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Former Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger faced questions today from the House of Lords about the inner workings of the Facebook's Oversight Board.
Rusbridger, who is one of 20 sitting on the board, was asked about the members' independence from Facebook as well as how they deal with difficult cases related to misinformation about coronavirus.
He expressed frustration at the board's limited scope, saying the members planned to push for more powers including creating a "sin bin" for users who broke platforms rules and they also wanted access to Facebook's algorithm.
The grilling formed part of the Lord's inquiry into Freedom of Expression online, designed to try and understand the best way policy can protect free expression on the internet in balance with other priorities.
That's it for today
We'll be back tomorrow - see you then.
Incoming US markets watchdog hints at crackdown on trading apps
Joe Biden’s incoming markets watchdog has indicated he will crack down on trading apps such as Robinhood after the smartphone investing app’s central role in the GameStop trading controversy.
Gary Gensler, the US President’s pick to run the Securities and Exchange Commission, outlined concerns about the design and business model of Robinhood, which has been criticised for “gamifying” investing and encouraging risky trading.
“Technology is providing greater access, but it also raises interesting questions… what does it mean when balloons and confetti are dropping and you have behavioural prompts to get investors to do more transactions,” Mr Gensler said.
He added that he would closely scrutinise Robinhood’s business model, which allows users to trade for free but takes payments from market makers to execute the trades, a model that has led to fears traders are being ripped off.
“[It] appears to be a free trading app, but then there’s this payment… [a] behind the scenes business payment for order flow. We think we’re going to need to study that and think about it.”
Robinhood, which was last year valued at $11.7bn (£8.4bn), is reportedly preparing to file for a New York flotation in the coming weeks.
Crowdfunding sites earn thousands from Covid disinformation
British crowdfunding websites are being used to fund battles against lockdown rules, in some cases for campaigns spreading disinformation reports my colleague Matthew Field.
The website CrowdJustice gained prominence after anti-Brexit protests led by Gina Miller raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for their successful legal challenge against the Government over Article 50.
But since lockdown, the site has also been used to fund challenges against coronavirus lockdowns,
On the British site CrowdJustice, users can sign up to raise money to cover legal costs for court cases with the company taking a 3pc cut.
The site gained prominence after anti-Brexit protests led by Gina Miller raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for their successful legal challenge against the Government over Article 50.
But since lockdown, it has also been used to fund challenges against coronavirus lockdowns such as the SaveUsNow campaign, led by Mark Steele, who claims 5G technology is part of a government “kill grid".
A spokesperson for CrowdJustice said that its website had also been used to raise tens of thousands of pounds for a case that pushed the government to change its guidance on PPE to better protect doctors.
Read the full story here.
Uber Spins Off Robot Delivery Unit
Uber will spin Postmates’ robot delivery division into an independent startup and co-lead what’s expected to be a $50 million investment.
The new company, Serve Robotics, takes its name from the delivery robot developed and piloted by Postmates, the delivery startup Uber acquired last year for $2.65bn (£1.90bn).
Serve Robotics will launch with a small fleet of Postmates robots that can already be found delivering food around Los Angeles.
Uber will be a minority shareholder in Serve Robotics, the companies told Bloomberg.
Toyota to sell bonds to fund high-tech metropolis
Toyota will sell up to 500 billion yen (£3.37bn) worth of sustainability bonds to help fund a 175-acre high-tech metropolis situated at the base of Mount Fuji.
The Japanese automaker said the issue, dubbed the “Woven Planet Bonds”, will be used towards making the city into a “living laboratory” for its smart technologies.
The city will feature three types of streets interwoven with each other on the ground level; one dedicated to automated driving, one to pedestrians, and one to pedestrians with personal mobility vehicles.
The community will start with roughly 360 residents, mainly senior citizens, families with young children, and will eventually have a population of more than 2,000 individuals including Toyota employees.
The sale of the bonds, which will represent one of the world’s biggest offerings of its kind, will also help with separate projects around the reduction of CO2 emissions from cars as well as the realisation zero casualties from road traffic accidents.
It comes amid soaring demand for debt in Japan. The volume of Japanese deals for environmental, social, and governance bonds, have jumped by 14pc to 319.9bn yen so far this year, according to figures from Bloomberg.
Toyota said in a statement that the automotive industry was entering a “once-in-a-century transformational period”.
“Taking advantage of this opportunity, Toyota is transforming itself from an automobile manufacturing company into a mobility company,” it said.
“Through its effort to evolve, Toyota hopes to provide society with greater value and contribute to the achievement of the sustainable development goals through its business activities.”
Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese Prime Minister, pledged to decarbonise Japan by 2050 and ban the sale of new gasoline-only vehicles by the mid-2030s.
A focus on reducing carbon emissions has swelled among companies in the nation following Suga’s October pledge.
The bond issue comes after Toyota reclaimed the title of the world’s biggest car company by value.
The company took the crown for the first time in five years after it sold 9.53m in 2020, slightly more than the 9.31m cars sold by Volkswagen.
Rusbridger warns against government fines that could deter Big Tech challengers
Rusbridger and Klonick are asked about their thoughts on potential plans by the government to fine technology companies for content moderation failures.
"Facebook can pay almost limitless fines, Google can too," says Rusbridger.
"If we're trying to encourage innovation and new players and not have these gigantic monolithic companies, the prospect of huge fines for content moderation failures makes me nervous because I think that going to deter people from coming in and challenging."
Board members need to "get to grips" with algorithms
When asked about the role of algorithms in moderating content, Rusbridger again stresses the Oversight Board needs more people who understand complex technologies.
"We need more technological people on board.... because I think this is going to be a very difficult thing to understand how this artificial intelligence works."
He adds: "As a board, we're going to have to get to grips with that, even if that takes many sessions with coders speaking very slowly."
Klonick slams the algorithms as "non-transparent" and warns against considering them as robots for which the company can't be held accountable.
"Algorithms are not one thing and also they are human," she says. "They are written by humans, they're made by humans, they are informed by data that is generated by humans."
Facebook staff "kicked out" of board meetings
Rusbridger says he has not met Mark Zuckerberg or any Facebook executives since he became a board member. "So I feel highly independent," he said.
The former Guardian editor is asked to elaborate on what happened when the board kicked Facebook representatives out of their meetings.
He said, in the early days, the board members received training from Facebook on how content moderation works.
"At some point, we got to the point where the training had ended and on the Zoom screen you could see there was still one or two people from Facebook in there," he said.
"We kicked them out. We haven't seen them since."
Treat harmful and offensive content "differently"
Rusbridger says content that causes "harm" and "offence" should be treated differently.
"So, to take the COVID case, I thought there was a difference between a medically qualified doctor arguing for a drug before a regulatory agency and somebody saying inject bleach," he says.
Kate Klonick, an expert in online speech and professor at St. John’s University School of Law in New York, says Facebook has an incentive to over-censor speech.
"[Facebook] would be best served to not create a huge PR rumble by keeping up a lot of potentially very dangerous speech," she says.
"The independence of the board is in some ways very much in Facebook's best interest because it makes a lot of these hard decisions that Facebook doesn't want to be on the hook for making."
"We're not there to please Facebook"
"My experience of my colleagues is they are quite bolshie, they don't want to have anything to do with Facebook," says Rusbridger.
"We turfed Facebook out of our meetings when we realised some people were sitting there."
Rusbridger warns against pushing speech underground
"One of the most interesting cases that we've done so far was the French doctor who was very keen on hydroxychloroquine and Facebook banned that because they said that's a crank solution and we don't believe in misinformation," says Rusbridger, referencing the case of Dr Didier Raoult.
"But if you looked at it really, it was addressed really to the French regulation agency and trying to influence them to be more receptive to this and I'm very worried by banning that kind of speech because where does it then go? It'll go underground it'll go into encrypted channels."
He adds: "You're not really solving anything by pushing it underground. So, I have some sympathies with Facebook because a blanket ban on COVID misinformation would be an easier thing for moderators and machines to understand."
Oversight members will ask to see Facebook's algorithm
"At some point we are going to ask to see the algorithm. I feel sure," says Rusbridger. "Whether we can understand it when we see it that's a different matter."
He adds: "These are all things down the road."
Board "frustrated" by it's scope
"The board will want to expand in its scope. I think we're already a bit frustrated by just 'take it down, leave it up'," Rusbridger says, adding the members may ask Facebook for sin bins or "yellow cards" for users.
"What happens if you want to make something less viral... What happens if - without commenting on any high profile current cases - you didn't want to ban somebody for life but you wanted to have a sin bin so they if they misbehave, you could cut them off again, sort of a yellow card," he says.
"I think all these things are things that the board may ask Facebook for in time but we have to get our feet under the table first and prove that we can do what we want."
Difficulty communicating board decisions to machine moderators
"It's important that the decisions we make are understandable by human moderators. Ideally, they are also understandable by machines as well," said the former Guardian editor.
"And there is a tension there because sometimes you look at the facts of the case you've decided in a particular way... but in the knowledge that's going to be quite a tall order for a machine to understand the difference between that case and another case."
