Airbnb targets illegal get-togethers with ‘anti-party technology’

Airbnb targets illegal get-togethers with ‘anti-party technology’
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Updated 17 August 2022

Airbnb targets illegal get-togethers with ‘anti-party technology’

Airbnb targets illegal get-togethers with ‘anti-party technology’
  • Move comes after property rental company made a ban on house parties permanent earlier this year

LONDON: Airbnb said on Tuesday that it will roll out “anti-party technology” as part of efforts to stop illegal partying in its listed properties.

The new system, which will be deployed initially in North America, will look at a range of factors to identify types of reservations that are likely to result in unlawful parties. These include “history of positive reviews (or lack of positive reviews), length of time the guest has been on Airbnb, length of the trip, distance to the listing, and weekend versus weekday.” 

Airbnb said in a statement that “the primary objective is attempting to reduce the ability of bad actors to throw unauthorized parties which negatively impact our hosts, neighbors and the communities we serve. 

“It’s integral to our commitment to our host community — who respect their neighbors and want no part of the property damage and other issues that may come with unauthorized or disruptive parties.”

The announcement comes after the company decided to make a ban on house parties permanent earlier this year.

Since October 2021, Airbnb has been trialling the technology in select areas of Australia, where it recorded a “35 percent drop in incidents of unauthorized parties,” the company said.

Similar initiatives were previously put in place by the peer-to-peer property rental platform. In July 2020, it introduced a system that prevented under-25s in North America from booking large houses close to where they live if they did not have a history of positive reviews.

“As we get more reservations and bookings, we look at how things are trending, how our metrics are trending,” said Naba Banerjee, Airbnb’s global head of product, operations, and strategy for trust and safety.

“We try to look at the rate of safety incidents, and we try to make sure that we are launching solutions that constantly try to work on that rate.”

Airbnb has long sought to crack down on illegal parties. The company announced in 2019 that “party homes” would be banned after five people were killed in a shooting at a Halloween gathering in an Airbnb property in Orinda, California, where over 100 people were reportedly present.

In 2020, the company began imposing stricter regulations around its “house party” policy amid the global pandemic. Both the “event friendly” search filter and “parties and events allowed” house rules were removed as it sought to counter a rise in house party bookings as bars and clubs were closed.

More than 6,600 guests and some hosts were suspended in 2021 for attempting to violate the party ban, the company said.

Airbnb also announced the introduction of a neighborhood support helpline to “facilitate direct communication with neighbors regarding potential parties in progress or concerns with any nearby listings.”

“We are, at the end of the day, an open marketplace, we are making real-world connections, and we are often a mirror of society. And no solution is 100 percent perfect,” Banerjee said.


Iranian artist’s struggle for freedom explored in ‘Hair Uncovered’

Iranian artist’s struggle for freedom explored in ‘Hair Uncovered’
Updated 10 sec ago

Iranian artist’s struggle for freedom explored in ‘Hair Uncovered’

Iranian artist’s struggle for freedom explored in ‘Hair Uncovered’
  • Short film focuses on woman forced to seek asylum due to her artwork

LONDON: An Iranian artist’s struggles for control of her own body have been captured on film, as thousands take to the streets against the regime in a country she can no longer visit.

Mim, who was forced to seek asylum in the UK due to her artwork and who is also deaf, is the focus of “Hair Uncovered”, a short that explores a “love-hate relationship” with her hair and her fight for freedom of expression.

The film comes amid widespread protests in Iran over the death in Tehran of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, after she was beaten by Iran’s “morality police” for allegedly breaking a law ordering women to wear headscarves. 

Mim, who first arrived in the UK to study, uses her own hair to create brooches that serve as a symbol of her personal freedom away from Iran. However, the content of her work has enraged the regime.

“Becoming an asylum seeker wasn’t my choice,” she says in the film’s trailer. “I lost a lot of things. But the benefit of that loss is freedom.”

The artist said that the film focuses on “just a tiny part of being a woman in Iran. But so many stories of Iran’s women have not been heard. Be our voice so they can be heard.”  

Abigale Borsberry, the producer, said that she knew how important Mim’s story was from the moment they met. 

“Her ability to share her experiences in her own words and weave her art throughout is utterly spellbinding. Now more than ever, Mim’s story and journey need to be shared with the world,” she said.

“Hair Uncovered”, which was directed by Cathey Heffernan, is to be screened at the Aesthetica Film Festival, which will take place in York between Nov. 1 and Nov 6. 

The film is scheduled to be released in December.


