How Americans Wound Up on Twitter’s List of Russian Bots

If you followed Rebecca Hirschfeld’s @Beckster319 account on Twitter in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election, you would have seen that she’s an actress, an obsessed fan of David Bowie, not so much of Donald Trump, and will eat anything pumpkin flavored.

Around the same time, if you looked at Markiya Franklin’s @internalmemer account, you’d figure she supports Black Lives Matter and is a diehard K-Pop fan. Chris Osborne’s @skatewake1994 account was busy tweeting about then-candidate Trump and Osborne’s passion for surfing and snowboarding.

Hirschfeld lives in Illinois, Franklin in Florida, and Osborne in California, but their account handles were among 2,752 that Twitter identified as potentially connected to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, and submitted to Congress in November 2017. In February, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted the IRA for engaging in “fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the US political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.” The IRA is the Russian propaganda arm considered a “troll factory,” distinct from the military-intelligence officers Mueller indicted last week for hacking into Democrats’ computers in 2016.

The three Americans are among more than 20 Twitter accounts that appeared on Twitter’s list of suspected Russian accounts yet show signs of being real people, according to an analysis by Clemson University professors Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren. Of those, WIRED independently verified that at least four accounts were created by people with no demonstrable ties to Russia. Their handles were published by a congressional committee, identifying them in some minds as Russian agents.

Hirschfeld, Franklin, and Osborne were suspended from Twitter without warning last year and included in Twitter’s list with no explanation. They lost access to Twitter accounts that they used to maintain social and career connections. They only learned why they lost their accounts when contacted by the Clemson professors or for this article.

“I know that whatever I post online anybody can see,” Osborne says. But “that they could just take some random tweets from my account that is obviously not a Russian bot and place it under that label is concerning to say the least.”

Chris Osborne

Beth Holzer

Twitter representatives declined to comment about specific accounts, including why they were suspended or included on the list it gave to Congress. Last fall, Twitter’s acting general counsel, Sean J. Edgett, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence how Twitter sought to identify accounts tied to the IRA. The company looked at accounts that generated election-related content and examined whether an account was created in Russia, whether the account was associated with a Russian email or phone number, whether the user ever logged in from a Russian IP address, or whether the display name contained Cyrillic characters. Twitter relied in part on an algorithm, but its review also included “internal, manual reviews conducted by Twitter employees,” Edgett said.

Twitter’s process initially flagged 36,746 accounts it believed may have been tied to Russia, Edgett said. It winnowed that list before turning it over to Congress.

Hirschfeld, Franklin, and Osborne were in the US around the time of the 2016 election. All say they used Twitter almost exclusively from their phones, through American telecommunications providers that should have shown US IP addresses. Similarly, their email addresses were registered to American providers.

In cases where Twitter wasn’t sure if a user was real, Edgett said, it would challenge the user to verify a phone number or complete a captcha to prove that they were, in fact, human. Hirschfeld, Franklin, and Osborne all say they do not recall being presented with such a challenge.

‘That they could just take some random tweets from my account that is obviously not a Russian bot and place it under that label is concerning to say the least.’

Chris Osborne

Their inclusion in Twitter’s list of suspected IRA accounts raises questions about Twitter’s investigation into Russian interference, and the extent of congressional oversight. One potential hint that Twitter appears to have overlooked is the age of the accounts in question. Both Hirschfeld and Osborne first logged in to their accounts in February 2011, well before the first known IRA activity in 2013. WIRED’s analysis found at least 63 accounts created between 2009 and 2013 included in the list provided to Congress.

Twitter has since updated its list of potentially IRA-linked accounts. In January, it said it added 1,062 accounts, for a total of 3,814. Neither Twitter nor Congress released that list at the time. In June, after WIRED contacted Twitter about the possible inclusion of Americans on its list, Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a revised list of 3,841 account handles it said Twitter had flagged as possibly linked to the IRA. That list omitted seven accounts from the November list, including those of Franklin, Hirschfeld, and Osborne, yet their accounts remain suspended. In its correspondence with Congress, Twitter said it deleted the accounts “based on additional information, refinements to methodology, and enhanced understanding of IRA characteristics.” Twitter declined additional comment.

WIRED identified Franklin, Hirschfeld, and Osborne by examining a database of tweets released in February by NBC, which had obtained it from sources familiar with Twitter’s data systems after Twitter removed the tweets from public view. WIRED supplemented that database by identifying mentions and replies from the accounts Twitter flagged. The analysis showed the three Americans tweeting with friends and relatives about everyday life, including upcoming exams, performances at Coachella, and kale recipes. By contrast, Twitter accounts associated with the IRA rarely display any glimpse of a personal life. They rapidly tweet and retweet popular posts, or bring attention to current political events to gain followers, according to Linvill and Warren, the Clemson professors, who are researching the usage patterns and strategies of the IRA’s Twitter accounts.

