Facebook top choice for Philippine wildlife traders, watchdog says

Facebook was “seeking additional information in order to take action” and that the watchdog was helping it liaise with Philippine authorities. (AFP)
Updated 19 January 2018
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Facebook top choice for Philippine wildlife traders, watchdog says

MANILA: Facebook has emerged as the top site for wildlife trafficking in the Philippines, a watchdog said Friday, with thousands of endangered crocodiles, snakes and turtles illegally traded in just three months.
Monitoring network TRAFFIC said Facebook had not done enough to shut down the trade, which saw more than 5,000 reptiles from 115 species put up for sale on its discussion groups from June to August 2016 alone.
“Facebook is the platform of choice for illegal traders in the Philippines because of its popularity and insufficient internal monitoring enforcement,” the report said.
“This magnitude of commerce in live wild animals online is just mind-boggling,” said Serene Chng, TRAFFIC’s program officer for Southeast Asia.
The groups where live reptile advertisements were posted had more than 350,000 members when the study began, with numbers growing 11 percent in three months.
Most transactions were completed using Facebook’s Messenger service, the report said, adding that trading continues on the platform despite periodic government raids.
Over half the species bought and sold were protected internationally and by the Philippines’ wildlife act, which carries jail terms and fines.
The radiated tortoise, black spotted turtle, Bengal monitor lizard, and Dumeril’s boa — all threatened with extinction — were among them, as well as the critically endangered Philippine crocodile and Philippine forest turtle.
In one transaction, a trader also used an unnamed ride-sharing service to deliver wildlife to a buyer.
“This small snapshot reinforces how social media has taken over as the new epicenter of wildlife trade,” Chng said.
A statement from Facebook’s PR firm said the site does not tolerate wildlife trade and is working with TRAFFIC to tackle the problem.
“Facebook does not allow the sale and trade of endangered animals and we will not hesitate to remove any material that violates our community standards when it is reported to us,” it said.
TRAFFIC’s regional spokeswoman Elizabeth John said that Facebook was “seeking additional information in order to take action” and that the watchdog was helping it liaise with Philippine authorities.
Findings from the study were used to launch raids on suspected illegal traders in Manila and other areas last year, TRAFFIC said, with numerous arrests made.
Philippine customs authorities also intercepted packages with illegal wildlife destined for China, Sweden, and the US.


Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

A Google sign is seen during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai, China August 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

  • Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability
  • Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects

SAN FRANCISCO: Google is not close to launching a search engine app in China, its chief executive said at a companywide meeting on Thursday, according to a transcript seen by Reuters, as employees of the Alphabet Inc. unit called for more transparency and oversight of the project.
Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told staff that though development is in an early stage, providing more services in the world’s most populous country fits with Google’s global mission.
Hoping to gain approval from the Chinese government to provide a mobile search service, the company plans to block some websites and search terms, Reuters reported this month, citing unnamed sources.
Whether the company could or would launch search in China “is all very unclear,” Pichai said, according to the transcript. “The team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now, and I think they are exploring many options.”
Disclosure of the secretive effort has disturbed some Google employees and human rights advocacy organizations. They are concerned that by agreeing to censorship demands, Google would validate China’s prohibitions on free expression and violate the “don’t be evil” clause in the company’s code of conduct.
Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability,” according to an internal petition seen by Reuters on Thursday.
After a separate petition this year, Google announced it would not renew a project to help the US military develop artificial intelligence technology for drones.
The China petition says employees are concerned the project, code named Dragonfly, “makes clear” that ethics principles Google issued during the drone debate “are not enough.”
“We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building,” states the document seen by Reuters.
The New York Times first reported the petition on Thursday. Google declined to comment.
Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly, and their remarks at the company-wide meeting marked their first about the project since details about it were leaked.
Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects that raise substantial ethical questions.
Pichai told employees: “We’ll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record here” on Dragonfly, according to the transcript. He noted the company guards information on some projects where sharing too early can “cause issues.”
Three former employees involved with Google’s past efforts in China told Reuters current leadership may see offering limited search results in China as better than providing no information at all.
The same rationale led Google to enter China in 2006. It left in 2010 over an escalating dispute with regulators that was capped by what security researchers identified as state-sponsored cyberattacks against Google and other large US firms.
The former employees said they doubt the Chinese government will welcome back Google. A Chinese official, who declined to be named, told Reuters this month that it is “very unlikely” Dragonfly would be available this year.