Sure, it all happened in VR. But for Roach — who spotted this gory scene while monitoring his son’s VR gaming on a computer screen that mirrored what Peyton was doing with an Oculus Quest 2 headset — it felt uncomfortably real. Roach knew when Peyton looked down in VR he was seeing a weapon held in virtual hands, not just a plastic game controller. It didn’t matter that it was a single-player game, which meant that the characters weren’t represented by other human players. “It bothered me in a way it doesn’t on flat screens even, because they’re doing it with their hands in physical presence,” he said.Roach, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri and works as community manager for VR-based learning platform Edstutia, sat down with Peyton at the time and talked about what had happened. He also stopped letting his three oldest children (Peyton, now 12, and his 11- and 14-year-old brothers) play that game.Roach is one of a growing number of parents navigating a new frontier in technology, and learning as they go. More kids have access to VR headsets than ever before — and with it, access to a still-niche but expanding virtual world of games, avatar-driven hangouts, and many more activities. And the number of kids who use it is only likely to increase after the most recent holiday season. Tech market researcher IDC forecast shipments of 9.4 million VR headsets in 2021, 3.6 million of which were expected to ship out during the holiday season, research manager Jitesh Ubrani said. IDC believes the Quest 2 makes up more than three-quarters of those headsets. While demographic data isn’t available, Urbani suspects that lots of kids received them as holiday gifts. (Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, which acquired Oculus in 2014, doesn’t release its VR headset sales figures. But the Oculus app that complements the headset shot to the top spot in Apple’s App Store rankings on Christmas day, indicating a spike in headsets received as holiday gifts.)While the headsets are popping up in more homes, several models, including the Quest 2, lack established parental controls like time limits and maturing settings for profiles that you can find on a traditional video game console or a service like Netflix.Meta, which has come under renewed scrutiny in the United States in recent months for the impact its social networks have on kids, is now facing questions from UK regulators about the safety of its VR headsets for kids. Meta provides parents some guidance about proper usage of VR headsets on its website. (The “Oculus Safety Center” tells parents to monitor kids in VR and “use parental controls in content where such controls are available.”) Apps may have their own safety features such as the ability to block or mute other users — popular VR social app Rec Room limits users under age 13 to “junior accounts” that disable the app’s voice-chat function — but there are no controls on Quest 2 itself specifically intended to limit how younger users use the headset. (Parents can set a password to lock the device; that simply prevents unauthorized use.)Companies selling the headsets often set age limits for the gadgets. The Quest 2, for example, is intended for ages 13 and up, and requires a Facebook account, which is limited to those 13 and up. But parents may disagree or not even notice. The only indication of an age limit on the Quest 2 box, for instance, is in small type on the rear corner of a slide-off paper sleeve, making it the most disposable part of the headset’s packaging.Meta spokesperson Kristina Milian told CNN Business that the company is “constantly looking to improve upon the protections and controls” offered to users, and that Quest devices were “not designed” for children younger than 13. Milian also said that its “headset packaging, health and safety warnings [and] onboarding safety video” make this age restriction “clear.”But some parents feel they have to come up with their own rules and VR-safety strategies on the fly. These range from watching kids’ every virtual move in realtime via a smartphone or other display, to limiting what they can download — or even only allowing them to use the technology with an adult.”I think it should be easier for parents,” said Amber Albrecht, a Bend, Oregon-based parent who let her daughter Rylee, 10, and son Cooper, 8, buy Quest 2 headsets with Christmas money in December.Sometimes I feel like somebody’s watching meNormally, parents can see what their kids are watching or playing on a screen like a TV, tablet, or smartphone. It’s trickier with VR, however, as the display sits on the user’s face, hidden from anyone around them.Both Roach and Albrecht told CNN Business that one way they get around this is by using a feature that is intended to let non-VR users in on what’s happening behind the headset, known as casting. This option lets you see what the VR headset-wearer is doing in real time on a smartphone or other flat screen. “Any time my kids jump into VR I take advantage of the casting feature,” said Roach, whose family has both a Quest 2 and a PlayStation VR headset, the latter of which does offer parental controls such as play time restrictions via a PlayStation 4. In his home, he said, it’s actually easier to monitor their three-dimensional activities than two-dimensional gaming on the PS4, which is tucked away in a bedroom.In hopes of preventing — or at least minimizing — negative experiences in virtual spaces, Roach and other parents said they’re monitoring the apps their kids download and setting rules about what types of content are off limits. Roach said his kids aren’t allowed to download any apps, though they can suggest titles to him and he’ll research them (and, typically, play them himself) to ensure they’re appropriate. His experience with Blade & Sorcery helped him settle on a no-realistic-violence policy for VR play, but he’s okay with cartoonish brutality. Albrecht, who works in public relations in the tech industry, doesn’t allow any VR apps that include guns, violence, or zombies, she said. Since she set up both her kids’ Quest 2 headsets with her own Facebook account, which connects to the Oculus app on her phone, she can check the app to see if they’ve downloaded any free apps. The kids use the headsets next to her or her husband, she said, where the adults can hear (via the Quest 2’s built-in speakers) what’s going on, too. For all the potential risks, Albrecht and other parents said they also see how VR can be fun and useful for their kids. “It’s also like this new frontier of their social lives, where they’re learning to communicate,” she said. “We work in a remote world. They have to learn those skills, too.”Impact over time is not clearWhile casting and limiting types of content kids can access may help adults track what their children are doing, it doesn’t eliminate the possibility that a child will encounter violence or abuse in a virtual setting.”Things you see you can’t un-see,” said Kavya Pearlman, founder and CEO of XR Safety Initiative, whose efforts include the creation of child-safety standards for VR and augmented reality, or AR.Additionally, very little is known about how VR usage can impact children over time. A range of studies have been conducted over the years, but it remains unclear whether and how VR can harm a child’s eyes, brain, or psychological development. Pearlman hopes to see more research this year. Such work may be financed by Meta itself, as it announced in 2021 a $50 million investment in research geared in part toward “youth digital literacy programs” for the so-called metaverse.Beyond monitoring what kids are doing when wearing a headset, Pearlman recommends talking to kids about not talking to strangers in VR (as she pointed out, “that could be anyone” you’re interacting with). The XR Safety Initiative lists a host of recommendations for parents whose kids use VR online — including that they check individual apps for the existence of different safety settings. Pearlman also advised that kids spend no more than 20 minutes using VR at a time, though she acknowledged it’s an arbitrary time limit.”I think the time limit really depends on the amount of stimulant the experience gives to the child, which we can’t really calculate on the fly,” she said.Even if parents don’t set a time limit, however, a quirk of existing wireless VR headsets may become a benefit for those weary of tracking their kids’ virtual activities, as they only have a few hours of charge and may run out far faster than other gadgets kids might use.”I will say that is the other parental control: the battery life. It does not last that long,” Albrecht said.
