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Snapchat Fights Drug Dealing With Automated Drug Detection System On App 

Snapchat announced that they will be making a greater effort to combat drug dealing on the platform. The announcement is partially due to the increased amount of drug-related deaths among US high school and college-aged students. 

Snapchat announced that they have adopted improved automated drug detection systems as well as enhancing partnerships with law enforcement. The app will also now have a portal that can be used for educating users on the dangers of drugs. 

“Our position on this has always been clear: we have absolutely zero tolerance for drug dealing on Snapchat. We have a unique opportunity to use our voice, technology and resources to help address this scourge, which threatens the lives of our community members.”

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The increased security efforts come after the CDC warned of a major spike of drug overdoses in 2021, mainly driven by fentanyl; a cheap synthetic opioid that’s 100 times more potent than heroin, and is often mixed with counterfeit pills that young people buy through social media. 

In 2020 fentanyl fatalities rose by 32% when compared to 2019; more than 93,000 deaths. Individuals aged 24 or younger have seen a 50% increase in drug deaths as well.

“Every drug you try now is a game of Russian roulette,” Shabbir Safdar, director of the Partnership for Safe Medicines, a non-profit fighting pharmaceutical counterfeits, said

A recent study from the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) found that pills labeled as Oxycontin, Percocet, Xanax or Adderall are readily available on platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Craigslist. 

Within the past year Snapchat claims it has increased its proactive detection of drug sales by 390%; increasing security efforts by 50% within the last quarter alone. When Snapchat’s systems detect drug dealing activity on the app the account is automatically banned and the creator is blocked from creating new accounts on the platform. 

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The company has also increased their partnerships with law enforcement and improved on response times to law enforcement inquiries by 85% within the past year. 

Snapchat said it is “working with experts to continually update the list of slang and drug-related terms blocked from search results on Snapchat. Other platforms should also take measures to put a stop to the massive rise in online drug dealing. This is not just a Snapchat problem,” said Christine Elgersma, a senior editor at children’s safety non-profit Common Sense Media.

At a 2021 congressional hearing, Instagram executive Adam Mosseri had to answer questions regarding drug dealing on social media.

“Why are children’s accounts even allowed to search for drug content to begin with, much less allowed to do so in a way that leads them to a drug dealer in two clicks?” asked the Republican senator Mike Lee of Utah.

“Accounts selling drugs or any other regulated goods are not allowed on the platform. The app uses technology to proactively take down a huge number of drug-related posts, Mosseri responded.

Astroworld Victims’ Families Reject Travis Scott’s Offer To Cover Funeral Costs 

Travis Scott’s offer to pay for the funeral costs of Astroworld victims has been rejected by half of the bereaved families. One of them is the family of nine-year-old Ezra Blount, who was the youngest of the 10 victims who lost their lives from the Texas music festival. 

Scott made the offer last week after multiple lawsuits against him, his team, livenation, and others involved in the festival were filed. A lawyer for the family of 14-year-old John Hilgert responded to the offer recently to the media: 

“The gesture is demeaning and inappropriate. Of all the things this case is about, the cost of the funeral is the least of any concern. This family is set on making change, and ensuring this never happens at a concert again.” 

On Friday November 5th, a crowd surge occurred during Scott’s set at Astroworld. There were around 50,000 people attending the festival in Houston’s NRG Park Complex. 

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Ten individuals have now lost their lives due to the surging that occurred at the event, the oldest of which was just 27-years-old. Blount died nine days after the concert after being placed in a medically induced coma due to the severity of his injuries. 

Scott’s lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, wrote to the nine-year-old’s family the day after the funeral, offering to pay for the entire service. 

“Travis is devastated by the tragedy that occurred at the Astroworld Festival and grieves for the families whose loved ones died or were injured. Travis is committed to doing his part to help the families who have suffered and begin the long process of healing in the Houston community. Toward that end, Travis would like to pay for the funeral expenses for Mr Blount’s son,” the letter read.

