• Tue. Oct 27th, 2020



The Technology 202: Kim Kardashian West, other celebrities won’t be posting on Instagram today

It’s the latest sign that pressure is mounting on Facebook to clean up its act in the weeks before Election Day. 

The showing of support from Facebook’s users – including power users with millions of followers – could add to the pressure that advertisers, employees and even shareholders have put on the company to overhaul its policies in recent months. It’s also a sign that #StopHateForProfit intends to keep the pressure on the social network in a very public way, even after the initial advertising boycott ended in July. 

Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian and actor who has emerged as one of Facebooks top critics, played an influential role in getting prominent celebrities involved in the boycott, said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League and one of the campaign organizers. Other participating celebrities include Ashton Kutcher, Kerry Washington and Katy Perry. 

The #StopHateForProfit leaders scored a meeting with top Facebook executives Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg earlier this summer. Since then, Greenblatt tells me that discussions have continued at the staff level, but he believes that Facebooks response has been inadequate. 

“The reason that we launched this week of action is that Facebook has continued to practice of not putting enough energy into, not acting decisively enough to tackle the hate that remains persistent on the platform,” Grenblatt said. 

Recent events have also caused greater concern about hate speech on the platform among the organizers. They pointed to Facebook’s failure to shut down the page of a Kenosha militia group as a driving force behind today’s freeze. Zuckerberg said in August that the company erred by not taking action against that page. 

The group has been calling on Facebook to adopt a series of recommendations, including to remove Facebook groups promoting white supremacy, militia, hate, and violent conspiracies. It’s also focused on politics, calling on the platform to remove any misinformation about voting that has been debunked by “credible” fact checkers. 

Facebook declined to comment on the Instagram freeze, but the company has made some changes to its election and content moderation policies in recent weeks, including a freeze on new political ads the week before the election. 

The organizers are hoping this latest splash will also grab the attention of policymakers. 

In the absence of major changes from Facebook, Greenblatt said he is hoping the campaign will put greater pressure on lawmakers and federal agencies to regulate the social network. 

There are signs that lawmakers are paying attention. Several mentioned the Facebook advertising boycott during their July grilling of Zuckerberg and other tech executives over antitrust concerns. 

Scrutiny of Facebook may be heating up in Washington. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Federal Trade Commission may bring an antitrust case against the embattled company, just a year after it hit Facebook with a huge fine in a settlement over its privacy practices. 

But tech observers are skeptical of how much this current action will actually force change at Facebook. 

It remains to be seen how much of an impact the #StopHateForProfit campaigns will have on the social network long-term. Emerson T. Brooking noted Facebook’s stock recovered after the advertising boycott. From Twitter:

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Facebook and Twitter shut down accounts linked to pro-Trump group Turning Point USA for inauthentic behavior.

The networks, powered by an army of paid teens, pushed out content that sowed distrust about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and cast doubt on mail balloting, painting it as a tool for Democrats to steal the election, Isaac Stanley-Becker reports. 

The Republican teens hired to work for the online campaign lifted the language from a shared online document, Isaac reports. They posted the same lines a limited number of times to avoid automated detection by the technology companies, people familiar with the process said.

The effort generated thousands of posts this summer on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, making it one of the most ambitious domestic influence campaigns reported this election cycle.

Twitter suspended at least 20 accounts involved in the activity for “platform manipulation and spam,” in response to the findings by The Post. Facebook also removed a number of accounts as part of what the company said is an ongoing investigation. 

Experts say the campaign is evading the guardrails put in place by Twitter and Facebook to prevent a repeat of the sort of disinformation campaigns used by Russia in 2016.  

The campaign illustrates that “that the scale and scope of domestic disinformation is far greater than anything a foreign adversary could do to us,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Turning Point USA, which is led by 26-year-old conservative commentator Charlie Kirk, denied its operations did anything wrong.

“This is sincere political activism conducted by real people who passionately hold the beliefs they describe online, not an anonymous troll farm in Russia,” the field director, Austin Smith, said in the statement.  

The White House is nearing a decision on TikTok.

The administration will make a decision soon, Trump told reporters yesterday.

“I have high respect for [Oracle founder] Larry Ellison. Hes somebody I know. Hes been really a terrific guy for a long time,” Trump said. So were going to take a look. I heard theyre very close to a deal.

Oracles close White House ties may smooth over any resistance to the deal, Jay Greene and Ellen Nakashima report. Ellison is a prominent Trump donor and Oracle chief executive Safra Catz served on Trumps transition team. Peter Navarro, Trumps trade adviser who advocated to ban TikTok rather than sell it to a U.S. company, could be swayed to back off because of his close relationship with Catz.

