Showdown between Facebook and Australia

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Facebook Inc FB.O will be “weakened” if it stops Australians from sharing news so the company can avoid paying for content under proposed laws, Australia’s top antitrust regulator said on Thursday.

Australia has proposed forcing Facebook and internet search giant Google GOOGL.O to pay local media outlets for content, drawing strong opposition from the U.S. companies in a dispute that is being watched by regulators and news organisations around the world.

Facebook said this month it would stop Australians from sharing local and international news on its website if the proposal becomes law. The company and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) are still negotiating before the regulator makes a formal recommendation to the government.

“It would be a shame for Australian democracy (and) it would be a shame for Facebook users if they took that course of action,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said in a speech delivered via Zoom.

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Inside Facebook’s new power grab

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Mark Zuckerberg is not a man used to failure. He has built a $600-billion empire, buying up or crushing most would-be competitors and brushing regulators aside. When, in 2015, he personally headed up an effort – first called internet.org, then “Free Basics” – to help 3.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to the internet get connected, he might have expected praise for what he framed as philanthropy. The service would offer free unlimited access to a selection of hand-picked websites to people in India and countries across Asia, South America and Africa – getting more people online while, incidentally, making Facebook the controllers of the front page of the internet for these new users.

The praise did not come. Facebook was accused of “digital colonialism”, and of creating “poor internet for poor people”. There were even street protests against Free Basics in India, the country Zuckerberg had visited to promote the initiative. As political pressure mounted, in 2016 Free Basics was effectively outlawed by Indian regulators. The debacle was for a time described as “Facebook’s biggest setback”. If you only look at the headlines, Free Basics – and Facebook’s mission to connect the world – all but disappeared after that. But the reality of what happened next is very different.

“The project kept expanding – albeit much more discreetly,” explains Dr Toussaint Nothias, director of research at the Stanford Digital Civil Society Lab. “At the end of 2015, Facebook reported that Free Basics was available in 30 countries. Today, they say it’s available in ‘more than 55 countries’. In Africa [alone], I found that it’s available in 29 countries.”

Working far more quietly than before, Facebook has spearheaded efforts across the globe to connect people to the internet – working on technology, software, business models and more. The company refined Free Basics to give it less control over which sites users could access, and in May 2020 launched a successor, Discover, which allows users a daily allowance of data they can use to access any website.

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Busting up big tech is popular, but here’s what the US may lose

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies remotely during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on antitrust on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington.

Lawmakers don’t like them, but what they bring to the competition with China may be too valuable to break up.

The heads of Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon appeared before angry lawmakers Wednesday as Congress prepares to weigh new anti-monopoly regulations, including possibly breaking them up. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg turned to a familiar argument, saying that breaking up the big tech companies would hurt U.S. competitiveness against China in developing new technologies and America’s ability to curb Chinese influence globally.

So are U.S tech giants an asset to the U.S. in its competition with China or a hindrance?

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Facebook built a new fiber-spinning robot to make internet service cheaper

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Facebook has designed a robot that can install fiber on traditional power lines, as shown in this rendering.

 The robot’s code name is Bombyx, which is Latin for silkworm, and pilot tests with the machine begin next year.

The robot rests delicately atop a power line, balanced high above the ground, almost as if it’s floating. Like a short, stocky tightrope walker, it gradually makes its way forward, leaving a string of cable in its wake. When it comes to a pole, it gracefully elevates its body to pass the roadblock and keep chugging along.

This isn’t a circus robot. Facebook developed the machine to install fiber cables on medium-voltage power lines around the globe. The aim is to make it cheaper for internet service providers to build out their networks using super-fast and reliable fiber connections. Installing fiber is a pricey endeavor, limiting where it can be deployed. If the cost of installation goes down, says Facebook, so too does the cost of service for the end user.

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Facebook wants to make thought-hearing glasses

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Plus smart glasses from Google, transforming drones, AR clothing and other patents from Big Tech.

It’s the weekend! Time to switch my digital avatar’s outfit from a suit to lounge pants. I don’t actually live in VR yet (though I did try working in it this week), but a new patent from Amazon might make that a reality sooner rather than later. The company’s also working on drones that could get deliveries to me even quicker than its other drones, and Facebook is working on making immersive videos work on any screen in my house. Who needs to go outside when I can bring the entire world to my couch? Big Tech’s patents this week seem very on board with me staying at home as long as I want to.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Facebook’s new AI tool will automatically identify items you put up for sale

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‘We want to make anything and everything on the platform shoppable’

Facebook is launching what it’s calling a “universal product recognition model” that uses artificial intelligence to identify consumer goods, from furniture to fast fashion to fast cars.

