Amazon Warns Customers: Those Supplements Might Be Fake

On the second evening of Prime Day, Amazon’s annual sales bonanza, Anne Marie Bressler received an email from Amazon that had nothing to do with the latest deals. The message, sent from an automated email address Tuesday, informed her that the Align nutritional supplements she ordered two weeks earlier were probably counterfeit. “If you still have this product, we recommend that you stop using it immediately and dispose of the item,” the email reads, and says she would be receiving a full refund. It’s not clear how many other customers may have purchased the fake supplements. Amazon confirmed that it had sent out the email but declined to specify the number of customers impacted.

For years, Amazon has battled third-party sellers who list knockoffs of everything from iPhone charging cables to soccer jerseys on its site. [...]  read more

This App Lets Your Instagram Followers Track Your Location

A new app knows what your Instagram-loving friends did last summer. Called Who’s in Town, the iOS and Android app is ostensibly designed to show you, well … who’s in town. But it does much more than that.

Users who download the app and grant it access to their Instagram account are presented with an eerie interactive map of every place the people they follow have visited and shared online since they created their profile. The map updates in real time and is sourced from the wealth of location data the average Instagram user willingly uploads to the platform each time they opt to use its popular geotag feature in a story or post.

This information is nominally public already, as Instagram users must choose to share it with their followers. But by collecting them all in one place over time, Who’s in Town transforms data points seemingly meaningless in isolation into a comprehensive chronology of the habits and haunts of anyone with a public Instagram account.

It can [...]  read more

Congress Is Pissed at Facebook and the FTC

Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike are furious over reports that the Federal Trade Commission is prepared to settle with Facebook over widespread privacy violations for just $5 billion. But that doesn’t mean there’s currently an acceptable bipartisan solution floating around the marble halls of the Capitol.

“The terrible message sent by this tap on the wrist is that enforcement of privacy protections is a hollow paper tiger in our nation,” senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) told WIRED Wednesday. “It has to be structural and behavioral and not just monetary, and this amount of money is way too low.”

Blumenthal teamed up with senators Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) and Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) in penning a strongly worded exploratory letter to the FTC earlier this week, after the Wall Street Journal first reported that the commission voted along party lines, three Republicans to two Democrats, to approve the Facebook settlement.

“It is clear that [...]  read more

While Washington Talks Antitrust, Europe Takes Action

It’s been a strange, conflicted week for antitrust in Washington, DC. In one set of congressional hearings, tech leaders, facing possible far-reaching regulation, fended off accusations that they are strangling competition. In another, Facebook’s David Marcus explained why the social media giant should be given a green light to expand ambitiously into global finance with its Libra cryptocurrency. You’d be forgiven, watching the dueling livestreams, for thinking you’d stumbled across portals into a pair of parallel universes.

Gregory Barber covers cryptocurrency, blockchain, and artificial intelligence for WIRED.

For now, it’s Europe leading the antitrust charge. European Union regulators have recently revealed a flurry of actions against US tech companies, starting last month with an investigation into chipmaker Broadcom over whether it used exclusivity agreements to fend off competitors. Then, this week, Margrethe Vestager, [...]  read more

High-Stakes AI Decisions Need to Be Automatically Audited

Today’s AI systems make weighty decisions regarding loans, medical diagnoses, parole, and more. They’re also opaque systems, which makes them susceptible to bias. In the absence of transparency, we will never know why a 41-year-old white male and an 18-year-old black woman who commit similar crimes are assessed as “low risk” versus “high risk” by AI software.

WIRED OPINION

ABOUT

Oren Etzioni is CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and a professor in the Allen School of Computer Science at the University of Washington. Tianhui Michael Li is founder and president of Pragmatic Data, a data science and AI training company. He formerly headed monetization data science at Foursquare and has worked at Google, Andreessen Horowitz, J.P. Morgan, and D.E. Shaw.

For both business and technical reasons, automatically generated, high-fidelity explanations of most AI decisions are not currently possible. That’s why we should be pushing for the external audit of AI [...]  read more

The Toxic Potential of YouTube’s Feedback Loop

From 2010 to 2011, I worked on YouTube’s artificial intelligence recommendation engine—the algorithm that directs what you see next based on your previous viewing habits and searches. One of my main tasks was to increase the amount of time people spent on YouTube. At the time, this pursuit seemed harmless. But nearly a decade later, I can see that our work had unintended—but not unpredictable—consequences. In some cases, the AI went terribly wrong.