Sure, some things were familiar: companies showed off the latest batch of flashy TVs. The onslaught of oddball gadgets got odder. And there was no shortage of next-level health trackers, including a lightbulb that tracks how you sleep. But this year’s CES was also a grand experiment in how to hold an in-person event during a pandemic. Covid-19 rapid tests were handed out to attendees, and masks and proof of vaccination were required.Many major tech companies and media outlets pulled out in the lead-up to the show. There were widely shared photos of nearly empty showroom areas. And a number of presentations, including CES’ kickoff event with General Motors CEO Mary Barra, were pre-recorded. “It was surreal,” said Martin DeBono, president of GAF Energy, who decided to follow through with attending in person to show off his company’s new solar roof shingle. “This was probably my eleventh year going to CES and the lack of crowds was bizarre.” Still, there was plenty of talk about the products on display this year. Here are 5 takeaways from the giant tech trade show: Everyone wants a piece of the metaverseIt’s been years since CES had a “next big thing” that everyone was talking about, but this year the conversation was largely focused on the metaverse, which refers to efforts to combine virtual and augmented reality technologies in a new online realm. Facebook (FB) parent company Meta and its Oculus gaming system is by far the market leader right now, as it undergoes a massive hiring spree to build out the concept, but many other companies are still trying to get in on the action. The new PlayStation VR 2 headset and its VR2 Sense controller, as well as the HTC’s Vive wrist controller for the Vive Focus 3 headset were both unveiled at CES. And if these products are any indication, these companies understand they need to come up with increasingly immersive hardware and experiences. For example, the VR2 Sense controller features eye tracking and headset feedback that amplifies the sensations of in-game actions from the player. The company said in a press release that gamers can feel a character’s “elevated pulse during tense moments, the rush of objects passing close to the character’s head, or the thrust of a vehicle as the character speeds forward.” “This is the first time in a while that we see a new and strong topic emerging at CES, as for years this has always been about AI, internet-of-things or autonomous vehicles,” said Pedro Pacheco, senior research director at market research firm Gartner. “At the moment, many companies are including Metaverse on their long-term tech roadmap thinking about how they should bring it to life.” Cars takes center stageAuto tech is always a big part of CES, but this year, one announcement after another seemed to make headlines: BMW teased a color-changing car, John Deere unveiled a self-driving tractor, and companies committed to making electric vehicles more affordable.BMW’s electric iX concept car featured electronic panels not unlike what you’d find in a Kindle e-reader that are coated to protect against the weather. In a demo, BMW showed how an owner could switch the car’s color from black to white in a matter of seconds. (BMW has not announced any plans to bring this sort of technology to a production vehicle.)Carmakers also launched several new electric vehicles with more competitive prices, including the Silverado EV starting at $39,900 and the 2024 Chevy Equinox starting at $30,000. Meanwhile, the trend of tech companies entering the vehicle manufacturing space continued: Sony announced plans for its own car brand, following in the footsteps of other tech companies like Xiaomi and Foxconn. If rumors are true, Apple could join the club, too.Dystopian techWhile some of the innovations presented an optimistic vision for the future, others made the future (and even our current pandemic reality) look a bit more bleak. Take the “Vision Omnipod,” a concept LG announced this week. The autonomous vehicle — which is not yet an actual commercial product — features a fridge, a chair that reclines into a bed, a screen that passengers could use to watch movies or access games and other virtual spaces, and an AI assistant that could keep people entertained, help them work out or order them food. Loved quarantining all by yourself at home during the pandemic? Then maybe you’ll enjoy hiding in this high-tech solo pod forever.Other companies introduced more realistic but still unsettling products, including a charging station that purports to be able to prevent your phone or smart device from listening in on sensitive conversations. (While tech gadgets listening to users is a longtime fear, it’s mostly unfounded, though the concern itself points to our sometimes strained relationship with technology.) If that’s not enough, there was also a stuffed animal, named Amagami Ham Ham, that will nibble on your finger to relieve stress because that’s apparently where we’re at after the chaos of the past two years. Changing form factors isn’t just a gimmickTech companies have been experimenting with foldable technology for the past few years, but many companies like Samsung showed off improved versions at CES 2022 that highlight how the niche market is evolving. Samsung’s tri-fold Flex S and Flex G concepts allow users to fold a tablet into three parts so it appears almost like an “s,” hinting at how its foldable smartphone lines, Flip and Fold, could evolve in the future. Meanwhile, Asus’ new Zenbook 17, a 17-inch foldable laptop with an OLED display, can be used as a tablet or folded in half like a laptop, with a 12.5-inch screen up top and an on-screen keyboard displaying below. Other companies like Dell embraced products that cater to the hybrid work trend. Dell’s Concept Flow connects and disconnects laptops from a second display based on proximity, and Dell’s movable Pari webcam prototype attaches anywhere, whether it’s on the side of a computer screen or above a drawing pad if you want colleagues to see notes in real time during a meeting.Small businesses step out of Big Tech’s shadowIn typical years, much of the attention during CES is directed at the biggest names in tech, and there were concerns that this year’s event would fall flat after major exhibitors such as Meta and Amazon pulled out days before it started. But for the companies that decided to stay the course and attend in person, some said those empty showroom floor spaces were actually a boon. “Normally, when you come to a CES, it’s dominated by the biggest technology companies,” making it harder to get media attention, said Richard Browning, chief marketing and sales officer at Nextbase, which launched a new smart dash camera called Nextbase IQ at CES this year. But this year, the company’s new product got more press than