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Children In Australia To Potentially Be Blocked From Social Media As A Part Of New Pilot Trial 

In May, Australia’s federal government announced a $6.5 million pilot trial regarding “age assurance technology” as a means of preventing children from accessing harmful and adult content online. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese initially announced that the pilot would work to “identify available age assurance products to protect children from online harm, and test the efficacy, including in relation to privacy and security.”

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“The outcomes will inform the existing work of Australia’s eSafety Commissioner under the Online Safety Act – including through the development of industry codes or standards – to reduce children’s exposure to age-inappropriate material,” he stated

Now, the Australian government has expanded the trial program to look into potentially blocking children from accessing social media altogether. They’re currently in discussions with Meta, who owns Facebook and Instagram. 

Multiple campaigns have started with the launch of this trial which worked to push the government to look into banning children under the age of 16 from social media. The government is now looking into how this could potentially be possible and what it would truly look like if it occurred, according to reports.

Communications department acting secretary for online safety, Bridget Gannon, stated that the government will be “consulting with experts, with children, with parents, to understand their concerns and their interests on this issue, and really pulling it together with some policy advice to the government on possible ways forward.”

“We want to understand how different technologies work at those younger ages for that social media work,” she said as reported by the Guardian

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Gannon also stated that the department has been speaking with multiple social media platforms like Meta, however, none of those companies are legally required to take part in the trial. In fact, Meta has already hinted that they are reluctant to take on the requirement of verifying the age of all of their users across their platforms. 

Instead, Meta believes that age verification should be the responsibility of app stores like Apple and Google. 

While individuals involved in the trial and within the committee have made the argument that these companies should feel obligated to comply with the trial, regardless of legal responsibility.

Gannon said it would be in these companies best interest to be involved in the trial as it will be informing them on how new codes will be developed and enforced as well. 

She also stated that the department will be working with technology experts to accurately assess how effective various technologies will work and what their impact may be. They will also work to analyze how easy it would be to regulate and distribute that technology over private networks.

Meta Approved AI-Manipulated Political Ads In India That Spread Misinformation And Incited Violence

In a new report, it’s been revealed that Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, approved a series of AI-manipulated political advertisements in India during its election period that not only spread misinformation, but incited violence.

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EU Launching Formal Investigation Into Meta Regarding Election Misinformation Before June Polls Open 

The European Union (EU) is set to launch a formal investigation into Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram. The investigation was prompted over the EU’s concerns that the tech giant isn’t doing enough to counter Russian disinformation ahead of the EU elections in June, according to reports

The EU is also likely to express their concerns regarding the lack of effective monitoring of election content, and the inadequate tools they use for flagging illegal content. 

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Lisa O’Carroll, a correspondent for The Guardian, wrote that the European Commission is worried about Meta’s moderation system, claiming that it is not extensive enough to combat the presence of misinformation, and even suppresses voting. 

The Financial Times revealed that government officials are worried about how Meta is handling Russia’s specific efforts to undermine the upcoming elections. 

Meta’s plan to discontinue its CrowdTangle tool also has officials concerned. CrowdTangle is a public insights tool that allows researchers, journalists, and others within the EU to monitor in real time the spread of misinformation and any attempts to suppress voting. 

The EU currently has new laws in place that require tech companies to regulate their content and have systems in place to guard against any and all systemic risks involving election interference. 

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“We have a well-established process for identifying and mitigating risks on our platforms. We look forward to continuing our cooperations with the European Commission and providing them with further details of this work,” a spokesperson for Meta stated

The commission recently carried out “stress tests” on all the major social media platforms as a means of determining if there were proper safeguards in place to prevent the spreading of misinformation. The tests involved a series of made-up scenarios that are based on past attempts at election manipulation, such as using deep fakes and speech suppression.

“The aim was to test platforms’ readiness to address manipulative behavior that could occur in the run-up to the elections, in particular the different manipulative tactics, techniques and procedures,” the commission stated.

This past Monday, parliament released official tips for voters in the upcoming elections, which will be taking place between June 6th and 9th. They cited previous voting issues such as the specific pen colors needed for a ballot to be valid, and warned citizens to be diligent about spotting disinformation. 

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Facebook And Instagram To Start Labeling Digitally Altered Content ‘Made With AI,’ Meta Says

Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, announced that they would be making major changes to its policies on digitally created and/or altered media. 

Meta will start adding “Made with AI” labels to posts that use artificial intelligence to create photos, videos, and audio published on Facebook and Instagram. The apps will begin adding this label in May. 

Vice president of content policy, Monika Bickert, stated in a blogpost that Meta would “apply separate and more prominent labels to digitally altered media that poses a particularly high risk of materially deceiving the public on a matter of importance, regardless of whether the content was created using AI or other tools,” according to the Guardian

A spokesperson also stated that Meta will begin applying more prominent high-risk labels immediately. 