Artificial intelligence controls a large part of how we consume information today. In YouTube’s case, users spend 700,000,000 hours each day watching videos recommended by the algorithm. Likewise, the recommendation engine for Facebook’s news feed drives around 950,000,000 hours of watch time per day.

In February, a YouTube user named Matt Watson found that the site’s recommendation algorithm was making it easier for pedophiles to connect and share child porn in the comments sections of certain videos. The discovery was horrifying for numerous reasons. Not only was YouTube monetizing these videos, its recommendation algorithm was actively pushing thousands of users toward suggestive videos of children.

When the news broke, Disney and Nestlé pulled their ads off the platform. YouTube removed thousands of videos and blocked commenting capabilities on many more.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first scandal to strike YouTube in recent years. The platform has promoted terrorist [...]  read more

This Chrome Extension Calls Out Sponsored YouTube Videos

Search for “best headphones” on YouTube, and a video by Marques Brownlee, a popular tech YouTuber with nearly 9 million subscribers, will likely be one of the first to appear. Published last November, his video “My Favorite Wireless Headphones | 2018!” has over 2.7 million views. In it, Brownlee describes his favorite pairs of Bluetooth headphones and implores users to “hop on this wireless train before it leaves the station.” Below the video, he includes links to all of the products mentioned.

Paris Martineau covers platforms, online influence, and social media manipulation for WIRED.

What he fails to mention in either the description or video itself is that purchases made from those links may also trigger small payments to Brownlee himself. Princeton researchers say the links include referral codes that typically denote such payments.

Federal Trade Commission guidelines for social media endorsements require that influencers prominently disclose if they receive anything—cash, gifts, or something else—that [...]  read more

FTC Reportedly Hits Facebook With Record $5 Billion Settlement

After months of negotiations, the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook a record-setting $5 billion on Friday for privacy violations, according to multiple reports. The penalty comes after an investigation that lasted over a year, and marks the largest in the agency’s history by an order of magnitude. If approved by the Justice Department’s civil division, it will also be the first substantive punishment for Facebook in the US, where the tech industry has gone largely unregulated. But Washington has taken a harsher stance toward Silicon Valley lately, and Friday’s announcement marks its most aggressive action yet to curb its privacy overreaches.

Full details of the settlement were unavailable Friday afternoon, and the FTC and Facebook both declined to comment. The Wall Street Journal first reported the news. It’s [...]  read more

President Trump Is the Latest Critic of Facebook’s Libra

Over the past two days, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell has told members of both chambers of Congress that he has “many serious concerns” about Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency. Those include issues related to privacy and money laundering, as well as the platform’s potential to destabilize monetary policy around the world, should it catch on with Facebook’s 2 billion users. It appears the president of the United States was tuning in.

Gregory Barber covers cryptocurrency, blockchain, and artificial intelligence for WIRED.

Late Thursday, President Donald Trump unleashed a three-tweet squall declaring himself “not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies,” and referring to the use of “unregu­lated digital assets” for “drug trade and other illegal activities.” He included Libra in that category, saying the platform “will have little standing or dependability” and would fall prey to similar dependability issues. He suggested Facebook would need to acquire a banking charter to proceed with its efforts. Trump concluded with [...]  read more

A $700 Million Amazon Pledge, Credit Card Hackers, and More News

Amazon makes an expensive pledge to its workers, a hacker group hits 17,000 domains, and butt plugs are being used for scientific research. Here’s the news you need to know, in two minutes or less.

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Today’s Headlines

Amazon pledged $700 million to teach its workers to code

This morning, Amazon announced a $700 million initiative to retrain US employees for high-skill, mostly technical jobs over the next six years. The initiative serves as a way for the company to bolster its image with US workers, but the effectiveness of the training remains to be seen. One notable absence: Even after thousands of its own employees criticized the company for courting oil companies and not implementing sustainability measures, Amazon says the initiative won’t cover training focused on sustainable energy or other climate-related jobs.

A card-skimming hacker group hit 17,000 domains and counting

You may not have heard [...]  read more