Facebook Confirms It’s Working on a New Internet Satellite

Fiber optic cables are the gold standard of a good internet connection, but laying them can be expensive, and in some parts of the world, a physically daunting task. So in remote corners of the globe, people often connect to the internet instead via massive geostationary satellites. These school bus-size instruments are especially far away, producing significantly slower connections. A host of companies believe the better way to connect the estimated half of Earth’s population that’s still offline is to launch “constellations” of smaller satellites into low Earth orbit, around 100 to 1,250 miles above our planet.

According to emails obtained from the Federal Communications Commission in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by WIRED, and a confirmation from the company itself, Facebook is officially one of them.

The emails show that the social network wants to launch Athena, its very own internet satellite, in early 2019. The new device is designed read more

Facebook’s Fight Against Fake News Keeps Raising Questions

Facebook wants you to know it’s trying really hard to deal with the ways people use its platform to cause harm. It just doesn’t know exactly what to do. What separates hate speech from offensive ideas, or misinformation from coordinated disinformation intended to incite violence? What should the company allow to remain on the platform, and what should it ban? Two years after Russians weaponized Facebook as part of a large-scale campaign to interfere with US democracy, the social network is still struggling to answer those questions, as the past two weeks have made clear. But it’s trying to figure it out.

As Facebook reaffirms its commitment to fighting fake news in recent weeks, it has also been forced to defend its decision not to ban sites like Alex Jones’ InfoWars. Instead, the company says, it reduces the distribution of content that is flagged and confirmed to be false by fact checkers.

On Wednesday, Recode’s Kara Swisher aired a read more

Uber’s CEO Faces an Impossible Decision

Of all the management mistakes that led to Uber’s culture and business crisis, Travis Kalanick’s biggest mistake was that he kept a tight inner circle of executives, for whom bad behavior appeared to have no consequences. The most egregious example of this anything-goes leadership culture was in 2014, when Emil Michael, then Uber’s senior vice president, suggested at a private dinner that Uber put a million dollars into hiring a team of opposition researchers and journalists to dig into the personal lives of the company’s critics.

Although Michael was made to apologize publicly, Kalanick didn’t fire him for his behavior. Post–public scandal there were no internal consequences. Michael’s continued tenure signaled that Kalanick would tolerate bad behavior, if not encourage it.

Which is why Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is now faced with an impossible situation. Barney Harford is the operational and strategy whiz Khosrowshahi recruited last fall to help fix Uber. read more

Uganda’s Regressive Social Media Tax Stays, at Least For Now

The Ugandan parliament referred a controversial new social media tax to a committee for further consideration on Thursday, after protesters took to the streets of Kampala last week. The tax, which went into effect July 1, charges 200 Ugandan shillings (or $0.05) per day of use for 60 mobile apps, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp. Critics say it puts an undue burden on the poorest members of society, and that it is an assault on freedom of expression.

“The primary motivation behind [the social media tax] is to silence speech, to reduce the spaces where people can exchange information, and to really be able to control, with the recognition that online platforms have become the more commonly used way for sharing information,” says Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn, and the Great Lakes.

While Uganda’s social media tax is the first of its kind, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it follows read more

How a #MeToo Facebook Group Became a Tool for Harassment

Last year, as thousands of women shared their stories of sexual assault and harassment with the hashtag #MeToo, Amanda, a 30-year-old from Oregon, was looking for a supportive place to share her own experiences. Soon enough she was invited by a friend to join a Facebook group for survivors of sexual assault that had thousands of members.

The group was easy to find: As recently as this month, the page associated with it ranked higher in some search results than the #MeToo page verified by Facebook. The group, which also had “me too” in the name, looked legitimate to Amanda. Best of all, it was “closed,” meaning that while the group showed up in search results, new members needed an admin’s approval to join and only members could see what was posted in it.

“People shared the most intimate moments of trauma with these people,” says Amanda. (WIRED is declining to include her last name to protect her privacy.)

