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Zuckerberg Used Facebook User Data to Help Friends and Hurt Competitors

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  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once considered 100 deals with app developers to potentially sell user data in an attempt to learn the “real market value” of the information, according to an NBC News report.
  • The report cites around 4,000 pages of leaked internal Facebook documents that show that the company instead opted to use the data as a bargaining chip to reward apps that purchased ads, were close friends of executives, or shared data with them in return.

The Report

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once considered selling the company’s user data to third-party app developers to find out just how much the user’s data is worth, all while publically claiming to be protecting that same data.

NBC News released a report Tuesday, saying it had obtained around 4,000 pages of leaked company documents spanning from 2011 to 2015. The documents contained emails, web chats, presentations, spreadsheets, and meeting summaries which reportedly showed that Zuckerberg and his team found ways to leverage Facebook user data to companies it partnered with.

It’s not uncommon for companies to work together to share information about customers, however, Facebook has access to sensitive data that many other companies don’t have access to, like information about friends, relationships, photos, and more.

In some cases, NBC News said that Facebook would reward favored companies by giving them access to the data of its users. It would then deny that same data to rival companies or apps that were not considered “strategic partners.”

For instance, Facebook gave Amazon extended access to user data because Amazon had invested heavily in Facebook advertising and partnered with the company for the launch of the Fire smartphone.

By contrast, Facebook reportedly discussed cutting the app, MessageMe, off from user data access. Facebook’s reasoning was that the app had grown too popular and was now a competitor.

Protecting User Data

All the while, Facebook was publically creating a narrative around its concern for user trust, promising to prioritizer data protections.

Private communication between users is “increasingly important,” Zuckerberg said in a 2014 New York Times interview. “Anything we can do that makes people feel more comfortable is really good.”

However, the documents show that behind the scenes, the company was formulating ways to require third-party applications to compensate them for access to user data, through direct payment, spending on advertising, or data sharing agreements.

Facebook Wants to Maintain Its Dominance

Zuckerberg reportedly talked about pursuing 100 deals to sell data access to developers, “as a path to figuring out the real market value” of Facebook user data and then “setting a public rate” for developers, NBC reported.

“The goal here wouldn’t be the deals themselves, but that through the process of negotiating with them we’d learn what developers would actually pay (which might be different from what they’d say if we just asked them about the value), and then we’d be better informed on our path to set a public rate,” Zuckerberg wrote in a message.

In the end, Facebook decided against selling data directly and instead opted to share it with app developers who were considered “friends” of Zuckerberg, or who invested heavily on Facebook and shared their own valuable data in return.

According to NBC, Zuckerberg “noted that though Facebook could charge developers to access user data, the company stood to benefit more from requiring developers to compensate Facebook in kind — with their own data — and by pushing those developers to pay for advertising on Facebook’s platform.”

The companies ultimate goal was to ensure that Facebook held onto its dominant position in the market.

Facebook Calls Documents Cherry-Picked

Facebook has denied giving any developers or partners preferential treatment because of their spending or personal relationships with executives. Instead, the company told NBC News that its focus on “full reciprocity” was to enable users to share their experiences within outside apps with their Facebook friends.

The company also did not question the authenticity of the documents, which stem from a California court case between Facebook and Six4Three.

Six4Three developed an app called Pikinis, which let people pay to find pictures of users in swimsuits. Six4Three’s app was shut down in 2015 after Facebook changed its policies around the sharing of user data with third-party app developers.

Facebook said the documents are “cherry-picked” and misleading.

“As we’ve said many times, Six4Three — creators of the Pikinis app — cherry picked these documents from years ago as part of a lawsuit to force Facebook to share information on friends of the app’s users,” Paul Grewal, vice president and deputy general counsel at Facebook, said in a statement released by the company.

“The set of documents, by design, tells only one side of the story and omits important context. We still stand by the platform changes we made in 2014/2015 to prevent people from sharing their friends’ information with developers like the creators of Pikinis. The documents were selectively leaked as part of what the court found was evidence of a crime or fraud to publish some, but not all, of the internal discussions at Facebook at the time of our platform changes. But the facts are clear: we’ve never sold people’s data.”

See what others are saying (NBC News) (CNBC) (The Street)

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Celebrities, Politics, & Scandal: The Truth About Deepfakes & Future What Ifs…

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Deepfakes are defined as any “fake” or manipulated video, image, or even audio created using something known as deep learning technology. In this video, we’ll discuss how that technology works as we dive into the complex and controversial world of deepfakes.

You’ll hear from some of the most talented creators on YouTube who use this powerful technology to create impressive fake videos. We’ll also take a look at the more malicious uses of this technology including non-consensual pornography, white-collar crime, and election tampering. Check out our video for the full story.