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This approach will overall shift the way Meta treats manipulated content. Instead of removing the content altogether, posts made to Facebook and Instagram will not provide viewers with the information about how the image was edited.

A company spokesperson said the “labeling approach would apply to content posted on Facebook, Instagram and Threads. Its other services, including WhatsApp and Quest virtual-reality headsets, are covered by different rules.”

In February, Meta’s oversight board said the company’s existing rules on manipulated media were “incoherent” after reviewing a video of President Joe Biden posted on Facebook last year that had been digitally altered to make it seem as though the president was acting inappropriately.

The board said the “policy should also apply to non-AI content, which is not necessarily any less misleading than content generated by AI, as well as to audio-only content and videos depicting people doing things they never actually said or did,” according to the Guardian.

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Threads Reaches 100 Million Sign-Ups As Twitter’s Traffic Falls

In just five days, 100 million users have signed up for Twitter’s rival app, Threads. Meanwhile, Twitter’s user traffic has dropped as the platform continues to battle outages and controversies over its lax moderation policies.

The new platform’s rapid expansion has already outpaced that of ChatGPT, OpenAI’s viral chatbot, which had reached 10 million users in 40 days.

Due to Europe’s intricate regulatory systems, the app has not yet been released there. If it does launch there, it can potentially pose a serious threat to Twitter, which has 238 million daily active users.

Threads’s success can largely be traced to its integration with Meta’s Instagram service. New users can sign up using their already established Instagram handle.

In a post on the platform, Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, shared his excitement for the speed of the app’s growth.

“Threads reached 100 million sign-ups over the weekend. That’s mostly organic demand and we haven’t even turned on many promotions yet. Can’t believe it’s only been 5 days!”

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Similarweb, a data company specializing in web analytics, found that in the first two full days Threads was generally available, web traffic to Twitter was down 5 percent compared to the previous week. According to the company, Twitter has seen an 11% drop in website traffic compared to the same period in 2022.

A letter from Elon Musk’s longtime attorney Alex Spiro to Meta alleging “unlawful misappropriation” of trade secrets shows that Musk, Twitter’s owner, is already concerned about Threads.

The letter accuses Threads of hiring former Twitter employees to build a “copycat” platform using confidential information. In a tweet, Elon Musk acknowledged the letter, stating, “Competition is fine, cheating is not.”

Instagram head Adam Mosseri said in a Threads post that Meta’s purpose is not to replace Twitter but rather “to create a public square for communities on Instagram that never really embraced Twitter.”

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“The goal isn’t to replace Twitter. The goal is to create a public square for communities on Instagram that never really embraced Twitter and for communities on Twitter (and other platforms) that are interested in a less angry place for conversations, but not all of Twitter. Politics and hard news are inevitably going to show up on Threads – they have on Instagram as well to some extent – but we’re not going to do anything to encourage those verticals.”

Messages posted on Threads will have a 500-character limit. Like on Twitter, users can reply to, repost and quote other user posts. The app has a similar aesthetic to Instagram and also allows users to share posts from Threads directly to their Instagram stories.

Accounts can be public or private, and verification on Instagram carries over to Threads. Mark Zuckerberg also called the app a “public space” in a Threads post after its launch.

“The vision for Threads is to create an option and friendly public space for conversation. We hope to take what Instagram does best and create a new experience around text, ideas, and discussing what’s on your mind.”

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Meta Announces They’re Prioritizing Advancing Artificial Intelligence As A Company 

Almost two years after Facebook rebranded as Meta and advertised giving the world a futuristic landscape through the metaverse, the company announced that now, their top investment priority is advancing artificial intelligence (AI). 

CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent out a letter to Meta staff on Tuesday, announcing plans to lay off 10,000 employees as a means of focusing on efficiency for the company; a move that was first announced last month in Meta’s quarterly earnings call. 

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Zuckerberg now says Meta will “focus mostly on cutting costs and streamlining projects. Building the metaverse remains central to defining the future of social connection, Zuckerberg wrote.

“Our single largest investment is in advancing AI and building it into every one of our products.” 

He added information on how AI tools can help “users of its apps express themselves and discover new content, but also new AI tools can be used to increase efficiencies internally by helping engineers write better code faster.”

The CEO described last year as a “humbling wake-up call as the world economy changed, competitive pressures grew, and our growth slowed considerably.”

AI in general has been taking over the tech world, and Meta is no different, in fact, the company has been involved in AI research and development since it was called Facebook. 

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“I do think it is a good thing to focus on AI,” Ali Mogharabi, a senior equity analyst at Morningstar, told CNN

“Meta’s investments in AI has benefits on both ends because it can improve efficiency for engineers creating products, and because incorporating AI features into Meta’s lineup of apps will potentially create more engagement time for users, which can then drive advertising revenue,” he explained.