Then suddenly earlier this month, Amanda noticed the read more

Nonprofit for Migrants Declines a Donation from Salesforce

A Texas-based nonprofit helping migrant families detained at the US southern border has refused a substantial donation from Salesforce after the tech company declined to cancel its contracts with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Over the past month, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) received more than $20 million in donations, and a flood of media attention, following a viral Facebook fundraising campaign started by two former Facebook employees that was touted as a sign of the tech industry’s power for good.

The nonprofit’s work caught the attention of Salesforce, which offered RAICES a $250,000 donation. RAICES said it would only accept the money if Salesforce dropped its contracts with CBP. Salesforce would not, so RAICES refused the donation.

In an email to Salesforce on Monday, Jonathan Ryan, RAICES executive director, wrote, “Pledging us a small portion of the money you make from CPB [sic] contracts will not distract read more

Airbnb Can’t Win New York—But It Can’t Quit Either

Anyone who has been paying attention to the escalating showdown between Airbnb and New York City’s hotel industry will not be surprised that the $31 billion startup just lost, handily. This afternoon, The New York City Council passed a bill that will force Airbnb to provide the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement with the names and addresses of its hosts. Other cities have passed similar laws, resulting in precipitous declines in listings. Because New York has strict laws about the homes that are allowed to be listed, and many hosts choose to skirt them, this could have more detrimental effects as the city identifies and fines these hosts more easily.

It’s the latest in a long history of battles between the startup and the city. “In 2010, I said, ‘this is gonna be a one-year challenge.’” Brian Chesky said, while addressing New York regulatory challenges at the Code Conference in May, adding that now “it doesn’t seem like the end is in sight with that challenge.”

But read more

Lawmakers Don’t Grasp the Sacred Tech Law They Want to Gut

Toward the tail end of a sparsely attended hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Republican congressman John Rutherford turned to the three witnesses before him—representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter—and asked a question that left them speechless. Congress, he explained, has already amended Section 230, the law that protects tech platforms from liability for what people post, by creating an exception for content related to sex trafficking.

Given that, Rutherford asked the group, “Do you see any other areas where those kinds of exceptions to the protections under 230 should be examined?”

Several seconds of silence followed. Facebook’s Monika Bickert stared blankly across the dais. YouTube’s Juniper Downs managed an uncomfortable, closed-lip grin. Twitter’s Nick Pickles avoided eye contact by scribbling who-knows-what on his notepad.

Rutherford continued on, offering some options. “How about sedition?” he asked. Still, nothing but read more

A House Republican Joins the Fight to Save Net Neutrality

Democrats just gained a Republican ally in the battle to save net neutrality. Today, Representative Mike Coffman (R-Colorado) became the first House Republican to sign a petition to force the House to vote on legislation that would reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to jettison rules banning broadband providers from blocking or discriminating against lawful content.

The proposal already passed the Senate, where three Republicans crossed party lines to support it. In the House, it will need 218 signers; before Coffman, 176 members had signed, all Democrats.

But Coffman doesn’t want to keep the FCC rules around forever. Today, he also introduced a bill that would replace the FCC’s old rules with similar, though possibly less robust protections. “The fight to keep the internet open belongs in Congress, not at the Federal Communications Commission,” Coffman said in a statement.

Coffman, who is facing a strong challenge in what’s considered read more

Juul’s Lobbying Could Send Its Public Image Up in Smoke

Over the past year, Juul, the vaping sensation that dominates 70 percent of the US e-cigarette market, has tried to cultivate the image of decent corporate citizen that wants to play by the rules. The company is known for its legions of obsessive young users who have embraced Juul’s discrete, flash-drive-shaped e-cigarettes and pleasing nicotine pods in flavors like fruit medley and mango. When parents and school administrators, public health advocates, and regulators raised concerns, Juul insisted it only wants to help adult smokers stop smoking.

After an April inquiry from the Food and Drug Administration about its marketing, Juul pledged to spend $30 million over the next three years on youth smoking prevention and to support Tobacco 21, a national campaign aimed at raising the minimum age for tobacco and nicotine sales in the US. In June, the company vowed to stop using models in its social media ads and to work with social media companies to remove offending posts and accounts.

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