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Weight Watchers’ Kids App Draws Backlash From Parents and Nutritionists

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  • Weight Watchers recently introduced a new app called Kurbo, which is aimed at helping adolescents between the ages of 8-17 lose weight.
  • Some are happy to see the company create an easy to use app for the millions of children struggling with their weight. 
  • But many parents and nutritionists worry that the app could promote unhealthy relationships with food and worsen or create body image issues and eating disorders. 

WW Launches Kurbo 

More than 80,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for Weight Watchers to remove its new weight loss app aimed at children.

Weight Watchers, which now calls itself WW, introduced a new app called Kurbo last week, saying the program is designed “to help kids and teens ages 8-17 reach a healthier weight,” according to a WW press release.

In 2018, WW acquired the nutrition app, which is based on Stanford University’s pediatric obesity program and “30 years of clinical nutrition and behavior change research,” according to the app’s website. 

After purchasing Kurbo, WW spent about a year developing it, adding in features like breathing-exercise instructions, a Snapchat-inspired interface, and multi-day streaks to encourage daily activity.

Source: CNBC

Users in the U.S. can download the free app, add in their height, weight, age, and health goals, and begin logging in what they eat. In their statement announcing the program, WW explained that Kurbo uses the “Traffic Light System” to guide adolescents towards healthy food choices. 

“Kids and teens are encouraged to eat more of the healthy “green light” foods (such as fruits and veggies), be mindful of portions of “yellow light” foods (such as lean protein, whole grains and dairy) and gradually reduce but still include consumption of “red light” foods (such as sugary drinks and treats),” the statement reads. 

Users can also consult with a personal coach through the app for a fee, starting at $69 a month. This gives them access to 15-minute video chat sessions with Kurbo coaches every week. 

Prices of Kurbo coaching listed on their website.

Kurbo says their coaches are “specially-trained, Kurbo-certified and come from a diverse range of professional backgrounds including counseling, fitness and nutrition-related fields.” 

The company also claims that its mission is to help kids build long-lasting healthy habits. 

“According to recent reports from the World Health Organization, childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. This is a global public health crisis that needs to be addressed at scale,” Joanna Strober, co-founder of Kurbo, said in a statement released by WW. 

“As a mom whose son struggled with his weight at a young age, I can personally attest to the importance and significance of having a solution like Kurbo by WW, which is inherently designed to be simple, fun and effective.”

Concerns Raised 

Fans of WW are supportive of the app, saying they hope the company can transform the lives of children the way it has for so many adults. Others point out that millions of young people struggle with their weight, so it is important to have easily accessible tools to help with weight loss.

About 13.7 million U.S. children between 2-19-year-old are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the CDC uses data based on body mass index (BMI), a measurement based on weight and height that many health professionals have slammed as arbitrary and inaccurate. 

Despite some support, many parents and nutritionists are concerned that Kurbo can create unhealthy relationships with food at a highly impressionable time in a child’s life. In fact, some studies suggest that childhood weight loss efforts can lead to or worsen eating disorders and body image issues. 

Critics have also expressed concerns about specific points on the app, including the success stories section which shows before and after photos of children as young as eight, along with their weight loss totals and testimonials. 

“Looking at before and after pictures of kids who have lost weight is absolutely something that could lead to children to feel horrible about themselves and it really is a form of body shaming,” Keri Glassman, a New York City-based registered dietitian told Good Morning America. 

“They could have created an app for children that promoted healthy eating and healthy lifestyle and good health education and information and help children boost confidence,” she said. “But I feel like the way this app was built is so similar to Weight Watchers, and just geared completely towards weight loss, weight loss, weight loss.”

Others have criticized the goals section on the app, which includes the options: eat healthier, lose weight, make parents happy, get stronger and fitter, have more energy, boost my confidence, or feel better in my clothes. 

Source: CNBC

Kurbo has stressed that the app is meant to be a “family-based-approach,” but many say that working to lose weight to satisfy family members can be damaging and parents handing their child this app can make them feel like something is wrong with them. 

Nutritionists have also criticized the coaches, who they argue are not health-care experts. Based on staff descriptions on the app’s website, the trained experts include people with degrees in economics, tourism management, and communications.

However, WW responded to this with WW’s Chief Scientific Officer Gary Foster telling CNBC: “If we want to live our purpose of making wellness accessible to all and doing it outside an academic medical center, we’re not going to be able to hire pediatricians, dietitians, exercise physiologists and psychologists.”

“What we do well is take science and scale it, measure the impact to make sure we’re living up to our purpose.”

WW was likely expecting some backlash over the app, but still, many are sharing the petition that calls for its removal to spread awareness about the concerns. Holly Stallcup, the woman who started the petition told GMA that she is recovering from an eating disorder herself.

