Interest rates and fears of a mounting trade war send tech stocks lower

Shares of technology companies were battered in today’s trading as fears of an increasing trade war between the U.S. and China and rising interest rates convinced worried investors to sell.

The Nasdaq Composite Index, which is where many of the country’s largest technology companies trade their shares, was down 219.4 points, or 3%, to 7,028.48. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 395.8 points, or 1.6%, to 25,017.44.

Facebook, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Apple, Netflix and Amazon all fell into bear trading territory, which means that the value of these stocks have slid more than 20%. CNBC has a handy chart illustrating just how bad things have been for the largest tech companies in the U.S.

Some of the woes from tech stocks aren’t necessarily trade war related. Facebook shares have been hammered on the back of a blockbuster New York Times report detailing the missteps and misdirection involved in the company’s response to Russian interference in the U.S. elections. Investors are likely concerned that the company’s margins will shrink as it spends more on content moderation.

And Apple saw its shares decline on reports that sales of its new iPhones may not be as rosy as the company predicted — although the holiday season should boost  those numbers. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Apple has cut the targets for all of its new phones amid uncertainties around sales.

The Journal reported that in recent weeks, Apple had cut its production orders for all of the iPhone models it unveiled in September, which has carried through the supply chain. Specifically, targets for the new iPhone XR were cut by one-third from the 70 million units the company had asked suppliers to produce, according to WSJ sources.

Those sales numbers had a ripple effect throughout Apple’s supply chain, hitting the stock prices for a number of suppliers and competitors.

But the U.S. government’s escalating trade war with China is definitely a concern for most of the technology industry as tariffs are likely to affect supply chains and drive prices higher.

According to a research note from Chris Zaccarelli, the chief investment officer at Independent Advisor Alliance, quoted in MarketWatchinterest rates and slowing global growth are adding to trade war pressures to drive tech stock prices down.

“Tech continues to be caught in the crosshairs of the triple threat of rising interest rates, global growth fears and trade tensions with China,” Zaccarelli wrote. “Trade war concerns with China weigh on the global supply chain for large technology companies while global growth fears worry many that future earnings will be lower,” he said.

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Instagram kills off fake followers, threatens accounts that keep using apps to get them

Instagram is fighting back against automated apps people use to leave spammy comments or follow then unfollow others in hopes of growing their audience. Today Instagram is removing from people’s accounts who use these apps inauthentic follows, Likes and comments that violate its policies; sending them a warning to change their password to cut ties with these apps, and saying people who continue using these apps “may see their Instagram experience impacted.” Instagram tells me it “may limit access to certain features, for example” for those users.

Instagram is also hoping to discourage users from ever giving another company the login details to their accounts as this can lead to them being hacked or having their account used to send spam. So if you see Instagram follower accounts drop, it’s not because that profile offended people, but because the followers were fake.The renewed vigor for policy enforcement comes amidst the continuing threat of foreign misinformation campaigns on Facebook and Instagram designed to polarize communities and influence elections in the U.S. and abroad. Facebook has said that inauthentic accounts are often the root of these campaigns, and it has removed 754 million fake accounts in the past quarter alone, and stopping these spam apps could prevent them from misusing clients’ accounts. Instagram has been taking down fake accounts since at least 2014, but this is the first time it’s publicly discussed removing fake likes from posts. It now says “We’ve built machine learning tools to help identify accounts that use [third-party apps for boosting followers] and remove the inauthentic activity.”

Some of the most popular bot apps for growing followers like Instagress and Social Growth have been shut down, but others like Archie, InstarocketProX and Boostio charge $10 to $45 per month. They often claim not to violate Instagram’s policies, though they do. The New York Times this year found many well-known celebrities had stooped to buying fake Twitter followers from a company called Devumi.

Users typically have to provide their username and password to these services, which then take control of their accounts and automatically Like, comment on and follow accounts associated with desired hashtags to dupe them into following the unscrupulous user back. The spam app users will now get scolded by Instagram, which will send “an in-app message alerting them that we have removed the inauthentic likes, follows and comments given by their account to others” and be told to change their passwords.