"We need more people who understand technology," says Rusbridger
"They wanted a diversity of candidates who represented legal backgrounds, human rights, free speech, editorial and government," says Rusbridger of the board's selection process.
"It was very important it wasn't perceived to be dominated by Americans," he adds.
For the next 20 board members, he says all current board members have been invited to nominate people.
"We need more people who understand technology to be honest," he says.
Alan Rusbridger to answer questions from House of Lords on Facebook Oversight Board
Former Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger will appear in front of the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee today from 3pm.
Rusbridger will face questions about his role as one of 20 members sat on Facebook's Oversight Board, an independent body designed to advise the social network what content should be removed and what should not.
The probe is part of the House of Lords' inquiry into freedom of expression online, which is trying to establish the best way policy can protect free expression on the internet in balance with other priorities.
Rusbridger will appear alongside Kate Klonick, an expert in online speech and professor at St. John’s University School of Law in New York.
India attempts to woo Tesla away from China
India is attempting to lure Tesla production away from China by promising reduced production costs, it has been reported.
Nitin Gadkari, the country’s transport minister, said India was ready to offer incentives to Elon Musk’s automaker that would ensure it was cheaper to build there than in China.
“Rather than assembling (the cars) in India they should make the entire product in the country by hiring local vendors. Then we can give higher concessions,” Mr Gadkari said in an interview with Reuters, without giving further details of what the incentives would be.
Mr Gadkari’s pitch comes after Tesla registered a company in India where it could enter the market as soon as the middle of this year.
Reuters reported that sources familiar with the matter have said Tesla plans to start by importing and selling its Model 3 electric sedan in India.
Unions push for more Uber scrutiny after claims its photo ID tech was racist
Unions have called for a clampdown on how Uber uses automated systems after the company faced fresh accusations that its photo identification tech had been "racist" and led to some ethnic minority couriers being fired. My colleague Hannah Boland reports:
The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB) and GMB criticised Uber's automated systems, which include selfie technology for its couriers and drivers, so they can prove who they are to log onto the app.
Earlier this week, Wired reported that at least 14 British couriers for Uber Eats had had their accounts frozen or were fired after the systems were unable to recognise who they were. Uber Eats is understood to rely on both the automated systems as well as human verification, and argues accounts are never blocked purely because of AI software.
Read the full story here.
Elizabeth Warren agrees Bitcoin is "speculative in nature and could end badly"
Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren has agreed that Bitcoin is "speculative in nature and could end badly", during an interview with CNBC.
The cryptocurrency has soared in value this year and is now worth around $49,035, having moderated down from a high of $58,000 last month.
When asked if she agreed with the sentiments of Janet Yellen, the US treasury secretary, that the digital asset was speculative, she said that Ms Yellen was a "really smart woman".
Twitter to label vaccine misinformation
Twitter is set to begin labelling tweets that have potentially misleading information about the coronavirus vaccines.
The social media company also said it would introduce a strike system that could result in a permanent suspension for serial offenders.
"Labels will first be applied by our team members when they determine content violates our policy," Twitter said in a blog on Monday.
"Those assessments will be used to further inform our automated tools and to advance our proactive capacity to identify and label similar content across the service."
Twitter said its goal was to eventually use both AI and humans to review misinformation around the vaccines.
The company's strike system will operate on the below rules:
One strike: no account-level action
Two strikes: 12-hour account lock
Three strikes: 12-hour account lock
Four strikes: 7-day account lock
Five or more strikes: permanent suspension
Amazon faces shareholder vote on putting warehouse workers on board
Ecommerce giant Amazon is facing new pressure over its treatment of staff. The company's shareholders are set to vote on plans that would put warehouse workers on its board. As James Titcomb reports:
The online retail giant has agreed to let shareholders decide on a proposal from Oxfam that would force it to consider hourly workers when assigning new seats on its board of directors.
The measure is being pushed by the charity as Amazon workers at a warehouse in Alabama are separately voting to form a union, in what would be a first for the company in the US.
The Oxfam proposal, which has won support from state pension committees’ and US worker groups, would require Amazon to include hourly associates, such as those who work in its warehouses, on its shortlists for new board nominees.
Read the full story here.
World's first supersonic drone launches
Kelley Aerospace has launched the world's first supersonic unmanned combat aerial vehicle, with the drones going on sale for $16m (£11.5m).
The "Arrow" unmanned combat vehicle is able to travel at up to Mach 2.1, significantly faster than the speed of sound which is Mach 1.
Kelley said it had already received 100 pre-orders for the drones, which were priced between $9m and $16m.