“The story that you are hearing over and over again is all of us who started struggling at the age that this app is targeted for saying it was already bad enough without an app,” she said. 

“If we had had this app in our hands to literally log every bite of food to eat, we know that some of us would have actually died from our diseases because it would have so enabled our unhealthy, mentally ill thinking.”

The petition quickly spread online and has even been shared by Good Place actress Jamella Jamil, a vocal advocate for body positivity.

Christy Harrison, a registered dietitian who specializes in helping people recover from disordered eating, penned an opinion piece in The New York Times warning parents not to let their children use this app, or other similar weight loss programs.

“Our society is unfair and cruel to people who are in larger bodies, so I can empathize with parents who might believe their child needs to lose weight, and with any child who wants to,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, attempts to shrink a child’s body are likely to be both ineffective and harmful to physical and mental health.”

“If we truly want to help children be the healthiest and happiest people they can be, we need to stop putting them on diets of any kind, which are likely to worsen their overall well-being. Instead, we need to start teaching them to trust their own inner wisdom about food. And we need to help them make peace with their bodies, at any size,” she added

See what others are saying: (Time) (CNBC) (Good Morning America)


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Walmart Removes “Violent” Displays Including Video Game Demos From Stores

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  • Walmart employees were given a memo instructing them to remove all signs and demos for “violent” video games, as well as turn off any movies or videos depicting violence.
  • Walmart, which is one of the largest gun sellers in the U.S., has come under renewed fire for continuing firearm sales after two recent shootings at their stores.
  • On Wednesday, dozens of Walmart employees in San Bruno, California staged a walkout to protest the company’s gun sales.
  • Walmart has said it will not change its policies around the sale of firearms.

Walmart Memo 

Walmart is instructing its employees to take down displays “referencing violence” following recent fatal shootings in two of their stores.

On Aug. 3, a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 and injuring dozens more. A few days earlier, on July 30, another gunman shot and killed two employees and injured a police officer at a Walmart in Southaven, Mississippi.

Following the shooting, many politicians including President Donald Trump partially blamed violent videogames for the massacres.

Earlier this week, a memo sent to Walmart employees titled “Immediate Action: Remove Signing and Displays Referencing Violence” circulated on social media. Walmart confirmed the authenticity of the letter to USA Today on Thursday.

“We’ve taken this action out of respect for the incidents of the past week, and this action does not reflect a long-term change in our video game assortment,” Walmart spokeswoman Tara House said in a statement to the media.

The memo specifically tells employees to turn off demos of “violent games, specifically PlayStation or Xbox units” and instructs them to cancel promotional events for “combat style or third-person shooter games.” 

It also tells staff to turn off movies that depict violence as well as hunting season videos that are played in sporting goods sections.

Calls for Action & Employee Walkout

The memo does not indicate that Walmart will stop selling any of the products in the displays that employees have been directed to remove.

Critics have since argued that the store should focus less on video games and more on its current gun sale policies Advocacy groups, employees, politicians, and others have called for Walmart to do more to prevent gun violence, including stopping selling firearms altogether.

Walmart is one of the largest firearm and ammunition retailers in the United States. It also allows customers to carry guns in their stores in the cities and states where open carry is legal. 

Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called on Walmart to stop selling guns, writing on Twitter, “The weapons they sell are killing their own customers and employees. No profit is worth those lives.”

Actress and activist Alyssa Milano also implored the store to stop selling guns on Twitter.

Walmart Employees Walkout

Separately, dozens of Walmart employees staged a walkout in San Bruno, California on Wednesday after two employees sent emails and Slack messages to all about 20,000 employees calling for a strike to protest the company’s firearm sales.

The two employees, Thomas Marshall and Kate Kesner, also circulated a Change.org petition, which currently has over 54,000 signatures. 

Marshall told the Washington Post that some Walmart employees are concerned they could face retaliation from the company if they participated in the strike. “People are really afraid for their jobs,” he said. “Walmart has a reputation for silencing dissent.”

Walmart has since disabled both Marshall and Kesner’s company email and Slack accounts. 

Walmart’s Response

Despite public backlash, Walmart for its part has indicated it will not stop selling guns. “There has been no change in company policy,” Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said in an interview earlier this week.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon also addressed the shootings in a statement on his Facebook page. 

“We will work to understand the many important issues that arise from El Paso and Southaven, as well as those that have been raised in the broader national discussion around gun violence,” he wrote.

McMillon did not provide any specific details or plans.

While many are not optimistic, others have noted changes Walmart has made in the past. In 2015, the company stopped selling assault rifles, and following the Parkland shooting in 2018 they raised the minimum gun purchasing age from 18 to 21.

See what others are saying: (VICE) (USA Today) (The Washington Post)

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