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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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We don’t spy on users – Instagram chief

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Instagram doesn’t snoop on private conversations as part of its advertising targeting strategy, the head of the popular social media site said in an interview Tuesday.

“We don’t look at your messages, we don’t listen in on your microphone; doing so would be super problematic for a lot of different reasons,” Instagram chief Adam Mosseri said in an interview with CBS.

“But I recognize you’re not going to really believe me.”

During the interview, Mosseri acknowledged that he is grilled regularly by Instagram users who insist they receive ads from restaurants, stores and other companies after only conducting a private conversation about an item and not posting to the broader site.

Like its parent company Facebook, Instagram — a social media site for posting photographs — offers a private messaging system, as well as a platform to post items to followers.

The issue of user privacy has been one of the many controversies dogging Facebook in the wake of revelations that defunct political consultancy Cambridge Analytica used private data from tens of millions of Facebook users for political targeting.

Mosseri said there were two ways that users may have this experience, “dumb luck” and if users are talking about a consumer good more generally.

“You saw a restaurant on Facebook or Instagram and you really like the thing. It’s top of mind, maybe it’s subconscious and then it bubbles up later,” Mosseri said. “I think this kind of thing happens often in a way that’s really subtle.”

Mosseri was also probed on the company’s policy on videos of famous people that are altered and can go viral.

Recent cases include one of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that was slowed down to make her appear drunk or impaired, and a “deepfake” video of Mark Zuckerberg altered to show the Facebook chief bragging about controlling billions of people’s “stolen” personal data.

Mosseri said Instagram is working on a policy for deepfakes.

“We are not going to make a one-off decision to take a piece of video down just because it’s of Mark and Mark happens to run this place,” he said. “That would be really inappropriate and irresponsible.”

He said any policy would be based on “defined principles” and would be “transparent.”

The first order of business is to locate doctored content more quickly, he said.

“Once we can do that, then we can have the next debate about whether or not to take it down when we find it,” Mosseri said.

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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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