Uber knuckles down on security, poaches exec from Facebook

uber driver

Although it started off as a smartphone app to connect passengers with drivers, Uber Technologies is encountering the same real-world security issues as the taxi industry, includng the need for driver background checks and local regulatory compliance.

On top of this there are the risks involved in handling masses of customer and driver data, which became evident earlier this year when the company admitted driver data had been compromised.

On Thursday, Uber moved a step forward in its bid to fend off criticism of its security practices by appointing as its first chief security officer Joe Sullivan, a former U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor and, more recently, Facebook’s security chief.

“It’s no longer about traditional metrics for safe transportation or keeping our community’s data private and secure, but about how we lead efforts to redefine and strengthen physical and data security in the location-based world,” CEO Travis Kalanick wrote Thursday in a blog post that appeared to define the agenda for Sullivan, who starts later this month.

“Our goal is to redefine what it means to be a world-class, people-centric protector of privacy,” he added.

Uber said in February that the names and license plate numbers of about 50,000 Uber drivers were compromised in a security breach last year. About 21,000 of these drivers were in California.

Some of the company’s drivers are facing charges, including in Delhi, where a driver is alleged to have raped a female passenger. The Delhi authorities want Uber to adhere to its new and stricter radio taxi rules, including offer a call center, have a registered office in Delhi and an official website with extensive information on its operations, and provide panic buttons in the vehicles.

Uber would like to be treated as a technology company under India’s Information Technology Act, but the Delhi government wants it to also address issues on the ground such as the verification of drivers and the security of passengers.

Kalanick appeared to recognize that the company was more than an app provider in his blog post announcing Sullivan’s appointment.

“It’s easy to see the Uber logo on your phone and think of us as just an app,” he said. “But in many ways we’ve become a critical part of the infrastructure of cities. We are both in cyberspace and on city streets all at once; a bridge between bits and atoms.”

Sullivan too acknowledged this bridge: “I look forward to bringing the best practices that I’ve learned along the way to Uber and doing defining work in bridging the divide between the digital and physical worlds,” he said in a separate post.

Uber said last month it would also establish a permanent and global safety advisory board to review its safety practices and recommend new safety features for its platform. It said it had created round-the-clock incident response teams on call worldwide. “The teams are distributed in regions around the globe and are there for those critical moments when a rapid resolution is needed,” it added.

Facebook Talks Up Need for Virtual Reality, Big Tech Bets

Virtual reality, artificial intelligence and drones will enable Facebook to create a more lifelike and useful social network, the company said in its clearest explanation so far for technology projects that have puzzled some investors and analysts.Facebook executives made the case on Thursday, at its annual developer conference in San Francisco, that initiatives such as its $2 billion purchase of virtual realityheadset maker Oculus last year, and the hiring of aerospace experts make sense for the 1.4-billion member social network.While virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift suggest video games and entertainment, the gadgets could transform how people communicate on Facebook, they said.Events such as a birthday party or a child’s first bike ride could be shared on Facebook so that users in different parts of the world felt as if they were taking part.

Facebook said the Oculus headset will be released “before long,” but did not provide a time frame.

“After thousands of demos we know we are just on the cusp, just getting there to get that sense of presence where for a moment your conscious brain is overruled by the subconscious that says, ‘You are not where you think you are,'” Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer said during his on-stage talk on the second day of the 2-day conference.

facebook_f8_zuckerberg_reuters.jpgFacebook had never made clear its virtual reality plans, Vlada Bortnik, the founder of app-maker Happy Bits, said at the conference. “Their mission is to connect the world and VR teleports people into a different place.”

Facebook said it had recently conducted the first test flight of a solar-powered drone prototype. It is building drones that will fly at an altitude of up to 90,000 feet to deliver Internet connectivity to remote parts of the world.

Facebook and Google are building Internet-beaming satellites and drones to connect billions of people who lack Internet access, as the companies compete to become the go-to online hub for consumers and marketers.

Facebook’s artificial intelligence group is already planning for the flood of new users by developing technology to help them cope with the surge in messages and photos on the social network.