InstarocketProX advertises how it sends fake likes and follows from your account to get you followersOne big question, though, is whether Instagram will crack down harder on ads for services that sell fake followers that appear on its app. I’ve spotted these in the past, and they sometimes masquerade as analytics apps for assisting influencers with tracking the size of their audience. We asked Instagram and a spokesperson told us “Ads are also subject to our Community Standards, which prohibit spammy activity like collecting likes, followers, etc. — so you are correct that ads promoting these services violate our policies. Please feel free to report them if you see them.”

Follower accounts on apps like Instagram have become measures of people’s influence, credibility and earning potential. This is becoming especially true for social media stars who are paid for brand sponsorships in part based on their audience size. Now that brands are even paying “nanoinfluencers” with as few as one thousand followers to post sponsored content, the allure to use these services can be high and lead to an immediate return on illicit investment.

If no one can believe those counts are accurate, it throws Instagram’s legitimacy into question. And every time you get a notification about a fake follow or Like, it distracts you from real life, dilutes the quality of conversation on Instagram and makes people less likely to stick with the app. Anyone willing to pay for fake followers doesn’t deserve your attention, and Instagram should not hold back from terminating their accounts if they don’t stop.

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Instagram cracks down on apps that give fake follows and likes

Instagram will crack down on shady third-party apps.
Instagram will crack down on shady third-party apps.
Image: LightRocket via Getty Images

Instagram is finally doing something to crack down on fake likes and followers. 

The app will begin to remove follows, likes, and comments that are the result of shady third-party apps. Instagram will also prompt password resets in an effort to prevent continued use of the apps. And, if Instagrammers keep using these services, the app will punish users by limiting their use of certain features.

The apps in question are third-party services that use your Instagram credentials to help boost your account by rewarding you with likes, comments, and followers. If you’re active on Instagram, you’ve probably encountered activity from some of these services, even if you don’t directly use them yourself. (Telltale signs include when random accounts like several of your old photos all at once, often with generic comments like “nice.”)

The problem with these apps, according to Instagram, is not just that they game the system to create fake engagement, but that they’re often shady and exploit the log-in information provided by users. 

“Every day people come to Instagram to have real experiences, including genuine interactions,” Instagram writes in a blog post. “This type of behavior is bad for the community, and third-party apps that generate inauthentic likes, follows, and comments violate our Community Guidelines and Terms of Use.”

Instagram will prompt password resets for people who have used apps to get followers and likes.

Instagram will prompt password resets for people who have used apps to get followers and likes.

Image: instagram

In order to root these apps out of Instagram, the company will begin to prompt password resets for people who have used these services in the past. And it will start to remove followers, likes, and comments that were generated as the result of these services. (Importantly, Instagram says the change will kick in beginning Monday, so previous likes and follows will not be impacted, even if they were the result of one of the apps in question.) 

What’s more, if people continue to use these services, they may see more serious account repercussions. According to a spokesperson, Instagram “may limit access to certain features,” if they identify repeat offenders. The spokesperson didn’t elaborate on what specific features could be  impacted.

But given how serious a problem Instagram hackings have been in the past, the ramp-up in enforcement should be welcome news to those concerned about account security.

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Kid delivers perfect scowl on picture day after dad ate his Pop-Tart

Some kids really know how to hold a grudge.

Allow us to introduce you to one such child. His father has the nerve to eat his Pop-Tart, so this hardcore kid carried his beef all the way to school picture day — and the results are stunning.

“Y’all pray for my son, nothing wrong with him but I ate his pop tart before his class picture and he said he never smiling again,” EL Prive said on Facebook, sharing photos of his son.

In each photo, this little guy sports a scowl previously only seen on middle-aged men irritated by abnormally high gas prices or thermostats that have been tampered with. Naturally, these works of art have caught a lot of people’s attention.

People just can’t get over this little kid’s intensity and his love of Pop-Tarts. 

“I feel him though I would be mad if someone ate my last one too,” wrote one commenter. 