Linvill and Warren have analyzed a database of roughly 3 million tweets from the accounts on Twitter’s list. They’re looking for signs that Twitter erroneously included the accounts of real people to exclude those accounts from their analysis. “We don’t want to use real people in trying to find out how Russian Twitter trolls are acting,” Warren says. “We would get the wrong answers.”

Working independently of WIRED, Linvill and Warren also identified Hirschfeld’s @Beckster319 account as potentially a real person, based on the tweets. Her fondness for pumpkin is a common theme. “I judge the change of seasons by the availability of Pumpkin Spiced lattes. #LaborDayWeekend,” she tweeted on Sep. 2, 2016. She also tweeted regularly about her family: “Just witnessed my niece dole out stickers from her sticker album at storytime hour like the Godfather of Kids. #kids,” she tweeted on Oct. 27, 2016, less than two weeks before the election.

An image from the Internet Archive of Rebecca Hirschfeld’s Twitter feed in September 2016.

Internet Archive

Hirschfeld says she used the account almost every day after creating it in 2011. At the time, she worked in Los Angeles as an actress; she has since moved to Chicago, where she teaches elementary school, but still acts. She says she used Twitter to stay on top of current events in the media and entertainment industry.

Hirschfeld had assumed that tweeting about the #MeToo movement might have led to her account’s suspension. “I was posting some stuff that happened to me in Hollywood,” she said. “I figured I must’ve done something to piss somebody off and they reported me and took me down.”

Although Hirschfeld tried several times to reach Twitter after her account was suspended, Twitter Support only provided access to a chatbot. “You can’t talk to anybody,” Hirschfeld said. “You just get the voicemail on these things.” Eventually, Hirschfeld gave up and created a new account. Twitter declined to comment.

Hirschfeld says she invested time and effort into her Twitter presence before it was suspended, and losing her virtual network could hurt her acting career. Her new profile, @Bexster319, has only 36 followers, down from more than the 800 she had on her @Beckster319 profile.

‘That was my property. You can’t take that away from someone. I want my account back.’

Rebecca Hirschfeld

Linvill and Warren, the professors, suggested that Franklin’s and Osborne’s accounts might also be real people after analyzing their tweet patterns. In Franklin’s case, Linvill says, “Interspersed, every few days, in all of that retweeting was the occasional comment about her mom. I saw one tweet where she was clearly asking a friend in class about a quiz.”

Franklin is preparing for her sophomore year studying civil engineering at the University of South Florida. Last year she took calculus and engineering classes during the day, but spent most of her evenings on Twitter, churning out, she said “like 40 tweets per day.” She started her first account, @ibeepepe in 2015, which focused largely on K-Pop. Shortly after, she started a separate @internalmemer account to connect with high school friends. There, she posted thoughts on the subjects that mattered to her, “like Black Lives Matter, anything about LGBTQ,” she said.

Osborne recently graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego with a degree in political science and plans to join the Navy as a pilot. In 2017, he interned for US Representative Devin Nunes (R-California), the chair of the House intelligence committee. Democrats on that committee released Twitter’s list of suspected IRA accounts; they did so without consulting Republican members, according to a committee spokesperson.

Another American whose Twitter handle appears on the list is Robert Delaware (@RobbyDelaware), who lives in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Following previous reporting of his account suspension by Vice in November, Twitter reactivated his account. He never received a response from Twitter about the issue, but he says, “I was just happy that my account was visible.” Representatives from Twitter refused to comment about any individual account, including Delaware’s.

In all, Linvill and Warren say they have identified more than 20 accounts on Twitter’s list that show patterns of being real people.

Chris Osborne in a cafe in Clovis, California.

Beth Holzer

Twitter compiled the list, but Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute, questions whether members of Congress “took the steps [they] ought to have taken before publishing information that [they] should have known would be deeply damaging to the people who were named.”

Jaffer says identifying the accounts as possibly linked to the IRA highlights the need for “digital due process,” and raises questions of how companies like Twitter support or stymie internet speech. “There is an important discussion to be had about whether social media platforms should be providing due process to individuals whose accounts are taken down,” he said.

Typically, Jaffer says, account suspensions don’t lead to lawsuits, since to be successful a user would have to demonstrate “some other harm that you have suffered because of your blacklisting.” In a prior case involving individuals placed on a screening list at airports, the plaintiffs couldn’t point to a tangible harm other than “stigma,” so the case was thrown out.

