Facebook will not remove deepfakes of Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Kardashian and others from Instagram

Facebook will not remove the faked videos featuring Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Kardashian and President Donald Trump from Instagram, the company said in a statement.

Earlier today, Vice News reported on the existence of videos created by the artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe and video and audio manipulation companies including CannyAIRespeecher and Reflect. 

The work, featured in a site-specific installation in the UK as well as circulating in video online, was the first test of Facebook’s content review policies since the company’s decision not to remove a manipulated video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi received withering criticism from Democratic political leadership.

After the late May incident Facebook’s Neil Potts testified before a smorgasbord of international regulators in Ottawa about deep fakes, saying the company would not remove a video of Mark Zuckerberg . This appears to be the first instance testing the company’s resolve.

“We will treat this content the same way we treat all misinformation on Instagram . If third-party fact-checkers mark it as false, we will filter it from Instagram’s recommendation surfaces like Explore and hashtag pages,” said an Instagram spokesperson in an email to TechCrunch.

The videos appear not to violate any Facebook policies, which means that they will be subject to the treatment any video containing misinformation gets on any of Facebook’s platforms. So the videos will be blocked from appearing in the Explore feature and hashtags won’t work with the offending material.

Facebook already uses image detection technology to find content that has been debunked by its third-party fact checking program on Instagram. When misinformation is only present on Instagram the company is testing the ability to promote links into the fact-checking product on Facebook.

“Spectre interrogates and reveals many of the common tactics and methods that are used by corporate or political actors to influence people’s behaviours and decision making,” said Posters in an artist’s statement about the project. “In response to the recent global scandals concerning data, democracy, privacy and digital surveillance, we wanted to tear open the ‘black box’ of the digital influence industry and reveal to others what it is really like.”

Facebook’s consistent decisions not to remove offending content stands in contrast with YouTube which has taken the opposite approach in dealing with manipulated videos and other material that violate its policies.

YouTube removed the Pelosi video and recently took steps to demonetize and remove videos from the platform that violated its policies of hate speech — including a wholesale purge of content about Nazism.

These issues take on greater significance as the U.S. heads into the next Presidential election in 2020.

“In 2016 and 2017, the UK, US and Europe witnessed massive political shocks as new forms of computational propaganda employed by social media platforms, the ad industry, and political consultancies like Cambridge Analytica [that] were exposed by journalists and digital rights advocates,” said Howe, in a statement about his Spectre project. “We wanted to provide a personalized experience that allows users to feel what is at stake when the data taken from us in countless everyday actions is used in unexpected and potentially dangerous ways.”

Perhaps, the incident will be a lesson to Facebook in what’s potentially at stake as well.

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With antitrust investigations looming, Apple reverses course on bans of parental control apps

With Congressional probes and greater scrutiny from Federal regulators on the horizon, Apple has abruptly reversed course on its bans of parental control apps available in its app store.

As reported by The New York Times, Apple quietly updated its App Store guidelines to reverse its decision to ban certain parental control apps.

The battle between Apple and certain app developers dates back to last year when the iPhone maker first put companies on notice that it would cut their access to the app store if they didn’t make changes to their monitoring technologies.

The heart of the issue is the use of mobile device management (MDM) technologies in the parental control apps that Apple has removed from the App Store, Apple said in a statement earlier this year.

These device management tools give control and access over a device’s user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions and browsing history to a third party.

“We started exploring this use of MDM by non-enterprise developers back in early 2017 and updated our guidelines based on that work in mid-2017,” the company said.

Apple acknowledged that the technology has legitimate uses in the context of businesses looking to monitor and manage corporate devices to control proprietary data and hardware, but, the company said, it is “a clear violation of App Store policies — for a private, consumer-focused app business to install MDM control over a customer’s device.”

Last month, developers of these parental monitoring tools banded together to offer a solution. In a joint statement issued by app developers including OurPact, Screentime, Kidslox, Qustodio, Boomerang, Safe Lagoon, and FamilyOrbit, the companies said simply, “Apple should release a public API granting developers access to the same functionalities that Apple’s native “Screen Time” uses.”

By providing access to its screen time app, Apple would obviate the need for the kind of controls that developers had put in place to work around Apple’s restrictions.

“The API proposal presented here outlines the functionality required to develop effective screen time management tools. It was developed by a group of leading parental control providers,” the companies said. “It allows developers to create apps that go beyond iOS Screen Time functionality, to address parental concerns about social media use, child privacy, effective content filtering across all browsers and apps and more. This encourages developer innovation and helps Apple to back up their claim that “competition makes everything better and results in the best apps for our customers”.

