Facebook suspends accounts of group over ad transparency dispute

The tool in question is a browser extension called Ad Observer, which can be downloaded voluntarily by Facebook users. (File/AFP)
The tool in question is a browser extension called Ad Observer, which can be downloaded voluntarily by Facebook users. (File/AFP)
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Updated 05 August 2021

Facebook suspends accounts of group over ad transparency dispute

The tool in question is a browser extension called Ad Observer, which can be downloaded voluntarily by Facebook users. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook suspends the personal accounts of a group of researchers for publishing academic studies about the platform at “the expense of people’s privacy.” 

LONDON: Facebook suspended the personal accounts of a group of researchers on Tuesday for publishing academic studies about the platform at “the expense of people’s privacy.” 

The suspended accounts belong to members of the Cybersecurity for Democracy project at New York University (NYU) who criticized the platform’s political advertizing transparency tools, revealing a number of flaws.

“We repeatedly explained our privacy concerns to NYU, but their researchers ultimately chose not to address them and instead resumed scraping people’s data and ads from our platform,” a Facebook spokesperson told Arab News. 

“We have provided the researchers the opportunity to use our transparency tools in ways that don’t violate our terms and that are privacy-protective,” the spokesperson added. “We were left with no choice but to disable the researchers’ developer access, accounts and apps. We welcome academic study of our platform — just not at the expense of people’s privacy.”

The tool in question is a browser extension called Ad Observer, which can be downloaded voluntarily by Facebook users. 

The users give the extension access to their personal Facebook pages in order to collect anonymized data about the adverts they see. That information then goes into a public database, where journalists and researchers can observe how and where politicians are focusing their spending.

Facebook has previously warned the researchers several times that Ad Observer was a breach of users’ privacy and issued them with a warning before the tool was even launched. 

A researcher in NYU, Laura Edelson, tweeted on Tuesday that Facebook had suspended her account alongside other members of the group. 

 “This evening, Facebook suspended my Facebook account and the accounts of several people associated with Cybersecurity for Democracy, our team at NYU. This has the effect of cutting off our access to Facebook’s Ad Library data, as well as CrowdTangle,” she said.

“Outside analysis of Facebook content from essential organizations like the Ad Observatory are increasingly exposing Facebook as a breeding ground for extremism and right wing trash,” a spokesperson for the Real Facebook Oversight Board, an activist group established to counter the company’s own Oversight Board, stated.

“Now like the authoritarian governments they court, Facebook is cracking down on its critics.”


Netflix offers free plan in Kenya to entice new subscribers

Netflix offers free plan in Kenya to entice new subscribers
Updated 2 min 20 sec ago

