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Just In: Facebook removes 265 ‘fake accounts’

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Facebook on Thursday said it had removed 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts, pages, groups and events linked to an Israeli-based firm due to what it called “inauthentic behaviour” targeting users in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa.

The move is part of wider efforts by Facebook to address concerns over privacy lapses and hate speech in social media.

Facebook said the “inauthentic” activity originated in Israel and focused on Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia as well as in Latin America and Southeast Asia. “The people behind this network used fake accounts to run pages, disseminate their content and artificially increase engagement,” Nathaniel, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook said in a statement.

He identified Israel’s Archimedes Group as the source of some of the activity. “This organisation and all its subsidiaries are now banned from Facebook, and it has been issued a cease and desist letter,” said Gleicher.

Archimedes was not immediately available for comment Gleicher said Archimedes had 65 Facebook accounts, 161 pages, 12 events and four Instagram accounts. Some 2.8 million accounts followed one or more of these pages.

He said that the individuals involved also represented themselves as locals, including local news organisations, and published allegedly leaked information about politicians. “The page administrators and account owners frequently posted about political news, including topics like elections in various countries, candidate views and criticism of political opponents,” Gleicher said.

“We’re taking down these pages and accounts based on their behaviour, not the content they posted.”

He added that around 812,000 dollars was spent for advertisements on Facebook paid for in Brazilian reals, Israeli shekels and U.S. dollars with the first ad running in 2012 and the most recent last month, Gleicher said. “We have shared information about our analysis with industry partners and policymakers,” he said.

Similarly, Amnesty International on Thursday called for Israel’s government to ensure that an Israeli company, whose spyware has been linked to a WhatsApp breach that may have targeted human rights groups, be held accountable for the way its software is used.

Amnesty on Tuesday filed a petition in Israel seeking the revocation of NSO Group’s export licence and said that it was up to the government to take a firmer stance against export licenses that have “resulted in human rights abuses.”

Israel’s Ministry of Defence declined to comment.

WhatsApp, a unit of Facebook, said on Tuesday that a security breach on its messaging app may have targeted human rights groups.

According to Eva Galperin, Director of cybersecurity at San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, WhatsApp told human rights groups it believed the spyware used was developed by Israel’s NSO.A second person familiar with the matter also identified spyware from NSO.

Amnesty said in an emailed statement that NSO has “again and again demonstrated their intent to avoid responsibility for the way their software is used,” and that only government intervention would change that.

NSO has not commented on any specific attacks, but following the WhatsApp breach it said it would investigate any “credible allegations of misuse” of its technology which “is solely operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies”.

NSO’s biggest shareholder, Novalpina Capital, said in a statement that it intends to bring NSO’s governance into alignment with UN principles and will seek insights from Amnesty and other groups “into how best to achieve this important goal.”

WhatsApp, one of the world’s most popular messaging tools which are used by 1.5 billion people monthly, said it had notified the U.S. Department of Justice to help with an investigation into the breach.

And it encouraged its users to update to the latest version of the app, where the breach had been fixed.

One target of the new WhatsApp exploit was a United Kingdom-based human rights lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

The United Kingdom-based human rights lawyer is helping a Saudi dissident and several Mexican journalists mount civil cases against NSO for its alleged role in selling hacking tools to the Saudi and Mexican governments, which they alleged were used to hack into their phones.

NSO says it sells only to law enforcement and intelligence agencies pursuing legitimate targets, such as terrorists and criminals.

Novalpina, in a May 15 letter to Amnesty signed by founding partner Stephen Peel, said Novalpina was “determined to do whatever is necessary to ensure that NSO technology is used for the purpose for which it is intended.

“The prevention of harm to fundamental human rights arising from terrorism and serious crime – and not abused in a manner that undermines other equally fundamental human rights.”

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Facebook suspends pre-installation of WhatsApp, Instagram apps on Huawei phones

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Facebook Inc. said on Friday it would no longer allow pre-installation of its WhatsApp, Instagram and other apps on new Huawei phones.

Facebook told Reuters in San Francisco that customers who already had Huawei phones would still be able to use its apps and receive updates.

“But new Huawei phones will no longer be able to have Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram apps pre-installed,” Facebook Inc said.

Smartphone vendors often enter business deals to pre-install popular apps such as Facebook, including Twitter and Booking.com also come pre-installed on Huawei phones in many markets.

