Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Pressure mounts on Facebook to rein in hate speech | UK, Australia launch joint investigation into facial recognition firm | Amazon removing Redskins merchandise from site

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Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

FACEBOOK UNDER PRESSURE: Facebook came under renewed public scrutiny Wednesday with the release of an independent audit slamming the platform's progress on civil rights issues, adding to internal and external pressure on the company to rein in hate speech and misinformation.

The audit was the third shoe to drop this month after a group of high-profile advertisers launched a boycott of the site and the release of a Democratic National Committee memo bashing the company just months before a crucial election.

The independent review of the company's policies released Wednesday - the third in a set of three commissioned by the social media giant in 2018 - criticized Facebook for failing to develop a mechanism for protecting civil rights and for a hands-off approach when it comes to free speech, even in cases of violent posts.

Outside critics said the findings report shows the company needs to step up and make changes. If it doesn't, they argued, government intervention would be warranted.

"If Facebook won't create rules for the platform that protect free elections and public safety, then Congress must intervene to ensure civil rights are protected," said Rashad Robinson, head of Color of Change. "Our work continues with or without Facebook's collaboration; we won't rest until the platform is a safe and just place for Black people."

Auditors took particular issue with Facebook's handling of posts from President Trump. One of the posts they highlighted was one from the president in response to protests in Minneapolis over the police killing of George Floyd in which Trump wrote "when the looting shoots, the shooting starts."

The review said Facebook's decision to leave such posts untouched has "real world consequences."

The report acknowledged Facebook has made "some significant improvements in the platform," but the overall audit was a scathing rebuke.

The report adds to growing pressure on Facebook to tighten its policies against hate speech and misinformation.

 

Read more here. 

AUSSIE-AMERICAN TEAM UP: Regulators in the United Kingdom and Australia announced a joint investigation Thursday of Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition company that has scraped billions of photos from the internet.

The Information Commissioner offices of both countries said in a statement that their investigation will focus on how the company scrapes data and maintains it.

The probe will evaluate whether Clearview violated the U.K. Data Protection Act or the Australian Privacy Act.

The Hill has reached out to Clearview for comment on the investigation.

The firm has been under intense scrutiny since reports found it to have amassed a database of more than 3 billion photos collected by scraping social media.

BuzzFeed News reported in February that police in the U.K. and Australia have conducted hundreds of searches using Clearview's tech.

"The investigation highlights the importance of enforcement cooperation in protecting the personal information of Australian and UK citizens in a globalised data environment," regulators said in Thursday's statement.

Read more about the investigation here. 

 

AMAZON DITCHES DC FOOTBALL TEAM: Amazon is removing all Washington Redskins merchandise from its website as pressure for the NFL franchise to change its name mounts.

The team announced on Friday that it would undergo a "thorough review" of its name, which has been broadly denounced as derogatory and racist.

Last Thursday, FedEx wrote to owner Dan Snyder requesting that he change the team's name. FedEx paid $205 million for naming rights to the team's Maryland stadium in 1998; those rights run through 2025.

Other major team sponsors and partners, including as PepsiCo, also expressed their desire for the name to be done away with.

Nike, Target and Walmart have already stopped selling the team's merchandise.

The online shopping giant confirmed to CNN that it had told its sellers that it was removing all of the franchise's merchandise from the site following the team's announcement Friday.

Read more about the decision here. 

GERMANY SEIZES SERVER: At the request of the U.S. government, German officials last week seized a computer server that hosted leaked files from scores of police agencies taken in a Houston data breach last month. 

The server was used by Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets), a WikiLeaks-like data transparency group, to distribute information called "BlueLeaks" from more than 200 federal, state and local police agencies, The Associated Press reported Thursday. 

The prosecutor's office in Zwickau, Germany, told the AP in a statement that the server was taken on July 3 in Falkenstein after a request from U.S. officials. The prosecutors' statement said German judicial authorities would decide whether to give the server to the U.S. and that it wouldn't reveal the reason for the Americans' request. 

The FBI declined to comment.

DDoSecrets founder Emma Best told the AP that they assume the confiscation was related to the posting of the BlueLeaks documents. DDoSecrets obtained the documents, dating back to 1996, from an individual who sympathized with the protests over police killings of Black unarmed individuals, including George Floyd in May, Best said.

Some of the documents that were released last month suggest that the FBI is collecting intelligence on protesters from social media and sending it to local law enforcement. The data was taken from the Houston web-design company Netsential, which hosts portals for police agencies and fusion centers.

Read more about the incident here. 

TECH STOCKS RISING: The Nasdaq composite set a new record high Thursday as technology stocks continue to rally in the face of surging coronavirus cases.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq rose more than 40 points Thursday, climbing to a record high of more than 10,500 points with 0.4 percent increase driven by rising Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook shares. The S&P 500 index ticked down 0.2 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.5 percent.

Stocks have climbed steadily since the outset the coronavirus pandemic and economic collapse it caused, recovering even as COVID-19 cases surge and threaten to deepen the recession driven by the health crisis.

Read more here. 

 

Lighter click: When mom says you can play Pokemon with your friend

An op-ed to chew on: Online learning hiccups lead to civil liberty threats 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

TikTok: Our Biggest Problem Is Dumb, Horny Teens (Gizmodo / Shoshana Wodinsky)

Police Surveilled George Floyd Protests With Help From Twitter-Affiliated Startup Dataminr (The Intercept / Sam Biddle)

Robinhood Has Lured Young Traders, Sometimes With Devastating Results (New York Times / Nathaniel Popper)

How can we ban facial recognition when it's already everywhere? (Recode / Rebecca Heilweil)

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