expected in part “because a lot of the major brands haven’t been here in person,” he said. While tech giants have plenty of other ways to reach audiences, CES is a crucial international venue for smaller players to reach consumers and industry partners. In-person attendees said that despite the smaller overall attendance, those who were on the ground were more open to discovering new technologies and engaging more deeply. And some companies said the virtual elements of the show were less appealing after nearly two years of regularly showcasing their tech over Zoom meetings and other virtual forums. In fact, after this year, some like GAF Energy’s DeBono see potential for a new (if improbable) future for CES conferences where the “hordes of people” who just want to see the newest TVs and other common gadgets stay home, and only those who really want to see new innovations make the trip to be there in person. “CES will persist and I think the proportion of true innovation to just iteration will increase,” he said.
Apple’s CEO received nearly $100 million in total compensation in 2021, a sixfold increase from the prior year, according to a proxy statement filed by the company on Thursday. Cook’s $98.7 million pay package was largely made up of roughly $82 million in stock awards. Beyond that, Cook also received a $3 million base salary, $12 million in bonuses, as well as the company spending on things like private jets and security. His total compensation is 1,447 times the median Apple employee salary of $68,254, according to the filing. Apple said this number is based on a new calculation for median employee pay. The spike in Cook’s compensation came as Apple’s business was booming. It posted record profit and sales in 2021, fueled by strength from its core iPhone business and its subscription services. This week, Apple became the the world’s first $3 trillion company.Last year marked a decade since Cook took on the role of CEO from Apple’s late cofounder Steve Jobs. Cook’s time in the top spot at Apple made him a billionaire. He has previously pledged to give all of his wealth away, after paying for his nephew’s college tuition.
“It’s impossible to find Covid tests because of the shortage in the city,” said Kennedy, who works hourly to pay his bills. “I want to get back to work but need to make sure I’m taking the right precautions and not exposing anyone else.”After standing in long lines at testing centers and visiting pharmacies to buy rapid tests, to no avail, he came across an Instagram post from someone he went to high school with who was offering to sell them to people directly: $20 for each test, plus a $5 delivery fee — cheaper than some tests found in pharmacies. Kennedy bought five.He is among a growing number of people who’ve turned to sites such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Craigslist, LinkedIn and eBay in search of an at-home Covid test as they sell out at drug stores across the nation and lines at testing centers can be hours-long. Kennedy’s former classmate, Joey, an electrician who asked to not share his name for privacy reasons, bought a stash of 100 test kits from his friend who works at a healthcare company. “I have to get tested for work, so it was getting very annoying to have to wait at urgent care for three hours, and sometimes, not even get one,” Joey told CNN, noting he’s paid $45 for two tests at pharmacies. “It just wasn’t sustainable.”After purchasing them in bulk — 100 tests for $900 (about $9 each) — he began offering them on Facebook and Instagram to people in his local community. He said he sold 25 in one night, and 45 the following day; many of which were strangers and parents, who needed tests to send their kids back to school after the winter break. I was one of them.A scarcity of covid tests After a long winter break, my son was set to resume preschool on Monday morning. A negative Covid test was required, and the only one we had came back inconclusive. While we self-isolated in the days prior, panic washed over me: Where would we find another test amid a shortage in the New York area in time for school the following day? After seeing Joey’s post on a local parenting Facebook group, I had one 45 minutes later without ever leaving the house. I was left with many questions: Was this ethical? Is the test even real? “I’m not looking to make a killing,” Joey later told me. “I had access to the tests — I wasn’t hoarding or overbuying them at a drug store — and it’s almost criminal that people are waiting in lines for hours in the cold, probably getting sicker. I decided to deliver them straight to houses.”Facebook told CNN Business it prohibits the sale of test kits across our platforms and has a system for regulators and law enforcements to report behavior they believe is unlawful or against our rules. eBay, TikTok and Craigslist did not respond to a request for comment. LinkedIn’s policy is to take down any posts that aim to sell any items, whether it’s tied to the pandemic or not. The emergence of Covid test resales comes as frustrated Americans struggle to get tested and face long lines amid an increased demand following holiday travel and gatherings. Amazon, CVS Health and Walgreens are limiting the number of at-home Covid kits customers can purchase. Walmart recently hiked the prices for some of its rapid Covid tests from $14 to $20 for two. Experts say reselling kits in small numbers and without a large markup price is not illegal — nor is purchasing these products — but there are risks, for both buyers and sellers.”We’ve received reports that unauthorized sellers are trying to profit from the pandemic by selling Covid-19 tests online,” wrote Washington DC Attorney General Karl Racine in a tweet on Tuesday. “Please beware and only buy tests through authorized retailers do you can ensure the integrity of your test.”The Federal Trade Commssion recently published guidance around how to avoid buying fake Covid tests online, such as vetting the buyers, paying by credit card to dispute the charge if scammed and only buying kits approved by the Food and Drug administration.The Biden administration recently vowed to distribute 500 million free at-home tests, but it’s unclear when a website will launch for Americans to request these tests and how soon they’ll be shipped out. A senior government official told CNN last week it is “working through all the details. And we’ll have those in the coming weeks.”The administration also said reimbursement for at-home testing will begin next week through insurance companies.An opportunity for another pandemic secondhand marketIn the meantime, Joey is doing brisk business. But his efforts were met with mixed reactions; some people on Facebook criticized how he’d make a profit by reselling of tests, others came to his defense: “This kid isn’t price gouging at all and he’s taking an opportunity to make things easier for people. He’s even willing to deliver — geez!”Ultimately, Joey’s post was taken down by the group’s moderator. He wasn’t notified why.Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, said the trend has also emerged on his local Facebook parenting group in Connecticut.”A black market skewing the availability of testing toward those who can pay is completely a reflection of government failure at the national and state levels to provide adequate testing,” he said. “Am I surprised that a black market has started to flourish? Not in the least. There are many places that say you can’t come here unless you’ve had a negative test, but there are no tests. That’s called, by most black market people, an opportunity.”Beyond issues of equity, buying Covid-19 tests from strangers is subject to fraud — people don’t know who they are or what they’re really offering.”It’s unethical to price gouge in the face of panic and in the face of shortage, but it will go on,” Caplan said. “As for people buying them, what are they gonna do? They can’t find tests any other way. I cannot blame someone for wanting to protect their child, but you have to then remember the person who sells you something on the black market could sell you something that’s not going to work.” This isn’t the first time a secondary market has emerged during the pandemic. In the spring of 2020, a shortage of protective gear ignited a secondary market. “We used some of it [at the NYU hospital], but oftentimes it would tear, rip or wasn’t up to manufacturing standards,” Caplan said. “Sometimes the black market people took the money and never delivered it at all.” It’s also not the first time these issues of scarcity and equity have played out during the pandemic. Early last year, concierge healthcare provider One Medical came under investigation for allowing friends and family members of its executives and its wealthier clients to skip the line to get a vaccine.Although reselling Covid-19 tests is not overtly illegal, Jessica Rich, a former FTC official who worked on consumer protection issues, said if there is some collusive behavior occurring between entities or individuals, or some deceptive claim that is made in connection with the sales, then perhaps some state laws, the FTC Act — which prohibits unfit or deceptive practices — or the Unfair, Deceptive or Abusive Acts and Practices (UDAAP) law could apply. “If someone is selling a small number, like a couple dozen, a federal agency isn’t going to bring action against someone doing this at that scale, especially if they’re open about the price,” Rich said.However, pandemic profiteering could potentially end badly for sellers. In the early days of the pandemic, Matt and Noah Colvin rose to infamy for hoarding and selling hand sanitizer. Marketplaces like Amazon and eBay pulled their listings and warned others they could lose their accounts. They ended up with over 17,000 bottles and nowhere to sell them, according to the New York Times. (One of the brothers later expressed regret and donated supplies to charity.)One Craigslist seller, who asked to remain anonymous, said they began reselling tests after waiting in line for hours, missing work and paying a premium for PCR results without insurance, hoping to earn some of his money back. “I do feel a bit crummy inflating the price, but Covid has screwed my work up and I need to pay rent,” the listing said. “Had to call 50+ pharmacies on the drive from DC to find these.” The seller told CNN Business they would personally “pay double to not deal with the lines and get results quickly if it was available.”Some, like Joey, have gotten kicked out of Facebook groups. Russell Schwartz and his wife Katherine Quirk-Schwartz, a nurse, run a South Florida Facebook page that connects people with Covid-19 related resources. In recent weeks, they shifted some of the group’s focus from helping people find vaccines to assisting members with locating home test kits. Schwartz said he’s kicked people out of the group for attempting to sell tests.”Our greatest fear is individuals praying on our group because of size, population and demographic of older users,” Quirk-Schwartz said.Additional reporting by CNN Business’ Jennifer Korn
Ahead of the one-year anniversary Facebook-parent company Meta, Twitter and YouTube say they have been monitoring their platforms for harmful content related to the Capitol riot. “We have strong policies that we continue to enforce, including a ban on hate organizations and removing content that praises or supports them,” a Meta spokesperson told CNN, adding that the company has been in contact with law enforcement agencies including the FBI and Capitol Police around the anniversary. As part of its efforts, Facebook is proactively monitoring for content praising the Capitol riot, as well as content calling for people to carry or use weapons in Washington DC, according to the company. “We’re continuing to actively monitor threats on our platform and will respond accordingly,” the Meta spokesperson said. Twitter convened an internal working group with members from various parts of the company to ensure the platform could enforce its rules and protect users around the one-year mark of January 6, a Twitter spokesperson told CNN. “Our approach both before and after January 6  has been to take strong enforcement action against accounts and Tweets that incite violence or have the potential to lead to offline harm,” said the spokesperson, adding Twitter also has open lines of communication with federal officials and law enforcement. YouTube’s Intelligence Desk, a group tasked with proactively finding and moderating problematic content, has been monitoring trends around content and behavior related to the Capitol riot and its anniversary. As of Wednesday, the company had not detected an increase in content containing new conspiracies related to January 6 or the 2020 election that violates its policies, according to spokesperson Ivy Choi. “Our systems are actively pointing to high authority channels and limiting the spread of harmful misinformation for election-related topics,” Choi said in a statement. These efforts come after Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), YouTube (GOOGL) and other platforms have faced intense criticism over the past year for social media’s role in the crisis. The companies, meanwhile, have largely argued that they had strong policies in place even before the Capitol riot and have only strengthened protections and enforcement since. As rioters escalated their attack on the Capitol last January 6 — breaching the building, ransacking Congressional offices, overpowering law enforcement officers — social media platforms scrambled