“If we achieve our first goal, get everyone on the Internet, build services at scale for the entire planet, we create this new problem: so much information you can’t consume the stuff that’s important to you,” CTO Schroepfer said.

Facebook's Like button can still easily be gamed


facebookFacebook’s Like button is a pervasive feature of the Web, a way to gauge the popularity of a website or piece of content. But researchers have found it’s easy to inflate the numbers, undermining its value as an accurate measure of popularity.

The problem of bogus Likes has been around for some time, and Facebook has released updates to its software over the last couple of years to cut down on fraudulent ones generated by spammers.

But researchers with McGill University’s School of Computer Science in Montreal say the social networking company still hasn’t fixed several major problems with the feature. This week, they released a research paper outlining the problems, which they first told Facebook about in early 2013.

“Those Like numbers may be faked,” said Xue Liu, a professor of computer science at McGill, in a phone interview. “There are easy ways to generate those fake Likes, and unfortunately on the Internet, a lot of companies and economic benefits are related to the number of Likes now.”

Facebook officials couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. The research is important because companies may be making marketing spend decisions based on Likes. There are thriving marketplaces for people to buy fake Likes, which can cost around $30 for 1,000.

Also, average Facebook users may not be aware of exactly what kind of actions generate a Like. It’s generally assumed that a single user can only generate one Like, but that’s not actually the case. Sharing a link on Facebook from a source with an embedded Like button increases the count by one.

facebook app

If the same user comments on the post, the Like button continues to rise. A demo video shows how a spammer could write a script that posts a piece of content on Facebook and then adds nonsensical comments, each of which causes the Like count to tick up once.

In that example, 30 Likes were quickly generated. The researchers found it was possible to generate up to 20 likes per minute by creating a post, adding fake comments, deleting the post and repeating. Those actions didn’t trigger a rate-limiting feature in Facebook that might have frozen the account for a while.

The flaw has been around for years and is apparently rooted in outdated Facebook APIs that are still used by many websites, including CNN, ABC News, The Huffington Post and The Economist, according to their research paper.

What’s useful about their method is that it can generate a high number of Likes using only a single account. It means that spammers wouldn’t need to take the time and expense of creating a high number of zombie accounts that would likely be detected and removed by Facebook.

Another demonstration video shows how a Like—which is essentially a soft endorsement—can appear out of context and may actually be contrary to a user’s real opinion.

The researchers created a fake Web page for demonstration purposes that promoted disgraced Bernard Madoff. The website had an embedded Like button. If the site’s URL was shared on Facebook, anyone who commented on it would increase the page’s Like count, even though it’s doubtful anyone would truly endorse it.

But people who visited the Web page would have seen an ever-rising Like count, giving the impression that the site is worthy. Other large online services, such as YouTube and Quora have worked around this contextual problem by adding “dislike” or “downvote” buttons.

The researchers also found if a Facebook user deletes a post, the Like count doesn’t correspondingly drop.

Facebook wraps a lot of data into the little number next to the Like button. The company is straightforward about it in its documentation, saying that a Like includes not only the people who hit the button, but also the number of times the URL has been shared and the number of comments. But some people may not know that.

Facebook May Host News Sites' Material


Nothing attracts news organizations like Facebook. And nothing makes them more nervous.

With 1.4 billion users, the social media site has become a vital source of traffic for publishers looking to reach an increasingly fragmented audience glued to smartphones. In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.

Such a plan would represent a leap of faith for news organizations accustomed to keeping their readers within their own ecosystems, as well as accumulating valuable data on them. Facebook has been trying to allay their fears, according to several of the people briefed on the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were bound by nondisclosure agreements.

Facebook intends to begin testing the new format in the next several months, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. The initial partners are expected to be The New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic, although others may be added since discussions are continuing. The Times and Facebook are moving closer to a firm deal, one person said.

To make the proposal more appealing to publishers, Facebook has discussed ways for publishers to make money from advertising that would run alongside the content.

Facebook has said publicly that it wants to make the experience of consuming content online more seamless.