“Why does he look like a disapproving father though?” asked another.

Hopefully, one day this little guy will overcome this great deception and be able to smile again. At the very least, someone should give him some more Pop-Tarts. 

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Now eight parliaments are demanding Zuckerberg answers for Facebook scandals

Facebook’s founder is facing pressure to accept an invite from eight international parliaments, with lawmakers wanting to question him about negative impacts his social network is having on democratic processes globally.

Last week Facebook declined a invitation from five of these parliaments.

The elected representatives of Facebook users want Mark Zuckerberg to answer questions in the wake of a string of data misuse and security scandals attached to his platform. The international parliaments have joined forces — forming a grand committee — to amp up the pressure on Facebook.

The UK-led grand committee said it would meet later this month, representing the interests of some 170 million Facebook users across Argentina, Australia, Canada, Ireland and the UK. But Facebook snubbed that invite.

Today the request has been reissued with an additional three parliaments on board — Brazil, Latvia and Singapore.

In their latest invite letter they also make it clear that Facebook’s founder does not have to attend the hearing in person — which was the excuse the company used to decline the last request for Zuckerberg. (Which was just the latest in a long string of ‘nos’ Facebook’s founder has given the committee.)

“We note that while your letter states that you are ‘not able to be in London’ on 27th, it does not rule out giving evidence per se. Would you be amenable to giving evidence via video link instead?” the grand committee writes now.

We’ve asked Facebook whether Zuckerberg will be able to make time in his schedule to provide evidence remotely — and will update this report with any response. (A company spokesman suggested to us that it’s unlikely to do so.)

Of course Zuckerberg is very busy these days — given the fresh scandals slamming Facebook’s exec team. His political plate is truly heaped.

Last week a New York Times report painted an ugly and chaotic picture of Facebook’s leaders’ response to the political disinformation crisis — which included engaging an external public relations firm which used smear tactics against opponents. (Facebook has since severed ties with the firm.)

The grand committee references this controversy in its latest invitation letter, writing: “We believe that there are important issues to be discussed, and that you are the appropriate person to answer them. Yesterday’s New York Times article raises further questions about how recent data breaches were allegedly dealt with within Facebook.”

The UK’s DCMS committee, which has been spearheading efforts to hold Zuckerberg to account, has spent the best part of this year asking wide-ranging questions about the impact of online disinformation on democratic processes. But it has become increasingly damning in its criticism of Facebook — accusing the company of evasion, equivocation and worse as the months have gone on.

In a preliminary report this summer it also called on the government to act urgently, recommending a levy on social media and stronger laws to prevent social media tools being used to undermine democratic processes.

Although the UK government chose not to leap into action. But even there Facebook’s platform is implicated because Brexit — which was itself sold to voters via the medium of unregulated social media ads (with the Electoral Commission finding earlier this year that the official Vote Leave campaign used Facebook’s funnel to bypass electoral law) — is rather monopolizing ministerial attention these days…

One of the questions committee members are keen to get an answer to from Facebook is who at the company knew in the earliest incidence about the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal. In short they want to know where the buck stops. Who should be held accountable — for both the massive data breach and Facebook’s internal handling of it.

And it is very close to getting an answer to that after the UK’s data protection watchdog, the ICO, gave evidence earlier this month — saying it had obtained the distribution list for emails Facebook sent internally about the breach, saying it would pass the list on to the committee.

A spokeswoman for the DCMS committee told us it has yet to receive this information from the ICO.

An ICO spokesperson told us it will not be publishing the list — adding: “At this stage I’m not sure when it will be sent to the committee.”

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Mark Zuckerberg believes Facebook is at 'war,' report says

Mark Zuckerberg believes Facebook is currently at 'war.'
Mark Zuckerberg believes Facebook is currently at ‘war.’
Image: Christophe Morin/getty

Mark Zuckerberg is feeling the heat.

