Facebook Warns of Risks to Innovation, Freedom of Expression ahead of EU Rules

Facebook warned of threats to innovation and freedom of expression on Monday, ahead of the release of a raft of rules by the European Union this week and in coming months to rein in U.S. tech giants and Chinese companies.The social media giant laid out its concerns in a white paper, and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg was expected to reiterate the message to EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager and EU industry chief Thierry Breton in Brussels on Monday.Referring to the possibility that the EU may hold internet companies responsible for hate speech and other illegal speech published on their platforms, Facebook said this ignores the nature of the internet.”Such liability would stifle innovation as well as individuals’ freedom of expression,” it said in the white paper.It suggested new frameworks that should be proportionate and necessary.Zuckerberg’s visit came on the heels of visits by Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai and Microsoft President Brad Smith to Brussels last month.Vestager and Breton will announce proposals on Wednesday aimed at exploiting the bloc’s treasure trove of industrial data and challenging the dominance of Facebook, Google and Amazon.They will also propose rules to govern the use of artificial intelligence especially in high risk sectors such as healthcare and transport. 

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Innovative Program Empowers Female Students in Technology

Women and minorities pursuing computer science degrees often feel alone and isolated, since the field is overwhelmingly dominated by men. While about 60 percent of all 2017 bachelor’s degree recipients in the U.S. were women, only about 20 percent of Computer and Information Science bachelor’s degree recipients went to women, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). But an innovative program initiated by a global non-profit in partnership with universities across the U.S. has already made impressive gains in helping to boost those numbers. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.

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Facebook to Allow Paid Political Messages That Aren’t Ads

Facebook decided Friday to allow a type of paid political message that had sidestepped many of the social network’s rules governing political ads. Its policy change came days after presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg exploited a loophole to run such humorous messages promoting his campaign on the accounts of popular Instagram personalities followed by millions of younger people. The change involves what Facebook calls branded content'' — sponsored items posted by ordinary users who are typically paid by companies or organizations. Advertisers pay the influential users directly to post about their brand. No money for FacebookFacebook makes no money from such posts and does not consider them advertising. As a result, branded content isn't governed by Facebook's advertising policies, which require candidates and campaigns to verify their identity with a U.S. ID or mailing address and disclose how much they spent running each ad. Until Friday, Facebook tried to deter the use of paid posts through influential users as political messages. Specifically, it barred political campaigns from using a tool designed to help advertisers run branded posts on Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Friday's rule change will now allow campaigns in the U.S. to use this tool, provided they've been authorized by Facebook to run political ads and disclose who paid for the sponsored posts. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during his campaign launch of "Mike for Black America," at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Feb. 13, 2020, in Houston.The Bloomberg campaign took the unconventional step of paying social media influencers — individuals with huge followings — to post Bloomberg memes using their Instagram accounts. Different versions of the sponsored posts from the Bloomberg campaign ran on more than a dozen influential Instagram accounts, each of which has millions of followers. That effort skirted many of the rules that tech companies have imposed on political ads to safeguard U.S. elections from malicious foreign and domestic interference and misinformation. Online political ads have been controversial, especially after it was revealed Russia used them to try to influence the 2016 presidential election. In response, Facebook has rolled out rules to prevent a repeat of that, though it has declined to fact-check political ads and refuses to ban even blatantly false messages. The Bloomberg campaign's memes showed the 78-year-old candidate, in a tongue-in-cheek awkward fashion, chatting with popular social media influencers with names likeTank Sinatra,asking them to help him raise his profile among younger folk. Can you post a meme that lets everyone know I’m the cool candidate?” Bloomberg wrote in one of the exchanges posted by an account called F Jerry, which has nearly 15 million followers on Instagram. The candidate then sent a photo of him wearing baggy chino shorts, an orange polo and a zip-up vest. F Jerry’s account then replied, Ooof that will cost like a billion dollars.'' Bloomberg responded by asking where to send the money. Looking to broaden audienceWith the sponsored posts, Bloomberg's campaign said it was reaching those who might not be normally interested in the day-to-day developments of politics. You want to engage people at every platform and you want them to feel like they’re not just getting a canned generic statement,” campaign spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said of the campaign’s strategy. The campaign declined to say how much it paid for the sponsored posts, or if it had more of them in the works. The posts did not appear in Facebook’s ad transparency library, which catalogs the political ads that campaigns buy directly from Facebook or Instagram and tells users how much was spent on them. Bloomberg’s campaign told The Associated Press on Thursday that Instagram does not require the campaign to disclose that information on the sponsored posts it ran earlier this week. 

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Zuckerberg Accepts That Facebook May Have to Pay More Taxes

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to throw his support behind international reforms that would require Silicon Valley tech giants to pay more tax in Europe.
    
The billionaire social network founder is due to meet members of the European Union’s executive Commission in Brussels and speak at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.
    
Zuckerberg is expected to tell the conference on Saturday that he’s backing plans for digital tax reform on a global scale proposed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
    
According to an excerpt of his speech provided in advance, Zuckerberg will say, “I understand that there’s frustration about how tech companies are taxed in Europe.”
    
Zuckerberg will tell the conference that he’s glad that that the OECD is looking at tax reform, which Facebook also wants.
“And we accept that may mean we have to pay more tax and pay it in different places under a new framework,” Zuckerberg will reportedly say.
    
