I invented the web. Here are three things we need to change to save it | Tim Berners-Lee

It has taken all of us to build the web we have, and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want for everyone

Today marks 28 years since I submitted my original proposal for the worldwide web. I imagined the web as an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities, and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries. In many ways, the web has lived up to this vision, though it has been a recurring battle to keep it open. But over the past 12 months, Ive become increasingly worried about three new trends, which I believe we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool that serves all of humanity.

1) Weve lost control of our personal data

The current business model for many websites offers free content in exchange for personal data. Many of us agree to this albeit often by accepting long and confusing terms and conditions documents but fundamentally we do not mind some information being collected in exchange for free services. But, were missing a trick. As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realise if we had direct control over this data and chose when and with whom to share it. Whats more, we often do not have any way of feeding back to companies what data wed rather not share especially with third parties the T&Cs are all or nothing.

This widespread data collection by companies also has other impacts. Through collaboration with or coercion of companies, governments are also increasingly watching our every move online and passing extreme laws that trample on our rights to privacy. In repressive regimes, its easy to see the harm that can be caused bloggers can be arrested or killed, and political opponents can be monitored. But even in countries where we believe governments have citizens best interests at heart, watching everyone all the time is simply going too far. It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, such as sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.

2) Its too easy for misinformation to spread on the web

Today, most people find news and information on the web through just a handful of social media sites and search engines. These sites make more money when we click on the links they show us. And they choose what to show us based on algorithms that learn from our personal data that they are constantly harvesting. The net result is that these sites show us content they think well click on meaning that misinformation, or fake news, which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases, can spread like wildfire. And through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.

3) Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding

Political advertising online has rapidly become a sophisticated industry. The fact that most people get their information from just a few platforms and the increasing sophistication of algorithms drawing upon rich pools of personal data mean that political campaigns are now building individual adverts targeted directly at users. One source suggests that in the 2016 US election, as many as 50,000 variations of adverts were being served every single day on Facebook, a near-impossible situation to monitor. And there are suggestions that some political adverts in the US and around the world are being used in unethical ways to point voters to fake news sites, for instance, or to keep others away from the polls. Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?

Sir Tim Berners-Lee: how the web went from idea to reality

These are complex problems, and the solutions will not be simple. But a few broad paths to progress are already clear. We must work together with web companies to strike a balance that puts a fair level of data control back in the hands of people, including the development of new technology such as personal data pods if needed and exploring alternative revenue models such as subscriptions and micropayments. We must fight against government overreach in surveillance laws, including through the courts if necessary. We must push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem, while avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is true or not. We need more algorithmic transparency to understand how important decisions that affect our lives are being made, and perhaps a set of common principles to be followed. We urgently need to close the internet blind spot in the regulation of political campaigning.

Our team at the Web Foundation will be working on many of these issues as part of our new five-year strategy researching the problems in more detail, coming up with proactive policy solutions and bringing together coalitions to drive progress towards a web that gives equal power and opportunity to all.

I may have invented the web, but all of you have helped to create what it is today. All the blogs, posts, tweets, photos, videos, applications, web pages and more represent the contributions of millions of you around the world building our online community. All kinds of people have helped, from politicians fighting to keep the web open, standards organisations like W3C enhancing the power, accessibility and security of the technology, and people who have protested in the streets. In the past year, we have seen Nigerians stand up to a social media bill that would have hampered free expression online, popular outcry and protests at regional internet shutdowns in Cameroon and great public support for net neutrality in both India and the European Union.

It has taken all of us to build the web we have, and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want for everyone.

The Web Foundation is at the forefront of the fight to advance and protect the web for everyone. We believe doing so is essential to reverse growing inequality and empower citizens. You can follow our work by signing up to our newsletter, and find a local digital rights organisation to support here on this list. Additions to the list are welcome and may be sent to contact@webfoundation.org

Click here to make a donation.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/11/tim-berners-lee-web-inventor-save-internet

Advertisements

I deleted my social media apps because they were turning me into an idiot

Giving up Facebook and Instagram made me realise I was using them to block out real emotions with likes. But I couldnt help going back

In January I deleted all the social media apps from my phone because they were turning me into an idiot.

For months Id been avoiding engaging with anything challenging or anxiety inducing. Worried about where Id be living next year? Dive into Instagram. Tax bill prickling at the back of my mind? Open Facebook. That grief I thought Id processed piercing at me again? Disappear into the realm of likes and follows and push the feelings away. Distract. Binge. Escape.

Whether it was the Pavlovian thrill of the little red circles of like notifications, or a genuine need to connect with others, there was something that kept me along with 1.86bn other active monthly Facebook users going back. With social apps so accessible on my smartphone, this had turned into compulsive checking. Statistica research shows that 47% of UK adults use social media every day, and a GlobalWebIndex report found that at the end of last year people were spending a global average of almost two hours a day on social and messaging networks. I was one of them.

Hours of my evenings, train journeys and lunchtimes were spent hopping from one app to another, cruising for attention in the form of likes. Id open Facebook, then Instagram, then Messenger, and in the time it had taken me to look at the latter two there was a chance that something might have happened on Facebook. So back Id go and open it again. Then Instagram. Then Messenger. The cycle would continue. It was annoying the hell out of me.

It wasnt even meaningful attention I was seeking if social media wasnt forthcoming, Id dip into work email, or even my banking app, in the hope of finding something new there. I just craved something anything in the form of a new notification. I felt like a frantic lab rat waiting to hear a bell ring.

Daniel Gerrard, family interventionist and founder of Addiction Helper, believes that social media addiction is a process addiction that is similar to gambling: The more you do it, the more you want to do it, and the more you block out the outside world. So whether you win or lose, you still get that high feeling. And the more you do it, the more you block out whats going on.

I didnt think I had an addiction, just strong habits. I could, however, understand the pull of social media as an escape from the real world.

So I went clean. I took them all off my phone. Id still use social media on computers, but I wanted to make sure it wasnt always with me every second and everywhere.

Freedom

With my apps gone, I realised that I was feeling bad more often than Id thought. All of a sudden I had to deal with tricky emotions. I would lie on the bed in the evenings with racing thoughts, making worry lists to try and slow down the anxiety. It affected my relationship: I would offload on to my boyfriend, and ask for more reassurance about niggling thoughts. Id come home in the evenings and sit down on the sofa, thinking I didnt quite have the energy to read a book or watch a film. So Id reach for my phone, then realise there was no plaything there, and wonder what I was going to do with the half hour I had to kill.

women
Choosing to dive down a digital rabbit hole in order to be mindless didnt seem like a good choice to be making in my 30s. Photograph: Frederic Cirou/Getty Images/PhotoAlto

I could have fired up the laptop and logged on to Facebook there, but in the time it took to go and get it, I realised the silly comments I was going to stick up were pointless, and werent a good use of my time. Worse still: the effort involved made me self-conscious choosing to dive down a digital rabbit hole in order to be mindless didnt seem like a good choice to be making in my thirties.