“UAVs are known for their persistence…loitering, [but] are never known for their speed" said Kelley Aerospace chief executive Ian Lim at a December launch event. "So with the Arrow supersonic UAV, you will overcome the issues of speed and reach."
The futuristic drone can be launched autonomously or it can be remotely controlled by two operators on the ground.
According to reports, the Arrow can be deployed for intelligence, surveillance or target acquisition but it can also be armed.
The drones, which are made from single shell of carbon fibre, can be flown in formations or in "drone swarms", a technique designed to overwhelm enemy air defence systems.
"The main driver for supersonic unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) is to allow them to operate alongside piloted, supersonic fast jets in tactical situations without having to coordinate between aircraft types with very different levels of performance," said Justin Bronk, research fellow for airpower and technology at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
"In other words, UCAVs designed for 'loyal wingman' type operations are more likely to be designed with supersonic performance than ones designed to operate independently."
More than a third of young adults show signs of smartphone addiction
More than a third of people aged between 18 and 30 have experienced smartphone addiction symptoms, according to a new study from King's College London.
According to the research, 39pc of those young adults reported the symptoms, which include things such as losing control over how long they were spending on their phones or neglecting other parts of their life.
Of those reporting symptoms, more than two thirds said they had experienced poor sleep.
Samantha Sohn, the lead author of the report, said: "Smartphones are increasingly becoming indispensable parts of our daily lives, and this study is an important step in looking at their impact in terms of dysfunctional use and on sleep in a UK population."
Smartphone addiction is not formally recognised as a clinical diagnosis, although is increasingly seen as a behavioural addiction.
Musk’s Clubhouse invite to Putin came to nothing, Kremlin says
Elon Musk’s invitation for President Vladimir Putin to join him for a chat on social network Clubhouse came to nothing, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.
Moscow had sought further details on the chat but received no response, Bloomberg reported. The Tesla boss invited Putin to join him on Clubhouse, a prospect the Kremlin said was very interesting.
A Kremlin spokesman said that they had not received a response from Musk but chalked it up to having been a misunderstanding.
Zoom predicts boom will continue even after virus subsides
The video chat firm said it expects healthy revenues this year as lockdowns soften into a world of 'hybrid' working. My colleague Laurence Dodds reports:
The video chat company, whose fortunes have soared since the start of the pandemic, reported sales of $882m (£633m) in the three months ending in January, handily beating Wall Street's expectations.
Shares jumped by as much as 10pc in after-hours trading on Monday, though they were still 20pc below their peak in October 2020, when new waves of coronavirus infections were starting to crash into Western economies.
Read the full piece here.
Apple to bring 120hz display to iPhone 13 series, analyst says
Apple is set to drastically improve the quality of the display on its next range of iPhones, according to a high-profile analyst of the tech giant.
The Cupertino firm will double the refresh rate of its handsets to 120hz, making movement on-screen much smoother, Ming-Chi Kuo said in an investor note first reported by 9to5Mac. Kuo said the smartphones will again launch in a quartet of models ranging in different sizes and specs.
The note also predicts the iPhone will again come with a lightening charging port, which would put an end to speculation that the company would pivot to USB-C or portless charging this year.
"The market expects the iPhone to abandon Lightning in favor of USB-C and equip the power button with the Touch ID sensor, but our latest survey indicates that there is no visibility on the current schedule for the iPhone to adopt these two new specifications," the note stated.
Rudy Giuliani suspended from YouTube over false claims around 2020 election
Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s lawyer has been banned from YouTube for two weeks after making false claims about the 2020 election.
The Alphabet-owned site said Mr Giuliani had broken its election integrity rules as well as its policy against promoting nicotine sales, according to Bloomberg.
Mr Giuliani, who was central to the former president’s bid to overturn the election, is now one strike away from a permanent suspension from the site, YouTube said.
The video-streaming sites claims appear to be a reference to bizarre commercial interludes in which the former New York City mayor broke off from groundless claims about mass election fraud to recommend his viewers visit an online cigar shop.
A spokesman for YouTube said: “We removed content from the Rudy W Giuliani channel for violating our sale of regulated goods policy, which prohibits content facilitating the use of nicotine, and our presidential election integrity policy.
“Additionally, in accordance with our long standing strikes system, we issued a strike against the Rudy W Giuliani channel, which temporarily restricts uploading or live-streaming.”
eBay to sell UK arm of Gumtree in bid to get Adevinta merger over the line
US online marketplace giant eBay has pledged to sell its UK arm of Gumtree in a bid to win approval for its $9.2bn (£6.63bn) merger with Norwegian classifieds firm Adevinta.
The pair announced their intention to merge last July but has since faced a probe from Britain’s competition watchdog.