Twitter Inc declined to comment and Booking Holdings did not respond to a request on the matter.

The latest blow is a hurdle for the Chinese tech giant as it struggles to keep its business afloat in the face of a US ban on its purchase of American parts and software.

The move by Facebook dampens the sales outlook for Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, whose smartphone business became its biggest revenue generator last year, powered by strong growth in Europe and Asia.

Huawei declined to comment on the issue.

Alphabet Inc’s Google said earlier that it would no longer provide Android software for Huawei phones after a 90-day reprieve granted by the US government expires in August.

But Google’s Play store and all Google apps will still be available for current models of Huawei phones, including those which have not yet shipped or even been built.

The Facebook ban, by contrast, applies to any Huawei phone that has not yet left the factory, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Facebook declined to comment on when the suspension took place.

In May, Washington banned US companies from supplying technology to Huawei, part of a long-running campaign against the company.

The US alleges that Huawei is too close to the Chinese government and that its telecom network gear and other products could be a conduit for espionage, which Huawei denies.

Buyers of current Huawei phone models that do not have Facebook pre-installed would still be able to download it from the Google Playstore.

Future versions of Huawei phones, however, will not have access to the Google Playstore and its apps unless the US government changes course.

Huawei has said it was prepared for the US action and vowed to work around any disruptions.

But some customers at stores in Europe and Asia have told Reuters that they are reluctant to buy Huawei phones in the face of uncertainties, and analysts expect a dramatic drop in Huawei smartphone sales.

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Researcher’s Experiments With Monkey Offer Clues On Origin Of Language

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Green and vervet monkeys live on either side of Africa and their evolutionary paths diverged 3.5 million years ago, and yet the two species share a hard-wired vocabulary when faced with danger, clever experiments have shown.

The new research, published on Monday, sheds light not only on how primates — including humans — respond to threats but also on the building blocks of language itself.

Vervet monkeys in the savannah of East Africa utter three distinct cries depending on whether they spot a leopard, a snake or an eagle, their three main predators.

Fellow monkeys who hear the cries but cannot see the peril react accordingly: the leopard call sends them scurring up a tree, a snake call prompts them to stand motionless on two legs, and the eagle cry makes them scan the sky while seeking shelter.

It’s as if a sentinel is shouting, “Freeze, it’s a snake!”, or “Get off the ground, it’s a leopard!”

The discovery thirty years ago of these unique warning cries sparked debate as to whether they were like primitive words, noted Julia Fisher, head of the cognitive ethology laboratory at the German Primate Center in Gottingen, Germany and senior author of a study in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

It also raised the question of where they came from. Did young vervets learn them through imitation, were the cries genetically imprinted?

To deepen their understanding, Fisher and colleagues set up an experiment with a community of green monkeys in Senegal which they have been observing for more than a decade.

Like their distant cousins across the continent, green monkeys also emit specific danger calls for big cats and snakes, and react accordingly.

But because the raptors in their neighbourhood pose no threat, anything like the vervet “eagle call” is simply not in their repertoire.

Even when the scientists tried to scare the green monkey with dummy birds, it didn’t work.

“Any attempt to get them to vocalise in response to model eagles failed utterly,” said Fisher.

But then she had an idea.

 Innate repertoire

“We decided to bring in a drone and fly it over the green monkeys, to expose them to something potentially dangerous in the air that they had never seen before,” she explained.

The drone flew at an altitude of about 60 metres (200 feet) over the unsuspecting animals.

Once the monkeys spotted it, the response was immediate: they gave alarm calls and scurried for cover.

Not only was the cry different from the response to leopards or snakes, it was “strikingly similar” to the eagle alarms of East African vervets.

“Despite 3.5 million years of evolutionary divergence, the call structure stayed essentially the same,” Fisher noted.

In the vocabulary of evolutionary biologists, in other words, the danger cry was “highly conserved.”

The fact that the green monkeys reacted to a drone and not other large birds native to the area suggests a subtle but important distinction, Kurt Hammerschmidt, also from the German Primate Center, told AFP.

“The alarm call is not linked to eagles per se,” he said by phone. “It seems to correspond to a broader category: ‘things that fly’.”

To see what the monkeys might have learned from the drone fly-over, the scientists followed up a few days later with a second experiment.