It would be a neat narrative if I could say that after initially struggling with stepping away from digital frivolity, the clouds quickly cleared and it made me more functional. But it wasnt that simple.

Being more proactive gave me a greater sense of control and confidence in my ability to overcome small obstacles. But I also missed the control the apps gave me over my mood. Some research has indicated that some of the success of social networking sites is down to how they make you feel. An academic paper by Mauri et al showed in 2011 that the experience of Facebook was different to a state of either stress or relaxation, but that it had its own unique core flow state. While outright avoiding problems isnt necessarily a sensible way to approach life, making time to feel good is and to some degree social apps gave me more control over my immediate mood.

Time-wasting

One way heavy social app use unambiguously crapped all over my feelings, however, was with the guilt that came with the time-wasting. Studies by Christina Sagioglou and Tobias Greitemeyer in 2014 suggested that using Facebook can lead to low moods afterwards, and a feeling that you havent spent your time doing anything meaningful. In my case this was painfully true. I hadnt sorted my living arrangement, Id lost touch with friends, Id neglected hobbies, I was going out less than I used to. I hadnt read a book in six months. Id become a mental slob. This wasnt all down to social use, but it was eating up a lot of my time.

Dr Ciarn McMahon, a Dublin-based academic writing a book on psychology and social media, commented that this sense of time-wasting is a problem for Facebook: They do want you to stay there the whole time, but it can make you feel like youve achieved nothing. Its quite a pleasant feeling, a flow state reasonably similar to reading a book. But after reading a book you can say youve read 20 pages, but if you spend the same hour on Facebook, you have no sense of achievement.

After I deleted Facebook, Twitter and Instagram from my phone, I was alarmed at the amount of free time that suddenly emerged. I used to think I was way too busy to read these days. But within a month Id read two novels and listened to an audio book all in the free time when Id otherwise have been prowling around social apps looking for validation. If Id made this change in, say, June, I could have read the whole of the Man Booker shortlist, plus 14 other novels. In the moments before bed, while waiting for my boyfriend to finish brushing his teeth, rather than checking Instagram, I put a drawing pad and pencil on my bedside table to sketch out photo ideas.

Beyond this, I also found that in moments of boredom, Id text or email friends or relatives I hadnt spoken to for a while. I even phoned some people for a catch up, which felt weird at first. The need to socially interact, which can be difficult in a big city, was no longer taken care of through a passive screen presence. If I wanted to see how someone was, Id have to actively get in touch and find out. It felt a lot more meaningful, especially with older relatives, who were probably on the same page on social media, but not on it compulsively with a smartphone app.

Falling back in

Part of the reward of social media is the sense that you are important. You can be alone in your house but have a million Facebook or Instagram friends it can put you in a false reality, Gerrard says. Without this fake reality, I was living in the present, and gone was the feeling I was haemorrhaging life through my fingertips. Learning, creating, communicating meaningfully felt more wholesome than the narcissistic cesspit of selfies, likes, followers and favourites. So why did I go back?

Scene
At the Womens March, social media wasnt just liking someones cat photo it was a way for millions of people to communicate where they stood politically. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

When I went on the Womens March at the end of January I wanted desperately to connect with other people friends or strangers who were also present, felt the same and shared the same values me. The most immediate way of doing that was to redownload the apps and search and share. So I did. Social media wasnt just liking someones cat photo it was a way for millions of people to communicate where they stood politically. Id also missed Facebook and Twitter as instantly accessible ways of looking at multiple news sources, which, in the age of Trump and Brexit, felt like something I shouldnt do without.

I would like to say that, the cycle broken, I let the apps back into my life but only to use occasionally, for wholesome purposes, while continuing to nurture offline relationships and reading lots more.

But its hard to manage the pull of compulsive checking. Unlike other bad habits, or addictions, abstinence isnt really an option work, news and socialising are now contingent on this technology.

Two months on, things are complicated. It hasnt been quite the same between me and the apps since the big break. But just like returning to an ex lover, its easy to fall back into the same old dynamics. I enjoy being connected, but casual use soon can easily become compulsive checking, and when I catch this happening, I go nuclear and delete them. But then Ill be out and want to post a picture on Instagram, or check if anyones tried to contact me, so Ill redownload. And the cycle continues.

Im not sure whether this ritual is any more functional than what I was doing before. Its disconcertingly easy to leave when you know you can go back whenever you want. I do notice more quickly when Im wasting time, however. I get more done, and I feel less like a 31-year-old teenager. And yet it worries me how easy it is to fall into the trap. It worries me that these networks encompassing everyone I know provide empty, addictive rewards for pointless behaviour. And it worries me that as long as I have a phone in my pocket, that scrolling idiot Im capable of being is only ever a few clicks away.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/14/deleted-social-media-apps-facebook-instagram-emotions-likes

Social media firms facing fresh political pressure after London terror attack

Yesterday U.K. government ministers once again called for social media companies to do more to combat terrorism. There should be no place for terrorists to hide, saidHome Secretary Amber Rudd, speaking on the BBCs Andrew Marr program.

Ruddscomments followed the terrorist attack in London last week, in which lone attacker Khalid Masood drove a car into pedestrians walking over Westminster bridge beforestabbinga policeman to death outside Parliament.

Pressreportsof the police investigation have suggested Masood used the WhatsApp messaging app minutes before commencing the attack last Wednesday.

We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, dont provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other, Rudd told Marr.It used to be that people would steam open envelopes or just listen in on phones when they wanted to find out what people were doing, legally, through warranty.

But on this situation we need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp.

Rudds comments echo an earlier statement,made in January 2015,by then Prime Minister David Cameron, who argued there should not be any means of communication that in extremis cannot be read by the intelligence agencies.

Cameronscomments followed theJanuary 2015 terror attacks in Paris in which Islamic extremist gunmen killedstaff oftheCharlie Hebdo satirical magazine and shoppersat a Jewish supermarket.

Safe to say, its become standard procedure for politicians to point the finger of blame at technology companies when a terror attack occurs most obviously as this allows governments to spread the blame for counterterrorismfailures.

