Microsoft shutting down LinkedIn app in China amid scrutiny

The company said in a blog post Thursday it has faced a “significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.” (File/AFP)
The company said in a blog post Thursday it has faced a “significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.” (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 October 2021

Microsoft shutting down LinkedIn app in China amid scrutiny

The company said in a blog post Thursday it has faced a “significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.” (File/AFP)
  • LinkedIn will replace its localized platform in China with a new app called InJobs

REDMOND, Washington: Microsoft is shutting down its main LinkedIn service in China later this year as Beijing tightens its internet rules.

The company said in a blog post Thursday it has faced a “significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.”

Microsoft is the latest American tech giant to lessen its ties to the country after years of trying to tailor its services to the demands of government censors.

LinkedIn said it will replace its localized platform in China with a new app called InJobs that has some of LinkedIn’s career-networking features but will not include a social feed or the ability to share posts or articles.

Chinese regulators have been escalating a broad crackdown on the internet sector, seeking to exercise greater control over the algorithms used by tech firms to personalize and recommend content. They have also strengthened data privacy restrictions and expanded control over the flow of information and public opinion.

LinkedIn in March said it would pause new member sign-ups on LinkedIn China because of unspecified regulatory issues. China’s internet watchdog in May said it had found LinkedIn as well as Microsoft’s Bing search engine and about 100 other apps were engaged in improper collection and use of data and ordered them to fix the problem.

Several scholars this summer reported getting warning letters from LinkedIn that they were sharing “prohibited content” that would not be made viewable in China but could still be seen by LinkedIn users elsewhere.

Tony Lee, a scholar at Berlin’s Free University, told The Associated Press in June that LinkedIn didn’t tell him which content was prohibited but said it was tied to the section of his profile where he listed his publications. Among his listed articles was one about the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and another comparing Chinese leader Xi Jinping with former leader Mao Zedong.

Lee said Thursday it is “wishful thinking for LinkedIn to maintain its presence in a different form” without social media elements, its distinctive selling point against other online job boards. He said LinkedIn is better off pulling out of the country entirely than “practicing censorship dictated by China” that damages the company’s worldwide credibility.

It’s been more than seven years since LinkedIn launched a site in simplified Chinese, the written characters used on the mainland, to expand its reach in the country. It said at the time of the launch in early 2014 that expanding in China raised “difficult questions” because it required censoring content, but that it would be clear about how it conducts business in China and undertake “extensive measures” to protect members’ rights and data.

Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Washington, bought LinkedIn in 2016. LinkedIn doesn’t disclose how much of its revenue comes from China, but it reports having more than 54 million members in mainland China, its third-largest user base after the U.S. and India.

“LinkedIn once served a crucial role, as the only social media network on which Chinese and Western colleagues could communicate away from (Chinese Communist Party) censorship and prying eyes,” said Eyck Freymann, another scholar who received a censorship notice letter this year, in a text message Thursday.

Freymann, a doctoral student in China studies at Oxford University, said it is “shameful that Microsoft spent months censoring its own users — and, worse, pressuring them to self-censor” but that the company ultimately made the right choice to pull the plug.

Google pulled its search engine out of mainland China in 2010 after the government began censoring search results and videos on YouTube. It later considered starting a censored Chinese search engine nicknamed Project Dragonfly but dropped the idea following internal protest in 2018.

Other US-based social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked within China.

Microsoft’s own search engine, Bing, was temporarily blocked in China in early 2019, leading the company’s president, Brad Smith, to reveal that executives sometimes have difficult negotiations with the Chinese government over censorship and other demands.

“We understand we don’t have the same legal freedom that we do in other countries, but at the same time, we stick to our guns,” Smith told Fox Business News in January 2019. “There are certain principles that we think it’s important to stand up for, and we’ll go at times into the negotiating room and the negotiations are sometimes pretty darn direct.”

Adding to the sensitivities this year was a massive hack of Microsoft’s Exchange email server software that U.S. officials have blamed on criminal hackers associated with the Chinese government.


Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India

Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India
Updated 24 October 2021

Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India

Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India
  • Communal and religious tensions in India have a history of boiling over on social media and stoking violence
  • Facebook has become increasingly important in politics, and India is no different