The Competition and Markets Authority said the companies had offered substantial divestments in order to secure a green light for the deal.
Ebay offered to sell its UK Gumtree business, which includes Motors.co.uk, the CMA said in a blog post on Tuesday. Adevinta meanwhile has offered to divest from second-hand selling site Shpock.
The authority said it considered the offers could be “reasonable grounds” for the merger to receive approval.
Last month, the CMA said that it may be the case that the deal could result in a “substantial lessening of competition” in the UK and that it would push ahead with a phase 2 investigation.
The authority is expected to rule on the merger before the end of April.
Eric Schmidt-led commission joins calls for more domestic chip production
A commission headed up by Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive of Google, has backed calls for the US to up its domestic production of semiconductors.
Massive demand for domestic consumer electronics and strained supply chains have led to a global shortage of the crucial computer chips.
The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, led by Mr Schmidt, argued that the US needed to restrict China’s ability to manufacture the chips, in a report commissioned for President Joe Biden and Congress.
The 700-plus page report also argues that the US must keep at least two generations ahead of China’s chipmaking abilities, according to a report from the BBC. It states that America needs to offer huge tax breaks to encourage companies to build the chips in the US.
The commission, which was also headed up Robert Work, the former deputy defence secretary in the Trump and Obama administrations, also called for restrictions on China that would prevent it from being able to bring in machines that are used to make advanced chips.
Mr Schmidt also warned that the US was close to losing its technological lead over China due to its reliance on Taiwan, the home of the TSMC, the world’s largest chip manufacturer. Mr Work also stated the threat of the over-reliance on Taiwan was amplified by China’s views on the country, which it regards as a breakaway province.
Volvo to sell electric-only cars by 2030
Swedish car brand Volvo has set an ambitious target of selling only battery-powered cars by 2030.
The Chinese-owned company also said that its electric vehicles will only be available for sale online.
The move from Volvo comes after similar announcements by Jaguar Land Roval, General Motors, and Volkswagen, which have all outlined plans for electrification.
“We choose to invest in the future -- electric and online,” Hakan Samuelsson, Volvo’s chief executive, said.
“We are fully focused on becoming a leader in the fast-growing premium electric segment.”
The company expects half of the cars its sells to be fully-electric by 2025, which the remainder being various types of hybrids.
'No going back' to cinema-only runs, says Disney chief
The pandemic has caused a fundamental shift in people’s attitude towards filmgoing, according to Bob Chapek, the chief executive of Disney.
Mr Chapek has overseen the introduction of the hugely-successful streaming service Disney+, which has in excess of 94m subscribers worldwide.
During the pandemic Disney opted to introduce a number of live-action films, including Mulan and Artemis Fowl, straight to its streaming site while cinemas across the world were shut.
Speaking at a Morgan Stanley media and technology conference on Monday, Mr Chapek said he was “not sure there’s going back” after people’s attitudes had changed over the past year.
“The consumer is probably more impatient than they’ve ever been before, particularly since now they’ve had the luxury of an entire year of getting titles at home pretty much when they want them,” he said.
“We like to let the consumer be our guide in almost all situations.I don’t think there’ll be the tolerance for a title being out of theatrical for months and yet it hasn’t had its chance for it to be thrown into the marketplace in another distribution channel.”
Mr Chapek said the company did not want to “cut the legs off a theatrical exhibition run” but that the old approach, where movies were out in theatres but not available at home, was no longer viable.
Coming up today
3pm - Alan Rusbridger answers questions from the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee
6.15pm – Netflix chief operating officer Greg Peters speaks at a Morgan Stanley conference
7pm – Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg also speaks
9pm – Hewlett Packard reports fourth quarter earnings
Five things to start your day
1) Zoom predicts boom will continue even after virus subsides The video chat firm said it expects healthy revenues this year as lockdowns soften into a world of 'hybrid' working
2) Netflix has experimented with automatic subtitles for children’s shows in bid to boost literacy Netflix is one of a handful of streaming giants that has been persuaded of the benefits of subtitles for improving children’s reading skills
3) Uber boss claims drivers want flexibility more than employee benefits Dara Khosrowshahi says drivers 'overwhelmingly value flexibility' as their first priority despite Uber's landmark court defeat in the UK
4) MPs spent nearly £40,000 of taxpayers' money on Apple gadgets after working from home uplift in expenses Top of the range wireless earphones, laptops, iPads and iPhones were among the items claimed by MPs
5) Children 'left to tackle social media giants alone over dangerous algorithms' UK's decision not to let charities sue tech firms on behalf of families will leave young people 'unprotected', leading peer warns