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Facebook suspends analytics firm Crimson Hexagon

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Washington, July 21: After the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Facebook has now suspended Boston-based data analytics company Crimson Hexagon over concerns that it harvested users’ data.

The social media giant was investigating whether the analytics firm’s “contracts with the US government, a Russian non-profit organisation tied to the Kremlin and the Turkish government violate the platform’s policies”.

Crimson Hexagon has reportedly collected more than 1 trillion public social media posts from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and other online sources.

The company has had contracts in recent years to analyse public Facebook data for third-party clients, the report claimed.

It was co-founded by Harvard professor Gary King in 2007 who now leads Facebook’s independent research initiative titled “Social Science One” which is focused on preventing election interference, said the report.

“We are investigating the claims about Crimson Hexagon to see if they violated any of our policies,” Ime Archibong, Facebook’s Vice President of Product Partnerships, said in a statement.

Facebook, however, said the firm didn’t inappropriately obtain any Facebook or Instagram user data, adding that using the data for surveillance is a violation of the company’s policies.

“We do not collect private data from social media providers or anyone else,” Crimson Hexagon’s Chief Technology Officer Chris Bingham said in a blog post.

“Crimson Hexagon only allows government customers to use the platform for specific approved use cases; and under no circumstances is surveillance a permitted use case,” Bringham wrote.

According to Crimson Hexagon, it uses technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help clients get insights and shape marketing campaigns and develop new products.

In a statement to the portal Fast Company, King said: “Even though he is co-founder and board chairman, he has never had day-to-day involvement in Crimson Hexagon.”

In April this year, Facebook had warned investors that more users’ data scandals in the future may adversely affect the social networking giant’s reputation and brand image.

In its quarterly report, Facebook said that its ongoing investments in safety, security, and content review will identify additional instances of misuse of user data.

“We may also be notified of such incidents or activity via the media or other third parties,” Facebook said.

Appearing before the US Congress, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the lawmakers that his own personal data was part of 87 million users’ that was ‘improperly shared’ with the British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook warned investors that there may be more such data breaches in the future.

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Paytm App Removed From Google Play Store

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Google has pulled the popular Indian financial services app Paytm from the Play Store for violating its gambling policies. Paytm is India’s most valuable startup and claims over 50 million monthly active users. Its marquee app, which competes with Google Pay in India, disappeared from the Play Store in the country earlier Friday.

Google said that Play Store prohibits online casinos and other unregulated gambling apps that facilitate sports betting in India. Paytm, which has promoted fantasy sports service within its marquee app, repeatedly violated Play Store’s policies, two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. Paytm’s fantasy sports service, called Paytm First Games, was also available as a standalone app and it has been pulled from the Play Store, too.

The Android-maker, which maintains similar guidelines around gambling in most other markets, additionally noted that if an app leads consumers to an external website that allows them to participate in paid tournaments to win real money or cash prizes will also be deemed in violation of its Play Store policies.

In an email Google has sent to many firms in India, and was reviewed by TechCrunch, the company has asked developers to pause all advertising campaigns in their apps to drive users to websites that offer installation files of sports betting apps.

Google’s Pay app currently dominates the payments market in India, and Android commands about 99% of the smartphone market share in the country.

The announcement today from Google is also a preemptive attempt from the company to remind other developers about its gambling policies ahead of the popular cricket tournament Indian Premier League, which is scheduled to kick off tomorrow.

Previous seasons of IPL, which last for nearly two months and attract the attention of hundreds of millions of Indians, have seen a surge in apps that look to promote or participate in sports betting.

While sports betting is banned in India, fantasy sports, where users select their favorite players and win if their preferred teams or players play well, is not illegal in most Indian states.

A person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that Google has also asked Disney+ Hotstar, one of the most popular on-demand video streaming services in India, to display a warning before running ads about fantasy sports apps.

“We have these policies to protect users from potential harm. When an app violates these policies, we notify the developer of the violation and remove the app from Google Play until the developer brings the app into compliance,” wrote Suzanne Frey, Vice President, Product, Android Security and Privacy, in a blog post.