The family’s lawyer, Bob Hilliard, immediately declined the offer on behalf of the Blount family with a letter:

“I have no doubt Mr. Scott feels remorse. His journey ahead will be painful. He must face and hopefully see that he bears some of the responsibility of this tragedy.” 

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Other families have called out Scott, and claimed that the rapper’s offer was simply to repair his public image, and if he actually cared about his fans, this wouldn’t have happened in the first place. 

Philip Corboy, the lawyer for the families of Jacob Jurinek and Franco Patino, 21-year-old best friends who were at the concert together, said Scott’s approach to make amends through his legal team leaves the impression “that all he’s trying to do is lessen the public outcry against him.”

“If he’s trying to impress upon the families that he’s sincere and has concern for them and realize that funerals can be expensive, what Soctt’s team did is not the way to do it,” Corboy continued.

“You don’t get a piece of paper in the mail from a lawyer in Beverly Hills who says he represents Travis Scott. These families are raw right now; that lacks any personal touch.”

Tony Buzbee, who represents the family of Axel Acosta (21), also publicly questioned Scott’s motives in choosing to make the announcement that he would pay for the funeral costs through a “press release that everyone could see.” 

“He says he feels sorry for them but he’s quick to say it wasn’t his fault. He’s no different than any defendant pointing fingers to someone else. They don’t want funeral expenses from him. Whatever we get from him we’re going to get through the court system,” Buzbee exclaimed. 

US Mexico Border

Texas Governor Orders National Guard To Assist With Arrests At US-Mexico Border

Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the state’s national guard members to help assist the Department of Public Safety in arresting undocumented immigrants at the US-Mexico border. 

Abbott’s order was a part of a letter sent to Major General Tracy R. Norris of the Texas Military Department. The order itself expands upon Abbott’s June declaration which directed the DPS to enforce all federal and state criminal laws. These laws include anything involving criminal trespassing, smuggling, and human trafficking. 

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“That declaration had allowed the use of all available state resources to assist state and local law enforcement in protecting Texans from criminal activity and property damage,” according to news reports. 

“To respond to this disaster and secure the rule of law at our Southern border, more manpower is needed,” Abbott wrote in the letter

“DPS needs help in arresting those who are violating state law. … I hereby order that the Texas National Guard assist DPS in enforcing Texas law by arresting lawbreakers at the border.”

The order comes after the Biden Administration announced its plans to tackle the surge of migration and illegal contraband coming into the country through the border. 

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“President Biden’s open-border policies have paved the way for dangerous gangs and cartels, human traffickers, and deadly drugs like fentanyl to pour into our communities,” Abbott said in a statement.

In June, border authorities stopped around 188,800 crossings, which was the highest for the entire year. The previous high of about 180,000 was set in May of this year. 

“People think that this is a border-related issue and it is, but this is also an issue that affects counties across the entire state of Texas.”

Abbott held a security briefing at the Texas state house in Austin this month, where sheriffs from local communities have expressed concern over a lack of manpower, jail space, and judges on the local level. So while the governor is focusing on combating illegal activity at the border, local authorities are struggling to protect their own communities.

Facebook Scientists Can Now Tell Where Deepfakes Come From 

Artificial intelligence workers at Facebook have developed a new software that can reveal when a picture or video post is a deepfake as well as where it came from. 

Deepfakes are defined as videos that have been digitally altered in some way using AI technology. Typically, these videos show very hyper-realistic celebrity faces, saying whatever the user making the post wants them to say. These videos have become increasingly realistic, and popular, making it extremely hard for humans to tell what’s real, and what’s not. 

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The Facebook researchers claim their new AI software can establish if a piece of media is a deepfake or not based on a single image taken from said video. The software will also be able to identify the AI that was used to create the video, no matter how advanced the technique. 