to do what they could to stem the fallout, first labeling then-President Trump’s posts, then removing them, then suspending his account altogether.But some experts question whether the approach to moderation has substantively changed over the past year.”While I would certainly hope that they would have learned from what happened, if they have, they haven’t really communicated about it publicly,” said Laura Edelson, a researcher at New York University who studies online political communication. That’s especially concerning, Edelson says, as there could be a resurgence of misinformation about the attack and the conspiracy theory that the election was stolen popping up around the one-year mark of the Insurrection. “A lot of the narrative inside the far-right movement is that one, [the Insurrection] wasn’t that bad, and two, it was actually the other guys that did it,” she said. In interviews leading up to the January 6 anniversary, some Trump supporters in Washington DC told CNN they believe Democrats or the FBI were responsible for the attack. Facebook’s response to January 6 Facebook, now a division of Meta, has taken the most heat of any social media platform around January 6, due in part to internal documents leaked by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen that showed the company rolled back protections it had put in place for the 2020 election ahead of January 6 last year. Haugen told the SEC in a filing that the company only reimplemented some such protections after the Insurrection had begun. Days after the Capitol riot, Facebook banned “stop the steal” content. And internally, researchers analyzed why the company failed to prevent the growth of the movement, documents since released by Haugen (and obtained by CNN from a Congressional source) revealed. Meta has also taken steps to “disrupt militarized social movements” and prevent QAnon and militia groups from organizing on Facebook, Meta’s Vice President of Integrity Guy Rosen said in an October blog post about the company’s efforts around the 2020 election. Meta has pushed back on Haugen’s claims, and has tried to distance itself from the attack. Nick Clegg, the company’s vice president of global affairs, told CNN in October that it is “ludicrous” to blame the riot on social media. “The responsibility for the violence of January 6 and the Insurrection on that day lies squarely with the people who inflicted the violence and those who encouraged it,” Clegg said. But researchers say the company is still struggling to crack down on misinformation and extremist content. “We haven’t really seen any substantial changes in in Facebook’s content moderation that they have talked about publicly or that have been externally detectable,” Edelson said. “It appears externally like they’re still using fairly rudimentary keyword matching tools to identify problematic content, whether it’s hate speech or misinformation.” Meta noted in a September blog post that its AI systems have improved at proactively removing problematic content such as hate speech. And in its November Community Standards Enforcement Report, the company said the prevalence of views of hate speech content versus other types of content had declined for the fourth consecutive quarter. A new report released Tuesday by tech advocacy and research group the Tech Transparency Project found that content related to the “Three Percenters,” an anti-government, extremist militia group whose followers have been charged in connection with the January 6 attack, is still widely available on Facebook, some of which uses “militia” in group names or includes well-known symbols associated with the group. As TTP researchers looked at this content, Facebook’s “suggested friends” and “related pages” features recommended accounts or pages with similar imagery, according to the report. (TTP is funded in part by an organization founded by Pierre Omidyar.) “As Americans approach the first anniversary of the insurrection, TTP has found many of the same troubling patterns on Facebook, with the company continuing to overlook militant groups that pose a threat to democracy and the rule of law,” the report states, adding that Facebook’s “algorithms and advertising tools are often promoting this kind of content to users.” “We removed several of these groups for violating our policies,” Meta spokesperson Kevin McAlister said in a statement to CNN about the TTP report. Facebook says it has removed thousands of groups, pages, profiles and other content related to militarized social movements and has banned militia organizations, including the Three Percenters, and noted that the pages and groups cited in TTP’s report had relatively small followings. The other players To be sure, the misinformation landscape extends well beyond Facebook, including to more fringe platforms, such as Gab, that have gained popularity in the wake of January 6 on the back of promises not to moderate content, as bigger companies faced calls to crack down on hate speech, misinformation and violent groups. In August, the House Select Committee investigating the deadly January 6 Capitol riot sent letters to 15 social media companies, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, seeking to understand how misinformation and efforts to overturn the election by both foreign and domestic actors existed on their platforms. Six days after the attack, Twitter said it had removed 70,000 accounts spreading conspiracy theories and QAnon content. Since then, the company says it has removed thousands more accounts for violating its policy against “coordinated harmful activity” and also says it prohibits violent extremist groups.”Engagement and focus across government, civil society, and the private sector are also critical,” the Twitter spokesperson said. “We recognize that Twitter has an important role to play, and we’re committed to doing our part.” YouTube has said that in the months before the Capitol riot, it had removed the channels of various groups that were later associated with the attack, such as those connected to the Proud Boys and QAnon, for violating existing policies on hate, harassment and election integrity. During the attack and in the days following, the company pulled down livestreams of the riot and other related content that violated its policies, and YouTube says its systems are more likely to point users to authoritative sources of information about elections. “Over the last year, we’ve removed tens of thousands of videos for violating our U.S. elections-related policies, the majority before hitting 100 views,” YouTube’s Choi said. “We remain vigilant ahead of the 2022 elections and our teams are continuing to closely monitor for and quickly address election misinformation.” –CNN’s Oliver Darcy contributed to this report.
