Hillicon Valley: Google workers want Heritage president off AI council | Facebook cracks down on Indian political party's pages | FBI failing to notify all cyber victims

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GOOGLE BACKLASH: A group of Google employees is pushing the company to remove Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James from its new artificial intelligence (AI) council.

The workers, identified as "Googlers Against Transphobia and Hate," say James's record on trans and immigrant rights should disqualify her from serving on the newly announced council dedicated to ethics in AI.

"In selecting James, Google is making clear that its version of 'ethics' values proximity to power over the wellbeing of trans people, other LGBTQ people, and immigrants," the group wrote in a letter, which began circulating internally on Monday at the company. By midday Monday, the letter had been signed by 855 Google employees.

The letter also received support from dozens of researchers, professors and civil society activists, with more expected throughout the day.

The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Background: Google last week announced the creation of its Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), tasked with advising Google on the "responsible development and use of AI" in its research and products.

In the open letter, the Google employees and researchers wrote that appointing James to the council "significantly undermines Google's position on AI ethics and fairness," pointing out that there have been consistent civil rights concerns around some AI technology. Some AI products have failed to recognize trans people, misheard "feminine" voices and have misidentified women of color at higher rates.

And many of the ethical concerns around AI have revolved around its use by law and immigration enforcement agencies.

"Not only are James' views counter to Google's stated values, but they are directly counter to the project of ensuring that the development and application of AI prioritizes justice over profit," they wrote.

Read more here.


CLEANUP TIME: Facebook on Monday removed hundreds of pages connected to India's opposition party ahead of the country's election.

The social media giant said in a statement it removed 687 pages with ties to the IT Cell of the Indian National Congress (INC).

The fake accounts posted "local news and political issues, including topics like the upcoming elections, candidate views, the INC and criticism of political opponents including the Bharatiya Janata Party," the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"While the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found that it was connected to individuals associated with an INC IT Cell," Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, said in the statement.


The company said 15 more fake accounts were removed for similar behavior were linked to Indian IT firm Silver Touch.

The Indian elections begin April 11 and will end on May 19.

Read more on Facebook's efforts to combat disinformation here.


NEWSFEED, EXPLAINED: Facebook this month will launch a feature that explains how and why posts are prioritized in its news feed, offering users more control over what content shows up when they log onto the social media platform.

The company for years has declined to answer questions about which posts end up on a user's news feed, but the new "Why am I seeing this post?" feature will provide details about how Facebook's algorithm pushes certain posts to the top.

"You'll be able to tap on posts and ads in News Feed, get context on why they're appearing, and take action to further personalize what you see," Facebook product manager Ramya Sethuraman wrote in a blog post Sunday.

The feature will give users the option to change which posts they see first, which groups and pages they follow and what ends up in their news feed overall.

"During our research on 'Why am I seeing this post?', people told us that transparency into News Feed algorithms wasn't enough without corresponding controls," Sethuraman wrote. "People wanted to be able to take action, so we've made it easy to manage what you see in News Feed right from this feature."

Users for years have raised questions about how Facebook makes decisions about its news feed, arguing the company promotes misinformation and ideologically divisive content because that material receives the most engagement.

In the same blog post, Facebook said it is updating its "Why am I seeing this ad?" feature, which was launched four years ago to provide users with more information on how advertisers target them. Facebook will now provide users with details about how advertisers use information like their email address or phone number to target them for ads.

Read more here.


WAIT, I WAS WHAT?: The FBI's system for notifying victims of cyber crimes was often faulty and failed to collect data on whether all victims were notified, the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General found.

In a redacted report released Monday, the inspector general's office found that the data in the program for tracking whether cyber victims had been notified, Cyber Guardian, was "incomplete and unreliable, making the FBI unable to determine whether all victims are being notified."

The audit also found that the Department of Homeland Security was not adding information about the victims into the system, creating an incomplete picture of who had been alerted to being hacked.

"Together, the inconsistent leads and Indexing contributed to some notifications not being tracked properly or taking place too long after the attack for the victim to effectively mitigate the threat to its systems," the report stated.

The audit found that while victims of cyber crimes were sent notification letters, the same practice wasn't applied to victims in cyber cases tied to national security, "resulting in many victims that are not informed of their rights" under DOJ guidelines.

Several victims also told the office that they were notified too late to take any meaningful action to resolve the cyber vulnerabilities or hacks.

Read more here.


CALLING HIS BLUFF: The top British data watchdog said Monday that Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference Instagram sparks new concerns over 'kidfluencer' culture Mark Zuckerberg, meet Jean-Jacques Rousseau? MORE can show he's serious about his call for tougher privacy regulations by dropping his company's appeal of a fine over its handling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

"In light of Mark Zuckerberg's statements over the weekend about the need for increased regulation across four areas, including privacy, I expect Facebook to review their current appeal against the [Information Commissioner's Office's] £500,000 fine -- the maximum available under the old rules --  for contravening UK privacy laws," the United Kingdom's Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in a statement after Zuckerberg wrote in The Washington Post on Saturday that Facebook welcomed greater oversight.

Denham issued the fine against Facebook last year, alleging that the social network had for years failed to protect users' information. The relatively modest $560,000 fine -- infinitesimal compared with the $55.8 billion in revenue the company brought in last year -- was the maximum Denham's office could level for the privacy violations.

Facebook later vowed to appeal the penalty.

The company did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

In Zuckerberg's column over the weekend, he called on Congress to follow Europe's lead in establishing a uniform privacy law that sets standards for the industry to follow.

Read more here.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Social media giants no longer can avoid moral compass.


A LIGHTER CLICK: God has forsaken us this April 1.



Facebook asks for public input about its plans for a content oversight board. (TechCrunch)

Inside the Google employee backlash against the Heritage Foundation. (The Verge)

Journalists wonder if Apple News+ is a Trojan horse. (Vanity Fair)

Amazon cuts more prices at Whole Foods. (The Wall Street Journal)