Facebook, for instance, wascriticized aftera 2014 reportby the U.K. Intelligence and Security Committee into the 2013 killing of solider Lee Rigby by two extremists who had very much been on the intelligence services radar. Yet the Parliamentary ISC concluded the only decisive possibility for preventing the attack required the internet companyto have proactively identified and reported the threat a suggestion thateffectively outsources responsibility forcounterterrorism to the commercial sector.

Writing in a national newspaperyesterday, Ruddalso called for social media companies to do more totackle terrorism online.We need the help of social media companies: the Googles, the Twitters, the Facebooks, of this world, she wrote. And the smaller ones, too platforms like Telegram, WordPress and Justpaste.it.

Ruddalso saidGoogle, Facebook and Twitter hadbeen summoned to a meeting to discuss action over extremism, as well assuggesting the government is considering including new proposals to make internet giants take down hate videos quicker in a forthcoming counterterrorism strategy which would appear to mirror a push in Germany. The government there proposed a new law earlier this monthto requiresocial media firms to remove illegal hate speech faster.

So, whatever else it is, a terror attack isa politically opportune moment for governmentsto apply massivelyvisible public pressure onto a sector known for engineering workarounds to extant regulation as a power play totry to eke out greater cooperation going forward.

And U.S. tech platformgiantshave long been under the public counterterrorism cosh in the U.K. with the then-head of intelligence agency GCHQ arguing, back in 2014, that their platforms had become the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, andcalling for anew deal between democratic governments and the technology companies in the area of protecting our citizens.

They cannot get away with saying

As is typically the case when governments talk about encryption, Rudds comments to Marr are contradictory so on the one hand shes making the apparently timeless call for tech firms to break encryption and backdoor their services. Yet when pressed on the specifics she also appears to claim shes not calling for that at all, telling Marr: We dont want to open up, we dont want to go into the cloud and do all sorts of things like that, but we do want [technology companies] to recognise that they have a responsibility to engage with government, to engage with law enforcement agencies when there is a terroristsituation.

We would do it all through the carefully thought through, legally covered arrangements. But they cannot get away with saying we are in a different situation they are not.

So, really, the core of her demandis closerco-operation between tech firms and government. And the not so subtle subtext is: wed prefer you didnt useend-to-end encryption by default.

After all, what better way to workaround e2e encryption than to pressure companies not to proactively push its use in the first place (So even if one potential targets messages are robustlyencrypted, the agencies could hope to find one of their contacts whose messages are still accessible.)

A keyfactor informing this political power playis undoubtedly the huge popularity of some of the technology services being targeted. Messaging app WhatsApp has more than a billion active users, for example.

Banning popular tech services would not only likely betechnically futile, but any attempt to outlaw mainstream networks would be tantamount to political suicide hence governments feeling the need to wage a hearts and minds PR war every time theres another terrorist outrage. The mission is to try to puttech firmson the back foot by turning public opinion againstthem. (Oftentimes, a goalaided and abetted by sections of the mainstream U.K. media, it must be said.)

In recent years, some tech companies with very large user-bases have also been shown to make high-profile stances championing user privacy which inexorable sets them on a collisioncourse with governments national security priorities.

Consider how Apple and WhatsApp have recently challenged law enforcement authorities demands to weaken their security system and/or access encrypteddata, for instance.

Apple most visibly in the case of the San Bernardino terrorists locked iPhone where the Cupertino company resisted a demand by the FBI that it write a new version of its OS to weaken the security of the device so it could be unlocked. (In the event, the FBI paid a third-party organization for a hacking tool that apparently enabled it to unlock the device.)

WhileWhatsApp aside from the fact the messaging gianthas rolled out end-to-end encryption across its entire platform, thereby vastly lowering the barrier to entry to the tech for mainstream consumers has continued resisting police demands for encrypted data, such as in Brazil, where the service has been blocked several times as a result, on judges orders.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., the legislative push in recent years has been to expand the investigatorycapabilities of domesticintelligence agencies with counterterrorism the broad-brush justification for this push tonormalize mass surveillance.

The current government rubber-stampedthe hugely controversial Investigatory Powers Act at the back end of last year which puts intrusive powers that had been used previously, without necessarily being avowed to Parliament and authorized via an antiquated legislative patchwork, on a firmer legal footing including cementing a series of so-called bulk (i.e. non-targeted) powers at the heart of the U.K. surveillance state, such asthe ability to hack into multiple devices/services under a singlewarrant.

So the really big irony of Rudds comments is that the government has already afforded itself swingeing investigatorypowers evenincluding the ability to require companies to decrypt data, limit the use of end-to-end encryption and backdoor serviceson warranted request. (And that before you even consider how muchintel can profitably be gleaned by intelligence agencies looking atmetadata which end-to-end encryption does not lock behind an impenetrable wall.)

Which begs the question why Rudd isseeminglyasking tech companies for something her government has already legislated to be able to demand.

stop this stuff even being put up

Part of this mightbe down tointelligence agencies being worried thatits getting harder (and/or more resource intensive) for them to prioritizesubjects of interestbecause the more widespread use of end-to-end encryption means they cant aseasily access and read messages of potential suspects. Instead they might have to directly hack an individuals device, for instance, which they have legal powers to do should they obtain the necessary warrant.

And its undoubtedly true that agenciesuse of bulk collection methods means they are systematically amassing more and more data, which needs to be sifted through to identify possible targets.

So the U.K. government mightbe testing the waterto make a fresh case on the agencies behalf to push forquashing the rise ofe2e encryption. (And its clear that at least some sections of the Conservative party do not have the faintest idea of howencryption works.) But, well, good luck with that!

Either way, this is certainlya PR war. And perhaps most likely one in which the U.K. government isjockeying for position toslapsocial media companies with additional extremist-countering measures, as Rudd has hinted are in the works.

Something that, while controversial,is likely to be less sothan trying to ban certain popular apps outright, or forcibly outlaw the use ofend-to-end encryption.

On taking action against extremist content online, Ruddtold Marrthe best people to solve the problem arethose who understand the technology, who understand the necessary hashtags to stop this stuff even being put up. Which suggests the government is considering asking for more preemptive screening and blocking of content. Ergo,some form of keyword censoring.

One possiblescenario might be that when a usertriesto post a tweet containinga blacklisted keyword theyareblocked from doing so until theoffending keyword is removed.

Security researcher, and former Facebook employee, Alec Muffettwasted no time branding thishashtag concept chilling censorship

Butmainstream users might well be a lot more supportive of proactive and visible action to try to suppress the spread of extremist material online (however misguided such an approach might be). The fact Rudd is even talking in these terms suggests the government thinks its a PR battle theycould win.

We reached out to Google, Facebook and Twitter to ask for a response to Ruddscomments. Google declined to comment, and Twitter had not responded to ourquestionsat the time of writing.