Netflix offers free plan in Kenya to entice new subscribers

Netflix offers free plan in Kenya to entice new subscribers
  • Netflix offers free mobile plan with one-quarter of its TV shows and movies in Kenya to increase frowth
  • The free plan is available on Android mobile phones and will not have ads
LOS ANGELES: Netflix Inc. on Monday began offering a free mobile plan with about one-quarter of its TV shows and movies in Kenya, a strategy aimed at sparking growth in a key African market, the company told Reuters.
The free plan is available on Android mobile phones and will not have ads. It features Netflix movies and TV shows such as dramas “Money Heist” and “Bridgerton” and African series “Blood & Water,” plus some of the programming the company licenses from others. Netflix hopes the free plan will lead to users signing up for a paid option with more content.
The world’s largest streaming video service is looking to add customers outside of more saturated markets such as the United States, where new subscriber signups have slowed at a time when competition for online audiences has intensified.
Executives remain bullish on the long-term future, noting there are large markets where streaming television is just starting to take hold. To attract customers in Africa, Netflix is investing in locally made programming such as “Queen Sono” and “Jiva!” and has partnered with production studios in Nigeria.
“If you’ve never watched Netflix before — and many people in Kenya haven’t — this is a great way to experience our service,” Cathy Conk, director of product innovation at Netflix, said in a blog post. “And if you like what you see, it’s easy to upgrade to one of our paid plans so you can enjoy our full catalog on your TV or laptop as well.”
The free plan started on Monday and will roll out across Kenya in the coming days.
The non-paying Netflix subscribers in Kenya will not be counted in the paid total the company reports each quarter, a spokesperson said.
Netflix has experimented with free offers before. In 2020, it made some episodes of series such as “Stranger Things” and movies including “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” available around the world for no charge via web browsers.
The free plan in Kenya is broader. It will look similar to paid Netflix profiles to give viewers a feel for the service, the spokesperson said. Shows that are not included in the free plan will be marked with a lock icon. Clicking on one of those titles will encourage the user sign up for a paid option.
Anyone 18 or older in Kenya can enroll in the free plan and create up to five profiles. No payment information will be required.
Some functions, such as the ability to download a show or movie, will not be available under the free plan.
Netflix, which streams in more than 190 countries, has taken other steps to boost usage in Africa, including creation of a paid mobile-only plan and partnerships with local telecom operators to ease payments.
The company reported 209 million paying customers worldwide at the end of June. New member pickups slowed in the first half of 2021 after a boom early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Africa currently is a relatively small market for streaming TV subscriptions. Digital TV Research projects Netflix will lead subscription video on demand services on the continent with 6.26 million paying customers in 2026, followed by Walt Disney Co’s Disney+.

Arab journalists’ body, Facebook, media groups join forces to empower women writers

Arab journalists’ body, Facebook, media groups join forces to empower women writers
Updated 27 min 31 sec ago

Arab journalists’ body, Facebook, media groups join forces to empower women writers

Arab journalists’ body, Facebook, media groups join forces to empower women writers
  • Year-long campaign to end online harassment against women journalists proves major success

DUBAI:Women have long faced discrimination in the workplace with issues ranging from unfair pay gaps to unconscious biases.

And the switch to remote working due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has brought its own set of challenges, especially for women as they struggle juggling home and work responsibilities.

In addition, women working online have also had to contend with sexual harassment, misogyny, hate speech, trolls, and other forms of abuse.

According to a study by the International Center for Journalists and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, 20 percent of participants said their experience of online abuse, harassment, threats, or attacks had been “much worse than usual” after the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the region, a 2020 study by Arab Barometer found that there was a 56 percent decrease in the odds of being an internet user for women as opposed to men. Women faced “immense barriers to full participation in the digital sphere” reflective of issues in real life, the survey reported.

“Cultural norms, gender roles, biases, and stereotypes often dissuade and even prevent women from accessing the internet, gaining digital literacy, and participating in the digital economy or society,” the report added.

While the online environment was precarious for all women, female journalists were discovered to be among those who faced the most online abuse, including intimidation and threats.

In response to the trends and to protect female journalists from online abuse, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism in partnership with the Facebook Journalism Project, WAN-IFRA’s Women in News, the International Women’s Media Foundation, and the International Research and Exchanges Board, along with the support of the German Federal Foreign Office, last year launched a 12-month project, titled “I Will Not Stay Silent,” targeting the Arab journalistic community.

The IWNSS multidisciplinary project, was set up to create an inclusive digital public space free of exclusion, sexism, discrimination, and all other forms of injustice, for women and men in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Mohammed Omar, Facebook’s MENA news partnerships manager, said: “Attacks such as online bullying, doxing, threats, and sexual harassment are serious problems that have only become more prominent and coordinated in recent years.

“By taking part in the online webinars, journalists, especially women journalists, are empowered to come forward and speak in a safe space about the problems they have faced at work,” he added.

As part of the program, 13 webinars were held addressing topics such as how to deal with privacy issues, gender terms in media, gender balance in media coverage, and sexual harassment in the newsroom and on the internet.

The webinars reached 1.3 million people on Facebook with more than 2,000 journalists joining in via video conferencing. The 13th webinar, which was an open discussion for all participants, reached 92,000 people and had 953 participants on the platform.

