This sounds like a job for artificial intelligence, but 83 academics instead have the responsibility of sifting through and analysing 2m web pages shared in 300m Facebook posts per week over an 18-month period.
Their research aims to shed light on how the Facebook platform can be misused, such as in covert efforts to sway public opinion in an election or referendum period.
But the scholars' challenge has been made even harder, with technical and legal complications meaning they have only been granted access to “a portion of what they were told they could expect”, according to a statement from their umbrella organisation, the Social Science Research Council. It said this had made it difficult or impossible for them to complete their work and the project would be wound down if this had not been rectified by the end of September.
Facebook doesn't appear to be being deliberately obstructive here, although some argue it is much easier for marketers than researchers to get data out of the company. The task of preparing and clearing all these data does seem very laborious and difficult. Similarly, Facebook has a job on its hands monitoring advertising as the US approaches a presidential election year. It announced today it was tightening its rules to ensure there was more transparency about who was placing political ads and promising more safeguards against the propagation of fake news.
The sheer size of Facebook's audience and the vast amount of content and ads generated can make social media seem an untameable beast. However, Anjana Ahuja's latest column highlights the value of recent research work in analysing the spread of online hate groups and figuring out ways to counter them.
US scientists have built a mathematical model of how the online hate ecosystem operates. Their research, published in the journal Nature, tracks how clusters of users form networks and spread their ideas across platforms. It has come up with strategies to eliminate them, such as banning the small clusters that feed into larger ones. It also says online social engineering on a massive scale may be a solution — a sobering reflection of the size of the task of keeping the web honest and civil.
The Internet of (Five) Things
1. Self-driving pioneer faces 33 charges
US prosecutors have charged Anthony Levandowski, one of the most prominent developers of self-driving car technology, on 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google's Waymo. Mr Levandowski had gone on to join Uber and the ride-hailing company settled a related case last year, with Uber agreeing to pay Waymo $245m. His lawyers maintain he didn’t steal anything from anyone. “None of these supposedly secret files ever went to Uber or to any other company,” they wrote.
2. Siri says sorry
Apple has apologised to users of its voice assistant Siri, acknowledging it had failed to live up to its own privacy ideals when it hired contractors to listen to customers’ audio recordings. The iPhone maker said it issued new policies to protect user privacy, after conducting a review in the wake of media reports critical of how Apple used Siri recordings to improve voice recognition.
3. Peloton chases losses and an IPO
Peloton has disclosed its prospectus for its sweat-hot IPO, with the maker of high-end treadmills and at-home cycling equipment revealing its losses had climbed nearly fourfold to $196m in the year to June 30. The documents showed Peloton had burnt through cash at its fastest clip since its founding despite revenue doubling from the previous year to $915m.
4. TeamViewer to connect with Frankfurt listing
TeamViewer, the German rival to LogMeIn for remote computer access, plans to list on the Frankfurt stock exchange before the end of this year in one of the largest initial public offerings for the German technology sector in recent years. The offering is expected to value the company at €4bn to €5bn. Private equity group Permira, which bought TeamViewer five years ago for €870m, is expected to sell 30 to 40 per cent of its stake. Lex warns financial market turmoil could blow its plans off course.
5. Returning to the Jedi
President Trump's attempt to influence the awarding of the “Jedi” contract — the $10bn Pentagon cloud computing contract — does not seem to have made much headway. Kiran Stacey in Washington reports the two remaining bidders, Amazon and Microsoft, have not been asked for any fresh information, suggesting the last-minute review ordered was just a ploy to appease the White House.
Tech tools — Filmmaker Mode
Our TVs are just too smart these days. Advanced video processing capabilities that enable features such as motion-smoothing can also change the way moviemakers intended you to see their films. Hence directors including Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan are backing a new viewing option called Filmmaker Mode, which disables all post-processing and preserves aspect ratios, colours and frame rates. LG Electronics, Panasonic and Vizio have announced support in their products.
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