Now, Apple has changed its guidelines to indicate that apps using MDM “must request the mobile device management capability, and may only be offered by commercial enterprises, such as business organizations, educational institutions, or government agencies, and, in limited cases, companies utilizing MDM for parental controls. MDM apps may not sell, use, or disclose to third parties any data for any purpose, and must commit to this in their privacy policy.”

Essentially it just reverses the company’s policy without granting access to Screen Time as the consortium of companies have suggested.

“It’s been a hellish roller coaster,” said Dustin Dailey, a senior product manager at OurPact, told The New York Times . OurPact had been the top parental control app in the App Store before it was pulled in February. The company estimated that Apple’s move cost it around $3 million, a spokeswoman told the Times.

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Fitness startup Mirror nears $300M valuation with fresh funding

Today, Peloton is a bonafide success. The company, which sells $2,245 internet-connected exercise bikes, boasts a $4 billion valuation and a cult following.

That hasn’t always been the case. For years, Peloton battled for venture capital investment and struggled to attract buyers. Now that it’s proven the market for tech-enabled home exercise equipment and affiliated subscription products, a whole bunch of startups are chasing down the same customer segment.

Mirror, a New York-based company that sells $1,495 full-length mirrors that double as interactive home gyms, is closing in a round of funding expected to reach $36 million, sources and Delaware stock filings confirm, at a valuation just under $300 million. It’s unclear who has signed on to lead the round; we’ve heard a number of high-profile firms looked at Mirror’s books and passed. The company has previously raised a total of $38 million from Spark Capital, First Round Capital, Lerer Hippeau, BoxGroup and more.

Mirror declined to comment for this story.

Like Peloton, Mirror is sold for a hefty fee with a subscription to the service’s unlimited live and on-demand workouts that comes at an additional cost. The company hasn’t disclosed subscriber numbers, though The New York Times reported in February the business was selling $1 million worth of Mirrors — or some 650 units — per month.

The company has not only benefited from the Peloton effect, but also from a near-immediate interest from celebrities and influencers in its product. Kate Hudson, Alicia Keys, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow are among the many celebrities to have publicly boasted about Mirror, undoubtedly boosting sales for the up-and-coming startup.

Venture capitalists were quick to show support for Mirror, too; in fact, the business attracted money at a $200 million valuation prior to launching its first product. Mirror began selling its sleek equipment, dubbed by The New York Times as “The Most Narcissistic Exercise Equipment Ever,” in September.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 06: Mirror Founder and CEO Brynn Putnam (L) and moderator Lucas Matney speak onstage during Day 2 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 6, 2018, in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

The round comes amid a distinct boom in funding for fitness-related startups evidenced not only by Peloton’s mammoth valuation and hyped-over initial public offering expected soon but by the rapid uptick in small upstarts looking to capitalize on rising interest in fitness apps and equipment. In total, VCs bet some $2 billion on U.S. fitness startups in 2018, a record amount of funding for the space. So far this year, nearly $500 million has been allocated to the growing sector, per PitchBook, as entrepreneurs strive to bring the gym into the home.

Tonal, which sells personal exercise equipment that combines on-demand training with smart features, is among a small class of venture-backed fitness companies to have accumulated a large following. The company has raised $91.7 million in equity funding at a valuation of $185 million, according to PitchBook, from investors including L Catterton, Shasta Ventures, Mayfield and Sapphire Sport.

When it comes to early-stage efforts, there’s no shortage of recent fundraises. Last week, Livekick, which gives customers access to one-on-one personal training and yoga from their home, closed a $3 million seed round led by Firstime VC. Two weeks ago, fitness startup Future secured an $8.5 million round led by Kleiner Perkins’ Mamoon Hamid. For a $150 monthly fee, Future assigns personalized workout plans and a coach who tracks customers’ fitness activity through an Apple Watch. To keep users committed to their workout regimens, Future sends daily text messages with motivational feedback.

The AI-based personal training company Aaptiv, Plankk, which sells live fitness lessons led by Instagram stars, and audio coaching app Eastnine, have also recently launched.

Mirror was founded in late 2016 by Brynn Putnam, an entrepreneur behind Refine Method, a chain of boutique fitness studios located in New York. The former professional dancer spoke to TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney at Disrupt San Francisco in September about the future of the business.