Affected users, however, see their rights as broader than those spelled out by Twitter’s Terms of Service, which specifies that the company has rights to “remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, suspend or terminate users, and reclaim usernames.”

“That was my property,” Hirschfeld says of her account. “You can’t take that away from someone. I want my account back.”

For her part, Franklin is curious about her inclusion on the list. “I just want to know why. Did they just use an algorithm and flag people as trolls?” she says. “I don’t understand.”


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Uber’s CEO Faces an Impossible Decision

Of all the management mistakes that led to Uber’s culture and business crisis, Travis Kalanick’s biggest mistake was that he kept a tight inner circle of executives, for whom bad behavior appeared to have no consequences. The most egregious example of this anything-goes leadership culture was in 2014, when Emil Michael, then Uber’s senior vice president, suggested at a private dinner that Uber put a million dollars into hiring a team of opposition researchers and journalists to dig into the personal lives of the company’s critics.

Although Michael was made to apologize publicly, Kalanick didn’t fire him for his behavior. Post–public scandal there were no internal consequences. Michael’s continued tenure signaled that Kalanick would tolerate bad behavior, if not encourage it.

Which is why Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is now faced with an impossible situation. Barney Harford is the operational and strategy whiz Khosrowshahi recruited last fall to help fix Uber. Last week, The New York Times reported that Uber employees had filed several informal and formal complaints to the company’s human resources department and its head of diversity, complaining about the way Harford talked about women and minorities. Harford responded in a statement to The Times, writing that he was “humbled and grateful for the feedback” and “totally committed to acting on it and improving.”

Several days later, speaking at Fortune’s tech conference in Aspen, Colorado, Khosrowshahi was asked whether Harford would remain at Uber. “It’s too soon to tell,” he said.

As Khosrowshahi nears the first anniversary of his appointment as CEO of Uber, he has made great progress in addressing the company’s business challenges and attempting to execute one of the most high-profile turnarounds in tech. But Uber’s cultural problems continue to linger. Last week, HR chief Liane Hornsey resigned amid reports she’d systematically dismissed complaints of racial discrimination. Then on Monday, it was revealed the company is under investigation by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for possible gender discrimination.

In light of this string of discouraging events, the way Khosrowshahi handles the investigations into complaints about Harford will be a critical turning point for his leadership success, both inside Uber, where employees will look to his leadership on the issue, and outside Uber, where a continuously curious audience of investors, potential drivers, and possibly customers are monitoring the company’s every move. Kalanick chose specifically not to fire people who acted badly. The situation is hardly identical, but whether Khosrowshahi makes a similar choice, forgoing serious reprimand for a slim public apology, will mean everything.

“There are much deeper stories behind the stories you are reading,” Khosrowshahi said in Aspen. “What’s coming out in the news is a symptom,” Khosrowshahi said, explaning that Uber’s rank and file were leaking information to journalists because employees don’t “really trust that we’re going to do the right thing—not only externally, but also internally.”

It’s crucial that Khosrowshahi make it clear to employees that he is taking the correct and decisive action necessary to address the complaints, even though they were lodged against someone he brought in—someone who is perceived to be integral to Uber’s business strategy. In other words, Khosrowshahi needs people to trust him, not just when things are going well and he’s steadily fixing an organization that others broke, but when things are going awfully. In short, this is the moment when he must take responsibility for his role.

At the company all-hands meeting on Monday, Bo Young Lee, the still somewhat new chief diversity and inclusion officer, announced the entire executive leadership team will go through training and coaching on how to be more inclusive leaders. She said leadership will start meeting more regularly with employee resource groups. In the next few weeks, Lee promised, she would present a full diversity and inclusion plan to the company.

These are smart things to do, but given Uber’s poor track record with discrimination and its previous cultural issues, it’s unclear why the company is just beginning them now. Nor is it evident that these efforts will be enough to convince employees to trust Khosrowshahi’s leadership enough to handle problems internally, especially now that they’ve realized that reporters are a helpful microphone for getting management to hear concerns.

This culture issue could quickly derail any of the business success that Khosrowshahi has obtained in his first year on the job. As he said in Aspen, “We took on all the external challenges, and in hindsight I didn’t work as much as I had to internally. Sometimes it takes a punch in the face to see things clearly.” The question before him now will be whether he can convince his employees that he sees things clearly, without asking for the resignation of his right-hand man.