Google’s Russian subsidiary files lawsuit against state bailiffs

Google’s Russian subsidiary files lawsuit against state bailiffs
Updated 06 October 2022

Google’s Russian subsidiary files lawsuit against state bailiffs

Google’s Russian subsidiary files lawsuit against state bailiffs
  • Company's subsidiary filed for bankruptcy in June following the seizure of its bank account by authorities

MOSCOW: Google’s Russian subsidiary has filed a lawsuit against Russian state bailiffs, court documents show, in a year that has seen the unit file for bankruptcy in Russia and have more than 7.7 billion roubles ($127 million) in funds seized.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google declined to comment.
In May, Russian bailiffs seized funds from Google that it had been ordered to pay late last year. A month earlier, Tsargrad, a Russian Orthodox television channel blocked by YouTube, said bailiffs had seized 1 billion roubles from Google.
Google’s subsidiary filed for bankruptcy in June after saying that authorities had seized its bank account, making it impossible to pay staff and vendors.
Court documents published on Oct. 4 showed the Moscow Arbitration Court had accepted an application from Google LLC dated Sept. 30 and would consider the case.
The court listed the Moscow department of Russia’s Federal Bailiffs Service and one of its senior officials as the defendants.
Russia’s Federal Bailiffs Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The RIA news agency reported in August that the same Moscow court had rejected Google’s demand that the 1 billion roubles seized in the Tsargrad case be returned, with the TV channel still unable to access all Google services.
Tsargrad TV is owned by businessman Konstantin Malofeev, who was sanctioned by the United States and European Union in 2014 over accusations that he funded pro-Moscow separatists fighting in Ukraine, something he denies. Russia considers such Western sanctions illegal.
Tsargrad TV had no immediate comment.


Rights watchdogs condemn Taliban for latest media crackdown

Rights watchdogs condemn Taliban for latest media crackdown
Updated 06 October 2022

Rights watchdogs condemn Taliban for latest media crackdown

Rights watchdogs condemn Taliban for latest media crackdown
  • Hasht-e Subh Daily and Zawia News shuttered for ‘propaganda’
  • Afghanistan ranks 156 out of 180 countries on Press Freedom Index

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders condemned the Taliban on Wednesday for shutting down two news websites in Afghanistan and urged the group to stop censoring the media.

“The Taliban must restore full online access to Hasht-e Subh Daily and Zawia News,” said CPJ’s Asia Program Coordinator Beh Lih Yi.

“More than ever, Afghans and the world need to know what is happening in Afghanistan. The Taliban must stop suppressing the media.”

Meanwhile, the RSF said in a statement: “In addition to the Taliban’s continuous restriction of the media, the closure of the websites of Hasht-e-Subh (8am) and Zawia Media, marks the start of a new phase in the Taliban’s war on media freedom.”

“They have used violence and regulations to restrict and censor the media, but for the first time they have gone so far as to directly violate media freedom by closing the websites of two Afghan newspapers,” the statement added.

On Monday, the Taliban’s Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology shut down the websites of Hasht-e Subh Daily and Zawia News reportedly due to “false propaganda” against the Taliban.

The Hasht-e Subh Daily and Zawia News sites are two prominent independent media outlets that have been operated by Afghan journalists reporting from exile since the Taliban took over the country in August 2021.

The award-winning Hasht-e Subh Daily newspaper has operated in Afghanistan since 2007 and moved its operations entirely online after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. It has nearly 2.75 million combined followers on Facebook and Twitter.

Meanwhile, Zawia News is part of Zawia Media, which, according to its website, describes itself as a “pioneer” of digital media in Afghanistan and covers “untold realities” about the country.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Afghanistan ranks 156 out of 180 countries on the 2022 Press Freedom Index. In the first three months after the Taliban takeover in August 2021, 43 percent of Afghan media outlets disappeared.

According to the RSF, although four new media outlets have been created since August 2021, Afghanistan has lost 219 of the 547 media outlets it used to have operating in the country.