“This deal on its face does not smell right and ordinarily Peter would be out there bashing it,” a former official told The Post. “But he can’t. He’s way too close to Oracle.” (Oracle’s chief Washington lobbyist, Ken Glueck, said Catz and Navarro have not discussed the TikTok deal.)

The deal is already drawing backlash from members of Congress.

“I’m waiting to see all the details, but it’s hard to imagine this is anything but a payoff from China to one of Donald Trump’s major campaign fundraisers,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote in a statement. “Making Oracle a middleman won’t protect Americans against Chinese government influence, and to make matters worse, Oracle has an awful record of harvesting and selling Americans’ private data to anyone with a credit card.” 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also criticized the companies for not providing a transparent look at how theyll address security concerns with TikTok.

Apple’s new watch highlights the company’s increased push into health care during the pandemic.

The Apple Watch 6 will include a new sensor that can detect blood oxygen levels, often called a pulse oximeter, Reed Albergotti reports. Apple will partner with the Seattle Flu Study and the University of Washington to examine the relationship between blood oxygen, heart rate and the coronavirus.

Its the latest step in Apples efforts to build a track record with medical researchers and possibly a hint of more sensors to come in future models of the watch.

The tech is still far from reaching the level of a medical device. Apple warned in its promo video for its Blood Oxygen app that “measurements are not intended for medical use.” And while Apple Watch can detect signs of atrial fibrillation, for instance, it isnt 100 percent accurate. The watchs limitations mean that Apple has yet to make a major breakthrough in lucrative pharmaceutical partnerships. 

In the meantime, Apple is earning industry credibility with steps such as gaining Food and Drug Administration clearance for its atrial fibrillation algorithm and its electrocardiogram.

“If they’re investing in FDA approval, they’re looking to be something more than a novelty device,” said Tom Dorsett, the chief executive of RazorMetrics.

While researchers have been reluctant to rely on Apple Watchs open-software ResearchKit, one pharmaceutical executive told Reed that Apple is working on several studies with pharmaceutical companies that haven’t been announced.

Rant and rave

Here are some more Apple reactions.

A number of users complained that Apple was getting rid of the power charger for the Apple Watch:

The Blood Oxygen app got mixed reviews. The New York Times’s Shira Ovide:

Others had concerns about the app:

But maybe people needed to pay attention to the real subtext of the event. CNETs Alfred Ng:

Hill happenings

Senators grilled a top Google executive over the company’s dominance in the digital ad market.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) grilled Google mergers and acquisitions chief Donald Harrison on how Google uses information it collects from Gmail, Search and other services to boost its advertising business.

“You then use those advantages in the ad stack at every single layer, every layer of which you exercise dominance in,” he said.

Harrison spent much of the hearing on defense, insisting that Google has strong competitors in the ad technology space and that the company’s services are good for consumers.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) also grilled Harrison about Google’s pending merger with health-care-wearable company Fitbit.

“This deal is about devices,” Harrison responded, “It is about health care and not about ads.” Harrison pledged that the company would not mix usershealth-care information with advertising data.

Like many recent hearings hauling in tech executives, it took detours into long-running Republican allegations of conservative bias.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the antitrust subcommittee’s chairman, said he would continue to pursue issues of perceived conservative bias and that it could influence antitrust enforcement. Google has repeatedly denied allegations that it is suppressing conservative viewpoints, and Harrison reiterated that the company’s advertising policies do not take political affiliation into account.

Inside the industry

AT&T will consider offering cellphone plans subsidized by ads.

The potential plan, first reported by Reuters, underscores the telecom giants push into advertising.

“I believe there’s a segment of our customer base where given a choice, they would take some load of advertising for a $5 or $10 reduction in their mobile bill,” chief executive John Stankey told Reuters. AT&T would design identifiers that could allow marketers to track users across multiple devices.

The ad-supported phone plans could be introduced in “a year or two,” Stankey said.



  • Facebook Connect will take place virtually on Wednesday.
  • Future Tense at New America will live-stream the event “How Should We Talk About QAnon?” today at noon.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a virtual hearing, “Trump FCC: Four Years of Lost Opportunities,” Thursday at 10 a.m.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to examine threats to U.S. intellectual property, focusing on cyberattacks and counterfeits during the coronavirus pandemic on Sept. 23 at 2:30 p.m.

Before you log off

What was missing from Tuesdays big event was a new iPhone, Heather Kelly reports. Analysts expect the tech giant to roll out four new iPhone models by the end of October.

Heres a look at the iPad 8 instead:

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