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How to Install and Use PostgreSQL on Ubuntu 18.04

PostgreSQL (Postgres in short) is an open source, powerful, advanced, high performance and stable relational-document database system. It uses and enhances the SQL language coupled with a large number of features for secure data storage and management.

It is efficient, reliable, and scalable for handling large, complicated volumes of data and setting up enterprise-level and fault-tolerant environments, while ensuring high data integrity. Postgres is also highly extensible with features such as indexes comes with APIs so that you can develop your own solutions to solve your data storage challenges.

In this article, we will explain how to install PostgreSQL on an Ubuntu 18.04 server (also works on older Ubuntu releases) and learn some basic ways to use it.

How to Install PostgreSQL on Ubuntu

First, create a file /etc/apt/sources.list.d/pgdg.list which stores the repository configuration, then import the repository key to your system, update your system packages list and install Postgres package using following commands.

$ sudo sh -c 'echo "deb http://apt.postgresql.org/pub/repos/apt/ $(lsb_release -cs)-pgdg main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/pgdg.list'
$ sudo apt install wget ca-certificates
$ wget --quiet -O - https://www.postgresql.org/media/keys/ACCC4CF8.asc | sudo apt-key add -
$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt install postgresql-10 pgadmin4 


Once postgres has been installed, the database service started automatically and you can confirm by typing following command.

$ sudo systemctl status postgresql.service
Check PostgreSQL Service

Check PostgreSQL Service

How to Use PostgreSQL Roles and Databases

In postgres, client authentication is controlled by the /etc/postgresql/10/main/pg_hba.conf configuration file. The default authentication method is “peer” for the database administrator, meaning it gets the client’s operating system user name from the operating system and checks if it matches the requested database user name to allow access, for local connections (as shown in the following screenshot).

During the installation process, a system user account called postgres was created without a password, this is also the default database administrator user name.

$ sudo vim /etc/postgresql/10/main/pg_hba.conf
PostgreSQL Configuration File

PostgreSQL Configuration File

In addition, under postgres database access permission management is performed via roles. A role can be considered as either a database user, or a group of database users, depending on how the role is set up.

The default role is also postgres. Importantly, database roles are conceptually fully unconnected to operating system users, but practically they may not be separate (for example when it comes to client authentication).

Importantly, roles can own database objects, and can assign privileges on those objects to other roles to control who has access to which objects. In addition, it is possible to grant membership in a role to another role.

To configure other roles to use encrypted passwords to manage databases assigned to them, apart from the default postgres role, you need to change the line to.

Configure Roles in PostgreSQL

Configure Roles in PostgreSQL

Then restart the postgresql service to apply the recent changes.
$ sudo systemctl restart postgresql

How to Use PostgreSQL on Ubuntu

Once everything setup, you can access the postgres system account with the following command, where the -i flag tells sudo to run the shell specified by the target user’s password database entry as a login shell.

$ sudo -i -u postgres $ psql #to launch the postgres shell program postgres=#

To access the postgres shell directly, without first accessing the postgres user account, run the following command.

$ sudo -i -u postgres psql

You can quit/exit the postgres by typing the following command.

postgres=# \q

Create PostgreSQL Database Roles

Create a new user role using the following command.

postgres=# CREATE ROLE tecmint;

To create a role with a LOGIN attribute, use the following command (roles with the LOGIN attribute can be considered the same as a database users).

postgres=#CREATE ROLE tecmint LOGIN;
OR
postgres=#CREATE USER name; #assumes login function by default

A role can also be created with a password, this is useful if you configured the client authentication method to ask users to supply an encrypted password when connecting to the database.

postgres=#CREATE ROLE tecmint PASSWORD 'passwd_here'

List Existing PostgreSQL Database Roles

To list the existing user roles, use any of these commands.

postgres=# \du #shows actual users
OR
postgres=# SELECT rolname FROM pg_roles;
List PostgreSQL Roles

List PostgreSQL Roles

Drop a PostgreSQL Database Role

To drop any existing user role use the DROP ROLE command as shown.

postgres=# DROP ROLE tecmint;

Create a PostgreSQL Database

Once you have created a role with a particular name (for instance tecmint user), you can create a database (with the same name as the role) which will be managed by that role as shown.

postgres=# CREATE DATABASE tecmint;

Now to manage the database tecmint, access the postgres shell as the tecmint role, provide your password as follows.