Facebook provided a WhatsApp statement, in whicha spokesperson saidthecompanyis horrified by the attack carried out in London earlier this week and are cooperating with law enforcement as they continue their investigations. But they did not immediatelyprovide a Facebook-specific response to being summoned by the U.K. government for discussions about tackling online extremism.

The companyhas recently been facing renewedcriticism in the U.K. for how it handles complaints relating to child safety,as well asongoing concerns in multiple countries about how fake news spreads across its platform. On the latter issue,its been working with third-party fact-checking organizations to flag disputed content in certain regions. While on the issue of illegal hate speech in Germany, Facebookhas said it is increasing the number of people working on reviewing content in the country, andclaims to be committed to working with the government and our partners to address this societal issue.

It seems highlylikely the social media giantwill soon have a fresh set of political demandson its plate. And that humanitarian manifestoFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg penned in February, in which he publicly grappledwith some of the societal concernsthe platform is sparking, is already looking in need of an update.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/27/social-media-firms-facing-fresh-political-pressure-after-london-terror-attack/

Facebook looks inward for new AI technical talent

The race is on to attract as much expertise in artificial intelligence as possible at tech companies large and small, and more than a few Silicon Valley giants are looking inward to convert tech talent they already possess into the AI resources they increasingly need. Facebook has its own AI course, which is oversubscribed, according to a new report by Wired, and which is led by one of the leading AI researchers in the world.

Facebooks Larry Zitnick, who is a key leader at the social networking companys Artificial Intelligence Research Lab, as well as a Microsoft Research and CMU Robotics alum, teaches a class on deep learning for Facebook employees that draws over-capacity crowds. Zitnicks course sparks strong competition among engineers who already rank among the best in the world, each vying to come to grips with and excel at a field outside of their original purview, but one that few fail to recognize is the hottest in tech.

On the other hand, AI and deep learning increasingly touch all aspects of the technology business, so experts with understanding of where the overlap might prove most useful in their own original discipline are also going to be very much in demand. There are external efforts underway to help create more of these polyglot deep learning pros, including at online educational firms like Udacity, but new talent isnt rolling in fast enough from outside sources, traditional and non-traditional alike.

Facebook also offers an AI immersion program, which embeds prospects within the work its doing in the field. The goal, again, is to spread expertise across the company, and thread deep learning know-how into the organizations very DNA. Expect this to be the rule for big tech company behavior for the foreseeable future.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/27/facebook-looks-inward-for-new-ai-technical-talent/

Now you can have an iPhone and an Android in one device

If you’ve ever looked down wistfully at your iPhone and thought to yourself, “Gosh, I wish I had an Android phone, too,” you’re in luck. A new iPhone case raising funds on Kickstarter does exactly that.

ESTI’s Eye iPhone caseadds a second five-inch HD screento the back of your iPhone. However, it’s not just a screenit’s a full Android Nougat smartphone experience. The case includes 256 GB of storage, two SIM slots, and its own headphone jack. Its 2800 mAh battery even charges wirelessly. You can check out a prototype in action in the video below.

This second screen offers some other interesting benefits. When you’re taking aselfie with the rear-facing camera, the case will reportedly mirror what your camera sees, so you can properly focus the shot. It also gives you the ability to do a handful of things you’re not able to on an iPhone. This includes native call recording, theability to drag-and-drop files between your computer and your phone, NFC, and access to Android-only apps.

Right now, Kickstarter backers can pre-order the case for $95, but it will eventually retail for $189. The Kickstarter project already surpassed its original funding goal of $95,000 so it should be produced, however, there is always the chance with a crowdfunding project that things may go awry: Shipment could be delayed, or the product could never ship at all.

If that’s a chance worth taking to you, you can go ahead and make a pledge. There are several varieties of the case available, including one with 4G connectivity, and sizes for the iPhone 6/6s/7 or iPhone 6 Plus/6s Plus/7 Plus. Backers can also choose to wait and buy a model that will fit the next iPhone. In this case, the case should ship “a month after its launch,” according to Kickstarter.

H/T BGR

Read more: https://www.dailydot.com/debug/esti-eye-iphone-case/

The 10 most influential smartphone apps

From Maps to Instagram, Uber to Foursquare the top 10 app developments which have been copied, adopted or simply absorbed into everything else

Maps, 2007

Once upon a time, there was no Google Maps and Apple Maps. There was just Maps, the mapping app that shipped with the first iPhone. Where many of the Apple-developed apps in the first iPhone have had little long-term influence, Maps more-or-less created the user experience that is still standard across OSes to this day: pinch to zoom, a small blue dot to mark your location, and an in-built compass for orienting yourself. And with Google as the source of data until the rocky divorce ended that.

Tweetie, 2008

Three words: Pull to refresh. Its not often a one-person development studio invents a new user interface concept which goes on to be adopted by the entire world, but Loren Brichter, the developer of the independent Twitter client, pulled it off. Tweetie 2.0 was released in September 2009; by 2012, the concept had made it to Mail in iOS, with Apple effectively confirming that Brichters innovation was the best way to solve the problem. Oh, and Tweetie itself? It was bought by Twitter in 2010 and became the social networks first official app, three years after it launched.

Uber
Uber making tenuous low-paying employment seem sexy in the eyes of investors. Photograph: Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA

Uber, 2009

The cab app is known for pushing the limits of the law, thumbing its nose at regulations and singlehandedly making tenuous low-paying employment seem sexy in the eyes of investors. Its hard to remember life before the uberisation of everything. Key to its success is its mobile-first approach for passengers and drivers. All you need to drive for Uber is a car and a phone, leaving its roll-out cost at a minimum. No clunky, proprietary equipment required here, which allowed the service to expand as fast as its legal department could handle.

Instagram, 2010

Sure, now its now just Facebooks second brand the Cos to Zuckerbergs H&M, the Picturehouse to his Cineworld, the Audi to his VW but once upon a time, Instagram was the future. The app pioneered the misdirection approach to building a business: pretend what youre offering users is a fancy set of camera filters, when actually youre building a social network. At the time, everything Instagram did was wrong, from its refusal to support Android to its total absence of any web view, but it all came together in the end.