Musk, Twitter could reach deal to end court battle, close buyout soon

Musk, Twitter could reach deal to end court battle, close buyout soon
Updated 06 October 2022

Musk, Twitter could reach deal to end court battle, close buyout soon

Musk, Twitter could reach deal to end court battle, close buyout soon
  • Billionaire, after a surprising U-turn on Monday, pledged to finish his proposed $44 billion takeover of Twitter

WILMINGTON: Elon Musk and Twitter Inc. may reach an agreement to end their litigation in coming days, clearing the way for the world’s richest person to close his $44 billion deal for the social media firm, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Musk, who is also chief executive officer of electric car maker Tesla Inc, proposed to Twitter late on Monday he would change course and abide by his April agreement to buy the company for $54.20 per share, if Twitter dropped its litigation against him.
In their effort to end the litigation, the two sides agreed to postpone the billionaire’s deposition in court scheduled for Thursday, the source said on Wednesday, but negotiations are continuing with a full resolution expected to take more time.
However, Twitter’s legal team was yet to accept any agreement and Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick, the judge on Delaware’s Court of Chancery, earlier in the day said she was preparing for the looming trial.
“The parties have not filed a stipulation to stay this action, nor has any party moved for a stay. I, therefore, continue to press on toward our trial set to begin on Oct. 17, 2022,” McCormick wrote in a Wednesday court filing.
Musk’s proposal on Monday included a condition that the deal closing was pending the receipt of debt financing. The potential agreement would likely remove that condition, said the source, who requested anonymity as the discussions are confidential.
Twitter’s legal team and lawyers for Musk updated the judge on Tuesday with their attempts to overcome mutual distrust and find a process for closing the deal.
Two firms that were interested in partly financing the deal, Apollo Global Management Inc. and Sixth Street Partners, had ended talks to provide up to a combined $1 billion, two sources told Reuters.
An attorney representing a proposed class action against Musk on behalf of Twitter shareholders said in a letter to McCormick that Musk should be required to make a “substantial deposit” in case he again reneges on his commitment to close. He should also be liable for interest delaying the closing of the deal, said the letter from attorney Michael Hanrahan.
Representatives of Musk and Twitter held several unsuccessful talks in recent weeks about a possible price cut to his $44 billion deal to buy the social media platform before he reversed course on Monday, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Musk initially sought a discount of as much as 30 percent, according to the report, which was later narrowed to about 10 percent and ultimately rejected by Twitter.
A DISTRACTION
It is not clear what led the Musk legal team to offer to settle, but his scheduled deposition on Thursday in Austin, Texas, was expected to include some tough questioning, which could have given Twitter leverage in talks to close the deal.
Shares of Twitter closed 1.3 percent lower at $51.30 on Wednesday. The stock on Tuesday hit its highest level since Musk and Twitter agreed in April that he would buy the company for $54.20 per share.
Tesla stock ended down 3.5 percent on Wednesday as investors worry that Musk may have to sell more shares in the electric carmaker to fund the Twitter deal and that Twitter could be a distraction for the entrepreneur.
Musk sold $15.4 billion worth of Tesla stock this year, but analysts said he may have to raise an additional $2 billion to $3 billion provided that the rest of his financing remains unchanged.
Musk said in July he was walking away from the takeover agreement because he discovered Twitter had allegedly misled him about the amount of fake accounts, among other claims.
Part of Musk’s case was based on allegations by Twitter whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko that became public in August, and Musk’s legal team on Wednesday rejected the idea that they had inappropriate talks with Zatko or spoken with him before his concerns became public.
Twitter’s legal team has wanted to investigate if Alex Spiro, a lawyer from legal firm Quinn Emanuel, who has led the case for Musk, communicated with the whistleblower as early as May.
Twitter lawyers were suspicious that Zatko sent an anonymous May 6 email to Spiro. The sender claimed to be a former Twitter employee, offered information about the company and suggested communicating by alternate means.
Spiro said in a filing with the court on Wednesday he never read the email until Twitter brought it to his attention and it appeared to be someone seeking a job. Spiro also said he was unaware of the existence of Zatko’s allegations before they became public on Aug. 23.


Myanmar court hands Japanese journalist 10-year prison term

Myanmar court hands Japanese journalist 10-year prison term
Updated 06 October 2022

Myanmar court hands Japanese journalist 10-year prison term

Myanmar court hands Japanese journalist 10-year prison term
  • Toru Kubota was arrested after filming an anti-government protest in July
  • Incitement is a catch-all political law covering activities deemed to cause unrest

BANGKOK: A court in military-ruled Myanmar has handed a 10-year prison sentence to a Japanese journalist who was arrested after filming an anti-government protest in July, a Japanese diplomat said Thursday.
Tetsuo Kitada, deputy chief of mission of the Japanese Embassy, said Toru Kubota was sentenced Wednesday to seven years for violating the electronic transactions law and three years for incitement, which would be served concurrently.
The electronic transactions law covers offenses that involve spreading false or provocative information. Incitement is a catch-all political law covering activities deemed to cause unrest.
Kubota was arrested on July 30 by plainclothes police in Yangon, the country’s largest city, after taking photos and videos of a flash protest against Myanmar’s 2021 takeover by the military.