$ sudo -i -u tecmint psql

Create a PostgreSQL Table

Creating tables is so easy, we will create a test table called authors, which stores information about TecMint.com authors, as shown.

tecmint=>CREATE TABLE authors (
code char(5) NOT NULL,
name varchar(40) NOT NULL,
city varchar(40) NOT NULL
joined_on date NOT NULL, PRIMARY KEY (code)
);
Create PostgreSQL Table

Create PostgreSQL Table

After creating a table, try to populate it with some data, as follows.

tecmint=> INSERT INTO authors VALUES(1,'Ravi Saive','Mumbai','2012-08-15');

To view the data stored in a table, you can run a SELECT command.

tecmint=> SELECT * FROM authors;
Insert Data in PostgreSQL Table

Insert Data in PostgreSQL Table

List PostgreSQL Database Tables

You can list all tables in the current database with the following command.

tecmint=>\dt
List PostgreSQL Database Tables

List PostgreSQL Database Tables

Delete/Drop a PostgreSQL Table

To delete a table in the current database, use the DROP command.

tecmint=> DROP TABLE authors;

List All PostgreSQL Databases

To list all databases, use any of the following commands.

tecmint=>SELECT datname FROM pg_database;
OR
tecmint=>\list #shows a detailed description OR
tecmint=>\l
List PostgreSQL Databases

List PostgreSQL Databases

Delete/Drop a PostgreSQL Database

If you want to delete a database, use the DROP command, for example.

tecmint=>DROP DATABASE tecmint;

Switch to Another PostgreSQL Database

You can also switch from one database to another easily using the following command.

tecmint=>\connect database_name

For more information, refer to the PostgreSQL 10.4 Documentation.

That’s it for now! In this article, we have explained how to install and use PostgreSQL database management system on Ubuntu 18.04. You can send us your queries or thoughts in the comments.

Uganda’s Regressive Social Media Tax Stays, at Least For Now

The Ugandan parliament referred a controversial new social media tax to a committee for further consideration on Thursday, after protesters took to the streets of Kampala last week. The tax, which went into effect July 1, charges 200 Ugandan shillings (or $0.05) per day of use for 60 mobile apps, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp. Critics say it puts an undue burden on the poorest members of society, and that it is an assault on freedom of expression.

“The primary motivation behind [the social media tax] is to silence speech, to reduce the spaces where people can exchange information, and to really be able to control, with the recognition that online platforms have become the more commonly used way for sharing information,” says Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn, and the Great Lakes.

While Uganda’s social media tax is the first of its kind, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it follows a wider trend in the region of governments limiting internet access and speech. Neighboring Tanzania recently passed a law charging bloggers a $930 annual fee to publish online. And earlier this week, Egypt passed a bill allowing the government to block any social media account with more than 5,000 followers if it finds that a person has spread “fake news.” Uganda’s social media tax was passed as part of a larger bill, which also included an unpopular 1 percent tax on all mobile transactions that has since been reduced.

Political analysts have categorized Uganda’s government as “dictatorship light.” The country’s 73-year-old president, Yoweri Museveni, has been in power since 1986. He abolished term limits in 2005 and in January overturned a rule that would have forced him to retire at age 75, instead allowing him to be president for life—a move critics called illegal. During elections in 2016, the government blocked access to social media for days in order to stop the organization of protests, silence or erase support for his opposition, and discourage voting.

“It is not the place of the government to decide what is gossip and what is credible or not.”

Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International

When the social media tax was first announced at the end of May, Museveni reportedly told parliament it was to discourage the spread of “gossip” and to earn revenue from the use of popular social media apps run by foreign companies.

International and domestic outrage followed, but Museveni doubled down on his defense of the tax. “Social-media use is definitely a luxury item,” Museveni wrote in a blog post on July 12, comparing social media to consumer goods like beer, tobacco, and perfume. “Internet use can be sometimes for educational purposes and research. This should not be taxed. However, using internet to access social media for chatting, recreation, malice, subversion, inciting murder, is definitely a luxury.”

Human rights advocates say the focus on “gossip” is an attempt to co-opt genuine concern about misinformation on social media as way to justify censorship.

“It is not the place of the government to decide what is gossip and what is credible or not. When the government attempts to do that, it is really a restriction of the freedom of expression,” says Nyanyuki.

Local opposition to the tax is led by Robert Kyagulanyi, a popular musician known as Bobi Wine who is now a member of parliament. He and fellow musician Alexander Bagonza (A Pass) led the protest in Kampala last week, which the government ended with tear gas. Two protesters were arrested. Wine had to flee back to parliament in a disguise and is now facing charges of assault and theft, according to local reports.

“Now, it is evident that government is only trying to buy time so that Ugandans become complacent and used to this oppression which we refuse,” Kyagulanyi told Voice of America Thursday. “This time, as leaders, we are only coming to join Ugandans because the people raised their voice—which has been and still stands—that this tax must go.”