Tal Hassner, an applied research lead at Facebook, said that it’s “possible to train AI software to look at the photo and tell you with a reasonable degree of accuracy what is the design of the AI model that generated that photo.”

Deepfakes in general are a major threat to internet safety, in fact, Facebook banned them back in January 2020 due to the amount of misinformation they were spreading. Individuals can easily create doctored videos of powerful politicians making wild claims about the US that other world leaders could potentially see and take seriously before it’s determined that the video is indeed fake. 

Hassner said that detecting deepfakes is a “cat and mouse game, they’re becoming easier to produce and harder to detect. One of the main applications of deepfakes so far has been in pornography where a person’s face is swapped onto someone else’s body, but they’ve also been used to make celebrities appear as though they’re doing or saying something they’re not.”

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Nina Schick is a deepfake expert who’s worked closely with the White House and President Biden on this issue. She emphasized that while it’s amazing that we now have the technology to detect when these videos are fake, it’s just as important to find out how well they actually work in the real world and how well they’re able to track and stop individuals from continuing to make them. 

“It’s all well and good testing it on a set of training data in a controlled environment. But one of the big challenges seems to be that there are easy ways to fool detection models, like by compressing an image or a video.”

It’s still unclear how or even if Facebook will be using this technology to combat the amount of misinformation deepfakes work to spread on the platform, but Tassner explained that ideally the technology will be used among all in the future. 

“If someone wanted to abuse them (generative models) and conduct a coordinated attack by uploading things from different sources, we can actually spot that just by saying all of these came from the same mold we’ve never seen before but it has these specific properties, specific attributes,” he said.

Apple Addresses Privacy Concerns, Says Siri Will No Longer Send Requests To Main Servers 

Apple announced this week that they will no longer be using Siri to send requests to its servers as a means of speeding up how quickly the AI voice assistant is able to respond, as well as addressing multiple privacy concerns from users. 

It was revealed a couple of years ago that Apple’s staff regularly listens in on confidential details spoken to Siri while carrying out quality control for the assistant. The company made the announcement at their worldwide developers conference.

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“From this autumn onwards, Siri will proces audio on device, meaning that a majority of the queries won’t be recorded or uploaded to any of Apple’s servers.” 

“With on-device speech recognition, the audio of users’ requests is processed right on their iPhone or iPad by default. This addresses one of the biggest privacy concerns for voice assistants, which is unwanted audio recording. For many requests, Siri processing is also moving on device, enabling requests to be processed without an internet connection, such as launching apps, setting timers and alarms, changing settings or controlling music,” an Apple spokesperson said. 

Back in 2019 the Guardian published an investigative report that revealed “Siri ‘graders’ regularly heard confidential information as part of their job assessing the voice assistant’s responses for quality. The company apologized and, after a three-month pause to the grading program, allowed users to opt out of having their speech analyzed by humans.”

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Apple also announced that they would be introducing a slew of new privacy featured across all of its products to make users feel more secure in their experience using these devices. Mail Privacy Protection is being implemented to block emailers from tracking whether or not users open up an email and consume the content within it. 

Apple will also be making improvements to their FaceTime app as a means of competing with Zoom, Google Meet, and other digital forms of communication that are thriving in this pandemic world. 

Apple recently released a software update as well that forces every third-party app to ask for a user’s permission to be able to track what they do on their device. These tracking features are traditionally used by social media applications to track what kind of products you like so that they can make your advertisements more personalized. 

The goal of all of these updates is to give smart device users the comfort of knowing they are not constantly being tracked and watched by these major corporations. 

Facebook And Apple Feuding Over Privacy Changes That Threaten Targeted Advertisements 

Facebook has spent its week pushing public relations efforts meant to attack Apple due to the fact that the company is planning on making iOS data privacy changes that would make it harder for advertisers to track users search history and therefore deliver extremely specific targeted ads on platforms like Facebook

Critics of Facebook were quick to point out that it’s interesting they care so much about targeted advertisements, and believe they’re just showing how integral that is to their actual core business. 