“[We want] to enhance the human touch rather than to replace it,” Putnam said. “Our goal is not to be the next treadmill in your life, our goal is to be the next screen in your home,” Putnam said.

Ultimately, Putnam added, Mirror plans to scale beyond fitness content with potential extensions including physical therapy, fashion, beauty and education.

“We have the ability to create personalized premium content across a wide range of verticals, with fitness being our first vertical,” Putnam said.

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YouTuber gets 15 month prison sentence, $22,000 fine for toothpaste-filled Oreos

YouTube star Kanghua Ren was just handed a 15 month prison sentence and 20,000 euro ($22,300) fine for a January 2017 video.

The video, which generated widespread outrage online, found Ren giving a homeless man in Barcelona repackaged Oreo cookies filled with toothpaste.

“Maybe I’ve gone a bit far, but look at the positive side: This will help him clean his teeth,” the China-born YouTuber (then 19) known as ReSet said in the video. “I think he hasn’t cleaned them since he became poor.”

The 52-year-old man vomited after ingesting the cookies, later telling a paper that he had, “never been treated so poorly while living on the street.”

Ren was given the sentence on Friday, though The New York Times notes that he’ll likely not actually serve any time, given how nonviolent crimes are generally treated in Spanish court. In addition, his YouTube channel and various social media counts were also ordered shut down for five years.

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On the Internet of Women with Moira Weigel

“Feminism,” the writer and editor Marie Shear famously said in an often-misattributed quote, “is the radical notion that women are people.” The genius of this line, of course, is that it appears to be entirely non-controversial, which reminds us all the more effectively of the past century of fierce debates surrounding women’s equality.

And what about in tech ethics? It would seem equally non-controversial that ethical tech is supposed to be good for “people,” but is the broader tech world and its culture good for the majority of humans who happen to be women? And to the extent it isn’t, what does that say about any of us, and about all of our technology?

I’ve known, since I began planning this TechCrunch series exploring the ethics of tech, that it would need to thoroughly cover issues of gender. Because as we enter an age of AI, with machines learning to be ever more like us, what could be more critical than addressing the issues of sex and sexism often at the heart of the hardest conflicts in human history thus far?

Meanwhile, several months before I began envisioning this series I stumbled across the fourth issue of a new magazine called Logic, a journal on technology, ethics, and culture. Logic publishes primarily on paper — yes, the actual, physical stuff, and a satisfyingly meaty stock of it, at that.

In it, I found a brief essay, “The Internet of Women,” that is a must-read, an instant classic in tech ethics. The piece is by Moira Weigel, one of Logic’s founders and currently a member of Harvard University’s “Society of Fellows” — one of the world’s most elite societies of young academics.

A fast-talking 30-something Brooklynite with a Ph.D. from Yale, Weigel’s work combines her interest in sex, gender, and feminism, with a critical and witty analysis of our technology culture.

In this first of a two-part interview, I speak with Moira in depth about some of the issues she covers in her essay and beyond: #MeToo; the internet as a “feminizing” influence on culture; digital media ethics around sexism; and women in political and tech leadership.

Greg E.: How would you summarize the piece in a sentence or so?

Moira W.: It’s an idiosyncratic piece with a couple of different layers. But if I had to summarize it in just a sentence or two I’d say that it’s taking a closer look at the role that platforms like Facebook and Twitter have played in the so-called “#MeToo moment.”

In late 2017 and early 2018, I became interested in the tensions that the moment was exposing between digital media and so-called “legacy media” — print newspapers and magazines like The New York Times and Harper’s and The Atlantic. Digital media were making it possible to see structural sexism in new ways, and for voices and stories to be heard that would have gotten buried, previously.

A lot of the conversation unfolding in legacy media seemed to concern who was allowed to say what where. For me, this subtext was important: The #MeToo moment was not just about the sexualized abuse of power but also about who had authority to talk about what in public — or the semi-public spaces of the Internet.

At the same time, it seemed to me that the ongoing collapse of print media as an industry, and really what people sometimes call the “feminization” of work in general, was an important part of the context.

When people talk about jobs getting “feminized” they can mean many things — jobs becoming lower paid, lower status, flexible or precarious, demanding more emotional management and the cultivation of an “image,” blurring the boundary between “work” and “life.”

The increasing instability or insecurity of media workplaces only make women more vulnerable to the kinds of sexualized abuses of power the #MeToo hashtag was being used to talk about.

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