“I think the government may have been a little taken aback that there really has been a popular pushback against this tax,” says EFF international director Danny O’Brien. “It plays into the government’s ignorance of how the technology is being used on a daily basis.”

In US dollars, the daily tax of 200 shillings adds up to around $19 a year, which might not sound like much until you consider that the per capita GDP in Uganda was $604 in 2017, according to the World Bank. Youth unemployment is an ongoing problem the government and aid groups have been trying to solve by encouraging entrepreneurship. With 42 percent of Ugandans online—a jump of 10 percent over last year—much of the hustle for young entrepreneurs is happening online.

To young Ugandans, the tax is further proof that their government is out of touch—both with how important social media is in their lives, and in how much the tax would burden them, considering it nearly doubles what most people pay daily to get online.

“I think the government is threatened by our use of social media,” says Bagonza, who uses social media to promote his music and reach his fans. Though he describes himself as unpolitical, Bagonza is part of the under-30 generation of young Ugandans who make up 78 percent of the population, and who mostly do not favor Museveni, according to a 2017 poll. “We have the perspective of people who don’t have as much because we come from that side as well. That’s why we stand with the people,” he says.

Social media has proved to be a powerful tool for organizing protest movements, from the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter in the US. Protest hashtags like #notosocialmediatax and #thistaxmustgo have gone viral in response to the Ugandan government’s actions. But Bagonza tells WIRED that most people who showed up for last week’s demonstration in Kampala did not find out about it from social media. Rather, they joined in when they saw people dressed in red marching through the street. Though the protest received a lot of media attention, it was relatively small—with no more than 100 people according to Bagonza. Media reports referred to the gathering as a “crowd.”

Keeping protests small is part of the appeal in limiting social media, say critics. “The president can’t let 100 people gather. Thirty people gathering, police come, tear gas, bullets. You just pick up and go home. I’ve never seen a protest of more than 100 people,” says Anita Mbabazi, a marketer in Kampala for whom social media is an essential part of the job.

The government says it has raised 7 billion shillings from the social media and mobile taxes since the beginning of the month, but many Ugandans have been able to get around paying the former by using VPNs. According to a survey of 2,918 Ugandans conducted by Kampala-based communications firm Whitehead, 57 percent of people who got online since the tax went into effect reported using a VPN. Forty percent said they paid the tax.

The government has threatened to block VPNs, and one MP accused those who avoid the tax of being unpatriotic. “If you are a real committed Ugandan who wants services from your government,” said Frank Tumwebaze, “why are you motivated and proud with your head high to contribute money 30 times OTT tax to the innovator of VPN?” He was referring to the cost of the data it took to download a VPN, although that is a one-time cost, whereas the OTT tax is daily.

Even though there are workarounds, the tax has already had an impact on social media access. Seventy-one percent of respondents reported being extremely inconvenienced, and they reported an 11 percent drop in their overall social media usage since the taxes went into effect. Ugandans who spoke to WIRED reported seeing significantly less engagement with their posts online, too.

The decision by parliament on Thursday effectively keeps the tax in place for at least another 45 days. Opponents have not been optimistic. “I don’t believe they are going to do anything about it. I know it’s going to stay,” says Mbabazi.


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How a #MeToo Facebook Group Became a Tool for Harassment

Last year, as thousands of women shared their stories of sexual assault and harassment with the hashtag #MeToo, Amanda, a 30-year-old from Oregon, was looking for a supportive place to share her own experiences. Soon enough she was invited by a friend to join a Facebook group for survivors of sexual assault that had thousands of members.

The group was easy to find: As recently as this month, the page associated with it ranked higher in some search results than the #MeToo page verified by Facebook. The group, which also had “me too” in the name, looked legitimate to Amanda. Best of all, it was “closed,” meaning that while the group showed up in search results, new members needed an admin’s approval to join and only members could see what was posted in it.

“People shared the most intimate moments of trauma with these people,” says Amanda. (WIRED is declining to include her last name to protect her privacy.)

Then suddenly earlier this month, Amanda noticed the group’s name and photo had been changed. The same day President Trump had mocked the #MeToo movement at a rally in Montana, trolls began descending on her community. The group was now advertised as a place for sharing erotica and an account Amanda didn’t recognize had become the administrator. They began adding new members; many of these profiles, when later examined by WIRED appeared to be fake.

WIRED spoke to five women who were in the group, including Amanda, some of whom provided screenshots to support their accounts. They described harassment by many of those new profiles, who threatened in some cases to contact their abusers or to call child protective services regarding their children. One troll commented that they had collected all of the women’s posts about abuse in a file, implying they could still be released even if they were deleted from Facebook. The social network subsequently suspended many of the accounts after being contacted by WIRED.

