Iran targets e-commerce giant over photos of female employees without headscarves in new crackdown

Iran targets e-commerce giant over photos of female employees without headscarves in new crackdown
Protesters gather in Manhattan to show their opposition to the Iranian regime following the death of Mahsa Amini. (AFP)
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Updated 24 July 2023
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Iran targets e-commerce giant over photos of female employees without headscarves in new crackdown

Iran targets e-commerce giant over photos of female employees without headscarves in new crackdown

DUBAI: Iranian authorities have shut down one of the offices of the country’s biggest e-commerce company and launched judicial procedures after it published pictures online showing female employees not wearing the mandatory Islamic headscarf, semi-official media reported.
The move appears to be part of a new campaign launched last week to impose the Islamic dress code nearly a year after the morality police largely melted away in the face of widespread protests.
Digikala, informally known as “Iran’s Amazon,” appears to have run afoul of the rules by posting pictures of a corporate gathering in which several female employees were not wearing the hijab.
The company boasts more than 40 million active monthly users and hosts over 300,000 merchants. Iranians are largely cut off from international retailers like Amazon because of Western sanctions linked to the country’s disputed nuclear program.
The website of Iran’s Hamshahri daily, which is affiliated with the municipality of the capital, Tehran, reported late Sunday that one of Digikala’s offices had been sealed. It said the website was operating normally.
The website of Iran’s judiciary said court cases had been filed in connection with the photos, without elaborating.
Nationwide protests erupted last fall after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the morality police. She appears to have been detained for violating the country’s dress code, which requires that both men and women dress conservatively and that women cover their hair in public.
The protests, in which women played a leading role, quickly escalated into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s theocracy, which took power after the 1979 revolution. Authorities responded with a heavy crackdown in which more than 500 protesters were killed and nearly 20,000 were detained. The protests largely faded at the start of this year but there are still widespread signs of discontent.
After the protests began, the morality police largely vanished from the streets and many women — particularly in Tehran and other cities — stopped wearing the hijab.
But officials insisted throughout the crisis that the rules had never changed. Iran’s ruling clerics view the hijab as a key pillar of the Islamic Republic and consider Western-style dress to be a sign of decadence.
Last week, the morality police returned to the streets as officials announced a new campaign to force women to wear the hijab.


US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law

US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law
Updated 19 June 2024
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US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law

US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law

NEW YORK: The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced Tuesday that it had referred a complaint against TikTok to the Justice Department, saying the popular video sharing app may be violating child privacy laws.
The complaint, which also names TikTok’s Chinese parent company Bytedance, stems from an investigation launched following a 2019 settlement, the FTC said in a statement.
At the time, the US regulator accused TikTok’s predecessor, Musical.ly, of having improperly collected child users’ personal data.
TikTok agreed to pay $5.7 million under the settlement and to take actions to come into compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a 1998 law.
FTC chair Lina Khan said Tuesday on X that the follow-up investigation had “found reason to believe that TikTok is violating or about to violate” COPPA and other federal laws.
A separate FTC statement said that the public announcement of the referral was atypical, but “we have determined that doing so here is in the public interest.”
Neither Khan nor the FTC statement further specified the violations TikTok and Bytedance were believed to have committed.
TikTok said Tuesday on X that it had worked for more than a year with the FTC “to address its concerns,” and was “disappointed” the agency was “pursuing litigation instead of continuing to work with us on a reasonable solution.”
“We strongly disagree with the FTC’s allegations, many of which relate to past events and practices that are factually inaccurate or have been addressed,” it said.
“We’re proud of and remain deeply committed to the work we’ve done to protect children and we will continue to update and improve our product.”
The complaint comes a day after US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called for new restrictions on social media to combat a sweeping mental health crisis among young people.
Among the steps proposed by Murthy in his New York Times op-ed was notably a tobacco-style warning label “stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents.”
TikTok, with roughly 170 million US users, is facing a possible ban across the United States within months, as part of legislation signed by President Joe Biden in late April.
The company has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban, which is working its way through US courts.
Meanwhile TikTok has been targeted by several civil suits alleging the company insufficiently protected minors who use the platform.


Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality

Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality
Updated 18 June 2024
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Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality

Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality
  • Snap hopes special lenses will attract new users and advertisers
  • AI-led Lens Studio reduces filter creation time and enhances realism

LONDON: Snapchat owner Snap on Tuesday launched its latest iteration of generative AI technology that will allow users to see more realistic special effects when using phone cameras to film themselves, as it seeks to stay ahead of social media rivals.
Snap has been a pioneer in the field of augmented reality (AR), which overlays computerized effects onto photos or videos of the real world. While the company remains much smaller than rival platforms like Meta, it is betting that making more advanced and whimsical special effects, called lenses, will attract new users and advertisers to Snapchat.
AR developers are now able to create AI-powered lenses, and Snapchat users will be able to use them in their content, the company said.
Santa Monica, California-based Snap also announced an upgraded version of its developer program called Lens Studio, which artists and developers can use to create AR features for Snapchat or other websites and apps.
Bobby Murphy, Snap’s chief technology officer, said the enhanced Lens Studio would reduce the time it takes to create AR effects from weeks to hours and produce more complex work.
“What’s fun for us is that these tools both stretch the creative space in which people can work, but they’re also easy to use, so newcomers can build something unique very quickly,” Murphy said in an interview.
Lens Studio now includes a new suite of generative AI tools, such as an AI assistant that can answer questions if a developer needs help. Another tool will allow artists to type a prompt and automatically generate a three-dimensional image that they can use for their AR lens, removing the need to develop a 3D model from scratch.
Earlier versions of AR technology have been capable only of simple effects, like placing a hat on a person’s head in a video. Snap’s advancements will now allow AR developers to create more realistic lenses, such as having the hat move seamlessly along with a person’s head and match the lighting in the video, Murphy said.
Snap also has plans to create full body, rather than just facial, AR experiences such as generating a new outfit, which is currently very difficult to create, Murphy added.


YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos

YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos
Updated 18 June 2024
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YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos

YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos
  • Notes will allow users to provide additional context on videos

LONDON: Alphabet’s YouTube will soon allow users to add ‘notes’ that will provide context on some of its videos as part of a new feature that will be initially rolled out in the United States, it said on Monday.
YouTube will invite certain users and creators, as part of the initial test phase, to write notes that are meant to provide “relevant, timely, and easy-to-understand context” on videos.
The notes, for instance could clarify when a song is meant to be a parody, point out when a new version of a product being reviewed is available, or let viewers know when older footage is mistakenly portrayed as a current event.
Social media platform X has a similar feature called Community Notes through which it allows select contributors to add context to posts including tags such as “misleading” and “out of context.”
The notes feature on YouTube will be available initially on mobile to users in the US and in English. In this phase, third-party evaluators will rate the helpfulness of notes, which will help train the systems, before a potential broader rollout, YouTube said.
Viewers in the US will start to see notes on videos in the coming weeks and months.


Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard

Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard
Updated 18 June 2024
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Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard

Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard
  • BBC investigation alleges that the Greek coastguard caused dozens of migrant deaths between 2020 and 2023
  • Survivors have filed a criminal complaint against the Greek coast guard, accusing it of a slow response despite multiple warnings

ATHENS: Greece rejected Monday a BBC investigation that alleged its coast guard caused the deaths of dozens of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe, denying accusations it had broken international law.
In an investigation published on its website on Monday, the BBC counted 43 migrants it said had died in the Aegean Sea after being turned back by Greek coast guards between May 2020 and May 2023.
Nine of the dead were deliberately thrown overboard, the publicly funded British broadcaster added.
Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis denied the claims.
“We monitor every publication, every investigation, but I repeat: what has been reported is in no way proven,” he said, adding the coast guard “saves dozens of human lives each day.”
Greece has long been accused of carrying out illegal operations to force back migrants braving the perilous crossing from Turkiye’s western coast in the hope of reaching the European Union.
Though Athens has always denied the practice, numerous investigations by international media and rights groups have documented its existence, often with video evidence.
The BBC said its investigation examined 15 such pushback operations over a three-year period.
As well as basing its reporting on local media, NGOs and the Turkish coast guard, the BBC was able to interview eyewitnesses.
They include a Cameroonian national who said he and two other migrants were arrested after landing on the island of Samos in September 2021.
He said the police forced them onto a Greek coast guard boat, beating them as they went, before throwing them out into the water.
He was the only one to survive, with the bodies of his two companions — an Ivorian and another Cameroonian — washing up on the Turkish coast.
The eyewitness’s lawyers are calling for the Greek authorities to open a double murder case into the incident.
The EU said it was aware of the “terrible allegations.”
“Greek authorities, as in all EU member states, must fully respect obligations under the asylum and international law,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told journalists in Brussels.
Tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, have entered Greece in recent years from the sea and land borders with Turkiye.
The International Organization for Migration has declared the Mediterranean passage the world’s most perilous migration route.
In 2023, a migrant trawler with hundreds of people on board sank off the Greek coast, killing more than 600 people in one of Europe’s deadliest shipwrecks.
The survivors have filed a criminal complaint against the Greek coast guard.
They allege that the coast guard took hours to mount a response to the sinking ship, despite warnings from EU border agency Frontex and the NGO Alarm Phone.