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On Sunday, Twitter permanently banned one of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s accounts over multiple violations of the company’s Covid-19 misinformation policy. The final straw, a person familiar with the decision told CNN, was a tweet containing a graph that misleadingly purported to show deaths related to Covid-19 vaccines, a statistic Greene claimed has been ignored. (All Covid-19 vaccines available in the United States have been scientifically proven to be extremely safe and highly effective.) Since the insurrection, Republicans have only stepped up their attacks on Big Tech platforms as mustache-twirling manipulators of partisan politics. And judging by the backlash from Greene and her allies this week, Republicans seem determined to make Big Tech a central ideological villain in 2022. But even as many have labeled this year a “do or die” moment for tech regulation, the strident, almost gleeful attempts by some politicians to caricature tech platforms risks setting back the effort and further endangers those who would benefit the most from tougher tech oversight — everyday users, including their own constituents who are being bombarded daily by public health misinformation and conspiracy theories.In a statement following the ban, Greene labeled Twitter “an enemy to America.” Within hours, Greene began fundraising off of the ban and hinted at “big plans to fight back,” though she currently sits on no congressional committees and, according to a CNN analysis, spends most of her time filing politically charged yet moribund legislation. Greene also claimed to have been locked out of her Facebook account for 24 hours. (Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, later acknowledged having removed one of Greene’s posts for violating its policies but said removing her account was “beyond the scope of our policies.”)As if in lockstep, other prominent Republicans chimed in Monday to level their own allegations of Big Tech censorship. Trump called Twitter a “disgrace to democracy” and a “low-life” along with Facebook, and encouraged followers to “drop off” of both platforms. Sen. Rand Paul announced in an op-ed that he was “quitting YouTube” as a New Year’s resolution and urged his followers to join him on alternative social media platforms. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a statement decrying what he said was a “dangerous” decision by Twitter. “It is clear any speech that does not fit Big Tech’s orthodoxy gets muzzled,” McCarthy said. These sorts of criticisms are hardly new. For years, they have been identified and described as attempts to “work the refs” — the refs, in this context, being social media platforms. Social media companies have vocally denied that their technologies are ideologically biased — statements that put them on the hook with investors, financial regulators and consumer protection authorities — and reports routinely highlight how some platforms have even bent over backwards to accommodate conservatives. Credible, non-partisan reporting has not proven the allegations of anti-conservative bias in any meaningful, systemic sense. Research has shown that conservative voices on social media are sometimes among the loudest and most influential, and that misinformation from right-wing sources can be far more successful at driving engagement compared to left-wing misinformation and even credible conservative sources. But as the country barrels toward another round of high-stakes elections this year in which social media will surely play a pivotal role, expect Republican claims of Big Tech’s bias to intensify further. Greene and other lawmakers’ vilification of tech platforms as partisan actors fits into a much broader pattern reflecting America’s dysfunctional politics. Many of the country’s biggest political battles today are no longer about the what of politics — as in, which concrete laws and policies will serve the public best and hopefully leave Americans better off — but about the how of politics. Who gets to vote and when; which judges get to serve on the Supreme Court; and now increasingly, who gets to say what on private social media platforms. Drawing tech platforms into the middle of the culture war grants considerable benefits to the politician willing to do it. So long as users like Greene enjoy exposure on a mainstream platform, they can use it to amplify fringe conspiracy theories that otherwise would not receive airtime. And when they are finally exiled from the platform for those claims, they can use their supposed outsider status to activate an engaged base of donors and voters who are already primed to believe the platform was motivated to discriminate. Underscoring the point, Greene posted on an alternative social media platform after her ban that “silly punishments” do nothing but “make me more determined, stronger, & effective.” She hinted vaguely that her Twitter ban “started very big things” and claimed, without evidence, that “the sun is setting on Twitter.” Some close to the tech industry say public figures know they can capitalize on the attention generated by social media bans, even ones that were made by mistake. “Political groups privately admit that nothing juices their web traffic more than an accidental account suspension,” tweeted Nu Wexler, a former Washington-based spokesman for Facebook, Google and Twitter. So imagine the dividends that Greene is likely to reap this week from her ban from Twitter. By the time she was permanently suspended, Greene’s main account had earned temporary suspensions at least three times for violating Twitter’s policies. (Her official congressional account remains unblocked.) It’s not just the politicians that stand to benefit from this song-and-dance. If the tech companies must be dragged into the culture war, the logic seems to go, then they may as well play the game, too. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that in meetings with conservatives about its whistleblower problem, Facebook’s strategy was to discredit former employee Frances Haugen as a Democratic activist. According to the Journal, the goal was to keep Republicans and Democrats from uniting and erecting tougher regulations for social media platforms. (Facebook has previously said the Journal’s reporting on Haugen’s leaks mischaracterized the platform’s internal research. The company responded to the Journal’s latest report by saying that it would defend its record and not apologize for mischaracterizations of its work.) Tech platforms do currently face a certain level of legislative risk. In recent months, House lawmakers have coalesced around the idea of imposing new requirements on algorithms. Other bills are in play that target the platforms’ market dominance, their impact on teen mental health, and consumer privacy. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who chairs a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, told CNN Business he intends to introduce a new proposal this year meant to protect kids online, though he declined to give specifics. “Congress must seize this historic moment — a pivotal turning point for reining in Big Tech,” Blumenthal said. “Having seen Big Tech’s harms and abuses, in our hearings and their own lives, Americans are ready for action — and results.” Congressional Republicans have widely expressed concerns over these same issues. But their added insistence on legislation addressing claims of anti-conservative censorship — often containing ideas of dubious constitutionality, according to First Amendment experts — has contributed to the legislative deadlock and slowed Congress’s progress on other forms of tech regulation. It has been years of hearings, reports and press conferences on Big Tech’s alleged excesses. And yet amid the obvious standstill, a coterie of lawmakers including Greene continues to eke political mileage out of seeming perpetually on the verge of making Silicon Valley pay. This everlasting limbo highlights a perverse incentive that afflicts not just members on the right, but those on the left, too. So long as Big Tech remains politically useful to elected officials as a punching bag and an object of the culture wars, the public may be the one that pays.