“And in the case where there are repeated policy violations, we may take more serious action which may include terminating Google Play Developer accounts. Our policies are applied and enforced on all developers consistently,” she added.

In a televised interview with CNBC TV18, Paytm co-founder and chief executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma accused Google of not allowing Paytm to acquire new users.

He acknowledged that Google had reached out to Paytm before and raised concerns about Paytm First Games, but the incident with Paytm’s main app, he said, is over “nothing but” paying cashback to customers.

The cashbacks were issued in ways of cricket-themed scratch cards, he said, adding that if Paytm isn’t allowed to issue cashback to customers, the same rule should be applied to every player. Google Pay, as well as Walmart’s PhonePe give customers similar incentives in India.

“This is the problem of India’s app ecosystem. So many founders have reached out to us… if we believe this country can build digital business, we must know that it is at somebody else’s hand to bless that business and not this country’s rules and regulations,” he said.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Madhur Deora, President of Paytm, said Google did not raise any issue about Paytm First Games app today. He said Paytm had rolled out the cricket-themed sticker for cashbacks early Friday. Hours later Google raised objection about it and suspended the app.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), an “industry body” that represents some fantasy sports firms, claims it complained to Google to take action on companies that distribute or promote fantasy sports through Play Store.

Dream Sports, the parent firm of India’s most popular fantasy sports app Dream 11, is the founding member of FIFS. Dream11 app is not available on the Play Store. In a message to their members, FIFS said the following:

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Instagram down, users reporting issues worldwide

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Instagram Data Leak

New Delhi, Sep 18 : Instagram users, including from the US, the UK, Middle East and India, took to Twitter on Friday to report problems while using the photo and video sharing app.

According to Downdetector website, which monitors online outages, the outages did not appear to hit the entire Instagram network but several places reported disruption in services.

Nearly 72 per cent faced problems with their news feed, 12 per cent had problems in logging in while 14 per cent mentioned website issues.

“Everybody running to twitter to see if Instagram is really down or the wi-fi is not working,” a user said.

“Refreshing my feed on Instagram since its not loading,” replied one user.

“Me on my way to twitter after Instagram went down for the 178th time this year #instagramdown,” another user said.

“Twitter was invented to check if Instagram and Facebook are not working for other people,” tweeted one user.

The social media giant was yet to update about the reason for the outage.

On April 2, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp went down for millions of users in North and South America and Europe.

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Telefonica partners with Japan’s Rakuten to develop open 5G network

The technology promises to radically cut costs for telecom operators as it uses cloud-based software and commoditized hardware instead of proprietary equipment supplied by companies such as Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei.

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Stockholm: Spain’s Telefonica has signed a pact with Japan’s Rakuten to develop a 5G radio network system that uses an open platform and artificial intelligence, the companies said on Wednesday.

The Japanese firm has become the first mobile operator to deploy a network based on a technology called Open Radio Access Network (RAN) that uses software to run network functions on the cloud, which requires less physical equipment.

Rakuten plans to launch 5G services in Japan later this month, Rakuten Mobile’s Chief Technology Officer Tareq Amin said on a call with journalists, after it was forced to delay the introduction by months due to disruption from the coronavirus outbreak.

The technology promises to radically cut costs for telecom operators as it uses cloud-based software and commoditized hardware instead of proprietary equipment supplied by companies such as Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei.

The companies plan to develop a joint procurement scheme for Open RAN software and hardware that will increase volumes and reach economies of scale.

“We are not building a competitive tool with Open RAN. We are trying to build an ecosystem,” said Enrique Blanco, chief technology & information officer at Telefonica, adding that they are open to working with other operators.

Telefonica has been deploying Open RAN pilots in Brazil, Germany, Spain and Britain, and plans to ramp up deployments in 2021 and significant rollouts in 2022.

The Spanish group plans to phase Huawei equipment out of the sensitive core for its 5G network in order not to run the performance and data protection risks that come with relying on one sole supplier, although it has repeatedly said it has no evidence to support U.S. President Donald Trump’s accusations that the Chinese firm’s kit is unsafe.

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