They hid a loudspeaker near a lone monkey that was looking for food and played back the sound of the drone.

“Upon hearing the sound, the animal looked up and scanned the sky,” Fischer said.

Subsequent tests showed that a single exposure to a new threat was enough for the monkeys to know what the sound means, showing a remarkable ability to adapt.

The researchers speculate that the hard-wired monkey calls — and the meaning attached to them — are similar to noises that infant humans make.

“When a child is born, it has the same innate repertoire of pre-verbal sounds such as moaning, laughing and crying,” said Hammerschmidt.

Somehow, humans learned to move beyond this built-in vocabulary and produce new sounds associated with new meanings.

But underneath all the layers of culture and learning, certain core responses that fall within the domain of evolutionary psychology remained.

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ABC of US ban on Huawei

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With the suspension of some business by Google with Huawei, the Chinese technology giant will immediately lose access to updates to the Android operating system except those available through an open source licence.

President Donald Trump had extended the trade war he stoked between America and China to Huawei. In what appears to be worry over security, White House had also shunned the 5G technology which Huawei has been championing.

Huawei said it has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world.

“As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry.

“Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products covering those have been sold or still in stock globally.

“We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally,” Huawei said.

Analysts said with the development, the next version of Huawei’s smartphones outside China will also lose access to popular applications and services such as Gmail.

Alphabet’s Google has suspended business with Huawei that requires the transfer of hardware, software and technical services except those publicly available via open source licensing, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday, in a blow to the Chinese technology company that the US government has sought to blacklist around the world.

The move could hobble Huawei’s smartphone business outside China as the tech giant will immediately lose access to updates to Google’s Android operating system.

The next version of its Android smartphones will also lose access to popular services including the Google Play Store and Gmail and YouTube apps.

“Huawei will only be able to use the public version of Android and will not be able to get access to proprietary apps and services from Google,” a source said.

The Trump administration last week Thursday added Huawei Technologies to a trade blacklist, immediately enacting restrictions that will make it extremely difficult for the company to do business with its U.S. counterparts.

On Friday the US Commerce Department said it was considering scaling back restrictions on Huawei to “prevent the interruption of existing network operations and equipment.”

It was not immediately clear whether Huawei’s access to mobile software would be affected.

The extent to which Huawei will be hurt by the US government’s blacklist is not yet known as its global supply chain assesses the impact. Chip experts have questioned Huawei’s ability to continue to operate without U.S help.

Details of the specific services affected by the suspension were still being discussed internally at Google, according to the source.

Huawei lawyers are also studying the impact of the blacklist, a Huawei spokesman said on Friday. Huawei was not immediately reachable for further comment.

Representatives of the US Commerce Department did not immediately have comment.

Huawei will continue to have access to the version of the Android operating system available through the open source license, known as Android Open Source Project (AOSP) available for free to anyone who wishes to use it.

There are about 2.5 billion active Android devices worldwide, according to Google.

But Google will stop providing Huawei with access, technical support and collaboration involving its proprietary apps and services going forward, the source said.

Huawei said it has spent the last few years preparing a contingency plan by developing its own technology in case it is blocked from using Android.

Some of this technology is already being used in products sold in China, the company has said.

In an interview with Reuters in March, Eric Xu, rotating chairman of Huawei, struck a defiant note in anticipation of retaliatory actions by U.S companies.

“No matter what happens, the Android Community does not have any legal right to block any company from accessing its open-source license,” he said.

Popular Google apps such as Gmail, YouTube and the Chrome browser that are available through Google’s Play Store will disappear from future Huawei handsets as those services are not covered by the open source licence and require a commercial agreement with Google.

But users of existing Huawei devices who have access to the Google Play Store will still be able to download app updates provided by Google.

Apps such as Gmail are updated through the store, unlike operating system updates which are typically handled by phone manufacturers and telecoms carriers, which the blacklist could affect, the source said.

The impact is expected to be minimal in the Chinese market. Most Google mobile apps are banned in China, where alternatives are offered by domestic competitors such as Tencent and Baidu.

Huawei’s European business, its second-biggest market, could be hit as Huawei licenses these services from Google in Europe.

“Having those apps is critical for smartphone makers to stay competitive in regions like Europe,” said Geoff Blaber, vice-president of research at CCS Insight.

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