As was the case throughout the entire trial, gauging Holmes’ reaction from inside the courtroom was a challenge. No cameras or audio recordings were allowed and only 34 members of the press and public were permitted inside. Those of us who made it into the room were situated behind the former Theranos CEO as she faced forward with her eyes on Judge Edward Davila. And Holmes, like everyone else in the courtroom, wore a mask. With the exception of her time on the witness stand, Holmes had appeared devoid of any discernible emotional reaction throughout the trial, even as witness after witness testified about the ways in which they felt misled by her, and her failed blood testing startup. That only continued on Monday as Holmes became the rare Silicon Valley founder tried for, and convicted of, fraud. As the verdict was read aloud, Holmes remained stoic. Once the jurors were discharged, she hugged her partner Billy Evans, then her mother, her father and friends, embracing each by placing an arm over their shoulder.A day in the life of a courtroom reporterFor reporters like myself, the final weeks of the high-profile trial were marked by pre-dawn lines, long waits in hallways and the fear of being kicked out of the courtroom for typing too loudly. With Holmes on the stand — the last of three witnesses called by the defense — and an end to the long trial in sight, people began showing up as early as 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. local time to nab one of the seats in the courtroom. A fellow reporter who was the unofficial leader of the line (and deserves a medal) dutifully took down each person’s name in the order they arrived, delivering each a number for the day which would serve as a guide for where to stand in line once the courthouse opened. At 5 a.m., when the nearby Starbucks would open, reporters would take turns stocking up on caffeine and sustenance. Around 7:30 a.m., the courthouse would start allowing people in. Holmes would usually arrive around 8 a.m. Typically, I’d already be inside at this point, so I’d see her when she made her way up to the fifth floor of the courthouse. There was a telltale sign she was on the floor: The chatter among reporters would grind to a halt. At 9 a.m., the trial would typically resume.In the courtroom, there’s a lot to do all at once: listen carefully, take notes, file a story, tweet updates — typing quietly, as Judge Davila repeatedly urged us to do — while trying to gauge any reactions from the jurors who were masked throughout the trial. All the while, I would shield my eyes from the battery icon on my laptop, showing a rapidly depleting charge, and not think too much about why my portable battery, for some reason, decided not to charge that day. As the jury deliberated for seven days, reporters continued to arrive early but just to get a ticket and then set up camp on the hallway of the fifth floor. By this point, I changed hotels just to be a few steps closer to the courthouse. Judge Davila’s courtroom was closed throughout deliberations unless the jurors had returned a note or a verdict. While the courthouse provided another room for reporters and members of the public to pass the time in until then, many like myself opted for the floor which provided closer proximity to the elevator banks. That way, we could get clues about when the jury was entering or leaving for the day, or any other comings and goings that may provide hints into a trial that, in many ways, felt as elusive as Holmes herself.Searching for the real Elizabeth HolmesLike other reporters, I had covered aspects of the Theranos story on and off for years before setting foot in the courtroom.In her heyday, Holmes’ image had been carefully crafted. As the story went, she dropped out of her sophomore year at Stanford to pour herself into revolutionizing blood testing because of her own stated fear of needles. She leaned into the accolade of being a visionary like her idol, Steve Jobs, with her signature black turtlenecks. She spoke with authority and confidence, in a deep voice that no one seems to forget. The trial drew apparent friends of Holmes, some of whom showed up on the day of opening statements dressed in a look that resembled the former CEO at Theranos’ peak — clad in black attire with their hair pulled back at the nape of their necks. It also attracted an artist who set up a performance art display outside the courthouse, selling a very limited number of blonde wigs, black turtlenecks and “blood energy” drinks. She said she wanted to see “what it was like experiencing her energy.”Inside the courtroom, Holmes’ image also felt purposefully designed — but this time, to soften her. Gone was her dark eye makeup and turtleneck and in its place, suit skirts or dresses, neutral makeup and her hair down with loose waves. Her mother was her constant companion at the trial. Evans, her partner, was also frequently in attendance. Holmes would enter and leave the courthouse each day holding hands with one or both. Over the years, I had heard much about Holmes’ charm, her magnetism and her gaze, the last of which was felt often as Holmes would walk through the main hallway to use the three-stalled women’s restroom on the floor. She would make clear and direct eye contact with individual reporters, including me. For nearly three months, these glimpses were all we got. The closest we came to hearing Holmes’ voice (aside from catching a word here or there uttered to her attorney or her family) came from texts and old audio and video recordings presented as evidence during the prosecution’s case.That changed when Holmes took the witness stand at 3 p.m. local time on a Friday, one hour before the trial was set to recess and mere hours after the prosecution had wrapped its 11-week case. Initially, Holmes grinned as she spoke about the earliest days of Theranos. But on a subsequent day, she broke down on the stand as she testified she had been raped while at Stanford, which she said contributed to her decision to drop out. She then grew emotional once more as she testified about the alleged abuse she experienced at the hands of Theranos’ No. 2, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who was also her boyfriend at the time. (Balwani has denied the abuse allegations in court filings. He faces the same fraud charges as Holmes and has pleaded not guilty.)Throughout her time on the stand, there were flashes of the famously charismatic entrepreneur who one retail executive had likened in his testimony to the former US presidents he’d met, in terms of her ability to command a room. She fixed her eyes on the attorney asking her questions, looked at the jury as she explained Theranos’ technology, and at times, provided details like explaining she’d remembered a certain date because it had occurred on her birthday.She did then what she’d done best at Theranos’ peak: Articulate her own story, conveying just enough to humanize her, while also remaining light on the details and focused on the bigger picture of what she said she had been trying to do at the startup.This time, however, she apparently fell short and was unable to persuade the eight men and four women on the jury that she should be acquitted on all counts.
