn’t returned a locked phone after more than seven months.

Ms. Maye, an assistant professor of homeland security at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said she was detained at the Miami International Airport on June 25 as she returned from a European vacation. She was brought into a small room and watched as a border agent briefly inspected her laptop then took her phone for about two hours, she said.

Facebook Running on Objectionable Videos

In response to those concerns, Facebook released a new set of rules on Wednesday that outline the types of videos and articles that it will bar from running ads. It also said it would begin disclosing new information to advertisers about where their messages appear on the platform and on external apps and sites it is partners with.

The rules, which will be enforced by a mix of automation and human review, restrict ads from content that depicts, among other topics, real-world tragedies, “debatable social issues,” misappropriation of children’s show characters, violence, nudity, gore, drug use and derogatory language. Facebook is extending the guidelines immediately to videos — which the company hopes will become an increasingly lucrative part of its business — and, in the coming months, to articles.

Facebook said users who repeatedly violate its content guidelines, share sensational clickbait or post fake news may lose the ability to run ads.

“There have been concerns that marketers have had that are wide-ranging around digital, and we want to do everything we can to ensure that we are providing the safest environment for publishers, advertisers and for people that utilize the platform,” said Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions.

Facebook and Google were criticized during and after the presidential election for allowing misinformation to spread on their platforms. This year, YouTube had to address advertisers’ concerns after messages from major brands like AT&T were discovered on videos that promoted terrorism and hate speech. The Wall Street Journal found at least 50 acts of violence on Facebook Live broadcasts.

(On the other side of the advertising equation, Facebook disclosed last week that it had identified more than $100,000 worth of ads on divisive issues that ran from June 2015 to May 2017 and had been bought by fake accounts based in Russia.)

The companies are moving quickly to address such issues, particularly as they seek to attract a greater portion of the money earmarked for television advertising to the video content on their sites.

Facebook has enabled hundreds of publishers and individuals to run ads during live video broadcasts in the past year, and the company recently introduced a slate of new shows on a part of its site called “Watch.” If the new guidelines encourage people to post more G-rated video content, they are likely to bolster Facebook’s pitch to advertisers

That should be an advantage in policing content, Mr. Montgomery said, especially with the limits that Facebook is placing on who can make money from certain features. For example, the company required pages and profiles that wanted to run ads on live videos this year to have more than 2,000 followers. They could only show ads if they had at least 300 concurrent viewers after four minutes.

Facebook also said it would begin showing advertisers a preview of where their messages may appear before campaigns start, giving advertisers a chance to block undesirable destinations. The company will also report on where the ads actually run.

When brands use Facebook to target specific people with ads, they are able to select from a cornucopia of traits, including age, gender and how many lines of credit a person has. Many ads then show up in the main Facebook and Instagram feeds that people flick through, but they can also appear in articles and videos within Facebook and on outside apps and mobile websites that are part of Facebook’s “audience network.”

Brands have not been able to see beforehand what kind of content that might include, and some have had to contend with objections from consumers after being placed on sites like Breitbart News. Facebook said there were tens of thousands of apps and sites in its audience network and that more than 10,000 publishers displayed articles within its platform through a tool called Instant Articles.

As YouTube has moved to limit ads from running alongside unsavory content, many creators on the platform have complained that their videos have been unfairly penalized by automated systems. Facebook will probably have to grapple with similar complaints as it expands the number of people who can make money from video ads on the site.

”Facebook previously let advertisers opt out of a more limited list of topics, including sites and apps related to dating, gambling and “debated social issues” like religion and politics, Ms. Everson said. She added that the new rules would allow publishers to “understand where we’re placing ads” and make it easier for advertisers to avoid offensive content.

Russian Fake on Facebook Solved,

Russia created Facebook profiles of fake Americans to influence the 2016 American election, it could make up the names and biographical details. But it needed photos, too.

Now a salesman in Brazil has stepped forward to say that his own family photos were stolen to concoct the profile of “Melvin Redick,” one of many American impostors involved in the spread of Russian propaganda on Facebook and Twitter.

Last week, The New York Times featured Mr. Redick’s Facebook profile as an example of fake social media accounts that were used to attack Hillary Clinton, promote leaked emails obtained by Russian hackers and propagate the Kremlin’s political views.

The supposed Mr. Redick was an early promoter last year of a website, DCLeaks.com, that American officials believe was created by Russian military intelligence. But The Times could find no American who fit the details he provided on Facebook.

The Times had taken from the Facebook page, including pictures of the man and his daughter. “Do you know these people?” the headline said.

A reader spotted the photos and recognized her son-in-law, Charles David Costacurta, 36, of the city Jundiaí in southeastern Brazil. Mr. Costacurta was suspicious at first, said Carlos Dias, a G1 reporter, but eventually agreed to meet at a television station.

The photos, Mr. Costacurta told the site,were 2014 shots of himself and his daughter, then 3, now 6, that he had posted on Facebook. He was particularly disturbed that the images had been stolen, he told G1, because he used the privacy settings on Facebook to limit access to his profile.

“I was scared, and I asked my girlfriend to take a look because I do not understand much about social networks and the internet,” Mr. Costacurta said.

Before publishing the photos, The Times tried to find their source using Google’s image search function, but nothing turned up. This suggested that they might belong to a Brazilian Facebook user because Facebook blocks image searches of its profiles. The company declined to say whether it had searched internally and found the photos before Mr. Costacurta came forward