It’s not clear whether the #MeToo group was taken over through some sort of hack, or if it was purposely set up to lure women in with the goal of eventually harassing those who may have joined. After women began reporting their group to Facebook, it was deleted, leaving the original members to piece together what might have happened.

“That was the worst part. Some people had posted that the group was their safe place to talk, then bam, it’s gone,” says Amanda.

“We want people to feel safe to engage and connect with their community. For that reason, we consider authenticity to be the cornerstone of our community and do not tolerate harassment on Facebook. In line with these policies, we disabled this group, the Page, and the identified profiles for violating our Community Standards,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

‘That was the worst part. Some people had posted that the group was their safe place to talk, then bam, it’s gone.’

There’s no doubt that Facebook groups represent important communities for millions of people. They played an instrumental role in organizing the West Virginia teacher strike earlier this year and in the 2017 Women’s March. But groups have also been used as tools for manipulation, scams, and harassment.

Whitney Phillips, the author of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship Between Online Trolling and Internet Culture, says Facebook groups and pages have long been a place for trolling and harassment. She cites incidents that go as far back as 2010, when trolls hijacked memorial pages set up for loved ones that had recently passed away.

“Overnight the admin would flip it so that it said whoever the person was, they deserved [to die]. That was an established strategy back then,” says Phillips. Since then, malicious actors have continued to set up Facebook pages and groups to exploit tragedies and news events, like mass shootings. “This is a failure of Facebook really taking their own product to its logical extension. Facebook doesn’t seem to understand that their tools are the bread and butter of manipulators.”

Unlike other social platforms that host intimate communities, like Reddit, Facebook requires users provide their actual names, heightening the potential consequences of abuse. Unless a Facebook user has strict privacy settings enabled, a troll or other malicious actor can find photos of them and their family, where they work or go to school, and additional contact information like phone numbers and email addresses. Which is what happened with the #MeToo group.

That incident came six months after Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s former head of News Feed, announced that group content would be given more prominence as part of an effort to foster more “meaningful” connection on the platform. Last year, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, also emphasized that Facebook groups can be used as places to share private, sensitive information.

“If you’re diagnosed with a rare disease, you can join a group and connect with people with that condition all around the world so you’re not alone,” Zuckerberg said at Facebook’s Community Summit in June 2017. At the same event, Zuckerberg said Facebook’s goal was to have 1 billion of its over 2 billion users be a part of “meaningful” communities.

More recently, Facebook has continued to emphasize the importance of groups on its platform. In May, the company released a series of new tools designed to keep groups safe, including admin support, “a dedicated place for admins to report an issue or ask a question and get a response from Facebook,” which was rolled out to a limited number of administrators. Facebook is also developing artificial intelligence to more proactively detect things like fake accounts before they’re reported.

But admin support and other tools like it are only useful if an administrator is acting in good faith. In the #MeToo group’s case, where the admin may have been involved in the abuse, regular members had few options.

“It’s a shame that it is impossible to reach out to someone in charge directly when a thing like this is happening,” says another women in the group who asked for her name not to be used. “The notifying tools are not sufficient.”

It’s not clear whether the administrators behind the group intended to target survivors of abuse from the beginning. In part that’s because it’s impossible to tell who created it in the first place. The administrator of the group was a Facebook page. Facebook doesn’t require pages to publicize the individual users behind them, and so they effectively provide a way to shield the identity of a group’s administrators.

The ability to create groups that aren’t tied to specific Facebook profiles serves a legitimate purpose; a nonprofit might want to create a group tied to its name rather than to the identity of its social media manager, for example. Yet that same ability allows bad actors to masquerade as legitimate, a loophole exploited by Russian propagandists and others during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook is aware of the problem. In June, the social network announced it would make pages more transparent by including the date they were created and whether their name had been changed recently. But it stopped short of requiring pages disclose who created them.

‘Facebook doesn’t seem to understand that their tools are the bread and butter of manipulators.’

Whitney Phillips

While Facebook does have a Safety Center for users and a specific guide for survivors of abuse developed with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, it doesn’t appear to offer specific guidance for users about how they should evaluate the safety or legitimacy of a group. There aren’t warnings, for example, about sharing personal information when you don’t know an administrator’s real identity.

Facebook does provide public verification badges for certain pages. A blue check mark indicates Facebook has “confirmed that this is the authentic Page or profile for this public figure, media company or brand,” while gray check marks are used for businesses and organizations.