Instagram.
The internets safe space Instagram. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Snapchat, 2012

Snapchat makes it on this list twice over. Its broad influence on the app market was the promotion of ephemerality as a desirable concept: once the app outgrew its sexting reputation, others took note of the fact that users seemed far happier to share content if they knew there wasnt going to be a permanent record of everything they posted. But more specifically, Snapchats influence is in one direction: towards Facebook. The company has gone after Snapchat in one way or another more than sixteen times, most notably cloning the Snapchat Stories feature into Messenger, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Clash of Clans, 2012

Its sometimes easy to forget Clash of Clans is a game, rather than a money-making machine that brought Finnish developers Supercell to the pinnacle of Europes technology scene on a wave of cash. A multiplayer base-building game, it took the basic freemium mechanics that had made its predecessors so successful, and turbocharged them. Players are still encouraged to fork out through frustration, as build-timers stretch out in to the future, but theres also the competitive element: teaming up with the rest of your clan to take on opponents is a powerful motivation for forking out cash. Sure, Farmville did much of it first, but Clash of Clans showed that free games could be huge.

Dark Sky, 2012

Dark
Dark Sky: Hyperlocal Weather. Photograph: PR

When Dark Sky launched, its pitch was simple: a weather app for knowing whether you would need an umbrella in the next hour. Not will it rain in my city today, or whats the temperature going to be at the weekend, but right here, right now, with those grey clouds overhead, am I going to get soaked? It served as a salutary lesson, not just for weather apps, but for a lot of services being ported over to mobile, about what personalisation could mean in practice. Before apps, a weather site could have offered something like Dark Sky, but it would have been mostly useless; now, a rain notification is a cost of entry.

Foursquare, 2013

Foursquare has had many iterations: from a Find My Friends-style app focused on enabling serendipitous moments of hanging out, to a crowdsourced city guide for the whole world, and these days ending up largely as a quiet data-broker sitting on the back-end of services as varied as Citymapper and Untapped. But its biggest influence is the basis of it all: the check-in. Thats what youre doing when you tag a location in Instagram, share where you are in an iMessage chat, or mark that youve arrived at the venue in Eventbrite, and it all started with Foursquare.

Mailbox, 2013

Dearly departed Mailbox, we still mourn your absence. Before it was bought by Dropbox, then unceremoniously shuttered, the mail app was the first one really good enough to replace Apples in-built email client. It worked by narrowing its focus (only working with Gmail, only working on one platform), and building from the ground to help users achieve Inbox Zero, that nirvana of personal productivity. Swipe one way to archive, swipe another to snooze, and get a cheery Instagram pic at the end of each day if you manage to clear out your inbox. The app may be dead, but its influence lives on in, most obviously in the form of Googles Inbox, an app built from the ground up to present a mailbox-style interface to Gmail.

Hearthstone, 2014

Hearthstone
The original collect-em-up app Hearthstone. Photograph: handout/Handout

Blizzards collectible card battler has proved a few things in its two or so years of existence. One is that a casual game can achieve real critical success, and be taken seriously outside the realms of those who only think about mobile games. Another is that being first doesnt matter if you can be slicker, smoother and more accessible than what came before. But most importantly, for the games influence on the rest of the market, it proved that people will pay a lot of money to collect virtual cards. Everyone and their dog has a Hearthstone-inspired collect-em-up today, and that would never have happened if Blizzard hadnt had that initial success.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/24/10-most-influential-apps-instagram-maps-uber-snapchat

WhatsApp brings back text Status it replaced with Stories

The Snapchatification of everything has resulted in backlash for WhatsApp, prompting it to revive its text Status option while keeping its image-based replacement. The move shows how social apps must quickly react to feedback if they make a false step in modernizing to adapt to visual communication.

In mid-February, WhatsApp removed the feature that let you set an away message, and then gave the Status name to a Snapchat Stories clone. But last week, text Statuses reappeared in the Android Beta version of WhatsApp in the About section of profiles.

Now, WhatsApp tells TechCrunch that About Status will roll out to all Android users over the next week and is coming soon to iPhone. Users can open the About section of their profile to set a text Status, and view other peoples by opening their contact when starting a new chat thread or looking at group chat info.

How to change your WhatsApp text Status, via WikiHow

WhatsApp provided this statement:

 

We heard from our users that people missed the ability to set a persistent text-only update in their profile, so weve integrated this feature into the About section in profile settings. Now, the update will appear next to profile names anytime you view contacts, such as when creating a new chat or looking at Group info. At the same time, were continuing to build on the new Status feature that gives people fun and engaging ways to share photos, videos and GIFs with their friends and family throughout their day.

WhatsApps new Snapchat-style Status stories havent received as much blowback from users as Facebook Messenger Day because WhatsApp sticks the feature in a separate tab instead of at the top of the list of active threads. But replacing a utilitarian communication feature with a whimsical content-based one broke the behavior patterns of too many users, so now WhatsApp is giving them both.

WhatsApp replaced its text Status feature with this Snapchat Stories clone

Both the new WhatsApp Status and Messenger Day provide an obvious opportunity for these chat apps to monetize by injecting ads between friends slideshows. They also could limit Snapchats growth and prepare the products for a future more focused around visual communication. Yet the launches have led some to believe the features are more designed to fulfill Facebooks desires than users. Rapid responses to feedback could keep these utilities from alienating their billion-plus audiences.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/15/whatsapp-brings-back-status/

Company offers ‘friends’ to pose for selfies with you so you look like you’re popular

It can be pretty lonely at the top.

For those who have money to burn but no one to spend it with, a Japanese company has a solution in the form of friends for hire.

The company, Family Romance, has a service called Real Appeal. You’ll be able to select gender, age and “appearance” of your companions for large and small events ranging from drinks with a couple of guys, to large birthday parties.

Image: family romance

The service includes “unlimited pictures for social networking, free of charge,” the website says.

It also lists a range of examples in which you might need to hire friends. These include holiday pictures for Facebook, in which you’d like to include a friend or two. “I want to look like I have a nice network of connections, and I’d like to upload photos. Let’s solve this problem with Family Romance agents.”

The company’s pictures come with not-too-subtle thumbs ups.

Image: family romance

In another scenario, the company offers to help you mimic the kind of pictures your more popular friends are posting of their parties. “The staff are happy to stand in as substitutes,” it says.

Naturally, these things don’t come cheap. Two hours costs up to 8,000 yen ($70) for each person you hire, and you have to pay for their transportation fees and whatever they consume at your party.

One of the customer testimonials on the site recounts a trip out to the seaside, where she was able to post many pictures to Instagram and her blog. She also notes that she was pleased to get likes and positive comments on her pictures.

Image: family romance

Image: family romance

Obviously, this is pretty sad stuff. But its mere existence speaks volumes about the growing link between likes and followers and self-worth.

Rather than throwing a fake party, there are plenty of other ways you could spend your time. You might even make a couple of real friends in the process.