The Washington Post’s leaders are taking heat for journalism in Britain that wouldn’t fly in the US

The Washington Post’s leaders are taking heat for journalism in Britain that wouldn’t fly in the US
Updated 18 June 2024
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The Washington Post’s leaders are taking heat for journalism in Britain that wouldn’t fly in the US

The Washington Post’s leaders are taking heat for journalism in Britain that wouldn’t fly in the US
  • The coverage revealed Lewis’ sensitivity about questions involving his role in a phone hacking scandal in the UK

NEW YORK: New leaders of The Washington Post are being haunted by their pasts, with ethical questions raised about their actions as journalists in London that illustrate very different press traditions in the United States and England.
An extraordinary trio of stories over the weekend by The New York Times, NPR and the Post itself outline alleged involvement by Post publisher Will Lewis and Robert Winnett, his choice as a new editor, in wrongdoing involving London publications as much as two decades ago.
The Post said on Monday that it had brought back its former senior managing editor to oversee the newspaper’s coverage of the matter.
Lewis took over as publisher earlier this year, with a mandate to turn around the financially-troubled newspaper. He announced a reorganization earlier this month where the Post’s executive editor, Sally Buzbee, stepped down rather than accept a demotion.
The coverage revealed Lewis’ sensitivity about questions involving his role in a phone hacking scandal that rocked the British press while he was working there. Lewis has maintained that he was brought in by Rupert Murdoch-owned newspapers to cooperate with authorities to clean up after the scandal. Plaintiffs in a civil case have charged him with destroying evidence, which he has denied.
Differences between US and British journalism — some of them big
The public revelation of phone hacking in 2011 led to the closure of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid and sparked a public inquiry into press practices that curbed some of the worst excesses.
The British press has long been considered freewheeling in its pursuit of scoops, willing to tolerate behavior frowned upon by its American counterparts. For example, when Lewis and Winnett worked at The Daily Telegraph in 2009, they cooperated on stories about politicians’ extravagant expense-account spending. They paid for data that revealed the spending, a reporting practice that would be considered a substantial ethical breach in the US
The Times reported on Saturday that both Lewis and Winnett worked on stories in the 2000s that appeared to be based on fraudulently obtained phone and business records.
Both the Times and Post reported on a 2002 story article about British politicians who had sought to buy a Mercedes-Benz vehicle described as the “Nazi’s favorite limousine,” based on information obtained by an actor who had faked a German accent to call a manufacturer who gave it to him.
The Post story delved into Winnett’s relationship with John Ford, the actor whose “clandestine efforts” helped uncover stories that included private financial dealings by former Prime Minister Tony Blair. He was allegedly adept in “blagging,” in which a person misrepresents themselves to persuade others to reveal confidential information. That’s illegal under British law unless it can be shown the actions benefit the public.
Headlined “Incoming Post editor tied to self-described ‘thief’ who claimed role in his reporting,” it was among the newspaper’s most popular stories on Monday. Winnett was chosen by Lewis to take over the Post’s main newsroom after the presidential election.
It was an unusually harsh story for a news organization to write about its own leadership. In announcing that Cameron Barr, who left his position last year, would supervise the reporting, the Post said that “the publisher has no involvement or influence on our reporting.” Other editors, including Buzbee’s temporary replacement Matt Murray, will also look over stories produced by the media team.
NPR’s story details several of these issues, along with Winnett’s supervision — when he worked at the Sunday Times in London — of a reporter, Claire Newell, who was hired as a temporary secretary in the UK Cabinet office, giving her access to sensitive documents that made their way back to the newspaper.
Is this an ‘unrecoverable’ situation for Post leadership?
The Post said Lewis declined comment on the stories. Winnett, a deputy editor at the Telegraph in London, did not comment on the three most recent stories, and a message to the newspaper by The Associated Press was not immediately returned on Monday.
Similarly silent: Jeff Bezos, the billionaire owner of the Post, who will ultimately decide whether this is a public relations and internal morale storm that he and the institution can weather.
Not everyone is sure that he can, or should.
“The Washington Post is a great, great, great paper, and its greatness pushes the rest of us in the media world to do a better job,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote on X Monday. “Yet its leadership is now tainted in ways that are unrecoverable; time won’t heal the injury but let it fester.”
Lewis, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal who is also vice chairman of the board at The Associated Press, has spent the past week trying to assure Post staff members that he understands and will live up to the ethical standards of American journalism.