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Facebook’s founder and CEO believes his company is currently at “war.” The comment came from Mark Zuckerberg this past June in a meeting with a few dozen of Facebook’s top executives amid the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

In this same June meeting, Zuckerberg told executives that he was going to be taking a more active role in Facebook’s day-to-day operations. With the social media platform fighting on multiple fronts — between Congress, the press, and even his own executives — Zuckerberg clearly felt he needed to take a more active role.

Zuckerberg’s key issue with his company was the speed at which it was dealing with the major conflicts afflicting it. According to the report, the Facebook founder was pushing for senior executives to “make progress faster” and was frustrated with how the company was handling its crises.

Some of Facebook’s top executives were so rattled by Zuckerberg’s response to the issues facing the company that they feared for their jobs. According to the report, even Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg worried about her job security after much of the blame for the Cambridge Analytica fallout on her and her team.

The report claims Zuckerberg’s new, more hands-on role has led to conflicts with the heads of Facebook’s other units. The report alleges that this played a part in the recent departures of Instagram’s and WhatsApp’s founders.

The June meeting came in the midst of public outcry against Facebook over fake news, Russian influence, and leaks involving users’ private data. 

This past week, the New York Times released a bombshell report detailing how Facebook mishandled those issues, as well as its attempts to get ahead of critics. In the wake of that report, Zuckerberg allegedly blasted the media coverage as “bullshit” at a company Q&A on Friday.

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Facebook's former security chief stands up for the social network, calls for change

Former Facebook CSO Alex Stamos responds to the New York Times' report on Facebook.
Former Facebook CSO Alex Stamos responds to the New York Times’ report on Facebook.
Image: Sportsfile/Corbis via Getty Images

Facebook’s former chief security officer is defending the social network amid the fallout from the New York Times’ bombshell report on the company this past week.

Alex Stamos, who was the company’s CSO from 2015 up until the summer of 2018, wrote a piece published in the Washington Post on Saturday responding to the New York Times report. Stamos attempted to dispel the Times’ report claiming that Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, fearing blowback, delayed taking action following his team’s discovery of Russian interference in the 2016 election via a misinformation campaign on the platform.

Stamos confirmed in the Post that Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, did indeed yell at him the day after he debriefed Facebook’s Board of Directors about the company’s investigation into Russian influence. Stamos claimed that Sandberg “felt blindsided” by his account.

However, the former exec was adamant that neither Sandberg nor anyone at Facebook told him not to investigate Russian influence or obfuscate his findings. Although, Stamos did admit the company should have taken action sooner and been more transparent in disclosing what was uncovered.

“At the time, technology companies were so enamored with the utility of our own products and so focused on sophisticated attacks from U.S. adversaries such as Russia and China that we overlooked less advanced but still effective propaganda operations,” he wrote. 

“To be clear, no one at the company ever told me not to examine Russian activity, nor did anyone attempt to lie about our findings, but Facebook should have responded to these threats much earlier and handled disclosure in a more transparent manner.”

The piece, titled “Yes, Facebook made mistakes in 2016. But we weren’t the only ones,” still attempted to deflect from Facebook’s specific role in the spread of the 2016 Russian influence campaigns and shift focus toward the government and the media’s failures on the issue as well.

“Facebook’s shortcomings do not stand alone. The massive U.S. intelligence community failed to provide actionable intelligence on Russia’s information-warfare goals and capabilities before the election and offered a dearth of assistance afterward. Technology companies can build tools and teams to look inward on their products, but they will never have true geostrategic insight or ability to penetrate hostile countries,” Stamos wrote. 

He then went on to talk about how the relationship between government and tech has been better in 2018, and credited intelligence professionals for the improvement. Stamos also knocked lawmakers for what he called “public grandstanding at investigative hearings” and took aim at the mainstream media for publishing stolen emails and documents from the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign. He claims the choice to publish this material “rewarded the hackers of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU).”

“The sad truth is that blocking Russian propaganda would have required Facebook to ban stories from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and cable news — not to mention this very paper,” Stamos noted. 

Even if media hasn’t ever grappled with its role in the 2016 election, as Stamos suggested, it has nothing to do with the allegations leveled at Facebook. By the time the hacked emails were released, they were newsworthy and certainly fair game for coverage. 