[H/T RocketNews24]

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/03/14/selfies-friends-for-hire-japan/

12 ways to hack-proof your smartphone

Protect your privacy, data and peace of mind with this guide to beating thieves, whether theyre online or on the street

As weve recently seen from leaked CIA documents, no one is immune to hacking attacks. Heres how to protect yourself against them, whether they come from opportunist thieves or state-sponsored spies.

1. Keep up to date and dont open up holes yourself

When it comes to protecting yourself against hackers, step one is always to install software updates as soon as they become available: thats as true on smartphones as it is on computers. Yes, updating can be a tiresome and intrusive process, and it sometimes brings annoying changes to the interface that youre used to. All the same, a huge proportion of successfulhacks exploit vulnerabilities that have already been patched; exposing yourself unnecessarily is justdaft.

Id also strongly advise against using unofficial tools to root your phone (known as jailbreaking on iOS), unless you know exactly what youre doing. On a rooted phone, technical safeguards can be defeated, allowing apps to perform all sorts of actions that are normally prohibited and that can include snooping on your personaldata.

2. Be careful of what you install

When you install a smartphone app, you may be asked to grant it various permissions, including the ability to read your files, access your camera or listen in to your microphone. There are legitimate uses for these capabilities, but theyre potentially open to abuse: think before you approve the request. That applies especially to Android users, as Googles app-vetting process isnt as strict as Apples, and there have been reports of malicious apps spending months on the Play Store before being spotted and taken down.

Android also lets you install apps from third-party sources: this allows services such as Amazons competing Appstore to operate, but it also provides an easy way for rogue apps to get onto your phone. Id strongly advise against installing anything from an unfamiliar website.

3. Review whats already on your phone

Even if the apps on your phone seemed simple and safe when you installed them, subsequent updates could have turned them into something more sinister. Take two minutes to review all the apps on your smartphone, and see which permissions theyre using: on iOS, youll find lots of relevant information under Settings > Privacy.

On Android, its harder to get an overview of which apps have which permissions, but there are plenty of security apps that help here, including free packages from Avast and McAfee. These tools can also jump in and alert you if youre trying to install an app thats known to be malicious, and warn you if a phishing attack is trying to trick you into entering a password into an untrusted app orwebpage.

4. Make it hard for intruders to get in

If a thief gets physical access to your phone, they can cause all sorts of trouble. For a start, your email app probably contains a trove of personal information. Make sure your phone is locked when not in use: both Android and iOS can be set to require a six-digit passcode. Your device may offer other options too, like fingerprints or facial recognition. Such methods arent perfect a really determined hacker could copy your fingerprints from a drinking glass, or trick a camera with a photograph of you but theyre a lot better than nothing.

And be wary of smart unlock features, which automatically unlock your phone when youre at home, or when your smartwatch is near; these could let a thief bypass your unlock code altogether.

5. Be prepared to track and lock your phone

Plan ahead, so even if your phone is stolen, you know your data is safe. One option is to set your phone to automatically erase itself after a certain number of incorrect attempts to enter the passcode.

If that seems a bit drastic, dont forget that both Apple and Google operate find my device services that can locate your phone on a map, and remotely lock or erase it. For Apple users, this is accessed through the iCloud website you can check its enabled on the phone in Settings > iCloud > Find My iPhone. Android users can access Googles service at google.co.uk/android/devicemanager. You can also make a missing phone ring helpful for drawing attention to the thief, or tracking down a handsetthatsbeen merely mislaid.

6. Dont leave online services unlocked

Auto-login is a very convenient feature, especially since a virtual keyboard can make typing passwords a chore. Its also a huge liability: an intruder simply needs to open your browser to gain access to all your online accounts.

Ideally, therefore, you shouldnt use auto-login features at all. If you must, use a password manager app that requires you to regularly re-enter a master password. And dont use the same password for more than one app or service: if that one password gets found out, it can be used to access a whole range of private information. This applies even if youre perfectly scrupulous about keeping your smartphone secure: hackers regularly break into online services to steal user credentials, which they then try out on other sites.

7. Adopt an alter ego

If youve followed this advice so far, it should be very difficult for anyone to get into your phone. However, some major hacks have been pulled off without any access to the victim at all. If someone can find out (for example) your date of birth, home town and mothers maiden name all stuff that can be easily picked up from a site like Facebook thats often all they need to reset a password and start breaking into your accounts. You can see off such attacks by fictionalising your past with details that are unlikely to be guessed; perhaps, for the purposes of security, you were born in 1999 to MrsVictoriaBeckham, ne Adams.Just remember what you claimed, or you could end up locking yourself out.

Personal
Personal information can easily be gleaned from sites such as Facebook.

8. Beware open wifi

We all know theres a risk involved in using an open wireless network. But you may not realise how severe it is: anyone in the vicinity can snoop on what youre doing online. This sort of attack demands specialist software and skills, so its unlikely to be a hazard in your local cafe, but its not a danger that can be ignored.

If youre at all doubtful about a wireless network, dont connect stick with your phones mobile internet connection. Or use a VPN tool such as CyberGhost or TunnelBear (both available free for Android and iOS). These tools route your traffic through a private encrypted channel, so even if someone is monitoring your traffic they wont be able to see what youre up to.

9. Dont let lockscreen notifications give the game away

Lots of apps pop up messages and notifications on your phones lockscreen. Its worth thinking about what these notifications may reveal. If you work for a big banking company, for example, a visible email from a work colleague or a meeting remindertells a thief that this might be a particularly interesting phone tosteal.

On iOS, also consider disabling access to Siri from the lockscreen. Siri isnt supposed to give away personal information before you enter your passcode to unlock the iPhone, but past hacks have let intruders use Siri to unlock the device, access details of contacts and view photos. Its safest to shut the feature off entirely: youll find the option under Settings > Touch ID & Passcode > Disable Siri on theLockscreen.

10. Lock individual apps

A strong passcode helps keep thieves out of your phone, but what if a stranger snatches your phone while youre using it? Or asks to borrow it to check a website, then bolts off down the street?

On Android, as a second line of defence, you can lock individual apps, so even if someone can get past your lockscreen, they cant open your email or banking app without a second password. This capability isnt built into the OS, but there are plenty of free apps that provide it, such as AVG AntiVirus Free. iOS users cant directly lock individual apps, but check out Folder Lock free on the App Store which can password-protect your documents and folders, reducing the amount of information a thief canaccess.

11. Get a warning when your phone goes walkies

If youre on the fence about investing in a smartwatch, heres a little-known feature that could swing it: Apple Watch and Android Wear devices can warn you immediately if they lose Bluetooth contact with your phone. If you get this notification while youre in a public place, theres a good chance someones just picked your pocket, and is currently making off with yourphone.