News articles on Facebook are currently linked to the publisher’s own website, and open in a Web browser, typically taking about eight seconds to load. Facebook thinks that this is too much time, especially on a mobile device, and that when it comes to catching the roving eyeballs of readers, milliseconds matter.

In addition to hosting content directly on Facebook, the company is talking with publishers about other technical ways to hasten delivery of their articles.

Even marginal increases in the speed of a site, said Edward Kim, chief executive of the analytics and distribution company SimpleReach, generally mean big increases in user satisfaction and traffic. So it is likely, he said, that Facebook’s plan focuses on those small improvements, rather than on getting money from deals with media companies.

“But there are a lot of implications for publishers,” he added. “It really comes down to how Facebook structures this, and how they can ensure this is a win on both sides.”

The issue is also pressing, he said, because some media companies have seen a drop in traffic from Facebook that could be attributed to the company’s prioritizing of video – a much more lucrative medium for ad sales.

Video has become increasingly popular with Facebook users and advertisers, and at its developer conference that begins on Wednesday, the company is expected to introduce expanded tools to place video ads inside non-Facebook applications.

Like Facebook, media companies also want improved user experiences. Still, they are treading carefully.

While BuzzFeed has an overt policy of spreading its content outside of its own site, The Times uses a subscription model that provides a growing portion of the company’s revenue. It would have to weigh the benefits of reaching Facebook’s users – and the ad revenue that comes with them – against the prospect of giving away its content and losing the clicks on its own site that would instead stay within Facebook.

Some news organizations have reacted coolly to the proposal. Several employees of the newspaper The Guardian, for example, have informally suggested to colleagues at other publications that publishers should band together to negotiate deals that work for the whole industry, and should retain control of their own advertising, whether content is hosted on Facebook or not, a person with knowledge of the discussions said.

Representatives for The Times and BuzzFeed declined to comment on Monday. The Guardian and National Geographic did not immediately respond to questions about talks with Facebook.

The Huffington Post and the business and economics website Quartz were also approached. Both also declined to discuss their involvement.

Facebook declined to comment on its specific discussions with publishers. But the company noted that it had provided features to help publishers get better traction on Facebook, including tools unveiled in December that let them target their articles to specific groups of Facebook users, such as young women living in New York who like to travel.

The company recognizes that the new plan, championed by Chris Cox, the top lieutenant to Facebook’s chief, Mark Zuckerberg, on product matters, would remove the usual ads that publishers place around their content. Although the revenue-sharing ideas are still in flux, one would allow publishers to show a single ad in a custom format within each Facebook article, according to one person with knowledge of the discussions.

Facebook has not historically done any kind of revenue-sharing with content publishers. Essentially, its position has been “Put your content on Facebook and we’ll send you traffic.” But lately Facebook has been experimenting with revenue-sharing options.

In December, it began showing NFL clips sponsored by Verizon. Verizon paid for the clips to be sent to people’s news feeds and ran an ad at the end of them. The NFL and Facebook split the revenue.

The new proposal by Facebook carries another risk for publishers: the loss of valuable consumer data. When readers click on an article, an array of tracking tools allow the host site to collect valuable information on who they are, how often they visit and what else they have done on the web.

That data might instead go to Facebook, which like many companies uses that information itself to target and track consumers more effectively for advertisers (and which has been subject to criticisms over its privacy policies). It has not been disclosed how much of that data Facebook would be willing to share.

And if Facebook pushes beyond the experimental stage and makes content hosted on the site commonplace, those who do not participate in the program could lose substantial traffic – a factor that has played into the thinking of some publishers. Their articles might load more slowly than their competitors’, and over time readers might avoid those sites.

And just as Facebook has changed its news feed to automatically play videos hosted directly on the site, giving them an advantage compared with videos hosted on YouTube, it could change the feed to give priority to articles hosted directly on its site.

Over the long term, said Alan D. Mutter, a newspaper consultant who writes a blog called Reflections of a Newsosaur, all publishers are likely to have to allow their content to range more freely outside of their own sites.

“But in the short term,” he said, “it’s a scary proposition because publishers want to control their brand, and their audience and their advertising dollars.”