Rawan Damen, director general of ARIJ, said: “With such a knowledgeable, supportive consortium, we were able to launch and execute IWNSS, which is much needed to protect the ecosystem of investigative journalism in particular and journalism in MENA as a whole.”

In addition to the webinars, IWNSS held live training, one-on-one clinics, and offered extra resources and tools to help journalists.

The ARIJ academy and Facebook also held a free online diploma program between June and September for 20 trainees, targeting media professionals, especially female journalists and HR professionals, and, said the ARIJ, “anyone professionally interested to have the tools to deal with various forms of misuse of authority in the work environment and beyond.”

Damen added: “The uniqueness of this project is not only in its regional focus but in its use of five different methods to achieve a comprehensive result; wide awareness, in-depth, focused live training, one-to-one clinics, self-based tools, and digital campaigns.”

Moving forward, IWNSS has launched 200 digital one-to-one clinics to provide the necessary tools to help journalists project themselves in the digital world. The clinics are free of charge and those interested can apply through ARIJ.


Georgian chess champion sues Netflix for ‘sexist’ portrayal in ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

Netflix faces defamation suit for wrong portrayal of female chess champion in the Queen's Gambit. (Netflix)
Netflix faces defamation suit for wrong portrayal of female chess champion in the Queen's Gambit. (Netflix)
Updated 20 September 2021

Georgian chess champion sues Netflix for ‘sexist’ portrayal in ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

Netflix faces defamation suit for wrong portrayal of female chess champion in the Queen's Gambit. (Netflix)

LONDON: Georgian chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili filed a defamation lawsuit on Thursday against Netflix, accusing the streaming giant of incorrectly portraying her in the hit series “The Queen’s Gambit.”

Gaprindashvili, 80, said Netflix’s claim in the series that she “never faced men” is “grossly sexist and belittling.”

The lawsuit refers to a specific line in the series finale which compares the main character, Elizabeth Harmon, to Gaprindashvili. The series makes a notable distinction between the fictional character and Gaprindashvili, which is that the latter never faced men during her chess tournaments. 

In the finale, a character narrates: “Elizabeth Harmon’s not at all an important player by their standards. The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex. And even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”

Gaprindashvili began playing chess at 13, became the female world champion at 20 and was the first woman to be awarded the title of grandmaster, the highest title a chess player can attain. 

Contrary to Netflix’s portrayal, Gaprindashvili did indeed face men, 59 of them, including 28 in one simultaneous match when the series was supposedly set in 1968. 

“They were trying to do this fictional character who was blazing the trail for other women, when in reality I had already blazed the trail and inspired generations,” Gaprindashvili said in an interview with the New York Times. “That’s the irony.”

Another notable item in the lawsuit relates to Gaprindashvili’s nationality. While the series portrayed her as Russian, she in fact is Georgian and was born in Zugdidi, Georgia.

Netflix responded to Gaprindashvili and said it “has only the utmost respect for Ms Gaprindashvili and her illustrious career, but we believe this claim has no merit and will vigorously defend the case.”


Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened

Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened
Updated 20 September 2021

Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened

Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened
  • US journalist Danny Fenster appeared disheartened during a court hearing Monday, his lawyer said
  • Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the US
BANGKOK: US journalist Danny Fenster, imprisoned in Myanmar for almost four months while awaiting trial, appeared disheartened during a court hearing Monday, his lawyer said.
Fenster has been charged with incitement — spreading inflammatory information — an offense for which he could be sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment. The charge does not specify what he is accused of doing.
The military-installed government that took power in February has sought to curb independent news media by canceling their licenses and arresting dozens of journalists.
Fenster is being detained in Yangon’s Insein Prison, an overcrowded facility which for decades has housed political prisoners.
Lawyer Than Zaw Aung said Fenster seemed demoralized when he spoke with him in a video conference during Monday’s court hearing, his first opportunity to do so in more than a month. Hearings are conducted by video at a township court instead of in a special courtroom at the prison because of the coronavirus, which in the past few months has severely impacted Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
“His hair grew longer. He seemed disappointed and he told me in a frustrated tone that ‘I have nothing to say,’” the lawyer said. “I asked him if he had been vaccinated by the prison authorities, and he said no. His words showed that he is not feeling well. He didn’t request anything.”
Fenster said in mid-July that he believed he had contracted COVID-19 and was not given medicine he had requested. Prison authorities denied he was infected.
Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family. He is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an independent online news outlet based in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
“We are very concerned about Danny’s physical and mental health, particularly given his demeanor at today’s hearing,” said Thomas Kean, editor-in-chief of Frontier. “It’s totally understandable that he would be frustrated and disappointed -– he should never have been detained in the first place. Danny is now approaching four months in Insein Prison and there is no reason for the authorities to hold him a single day longer. He should be released immediately so he can go home to his family.”
Monday’s hearing was held to extend Fenster’s pre-trial detention, and set Oct. 4 for his next appearance. It was not clear if it could include allowing an application for release on bail.
Press associations and free speech organizations around the world have called for Fenster’s release, as has the US government.
“We remain deeply concerned over the continued detention of US citizen Danny Fenster who was working as a journalist in Burma,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this month after Fenster marked his 100th day in detention. The United States refers to Myanmar as Burma, its name before a military government changed it in 1989.
“Journalism is not a crime. The detention of Daniel Fenster and other journalists constitutes an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma,” Price said. “We continue to press Burma’s military regime to release Danny immediately. We will do so until he safely returns home to his family.”

CNN expands global CNN Marketplace franchise to the Middle East

CNN expands global CNN Marketplace franchise to the Middle East
Updated 20 September 2021

CNN expands global CNN Marketplace franchise to the Middle East

CNN expands global CNN Marketplace franchise to the Middle East
  • Program across TV and digital platforms launched on Sept. 18

DUBAI: CNN has launched its new “CNN Marketplace Middle East” program across its TV and digital platforms to cover business stories shaping the Middle East region.

The program will also examine how industries and corporations are adapting at a critical time of political, economic and social change.

Launched on Sept. 18, the show offers its audience an insight into the region through exclusive interviews and on-the-ground reporting beginning with Expo 2020 Dubai, for which CNN is the official broadcaster.

As part of the new programming, CNN International will host a monthly show presented by anchor and correspondent Eleni Giokos, who is based in the UAE, alongside reporter Salma Abdelaziz and international correspondent Jomana Karadsheh. It will also include a dedicated new digital section on CNN Business and CNN Arabic.

“Audiences around the globe are eager to find out more about how businesses and countries are applying innovation and seeing economic growth as the world looks beyond the pandemic,” said Ellana Lee, senior vice president, CNN International.

The latest cross-platform programming is part of a continued global expansion of CNN’s business coverage. This also comprises dedicated cross-platform programming for Africa, Asia and Europe. The major focus areas for the new program are technology, sustainability, automotive and mobility, health and medicine, energy, and e-commerce.

“CNN Marketplace Middle East kicks off by looking at how economies and companies in the Middle East are using technological advances and innovation to emerge stronger from the pandemic,” Lee said.

“The Middle East has a unique story to tell as it applies new technologies, spearheads many areas of transformation and undergoes economic diversification. Through CNN Marketplace Middle East, CNN will uncover and tell these stories to inform our audiences of the latest trends and developments from right across the region in a way that no other news network can,” she said.

This first episode explores tech transformation in Saudi Arabia, analyzing the new retail revolution across the region for ultra-fast grocery deliveries, being driven by rapidly expanding companies.

In the coming months, the show will explore topics such as how sustainability is informing business in the region, as policy-makers and the private sector focus on the climate emergency and future of the planet during November’s COP26 summit. It will also examine the growing sports business and events sector in the Middle East.