Facebook has put out advertisements in several national newspapers, such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, in which the platform slams Apple’s upcoming privacy changes. Facebook has claimed in the ads that the changes would be “devastating” to millions of smaller businesses that use Facebook to get their companies name out there more. 

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Facebook has been pushing their new small business initiative, SpeakUpForSmall, recently in which the platform encourages local businesses to “speak their mind” and share what personalized advertisements have meant to the success of their business. However, many were quick to point out that Facebook is likely more upset about these changes due to the fact that the platform makes a majority of its annual revenue from advertising on the site. 

Apple announced these changes at their Worldwide Developer Conference back in June, but they won’t be implemented until early 2021. During the event Apple discussed how users would now be shown a prompt on their devices that would ask for their permission to allow tracking from advertisers, and a bold warning that their information would be used specifically for targeted advertisements. 

Apple has defended this move multiple times by claiming that “online privacy is a fundamental human right,” a right that Facebook has definitely been criticized on throughout the past decade. Now, Facebook is attempting to position themselves as a large supporter of small businesses with these new advertisements, which claim that the platform is “standing up for small businesses everywhere.” 

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The advertisements continue: “Many in the small business community have shared concerns about Apple’s forced software updates, which will limit businesses’ ability to run personalized ads and reach their customers effectively. … These changes will be devastating to small businesses, adding to the many challenges they face right now.”

Apple released a statement this week in response to the advertisements and the small businesses throughout the nation who are actually concerned that this new policy could hinder how well they’re able to advertise: “Users should know when their data is being collected and shared across other apps and websites — and they should have the choice to allow that or not. App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 does not require Facebook to change its approach to tracking users and creating targeted advertising, it simply requires they give users a choice.”

Apple and Facebook have clashed in the past over privacy-related concerns as well. Just last week WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, criticized Apple over these privacy concerns and warnings, to which Apple replied that peoples privacies should always be top priority, and they would continue to fight for that.

7 Apps Everyone Must Have On Their Smartphone

Smartphone purchases always seem to increase around the holiday season. Whether you’re getting your child their very first smartphone for having a great first semester at school, or maybe finally treating yourself to a much needed upgrade after a tough year, many are reaching for a new iPhone or Android device this year. Current smartphone users already know that there’s a multitude of standard apps one should download on their device to keep their lives balanced and organized, here’s a list of seven of the most popular ones available for all iPhone and Android models:

Pzizz: This app is the sleep-schedule assistant you didn’t know you needed. If you’re the type of person who may suffer from insomnia, and depend on taking a daily power nap to get through the day, this app is perfect for you. You can simply choose what type of sleep you want to achieve, quick nap, sleeping through the night, etc., and then the app will offer a ton of features, sounds, or passages that will help you relax and drift into a peaceful slumber. 

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LastPass: You’ve likely heard of this app or one that’s similar to it. When we’re setting up a new device of any kind, it can be so tedious to have to log back into our multiple social media, email, and streaming accounts. LastPass cuts out the middleman and stores all your passwords in one place for easy access. The app is also packed with security features to ensure that no one besides you has access to it. 

DropBox: One of the most popular apps and services on the market is Dropbox. Dropbox acted like the cloud before the cloud even existed by granting universal access to all of your documents, photos, files, etc. on any device that has access to the internet. You could go to a random library five miles from your house and log into Dropbox and automatically have access to whatever you decide to store on there!

Authy: Authy is another password-protection app that can also store downloadable documents, photos, files, emails, etc. The app uses two-factor authentication which is thought to be the “best way to protect yourself online.” The cyber security app guarantees to protect your information from any hackers or outside parties that you wouldn’t want having access to your information. 

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Freedome VPN: Speaking of cyber security, VPN services have grown in popularity a lot within the past few years. These services basically protect your internet connection to guarantee that outside platforms and individuals don’t have access to what you’re doing on your device. The app runs easily in the background while you use your phone to protect it from any and all data breaching. 