Facebook, on the other hand, he said, can only benefit from it. “It enhances user satisfaction, keeps users on its site and has better content which allows it to sell advertising at better rates,” Mutter said.

Facebook Reportedly Testing Dialer and Caller ID Android App 'Phone'


Facebook is said to be working on a new app called Phone, which will show users information about who is calling and come with other features like automatic blocking of calls from numbers blocked by the community.

According to a report by Android Police, some users got a notice to try the new Phone app, but received a page not found error when they tried to complete the download. As a result, there’s very little known about the app, apart from the text that appeared on the screen.

“Phone is a new app that shows you info about who is calling and automatically blocks calls from commonly blocked numbers,” the description of the app read. It seems from the description that the app could be a replacement for the dialer app that comes with your Android phone. It is worth noting that Facebook already introduced the calling feature in its Messenger app.

facebook_phone_app_screenhsot_leaked_android_police.jpgFacebook has been lately working a lot on bringing more features to its mobile users. The firm this week announced a system to send money to friends for US customers using its Messenger app, something which was tipped in October last year.

According to Facebook, the money transfer will use bank debit cards of members for cash transfer, which may take up to three days depending on the banks used.

Before that, Facebook, which has about 745 million users logging in daily from their mobile phones, added a feature that lets users of its apps add stickers over photos before they are shared on the world’s biggest social network.

Tribals in Bengal to Use Facebook for Development


Taking their friendship from the virtual to the real world, more than 600 “educated and privileged” Facebook users belonging to West Bengal’s tribal communities will meet on April 5 to discuss strategies to harness social media for tribal development.

The second ‘Kolkata Adibasi Facebook Meet’ aims to unite youngsters and adults from the tribal communities who have established themselves in various careers.

“We are trying to translate the virtual friendship into real bonding so that this platform can be used to promote development and unity among the tribal members,” Pradip Kumar Hansda, one of the organisers, told IANS.

He said the responsibility lies with the accomplished members of the tribal communities to foster growth and progress for the rest.

“The educated and privileged youths of the tribal society need to take up issues and provide solutions. Since they are active on social media, we believe it could be a catalyst in bringing about change. Youngsters are already buzzing with ideas and this platform will help give those ideas shape,” Hansda said.

As many as 642 users of the popular social networking site have been invited to the day-long meeting at the Victoria Memorial Hall grounds.

Most of the invitees are members of Facebook groups such as ‘Santal Students and Youth Unity’ and ‘All India Adibasi Employees and Teachers Association’.

“Most of the people are from Bengal tribes such as Santals and their clans like Murmu, Soren etc. We have members of the tribe from neighbouring states of Odisha and Bihar as well. There are tribes from other parts of India too. We have started with Bengal and we want to take it to the national level,” Hansda said.

Facebook Now Lets Users Specify Any Gender They Want

After a year of offering 58 gender identity options, Facebook has now decided to make it more customisable by giving “free-form field” or a fill-in-the-blank option for users to describe their identity. The expanded custom gender option is at present available to everyone who uses Facebook in US English, but the social networking company has plans to expand it in the future.”Now, if you do not identify with the pre-populated list of gender identities, you are able to add your own,” said Facebook announcement on Thursday. The option is also being called an ‘infinite’ gender selection. Notably, Google+ had included the same “freeform text field” option when it brought out its custom gender feature in December.

The social networking giant noted that some people face challenges sharing their true gender identity with others, and because of that it decided to come up with a custom option in which users can now specify with apt word in the blank box as well as a preferred pronoun to address them – male, female or neutral. Facebook notes that as before, users can add up to ten gender terms, and can also to control the audience with whom they’d like share their custom gender.

“When you come to Facebook to connect with the people, causes, and organizations you care about, we want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self. An important part of this is the expression of gender, especially when it extends beyond the definitions of just ‘male’ or ‘female’,” added company.

While people are thanking Facebook for the new option, there are still concerns over company’s real name policy. Last year, the company had eased the policy a little but didn’t remove it completely like Google+ and Twitter. Facebook allows people to use ‘assumed’ or ‘stage’ names, but these are still subject to verification.