The device will normally be less than 50 metres away when the connection drops, so the warning gives you a chance to ring the phone right away, hopefully drawing attention to the thief and prompting them to jettison it. Failing that, you can lock it before the culprit has a chance to starttryingtobreak in and steal yourdata.

12. Keep an eye on things behind the scenes

No matter how cautious you are, you cant completely eradicate the danger of your phone being hacked not unless you refuse to install any apps or visit any websites. What you can do is supplement your on-device security measures with an online service. LogDog available for both Android and iOS is an app that monitors your identity on sites such as Gmail, Dropbox and Facebook. It alerts you to suspicious activity, such as logins from unfamiliar places, giving you a chance to step in and change your credentials before serious harm can be done. As a bonus, LogDog will also scan your email and highlight messages containing sensitive data such as credit card details and passwords, which you can then purge to ensure they dont fall into the wrong hands.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/26/12-ways-to-hack-proof-your-smartphone-privacy-data-thieves

Hopping rockets and flying washing machines in Google’s wacky race to moon

Five competitors remain in a $20m Google contest to land a probe on the lunar surface by the end of the year, but all their craft are untested, rudimentary, or look like R2-D2

By the end of the year, space engineers hope to fulfil one of their greatest dreams. They plan to land a privately funded probe on the moon and send a small robot craft trundling over the lunar surface. If they succeed they will open up the exploitation of the moon for mining and ultimately human colonisation and earn $20m prize money as winners of the Google Lunar XPrize.

Out of the 29 companies that originally entered the competition, only five remain in contention. Each has until the end of 2017, the XPrize deadline, to launch its robot mission.

It is an extraordinarily ambitious task. To date, not a single piece of any competitors hardware has flown outside Earths atmosphere, while two of the rockets earmarked to send craft to the moon have still to undergo test launches. As a result, many observers now wonder if anyone will win the Google XPrize given its tight timetable.

Naveen Jain, co-founder of Moon Express one of the five remaining competitors is bullish, however. We have tested our lander. We have tried out all our hardware and software and we have raised all the money we need to complete the mission. We are very confident.

The rules for the Google XPrize are straightforward. The winning robot craft must be the first to land on the moon and must then travel 500 metres over the lunar surface while sending back high-resolution images to Earth. At the same time, at least 90% of the mission must be commercially funded.

The first team to succeed in this undertaking will win $20m, with further bonuses on offer. For example, a spacecraft that not only lands successfully but also survives a lunar night which lasts for two Earth weeks when temperatures drop to minus 173 degrees will win an extra prize of several million dollars.

The aim of the exercise is to incentivise space entrepreneurs to create a new era of affordable access to the moon and beyond, say the organisers. It was set up 10 years ago, attracting considerable interest from aerospace investors. Most would-be competitors have since dropped out as the technical hurdles of the mission have proved too onerous. The five now left are:

TeamIndus of India. Set up by dotcom entrepreneur Rahul Narayan, this outfit is backed by a several major Indian businesses.

Hakuto of Japan, which has developed its own four-wheel rover for trundling over the lunar surface

Israels SpaceIL. It has received substantial backing from American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and it wants to create an Apollo moment when it lands, thus inspiring the young to pursue careers in science and engineering.

Synergy Moon, an international concern with individuals from 15 countries, which will use a Neptune 8 rocket, built and launched by Interorbital Systems, to carry a lander and at least one rover to the moon.

Moon Express. Funded by Naveen Jain, the founder of dotcom search giant InfoSpace, it has set its sights on mining the moon for minerals and is the only competitor yet to receive permission from the US Federal Aviation Administration to land a craft on the lunar surface.

Most of the challengers have invested sums up to $60m to develop their technology though several have to finalise this funding. The benefits of taking part in the competition were nevertheless clear, said the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees. Challenge prizes like these are very good ideas. They have played major roles in developing driverless cars and the development of private launch systems like Richard Bransons Virgin Galactic and they could do the same for roboticised space missions.

In future, said Rees, humanity would depend more and more on robot craft to assemble telescopes and to build orbiting solar power plants and to operate mines on asteroids. Such operations are not likely to be in use for many decades, but challenges like these definitely help to get things moving.

It remains to be seen if any of the missions make it to the moon by the end of the year. All are rudimentary in concept, are largely untested and employ a wide variety of technologies. Moon Express will not use a rover to cross the lunar surface, for example. It will employ the crafts rocket engines to hop across it. Similarly, its craft will be launched on a Rocket Lab electron launcher, from New Zealand, while Synergy Moons rocket will blast off from an ocean launch pad. This wide variety of approaches has left some bemused observers viewing the competition as a lunar Wacky Races.

For his part, Moon Expresss chief executive Bob Richards acknowledged that its lander did look a bit like a flying washing machine. Actually it looks more like R2-D2. But it will work, he insisted.

However, one awkward task that faced past lunar efforts returning to Earth will not be a problem that will affect these competitors. Yes, they will have to overcome the headaches of launching a spacecraft from Earth and they will have to land it gently on the moon, a world that lacks atmosphere and thus precludes the use of parachutes. However, there is no requirement in the Google XPrize regulations for competitors to bring their craft back to Earth. They will be left on the lunar surface as possible visiting sights for future tourists.

That does make things a little easier, said Rees. Returning to Earth was the real nail-biting part of the Apollo missions. At least competitors wont have to worry about that.

As to follow-up missions, competitors are also divided. SpaceIL says that if it wins the XPrize, the money will be invested not on further space missions but into educational grants. By contrast, Moon Express has pledged that regardless of winning the prize or not it intends to embark on a long-term strategy of mining on the moon. This effort is just the start, said Richards. We see a real future up there.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/mar/26/google-xprize-wacky-race-to-the-moon

Elon Musks Neuralink wants to boost the brain to keep up with AI

Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk has a new company yes, another one focused on developing the capabilities of the brain through technological augmentation. Neuralink, the new venture, officially broke cover thanks to a Wall Street Journal article today, though its been known for some time that Musk was working on brain-computer interface tech as a means to help ensure humans can keep pace with the acceleratingdevelopment of artificial intelligence.

Musk at Code Conference last year brought up the prospect of a neural lace that would be surgically connected to a human brain and allow a user to interact with a computer without the bandwidth challenges that come with current input methods, including keyboards, mice and trackpads. Hes since tweeted that he has made progress on his own exploration of the tech, and more recently rumors emerged that he was planning to found another company with this project as its focus.

Neuralink isnt going to be focused on upgrading ordinary human brainpower at first, however, according to the WSJ report. Instead, itll explore how brain interfaces might alleviate the symptoms of dangerous and chronic medical conditions.