The OECD plans would require digital and internet companies, including social media platforms, to pay more tax in countries where they have significant consumer-facing activities and generate profits.
    
The current system for taxing multinationals is based on where they are physically located, which sees internet companies such as Facebook pay the majority of their tax in the United States.
    
The situation is even more complicated in the European Union, where multinationals largely pay taxes on business done across the region in the one country that serves as their EU base, often a low-tax haven.
    
Tech companies have faced criticism for not paying enough tax in come countries. The U.S., meanwhile, has criticized the OECD plans, arguing they discriminate against big Silicon Valley companies.

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US Court Halts Pentagon Work with Microsoft on Cloud Contract

A federal judge in Washington has halted, for now, a major U.S. Defense Department cyber contract, blocking Microsoft Corp. from working on the Pentagon’s JEDI cloud-computing initiative pending the resolution of a lawsuit brought by rival Amazon.com.In October, Microsoft was awarded the Pentagon’s Joint Enterprise Defense infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract, which has an estimated worth of around $10 billion over the next decade. The JEDI project will process and store classified data to provide the U.S. military improved communications with soldiers in the field as well as artificial intelligence to speed up war planning and fighting capabilities.By November, Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud computing division, filed a lawsuit alleging the Defense Department unfairly judged its bid for the contract. Amazon believes the process was tainted by U.S. President Donald Trump’s animosity towards Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s Chief Executive Officer and owner of The Washington Post newspaper, which Trump has regularly accused of bias against him.FILE – This April 12, 2016 file photo shows the Microsoft logo in Issy-les-Moulineaux, outside Paris, France.Court of Federal Claims Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith said the JEDI contract cannot continue to be enacted “until further order of the court.” Judge Campbell-Smith’s full opinion was sealed.While Amazon scored at least a preliminary victory, it is required to create a $42 million security fund that will be used to pay for any damages if the court later finds the injunction was improper.Earlier this week, Amazon asked the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to allow them to question Trump and top Pentagon leaders, including former defense secretary James Mattis and Defense Secretary Mark Esper about any political interference from the White House in the awarding of the contract.“We believe that we will ultimately be able to move forward with the work to make sure those who serve our country can access the new technology they urgently require,” said Microsoft’s spokesman Frank Shaw, adding that he is disappointed by the ruling and believes the Pentagon’s decision-making process was fair.

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Spain Disputes Tech Show Canceled for Health Motives

Organizers of the world’s biggest mobile technology fair insisted Thursday that they canceled the annual Mobile World Congress due to health and safety concerns over the virus outbreak in China. But the Spanish government disagreed, hinting that there was another motive for the cancellation.
“This is indeed a very difficult situation and a very difficult decision that we have taken,” Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, told reporters in Barcelona on Thursday, a day after they canceled the event.
“Our priorities have been very clear and very simple: The first is health and safety of everyone involved in the show and the second priority is the reputation of the MWC and this event here in Barcelona,” he said.
The decision to scrap the Feb. 24-27 event in Barcelona was taken after dozens of tech companies and wireless carriers dropped out over the COVID-19 virus, including major companies like Ericsson, Nokia, Sony, Amazon, Intel and LG. The companies cited concerns for the safety of staff and visitors.
But the Spanish government said in a statement Thursday it “believes it is not public health reasons in Spain that have motivated the cancellation.”
“There is no public health reason to not hold events of this type in our country,” the government added. It did not say what reasons it thought were behind the decision.
Spain has only two people infected with the virus, neither of whom is in Barcelona.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, sitting alongside Granryd, also said, “neither in Barcelona, Catalonia or Spain does any health concern exist today. There is no local reason” to cancel.
Granryd said the decision had nothing to do with the trade differences between China and the U.S., as suggested by one reporter who noted that some of those that had canceled were at events in Amsterdam.
“Absolutely not. Everyone I have spoken to, this is a health and safety issue concern, concern of travel, concern of having to put business-critical resources in quarantine for 14 days so it has nothing to do with anything else than the force majeure situation of having coronavirus disease spreading on the planet,” Granryd said.
John Hoffman, chief executive of GSMA, emphasized they were dealing with “business-critical people,” including 8,000 CEOs. He said “there was grave concern on disrupting their business not only now but into the future.”
Granryd said GSMA could not discuss the costs of the cancellation, as it was “early days.”
“It’s not about money,” he added.
Hoffman said they had considered a scaled-down event but “all of our buyers have indicated they would not attend.”
He said they looked at the data Wednesday and concluded that the “vast majority of those who planned to attend were not going to be there.”
He said it was not possible to postpone the event because it was impossible to know when the situation would change.
Describing it as “a very dark day,” Hoffman said that the group nevertheless looked forward to hosting the event again in Barcelona in 2021. Barcelona city hall and the national government welcomed this.
The show was originally expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors from about 200 countries, including 5,000-6,000 from China.
The decision stands to be a major economic blow to the city, which has been hosting the event for 14 years.
Colau said “the local impact will be very substantial” and that authorities will consult with those sectors affected to see how they can reduce the financial pain.
The show normally represents a huge source of revenue for hotels, restaurants and taxi companies. Authorities have estimated the show would generate 473 million euros ($516 million) and more than 14,000 part-time jobs for the local economy. 
 

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