[source : gadgets.ndtv.com]

India Tops Facebook's Bug Bounty Program Again With Most Recipients


Facebook on Thursday revealed its ‘Annual Bug Bounty’ report of 2014, and once again showed India as its largest contributor in reporting valid bugs, followed by Egypt, the US, the UK and the Philippines.

According to the report, the top five earners in 2014 were rewarded $256,750 (roughly Rs. 1.5 crores). India topped the list with the maximum number of bounty recipients – 196 bugs were reported by India, with an average reward of $1,343 (roughly Rs. 83,100). While Egypt and US earned average rewards of $1,220 and $2,470 respectively, reporting 81 and 61 bugs, the UK earned an average reward of $2,768 over 28 reported bugs. Philippines reported a total of 27 bugs and earned $29,500.

It is worth noting that India in Facebook’s 2013 Annual Bug Bounty report contributedthe largest number of valid bugs at 136, with an average reward of $1,353 (roughly Rs. 80,000). India was then followed by the US, Brazil and the UK.

Also, the report added that as compared to 2013’s 14,763 total bugs, 2014 saw 16 percent increase in bug submissions resulting in a total of 17,011 bugs. Out of the total bug submissions, 61 bugs were categorized under the ‘high severity’, which is 49 percent more than previous year. The social media giant paid $1.3 million to its 321 researchers worldwide.

Facebook said 61 of 2014’s eligible bugs were categorized as high severity, 49 percent more than in 2013. It added the company has paid out more than $3 million since it started the Bug Bounty program in 2011, and in 2014 it paid $1.3 million to 321 researchers across the globe. The average reward in 2014 was $1,788, and 65 countries received rewards – representing a 12 percent increase. The Facebook Bug Bounty program now has 123 countries reporting bugs.

Facebook too mentioned some of its “favourite issues” that helped it “learn and get better”. These included the hidden input parameters, Amazon S3 Bucket, and Legacy REST API Calls bugs.

“We’re excited to see what 2015 holds for the bug bounty program. Report volume is at its highest levels, and researchers are finding better bugs than ever before. We’ve already received more than 100 valid reports since the start of the new year,” said the report. Details can be found on Facebook’s Bug Bounty Page.

[source : gadgets.ndtv.com]

Facebook Rolls Out Updated Suicide Prevention Features

Now you can more easily help save the lives of friends who might appear distressed, through a new updated Facebook feature.If a Facebook friend posts something that indicates he might be thinking of harming himself, users can click on an arrow on the post to report it.

Facebook will then offer options to contact the friend, contact another friend for support or contact a suicide helpline, reported LA Times.

The social network partnered with mental health organisations Forefront, Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Save.org to develop the tool.

“One of the first things these organisations discussed with us was how much connecting with people who care can help those in distress,” Facebook product manager Rob Boyle and community operations safety specialist Nicole Staubli wrote in a Facebook post.

“We have teams working around the world, 24/7, who review any report that comes in. They prioritise the most serious reports, like self-injury, and send help and resources to those in distress,” they added.

Facebook has given users a way to report potentially suicidal content since 2011, but the previous feature required users to upload screenshots or a link of the post to the company’s suicide prevention page.

The updated version of the feature integrates the ability to report a post into the post itself. It lets users flag content on both the desktop and mobile version of the social network that they find concerning.

Currently, the updated feature is accessible by a limited number of users in the US. Facebook plans to roll out the service more widely in the coming months.

Concerned friends simply click “report” next to the post and are given some options.

Friends will see tips including a suicide prevention hotline and can choose to message the person who wrote the troubling post.

If they choose that option, Facebook has a pre-written message ready to send. People can also opt for Facebook to intervene.

If Facebook’s worldwide team determines that a user’s post is troubling, the user will need to review a page of options the next time he logs in.

A private message on the page will greet the user, then say “a friend thinks you might be going through something difficult and asked us to look at your recent post”.

Then, the user will have the option to contact someone, look at suicide prevention tips or skip the message.

[source : gadgets.ndtv.com]