These could include epilepsy and severe depressive disorder, according to the report. These efforts could build on existing therapies that use electrodes in the brain to treat symptoms of Parkinsons, giving Neuralink a starting point with established science and an easier path to approval for human use. Clearing that lower hurdle would then set up the company for its longer-term goal of human augmentation.

 

It may sound far-fetched, but in fact this is basically the Musk standard playbook for building new companies based on big ideas. Both SpaceX and Tesla used the same model, starting with near-term products that werent nearly as ambitious as later efforts in order to crest a sustainable path to grand designs, like landing on Mars or affordable, mass-produced long-range EVs.

Musk will definitely have a full plate with Neuralink on top of Tesla and SpaceX, as well as his side venture The Boring Company, which is looking into solving urban transportation issues via tunnels. But the CEO sees AI as a risk that could potentially affect humanity at large, and his decision to pursue this potential solution likely seems as imperative to him as does the necessity of expanding our intergalactic colonial footprint, or weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/27/elon-musks-neuralink-wants-to-boost-the-brain-to-keep-up-with-ai/

Between robots safe and unsafe zones, a sort of robot friend zone proposed

It goes without saying that working with robots and heavy machinery is more than a little dangerous. While better practices and ethical companies are still less common than they should be (as this excellent Bloomberg Businessweek piece describes), smarter robots are another, parallel solution. German research outfit Fraunhofer suggests an intuitive model for human-robot collaboration in industrial settings.

In many places where there are robots operating, there are basically two zones: a safe zone and an unsafe zone. Robots can move quickly and with great force, so basically anywhere within their reach is unsafe, and a designated area away from it is officially safe. Many robots wont operate at all if someone enters the safe zone.

But when humans and robots need to interact frequently to inspect parts, to hand things off, or just to get by it makes sense for there to be a third zone, for friendship and jolly cooperation. The Kooperation Zonen, as the creators call it.

Fraunhofers model uses cameras to track the position of people in the robots general area. If theyre in the green, the robot can go at full speed, doing what robots do best. But if someone comes closer, the robot doesnt halt, it just enters a new behavioral profile. It can keep doing its work, but it will do so more slowly, or could execute human-specific motions such as lowering its arm to the required position on the side where the person is.

But if the person steps closer, into the red, the robot stops moving altogether. That close its not safe for it to be moving at all, and anyway the human is probably getting close in order to shut it down or mess with its innards.

Our system is already fully functional and has been tested in the lab, said Mathias Putz, who leads the research division. This year, the goal is get the trade association to test an application and enable its implementation in the industry.

Robots are definitely taking over in many parts of industry, but operating and maintaining them is still a very human job. Anything like this that promotes healthy human-robot interactions sounds like a good idea to me.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/27/between-robots-safe-and-unsafe-zones-a-sort-of-robot-friend-zone-proposed/

‘I cant trust YouTube any more’: creators speak out in Google advertising row

Inconsistencies behind the companys ability to police advertising on controversial content are coming to light

Googles decision-making process over which YouTube videos are deemed advertiser friendly faces scrutiny from both brands and creators, highlighting once again the challenge of large-scale moderation.

The company last week pledged to change its advertising policies after several big brands pulled their budgets from YouTube following an investigation that revealed their ads were shown alongside extremist content, such as videos promoting terrorism or antisemitism.

Havas, the worlds sixth largest advertising and marketing company, pulled all of its UK clients ads, including O2, BBC and Dominos Pizza, from Google and YouTube on Friday, following similar moves from the UK government, the Guardian, Transport for London and LOreal.

Google responded with a blog post promising to update its ad policies, stating that with 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube each minute we dont always get it right.

However, the inconsistencies behind the companys ability to police advertising on controversial content are coming to light and its not just advertisers who are complaining. Some YouTube creators argue their videos are being unfairly and inconsistently demonetized by the platform, cutting off their source of income that comes from the revenue share on ads placed on videos.

Matan Uziel runs a YouTube channel called Real Women, Real Stories that features interviews with women about hardship, including sex trafficking, abuse and racism. The videos are not graphic, and Uziel relied on the advertising revenue to fund their production. However, after a year, Google has pulled the plug.

Its a nightmare, he said. I cant trust YouTube any more.

Its staggering because YouTube has a CEO [Susan Wojcicki] who is a feminist and a big champion for gender equality, he said, pointing out that there were other far more extreme videos such as those promoting anorexia and self-harm that continued to be monetized. He also referenced PewDiePies videos featuring antisemitic jokes that were allowed on the platform for months.

Its bad that YouTube attempts to censor this very important topic and is not putting its efforts into censoring white supremacy, antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, jihadists and stuff like that, Uziel said.

He wants Google to be more open about how exactly they moderate content. I want them to be transparent about what they think to be advertiser friendly, he said.

Google currently uses a mixture of automated screening and human moderation to police its video sharing platform and to ensure that ads are only placed against appropriate content. Videos considered not advertiser-friendly include those that are sexually suggestive, violent, contain foul language, promote drug use or deal with controversial topics such as war, political conflict and natural disasters.

Transgender activist Quinby Stewart agrees there needs to be more transparency. He complained after YouTube demonetized a video about disordered eating habits. I definitely dont think the video was even close to the least advertiser-friendly content Ive posted, he said.

QueerBean (@QuinbyStewart)

lmao of course the first video i had marked as not advertiser-friendly was the one about my disordered eating habits pic.twitter.com/UObYPe4fmM

March 20, 2017

He complained to the platform and the company has since approved the video for monetization.

YouTubes policy is just very vague, which makes sense because I think demonetization needs to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Their policies seem more reasonable when you ask a human to check it, but the algorithm that catches videos originally is really unfair, he said.

Sarah T Roberts, an information studies professor from UCLA who studies large-scale moderation of online platforms, said that large technology companies need to be more honest about their shortcomings when it comes to policing content.

Im not sure they fully apprehend the extent to which this is a social issue and not just a technical one, she said.

Companies such as Google and Facebook need to carefully think through their cultural values and then make sure they are applied consistently, taking into account local laws and social norms. Roberts said the drive to blame either humans or algorithms for decisions was based on a false dichotomy as human values are embedded into the algorithms. The truth is they are both engaged in almost every case, she said.

The fact that it is now hitting Googles bottom line should be a wake-up call. Now its financial and is going to hit them where it hurts. That should create some kind of impetus.

The Guardian asked Google for more clarification over how the moderation process works, but the company did not respond.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/21/youtube-google-advertising-policies-controversial-content