“A lot of the investments in AI, and a lot of enhancements that come from those investments in AI, could actually be applicable to the entire metaverse project,” Mogharabi stated. 

Last year, Meta lost more than $13 billion from its “Reality Labs” unit, the business sector focused on developing and expanding the metaverse. This shift comes after multiple big investors expressed their concerns over the lack of growth that came from the sector. 

Angelo Zino, a senior equity analyst at CFRA Research, said “the second round of layoffs at Meta officially make us convinced that Mark Zuckerberg has completely switched gears, altering the narrative of the company to one focused on efficiencies rather than looking to grow the metaverse at any cost.”

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Meta To Launch Paid Subscription Services For Facebook And Instagram 

Mark Zuckerberg announced on Instagram this weekend that Meta is currently testing a subscription service in which users of Instagram and Facebook can pay to get verified; similar to Twitter’s recent launch of its paid Twitter Blue services where users can pay for verification. 

Meta will be releasing “Meta Verified” in Australia and New Zealand this week, in which users will have the option to pay either $11.99 a month for web service or $14.99 a month on iOS devices. 

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The service will also include extra protection from impersonation accounts and direct access to customer support services. 

To avoid an increase in fake accounts, users who want the paid service will need to provide proof through a government ID which matches their profile name and picture; users must also be 18 to be eligible for the service. 

“This new feature is about increasing authenticity and security across our services.”

A Meta spokesperson also stated that there will be “no changes to accounts that are already verified,” as verification was previously given to users who are “authentic and notable.”

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“We are evolving the meaning of the blue badge to focus on authenticity so we can expand verification access to more people. We will display the follower count in more places so people can distinguish which accounts are notable public figures among accounts that share the same name.”

Twitter recently launched its own version of this paid verification subscription service with Twitter Blue; launched in December. 

This move came from Twitter after an influx in fake “verified” accounts began to take over the platform. 

For Twitter, each checkmark is a different color to differentiate what type of account is verified: gold check marks for companies, gray for government entities and other government organizations, and blue for the average individual.

Twitter Blue currently costs $11 a month for iOS and Android users.

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Texas Sues Google Over Facial Data Collection

The state of Texas is suing Google for illegally collecting Texans’ facial and voice recognition information without their consent, according to a statement issued by the state attorney general’s office on Thursday.

For over a decade, a Texas consumer protection law has barred companies from collecting data on Texans’ faces, voices or other biometric identifiers without receiving prior informed consent. Ken Paxton, the state’s attorney general, said Google violated this law by recording identifiers such as “a retina or iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint, or record of hand or face geometry.

“In blatant defiance of that law, Google has, since at least 2015, collected biometric data from innumerable Texans and used their faces and their voices to serve Google’s commercial ends. Indeed, all across the state, everyday Texans have become unwitting cash cows being milked by Google for profits.”

The law imposes a $25,000 fine for every violation. According to reports, millions of users in Texas had their information stored. The complaint explicitly references the Google Photos app, Google’s Nest camera, and Google Assistant as means of collection.

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A spokesman for Google, José Castañeda, accused Paxton of “mischaracterizing” products in “another breathless lawsuit.”

“For example, Google Photos helps you organize pictures of people by grouping similar faces, so you can easily find old photos. Of course, this is only visible to you, and you can easily turn off this feature if you choose and we do not use photos or videos in Google Photos for advertising purposes. The same is true for Voice Match and Face Match on Nest Hub Max, which are off-by-default features that give users the option to let Google Assistant recognize their voice or face to show their information. We will set the record straight in court.”

This lawsuit is the latest in a string of major cases brought against the company. Earlier this month, Arizona settled a privacy suit against Google for $85 million. Indiana, Washington and the District of Columbia also sued Google in January over privacy invasions related to location tracking.

In a much larger antitrust case, 36 states filed a lawsuit against Google in July over its control of the Android app store.

Paxton has gone after large technology corporations in the past for their privacy and monopolizing practices. In 2020, his office joined nine other states in filing an antitrust lawsuit against Google, which accused it of “working with Facebook Inc. in an unlawful manner that violated antitrust law to boost its already-dominant online advertising business.”

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After the Jan. 6 insurrection, Paxton demanded Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google to be transparent about their content moderation procedures. This year, he also opened an investigation into Twitter over its reported percentage of fake accounts, saying that the company may be disingenuous about its numbers to inflate its value and raise its revenue.

In February, Paxton sued Meta for facial recognition software it provided users to help tag photos. The lawsuit is ongoing. However, Instagram is now required to ask for permission to analyze Texans’ facial features to properly use facial filters.

“Google’s indiscriminate collection of the personal information of Texans, including very sensitive information like biometric identifiers, will not be tolerated. I will continue to fight Big Tech to ensure the privacy and security of all Texans.”