NEW DELHI: Facebook in India has been selective in curbing hate speech, misinformation and inflammatory posts, particularly anti-Muslim content, according to leaked documents obtained by The Associated Press, even as the Internet giant’s own employees cast doubt over the its motivations and interests.
Based on research produced as recently as March of this year to company memos that date back to 2019, internal company documents on India highlight Facebook’s constant struggles in quashing abusive content on its platforms in the world’s biggest democracy and the company’s largest growth market. Communal and religious tensions in India have a history of boiling over on social media and stoking violence.
The files show that Facebook has been aware of the problems for years, raising questions over whether it has done enough to address the issues. Many critics and digital experts say it has failed to do so, especially in cases where members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are involved.
Across the world, Facebook has become increasingly important in politics, and India is no different.
Modi has been credited for leveraging the platform to his party’s advantage during elections, and reporting from The Wall Street Journal last year cast doubt over whether Facebook was selectively enforcing its policies on hate speech to avoid blowback from the BJP. Modi and Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have exuded bonhomie, memorialized by a 2015 image of the two hugging at the Facebook headquarters.
The leaked documents include a trove of internal company reports on hate speech and misinformation in India that in some cases appeared to have been intensified by its own “recommended” feature and algorithms. They also include the company staffers’ concerns over the mishandling of these issues and their discontent over the viral “malcontent” on the platform.
According to the documents, Facebook saw India as one of the most “at risk countries” in the world and identified both Hindi and Bengali languages as priorities for “automation on violating hostile speech.” Yet, Facebook didn’t have enough local language moderators or content-flagging in place to stop misinformation that at times led to real-world violence.
In a statement to the AP, Facebook said it has “invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali” which “reduced the amount of hate speech that people see by half” in 2021.
“Hate speech against marginalized groups, including Muslims, is on the rise globally. So we are improving enforcement and are committed to updating our policies as hate speech evolves online,” a company spokesperson said.
This AP story, along with others being published, is based on disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal counsel. The redacted versions were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.
Back in February 2019 and ahead of a general election when concerns of misinformation were running high, a Facebook employee wanted to understand what a new user in India saw on their news feed if all they did was follow pages and groups solely recommended by the platform itself.
The employee created a test user account and kept it live for three weeks, a period during which an extraordinary event shook India — a militant attack in disputed Kashmir had killed over 40 Indian soldiers, bringing the country close to war with rival Pakistan.
In the note, titled “An Indian Test User’s Descent into a Sea of Polarizing, Nationalistic Messages,” the employee whose name is redacted said they were “shocked” by the content flooding the news feed. The person described the content as having “become a near constant barrage of polarizing nationalist content, misinformation, and violence and gore.”
Seemingly benign and innocuous groups recommended by Facebook quickly morphed into something else altogether, where hate speech, unverified rumors and viral content ran rampant.
The recommended groups were inundated with fake news, anti-Pakistan rhetoric and Islamophobic content. Much of the content was extremely graphic.
One included a man holding the bloodied head of another man covered in a Pakistani flag, with an Indian flag partially covering it. Its “Popular Across Facebook” feature showed a slew of unverified content related to the retaliatory Indian strikes into Pakistan after the bombings, including an image of a napalm bomb from a video game clip debunked by one of Facebook’s fact-check partners.
“Following this test user’s News Feed, I’ve seen more images of dead people in the past three weeks than I’ve seen in my entire life total,” the researcher wrote.
The report sparked deep concerns over what such divisive content could lead to in the real world, where local news outlets at the time were reporting on Kashmiris being attacked in the fallout.
“Should we as a company have an extra responsibility for preventing integrity harms that result from recommended content?” the researcher asked in their conclusion.
The memo, circulated with other employees, did not answer that question. But it did expose how the platform’s own algorithms or default settings played a part in producing such objectionable content. The employee noted that there were clear “blind spots,” particularly in “local language content.” They said they hoped these findings would start conversations on how to avoid such “integrity harms,” especially for those who “differ significantly” from the typical US user.
Even though the research was conducted during three weeks that weren’t an average representation, they acknowledged that it did show how such “unmoderated” and problematic content “could totally take over” during “a major crisis event.”
The Facebook spokesperson said the test study “inspired deeper, more rigorous analysis” of its recommendation systems and “contributed to product changes to improve them.”
“Separately, our work on curbing hate speech continues and we have further strengthened our hate classifiers, to include four Indian languages,” the spokesperson said.


Snap’s stock drops as iPhone privacy controls pinch ad sales

In a statement, Snap CEO said the company has had to recalibrate its operations. (Twitter/AFP)
Updated 22 October 2021

Snap’s stock drops as iPhone privacy controls pinch ad sales

In a statement, Snap CEO said the company has had to recalibrate its operations. (Twitter/AFP)
  • Third-quarter earnings call reveals slump due to Apple’s privacy changes to iOS software on iPhones

SANTA MONICA: Snapchat’s corporate parent, Snap Inc., revealed during its third-quarter earnings call that its ad sales were being hit by a privacy crackdown rolled out on Apple’s iPhones earlier this year.

The disclosure raised investor fears that the app’s financial growth was going into tailspin, sparking a sell-off in after-hours trading that could foreshadow one of the biggest one-day drops in the company’s stock since it went public in 2017.