Speedtest: This app is more a necessity for tech-lovers and individuals who are on their devices/internet constantly for business reasons. Speedtest easily can test the strength of any WiFi connection and can help you better manage what services are using the internet in the background of your device and potentially slowing it down as a result. 

Tile: Finally, one of the most popular innovative apps that’s on the market right now is Tile. Users simply buy these small tiles on Amazon and then place them in anything that they tend to lose. You can place it within your luggage, laptop bag, wallet, and backpack. When you lose something you can simply go to the app on your phone and it will automatically show you exactly where that tile is located.

Australian Politician, Peter Dutton, Confirms Government Can Spy On Its Citizens Under Cybersecurity Plan

In a new $1.6 billion cyber strategy initiative the Australian Signals Directorate now can help law enforcement identify and disrupt criminal activity.

WhatsApp

Hackers Target Government Officials Using WhatsApp

Facebook is embroiled in controversy in the aftermath of the company’s decision not to remove political advertisements that contain falsehoods, drawing criticism from politicians and the general public alike for being complicit in spreading misinformation. The social media platform is no stranger to controversy of this sort, as many critics have called out the company for failing to mitigate the impact of foreign interference in elections and for failing to adequately safeguard its users’ privacy, among other concerns. Most recently, the news organization Reuters reported that hackers have been using WhatsApp, a messaging application owned by Facebook, to attack government officials. 

According to Reuters, an internal investigation conducted by WhatsApp revealed that a “significant” portion of the victims were high-profile government and military officials, many of which were allies of the U.S. As government officials from the United States and around the world have been known to use WhatsApp to communicate sensitive information, the WhatsApp hacks pose a significant risk to domestic and international security. In response to the attacks, WhatsApp sued the Israeli hacking tool developer NSO Group, alleging that they created and sold a hacking platform that allowed their clients to hack the cellphones of at least 1,400 users between April and May of this year. The total number of affected users is unknown, but is likely to be much higher than the 1,400 users mentioned in the lawsuit.

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It’s not clear as of yet who was directly responsible for initiating the hacks, but NSO sells spyware exclusively to government customers, suggesting adversaries of the U.S. may be responsible. Known victims include officials in the United States, Bahrain, Mexico, Pakistan, and India. While most of the victims have not disclosed the fact that their security may have been compromised, some Indian nationals have publicly alleged they were among the targets of the attacks, including journalists, academics, and lawyers.

NSO has denied any wrongdoing, and has said that it is “not able to disclose who is or is not a client or discuss specific uses of its technology.” Instead, NSO claims that its products are intended only for catching terrorists and other criminals. However, experts doubt this claim, as they suspect products developed by NSO have been widely used for more nefarious purposes.

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WhatsApp has notified victims that they had been hacked, and checked their list of known victims against law enforcement requests for information relating to criminal investigations, but found no overlap between the two sets of data. Instead of relying on spyware like that developed by NSO Group, WhatsApp encourages governments to submit requests for information to the company through an online portal they maintain. Though WhatsApp provides its users with end-to-end encryption, ensuring that only the sender and recipient are able to read the contents of messages, the company nevertheless cooperates with governments for legitimate law enforcement purposes.

As of 2015, WhatsApp is the world’s most popular messaging application, as it allows users to send text messages, media, voice messages, and make Voice over IP calls, among other features. The app is available around the world, and is particularly popular in countries other than the U.S. Facebook purchased WhatsApp in February of 2014 for $19 billion, representing the social network’s largest acquisition to date. Due to the app’s ability to enable secure, private communication between individuals, the app is banned in China, a country with strict restrictions on speech. WhatsApp has been the subject of criticism for multiple reasons, including its use by terrorist organizations like the Islamic State, as well as the prevalence of scams and malware throughout the app.