In 2009, Texas revealed its privacy law, which covered biometric identifiers. Other states were implementing similar laws around the country during this same time. Texas was unique in that in the case of violations, the state of Texas would have to sue on behalf of the consumers.

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GLAAD Report Shows Social Media Giants Aren’t Doing Enough To Protect LGBTQ Users

When it comes to protecting groups that are vulnerable to slurs and harassment, a new report shows major social media platforms are falling short.

According to advocate group GLAAD’s Social Media Safety Index (SMSI), which assesses and provides recommendations for the five major platforms (TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter), all platforms scored below 50% out of a possible 100%.

The SMSI grades platforms on 12 LGBTQ-specific factors, which include gender pronouns on user profiles, third-party advertisers, content moderator training, actions to restrict harmful content, and stopping the removal of or demonetizing legitimate LGBTQ content.

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Coming in the highest was Instagram (48%), while TikTok came in last with 43%. Twitter scored the most zeros across the 12 categories with five. How LGBTQ members are received on social media plays a big role in the real world, GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis explained.

“This type of rhetoric and “content” that dehumanizes LGBTQ people has real-world impact. These malicious and false narratives, relentlessly perpetuated by right-wing media and politicians, continue to negatively impact public understanding of LGBTQ people — driving hatred, and violence, against our community,” Ellis said in a letter.

Ellis noted that the strategy of using misunderstanding and hate to help support legislation by politicians, which have proposed 325 anti-LGBTQ bills since the start of 2022, is something “we’ve seen across history.”

The SMSI grades line up with how users feel. A survey by GLAAD found that 84% of LGBTQ adults agree there aren’t enough protections on social media to prevent discrimination, harassment, or disinformation, while 40% of LGBTQ adults and 49% of transgender and nonbinary people don’t feel safe on social media.

The five platforms did excel in certain areas. Meta (the parent company of Facebook and Instagram) was just one of two that disclosed information on the training of content moderators while having a clear policy on prohibiting LGBTQ-offensive advertising.

GLAAD also highlighted TikTok and Twitter’s feature of preventing users from misgendering or deadnaming nonbinary and transgender people and recommended all platforms follow that innovative lead.

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“This recommendation remains an especially high priority in our current landscape where anti-trans rhetoric and attacks are so prevalent, vicious, and harmful,” GLAAD’s senior director of social media safety, Jenni Olson, said.

However, those positives were overshadowed by a sea of negatives that ultimately resulted in failing grades. Most were docked for their policies’ limitations and enforcement, while GLAAD explained TikTok was lacking “adequate transparency” in several areas.

“The company currently does not disclose options for users to control the company’s collection of information related to their sexual orientation and gender identity,” the report said, recommending it should give users control over their own data and diversify their workforce.

“Notably, TikTok was the only company that did not disclose any information on steps it takes to diversify its workforce.”

Ellis called the companies’ performances “unacceptable.” “At this point, after their years of empty apologies and hollow promises, we must also confront the knowledge that social media platforms and companies are prioritizing profit over LGBTQ safety and lives.”

The safety of social media is particularly important when considering the vulnerable states of young LGBTQ users. According to The Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered committing suicide in the last year, while 73% reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety.

Billionaire Businessman, Orlando Bravo, Claims The Metaverse Will Be Big, And Should Be Invested In 

Puerto Rican billionaire businessman Orlando Bravo, co-founder and managing partner of the private equity firm Thoma Bravo, claimed this week that the metaverse will be the “big word of 2021, and is a big time investment.” 

“The metaverse is very investable, and it’s going to be very big.” 

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Much like the movie “Ready Player One,” the metaverse is a sci-fi concept where humans put on some sort of virtual reality gear that allows them to live, work, and play in a virtual world. The concept has been viewed as a utopian dream, and a dystopian nightmare, depending on your standpoint. 

Facebook’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his company’s plans for the metaverse last month. Zuckerberg also recently changed the name of Facebook to Meta, claiming the new company will have a major focus on the metaverse. 

“The metaverse is the next frontier just like social networking was when we got started.”

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The entire concept of the metaverse has been heavily debated online. One marketing campaign in Iceland even went as far as to mock the metaverse announcement video as a means of bringing in tourists. In the video, a Zuckerberg lookalike introduces viewers to “Icelandverse, a place of enhanced actual reality without the silly-looking headsets.” 

Beyond Facebook, tech giants like Microsoft, Roblox, and Nvidia are already trying to enhance their software so that it’s compatible with the metaverse, and can even be used to power it if needed. 

Thomas Bravo alone has more than $83 billion in assets under management and a portfolio that contains more than 40 software companies. Beyond his excitement for the metaverse, Bravo also discussed his passion for cryptocurrency and bitcoin. 

“How could you not love crypto? Crypto is just a great system. It’s frictionless. It’s decentralized. And young people want their own financial system. So it is here to stay,” Bravo said.