Snap’s shares plunged by nearly 22 percent in Thursday’s extended trading. If the decrease was mirrored in Friday’s regular trading session, it would approach the stock’s previous one-day nadir in May 2018 when its price also plummeted by nearly 22 percent — a decline which would wipe out nearly $30 billion in shareholder wealth.

The alarms set off by Snap’s disappointing performance could foreshadow troubles for other apps that may be having more problems tracking their users’ online activities because of an Apple update to the iPhone’s iOS software released in April.

The change blocks online tracking on iPhones unless a user grants explicit permission to do so, making it difficult for companies that sell ads based on the information they collect about people’s interests and location.

In a statement, Snap chief executive officer, Evan Spiegel, said the company has had to recalibrate its operations to “navigate significant headwinds, including changes to the iOS platform that impact the way advertising is targeted.”

Facebook, an outspoken critic of Apple’s new privacy controls, had already told investors that its ad sales could suffer because of the change, but Snap’s results indicated the blow may be even bigger than Wall Street anticipated. Facebook’s shares shed more than 4 percent in Thursday’s extending trading. The social networking company is scheduled to release its latest quarterly results on Monday.

Snap reported revenue of $1.07 billion for the July to September period, a 57 percent increase from the same time last year, but that was about $30 million below the projections of Wall Street analysts who steer investor expectations.

Perhaps even more troubling to investors, Snap predicted its revenue for the current quarter would range from $1.17 billion to $1.21 billion, whereas analysts had been forecasting revenue of $1.36 billion, according to FactSet.


Report: Advertising money on TV and social media is double daily consumption

Report: Advertising money on TV and social media is double daily consumption
Updated 22 October 2021

Report: Advertising money on TV and social media is double daily consumption

Report: Advertising money on TV and social media is double daily consumption
  • New report by WARC says social media spend would need to reduce by $94.3 billion to mirror global consumption levels next year

DUBAI: Advertiser spend on TV and social media is highly inflated in relation to daily consumption, according to a new WARC analysis of advertising spend forecasts for 100 markets worldwide and the results of a survey by GlobalWebIndex of more than 715,000 consumers.

“The study shines a light on divergences between media investment and consumption, two metrics which are rarely seen to be in lockstep with one another,” said James McDonald, managing editor, WARC Data, and author of the report.

The analysis finds that, as of the first quarter of 2021, social media attracts more investment from advertisers than linear TV for the first time— however, both media channels draw far more advertising budgets than the average consumer spends with these channels each day.

Social media, for example, is forecast to account for 39.1 percent of 2022 ad spend among the eight media studied in the report: Linear TV, online video, social media, print press, online press, podcasts, broadcast radio and online audio.

However, social media has a 21.4 percent share of daily media consumption— a discrepancy of 17.7 percentage points, which is valued at $94.3 billion.

Since Q2 2016, social media has accounted for more than two hours of daily media consumption and is expected to reach two and a half hours during the second half of next year.

Linear TV ad spend, on the other hand, is twice the daily consumption and is forecast to account for a 31.5 percent share of advertising spend next year, compared to a 16.1 percent share of daily media consumption. This would equate to an investment gap of $86.9 billion worldwide next year.

“The seemingly inflated investment gap actually speaks more to the enduring power of the medium — its vast reach combined with attentive audiences and the heightened impact of audiovisual creative. These traits allow it to command a premium in the media mix, one which is likely to sustain even as social media further grows its share of budgets,” McDonald said.

While linear TV spend is inflated in relation to its consumption, online video is now close to parity after years of underinvestment. It is worth noting that the world’s largest online video platform, Netflix, is predominantly ad-free, while platforms such as YouTube are prone to adblocking on desktop and mobile devices.

Still, advertisers are forecast to spend $71.9 billion on online video this year — a 13.6 percent share of the eight studied media, which compares to a 12.9 percent of media consumption.

The most heavily undervalued media channels are undeniably audio and online press. Podcasts are undervalued by a massive $40 billion. Even with one in three Internet users now listening to a podcast each month, the advertising rates are much higher than even TV, which is well known to be a premium medium with high advertising costs.

Online press also appears to be another heavy undervalued medium: Advertisers would need to spend $58 billion on online press ads globally next year to achieve parity with consumption levels. However, the forecast spend is only $12.8 billion.

Consumers already spend a fifth of their media day in social feeds and are forecast to spend twice as long with social media than with online press next year signaling a dire future for online press.

Print press investment is now on a par with daily consumption on a global level, but advertisers would need to spend $45.3 billion more on online press to mirror these levels. This has led to publishers diversifying their business models to counter the shortfall in advertising revenue with 76 percent of publishers prioritizing subscriptions this year.