After a two-year investigation, Gioacchino Gammino, 61, was tracked down in Galapagar, Spain, where he lived under a fake name. The town is close to the capital Madrid.A Google Maps street view picture portraying a man who looked like him in front of a fruit shop was key in triggering a deeper investigation.”The photogram helped us to confirm the investigation we were developing in traditional ways,” Nicola Altiero, deputy director of the Italian anti-mafia police unit (DIA), said.Gammino, a member of a Sicilian mafia group dubbed Stidda, had escaped Rome’s Rebibbia jail in 2002 and in 2003 had been sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder committed several years earlier.Altiero said Gammino is currently under custody in Spain and they hope to bring him back to Italy by the end of February. Reuters was unable to locate a representative of Gammino to comment.
Among the many aspects that will be closely watched on the ground — at least by the group behind this Alexa experiment — is how the virtual assistant performs in space. And if nothing else, it’ll be some well-placed advertising.It’s all part of a collaboration between Amazon, (AMZN) Cisco (CSCO), and Lockheed Martin (LMT), which built the Orion capsule for NASA. Lockheed approached the other two companies with the idea of developing a virtual assistant about three years ago, the companies said, and they are paying the full cost of including the virtual assistant on the Artemis 1 mission. Lockheed is also reimbursing NASA for any help the agency has lent on this project through an arrangement called a Space Act Agreement, which allows the space agency to be compensated for expertise or resources it gives to companies working on certain space-related projects.According to a Lockheed spokesperson, the estimated costs were about $2.1 million when the Space Act Agreement for this project was signed in 2018, though Lockheed ultimately ended up paying NASA nearly $3 million.NASA was not involved in designing the system or selecting the partners that Lockheed brought together, the space agency told CNN Business.”Lockheed is leading the effort and we’re happy to enable that in terms of providing a platform, just like we would do with other technology demonstrations that we think could hold future benefits,” NASA’s Orion Deputy Program Manager, Howard Hu, told CNN Business.The system, named Callisto after a companion of the goddess Artemis in Greek mythology, aims to one day make astronauts’ jobs easier. For instance, they could use Alexa to adjust the cabin lighting while performing other tasks, or generally find long, arduous treks through space more enjoyable by being able to connect with loved ones back on Earth via WebEx, according to the companies. “[We] envision a future in which astronauts could turn to an onboard artificial intelligence, for information and for assistance and ultimately for companionship,” Aaron Rubenson, vice president of Amazon’s Alexa program, said. But Callisto isn’t there yet. So far, NASA has only approved the use of Callisto on Artemis 1 and not for any future, crewed Artemis missions.Hu, the Orion deputy program manager, told CNN Business that the space agency is “evaluating all kinds of technology” and “looking at various ways to enable the astronauts to operate the vehicle more efficiently.””Certainly virtual assistants or assistants and AI will be part of that evaluation [for future missions] — whatever they may be, whether it’s Callisto or something else,” Hu said. Open questionsThe companies behind Callisto said the system has been thoroughly tested on the ground, but a lot of questions about how it will function remain. And whether future astronauts might some day find it to be an asset remains unknown. No Artemis astronauts have tested the system, even on the ground, as of yet, according to the companies. It’s unclear, for example, how well the WebEx conferencing system will work. It should be noted that astronauts have always had the ability to communicate with people on the ground using existing communications systems. It’s currently possible to set up a video chat with astronauts on the International Space Station, for example. But making contact with a hypersonic spacecraft flying more than two hundred thousand miles away from Earth is difficult and — at some points in the journey — will be impossible. But Cisco hopes WebEx can enhance astronauts’ ability to communicate and coordinate with people on the ground, perhaps being used to set up meetings and conferences with multiple participants. That is, if an adequate connection can be established. Questionable internet connectivity also presents challenges for Alexa. Amazon smart speaker devices in people’s homes need an internet connection to process queries and retrieve information. But Rubenson said the version of Alexa used for the Callisto system has been reconfigured to function largely offline — theoretically capable of giving future astronauts live updates on their flight trajectory, for example — but the system would still need a connection if astronauts were to ask for up-to-date information on Earthly goings on. Alexa will be able to access real-time telemetry data and answer certain questions about the mission, like how fast the capsule is traveling. However, the AI will be able to control only one aspect of the Artemis 1 flight: the cabin lighting. Though, the Callisto team imagines a future in which the system could be configured to control other hardware, such as cameras.If all else fails, the mission will give Amazon some strategic product placement. For over a decade, NASA has encouraged the commercial use of outer space as one of its primary goals. And this project does come with some of the trimmings of a corporate PR push.Amazon is rolling out a new feature for people who have an Alexa-enabled device at home, for example. By using the command “Alexa, take me to the Moon,” users will be able to get live updates on the Artemis 1 mission. “We want to use Alexa’s role in this mission to to raise awareness of space and…ultimately to inspire the next generation of enthusiasts and engineers,” Rubenson said. But whether Callisto proves itself potentially useful for future missions or not, it will have achieved one goal. “It is a very photogenic payload,” said Rob Chambers, Lockheed Martin’s director of commercial civil space strategy.