It’s the first step toward a future where the products in every image on its site can be identified and potentially shopped for. “We want to make anything and everything on the platform shoppable, whenever the experience feels right,” Manohar Paluri, head of Applied Computer Vision at Facebook, told The Verge. “It’s a grand vision.”

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Internet giants to staff: Plan to work from home for 2020

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Google exec says science drives decision to return to offices

Elon Musk wants people to return to work. Google and Facebook Inc. have another message for their staff: get ready to stay home for all of 2020.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google and its parent, Alphabet Inc., told employees on Thursday to prepare to work remotely through October and possibly to the end of the year, according to people familiar with the decision. A spokeswoman confirmed that the majority of staff is expected to work from home until 2021.

Two weeks ago, Pichai wrote an email to his workforce that said some offices would open as soon as June. On Friday, Pichai told employees only about 10% to 15% of the workers would be on-site in June, with more returns varying by division and location, according to an internal memo. About 5% of employees now are working in Google offices, Pichai said. CNBC reported earlier on the memo. Most of the workforce won’t return until at least the end of October, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

On Thursday, Facebook told employees that they can work remotely through 2020 if they like. The social media company doesn’t expect to open most offices until July 6 at the earliest.

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Facebook enter commerce with ‘shops’ to bring millions of small businesses online

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Facebook is bringing 160 million small businesses online to help them survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Shops starts rolling out today.

In a significant push for ecommerce and social commerce, Facebook is launching Shops to bring online millions of small businesses that have been struggling due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Shops, which enables businesses to set up free stores and live shopping tabs on Facebook and Instagram, is the tech giant’s attempt to restart the global economy by enabling commerce. “If you can’t physically open your store or restaurant, you can still take orders online and ship them to people,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained in a live stream.

“We’re seeing a lot of small businesses that never had online businesses get online for the first time,” he added.

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Human actors are changing the spread of disinformation

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Disinformation campaigns used to consist of trolls and bots orchestrated and manipulated to produce a desired result. Increasingly, though, these campaigns are able to find willing human participants to amplify their messages and even generate new ones on their own.

The big picture: It’s as if they’re switching from employees to volunteers — and from participants who are in on the game to those who actually believe the disinformational payload they’re delivering.

Why it matters: Understanding this changing nature is critical to preparing for the next generation of information threats, including those facing the 2020 presidential campaign.

Speaking at Stanford University Tuesday, researcher Kate Starbird — a University of Washington professor who runs a lab that studies mass participation — traced the change across the stories of three different campaigns.

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Mark Zuckerberg says brain-reading wearables are coming, but certain functions may require implanted devices

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes his keynote speech during Facebook Inc’s annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S., April 30, 2019.

 Zuckerberg said on Thursday said that he’s thinking more about brain-controlling wearable and implantable technology.

“The goal is to eventually make it so that you can think something and control something in virtual or augmented reality,” he said.

Mark Zuckerberg said on Thursday that he wants to work on brain-controlling wearable and implantable technology, and Facebook’s recent acquisition of CTRL-labs was a step in that direction.

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Facebook is challenging researchers to build a deep fakes detector

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Why it makes sense to fight deepfakes with deepfakes.

Deepfakes are becoming so convincing that it’s hard to tell them from real videos. And that could soon spell disaster, eroding trust in what we see online.

That’s why Facebook is teaming up with a consortium of researchers from Microsoft and several prominent research universities for a “Deepfake Detection Challenge.”

The idea is to build a data set, with the help of human user input, that’ll help neural networks detect what is and isn’t a deepfake. The end result, if all goes well, will be a system that can reliably fake videos online.

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Facebook is funding brain experiments to create a device that reads your mind

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Big tech firms are trying to read people’s thoughts, and no one’s ready for the consequences.

In 2017, Facebook announced that it wanted to create a headband that would let people type at a speed of 100 words per minute, just by thinking.

Now, a little over two years later, the social-media giant is revealing that it has been financing extensive university research on human volunteers.

Today, some of that research was described in a scientific paper from the University of California, San Francisco, where researchers have been developing “speech decoders” able to determine what people are trying to say by analyzing their brain signals.

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