Facebook’s oversight board seeks details on VIPs’ treatment

Facebook is generally not bound under the oversight board’s rules to follow its recommendations. (File/AFP)
Facebook is generally not bound under the oversight board’s rules to follow its recommendations. (File/AFP)
Updated 22 October 2021

Facebook’s oversight board seeks details on VIPs’ treatment

Facebook is generally not bound under the oversight board’s rules to follow its recommendations. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook's oversight board says the company has failed to fully disclose information on its VIP exemption rules
  • “XCheck,” or cross-check, is an internal system that exempts high-profile users from some or all of Facebook's content rules

WASHINGTON: Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says the company has failed to fully disclose information on its internal system that exempts high-profile users from some or all of its content rules.
Facebook “has not been fully forthcoming” with the overseers about its “XCheck,” or cross-check, system the board said in a report Thursday. It also said it will review the system and recommend how the social network giant could change it.
The board started looking into the XCheck system last month after The Wall Street Journal reported that many VIP users abuse it, posting material that would cause ordinary users to be sanctioned — including for harassment and incitement of violence. For certain elite users, Facebook’s rules don’t seem to apply, according to the Journal article.
Facebook is generally not bound under the oversight board’s rules to follow its recommendations.
“We believe the board’s work has been impactful, which is why we asked the board for input into our cross-check system, and we will strive to be clearer in our explanations to them going forward,” Facebook said in a statement Thursday.
The report said Facebook wrongly failed to mention the XCheck system when it asked the board earlier this year to rule on its ban on former President Donald Trump’s accounts following the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
“Facebook only mentioned cross-check to the board when we asked whether Mr. Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content-moderation processes,” the report said.
In May, the board upheld Facebook’s suspension of Trump’s accounts, which came out of concern that he incited violence leading to the Jan. 6 riot. But the overseers told Facebook to specify how long the suspension would last. Facebook later announced that Trump’s accounts would be suspended for two years, freezing his presence on the social network until early 2023, to be followed by a reassessment.
The board said Thursday that for its review, Facebook agreed to provide the internal company documents on the XCheck system that were referenced in the Journal article. Facebook documents were leaked to the newspaper by Frances Haugen, a former product manager in the company’s civic integrity unit who also provided them to Congress and went public this month with a far-reaching condemnation of the company.
Haugen’s accusations of possible serious harm to some young people from Facebook’s Instagram photo-sharing platform raised outrage among lawmakers and the public.
The board said in its report that in some cases, “Facebook failed to provide relevant information to the board, while in other instances, the information it did provide was incomplete.”
In a briefing to the board, “Facebook admitted it should not have said that (XCheck) only applied to a ‘small number of decisions,’” the report said. “Facebook noted that for teams operating at the scale of millions of content decisions a day, the numbers involved ... seem relatively small, but recognized its phrasing could come across as misleading.”


Report: 71 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia use Snapchat

Report: 71 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia use Snapchat
Updated 21 October 2021

Report: 71 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia use Snapchat

Report: 71 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia use Snapchat
  • New study by Kantar and Snap reveals that Snapchat is popular among both parents and younger people
  • Snapchat plays major role in advertising, marketing for older audiences

DUBAI: Snapchat, which has a monthly addressable reach of 19.5 million in Saudi Arabia, is not only popular with younger audiences in the Kingdom, but also with parents, according to a recent study conducted by Kantar and Snap.

The study has found that 71 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia now use Snapchat and that advertising on the platform plays an influential role in their purchase decisions. 

Among these parents, almost 90 percent feel positive about the advertising they see on Snapchat across product categories, and over 80 percent said that this advertising influences their purchase decisions.

More than 90 percent take action after seeing an ad that interests them. The actions include clicking on an ad, reading product reviews online, or discussing with friends and family members.

Snapchat parents are also quite democratic in including other family members when making purchasing decisions. A majority (68 percent) of Snapchat parents claim that their children influence their purchase decisions in some way, and most parents with teenage or adult children rely on their kids to make purchases on behalf of the household.

Parents with teenage children allow the teens to shop for the family regularly for technology products (61 percent), mobile apps and streaming services (73 percent), and household goods (47 percent).

“Rather than a fragmented advertising model that caters to different age groups through different mediums, Snapchat delivers great value by reaching parents, alongside their teenage and adult children, on a single platform,” said Abdulla Alhammadi, regional business lead at Snap Inc.           

FAST FACTS

• 71 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia are on Snapchat.

• Over 80 percent of parents on Snapchat say that advertising on the platform influences their purchase decisions.

• Almost 90 percent of parents on Snapchat feel positive about the advertising that they see.

• More than 90 percent of parents on Snapchat take action after seeing an ad that interests them.

• Parents with teenage children allow the teens to shop for the family regularly for technology products (61 percent), mobile apps and streaming services (73 percent), and household goods (47 percent).