Stamos stated that all parties involved need to come together to avoid a 2016 foreign interference repeat in 2020, and had some suggestions for how that could happen. He’d like to see a political advertising standard set by Congress, with additional input and support from companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. He also wants clarity on the responsibilities of government and large tech industries and the cooperation between the two.

As for the media, Stamos would like to see news outlets publish clear standards as it relates to reporting on newsworthy data leaks.

Lastly, Stamos wrote that it’s up to the people of the U.S. to adapt to a media environment “in which several dozen gatekeepers no longer control what is newsworthy.” While definitely a valid point, the sheer amount of suspiciously sourced news spread over an increasing number of platforms will certainly make that difficult.

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After Math: The anti-social network


SOPA Images via Getty Images

It’s not been a great week for the world’s most expansive and invasive social site. Besides being temporarily knocked offline on Monday, the platform is hemorrhaging morale, struggling to address its ubiquitous disinformation issues (going so far as to appoint an “independent” content moderation oversight committee), and was the subject of a scathing exposé by the New York Times.

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About 2 hours: It doesn’t happen often but Facebook’s servers have been known to fail from time to time. One of those times was Monday when roughly 50 percent of users in North and South America found themselves unable to log into, or even load, Facebook due to a “routine test” gone sideways.

palmer

$100 million: There are lines that not even Facebook will cross in its pursuit of global social domination, they just haven’t found them yet. When news broke earlier this year that Palmer Luckey, Oculus founder was a secret 4Chan troll, the company didn’t tell him to knock it off or throw him out on his racist ear. No, they tried to get him to back indie presidential candidate Gary Johnson before giving him $100 million to just go away.

asdf50-50: Looks like not even Facebook’s own employees are drinking the Kool-Aid any more. During a recent internal survey, only half of the 29,000 respondents said that FB is making the world a better place (a 19 point drop since the last survey) and 70 percent were proud to work there (a 17 point drop).

bias

58 percent of adult Americans: Facebook’s CYA shenanigans regarding its involvement with Russia’s interference into the 2016 elections haven’t just undermined confidence in the American electoral system. They’ve also illustrated that the algorithms on which social media platforms are built and run shouldn’t be implicitly trusted as well. Nearly six in 10 Americans, according to a recent Pew study, believe that algorithms will never be fully rid of human bias. At least until Skynet comes online and starts designing its own. Then the only bias will be towards killing all humans.

FACEBOOK EARNS

1.5 billion fake accounts: And in classic “day late, dollar short” Facebook fashion, the company announced this week that it has barred more than a billion (yes, with a b) fake accounts over the last six months, well after the damage to society had been done.

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$1 billion: Of course it’s not all fire and brimstone at Facebook. Sometimes the company manages to stop tripping over its own feet just long enough to do some good for the world. Like how it’s facilitated the raising of more than a billion dollars in charitable contributions to a whole slew good causes.

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Instagram bug inadvertently exposed some user's passwords


SIPA USA/PA Images

According to The Information, Instagram has suffered a serious security leak of its own that could’ve exposed user’s passwords. While Facebook recently had a much more serious problem linked to its “View As” tool that was being actively exploited by… someone, the Instagram issue is linked to its tool that allows users to download a copy of their data.

Facebook notified affected Instagram users that when they utilized the feature, it sent their password in plaintext in the URL. For some reason, these passwords were also stored on Facebook’s servers, however the notification said that data has been deleted and the tool was updated so it won’t happen now.

Instagram

In a statement to The Information, a spokesperson said the issue only impacted a “small number of people” although if those people were using a shared computer, or on a compromised network then it could’ve left their account info wide open. If you haven’t been notified then your account apparently was unaffected, but it’s still a troubling gap left in the hole of security, especially on something as important as passwords. While everyone should be using unique password managers for every site and service (if you need a password manager to keep up with them, then that’s the way to go, meanwhile you cna enable two-factor authentication on Instagram as described here), not everyone does and an exposure of this kind is just another troubling episode to hit Facebook.

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