The company uses a number of other signals, beyond just verification status, to surface groups and pages algorithmically in search results and recommendation engines, which can vary from user to user based on things like their friends or connections. But when several people at WIRED searched for the hashtag #MeToo, the page behind the now-deleted group was listed higher than the Facebook verified page associated with the #MeToo movement.

“Recommendation algorithms are routinely manipulated across a wide array of digital platforms (this isn’t unique to Facebook), and verified accounts are one way to communicate trust to users,” says Mary Madden, a research lead at Data & Society, a nonprofit that studies social and cultural issues related to new technologies. “However, placement and ranking on a list also matter a great deal, so it’s easy to see why many users might have assumed a page at the very top was legitimate.”

The social network also appears to rank groups in part based on their size. Before it was deleted, the #MeToo group had more than 15,000 members. But as a Buzzfeed News investigation found, it’s easy to buy fake group members to bolster the perceived size of a community.

For years, Facebook has worked to promote itself as a welcoming and safe platform for billions of people to share their real lives. But that information can sometimes be used for purposes users aren’t aware of, even in closed groups run by legitimate, well-intended administrators.

Last week, CNBC reported that Facebook recently removed functionality that allowed third parties to access the names of people in closed groups. While the posts in closed groups have always been only available to group members, previously anyone could see who the members were. A browser extension had been created that marketers and others could use to download member lists, as well as other information on users including employers, locations, and email addresses.

The extension was discovered by Andrea Downing, a moderator for a closed support group for women with gene mutations that put them at a higher risk of developing some forms of cancer. She and others in the community grew worried that insurance companies or other parties might be able to access information about their health, even though their groups aren’t public. They reached out to Facebook with their concerns. On June 29, the social network made member lists for closed groups private. (Facebook told CNBC its decision to make the change was not related to their outreach.) The browser extension has also been taken down.

Downing is still not satisfied. “The system-wide design of Facebook’s groups functionality is a major problem,” she says. And yet, she says it would be hard to leave the social network for another platform, because users can’t download the posts they’ve made in groups. Facebook did not immediately respond to a question about whether it would make group data downloadable.

Facebook groups have helped millions of people connect and feel less alone, but they are also enticing targets for trolls and scammers. The social network has a mixed record when it comes to anticipating how its tools will be abused, but when people are using their real names and sharing the most intimate details about their lives, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“I liked the group a lot, people would share their stories or ask if certain things happened to them or some people asked for advice on things,” says Chloe, another woman who was in the #MeToo group. “We all helped each other or supported each other as best we could.”


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Nonprofit for Migrants Declines a Donation from Salesforce

A Texas-based nonprofit helping migrant families detained at the US southern border has refused a substantial donation from Salesforce after the tech company declined to cancel its contracts with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Over the past month, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) received more than $20 million in donations, and a flood of media attention, following a viral Facebook fund-raising campaign started by two former Facebook employees that was touted as a sign of the tech industry’s power for good.

The nonprofit’s work caught the attention of Salesforce, which offered RAICES a $250,000 donation. RAICES said it would only accept the money if Salesforce dropped its contracts with CBP. Salesforce would not, so RAICES refused the donation.

In an email to Salesforce on Monday, Jonathan Ryan, RAICES executive director, wrote, “Pledging us a small portion of the money you make from CPB [sic] contracts will not distract us from your continuing support of this agency. We will not be a beneficiary of your effort to buy your way out of ethical responsibility.”

In late June, more than 650 Salesforce employees signed a letter to CEO Marc Benioff asking him to rethink the company’s contracts with the CBP and speak out against its practices, “given the inhuman separation from their parents currently taking place at the border.” On July 8, Benioff tweeted that Salesforce does not work with CBP on separation of families and that Salesforce had donated $1 million to organizations helped families separated at the US border. A Salesforce spokesperson said the RAICES donation was part of that $1 million pledge, but would not comment beyond pointing WIRED to Benioff’s tweets.

On Monday, Ryan asked Salesforce to cancel its CBP contract. On Tuesday, the company told RAICES that it would not cancel the contract but understood the group’s position.

In his email, Ryan called Salesforce’s response to employee concerns a deflection. “When it comes to supporting oppressive, inhumane, and illegal policies, we want to be clear: the only right action is to stop,” he wrote. “The software and technical services you provide to CBP form part of the foundation that helps ICE operate efficiently, from recruiting more officers to managing vendors. While you justified continuing your contract with CBP by claiming that Salesforce software ‘isn’t working with CBP regarding the separation of families at the border,’ this is not enough.”

Salesforce and Benioff pride themselves on philanthropy. In its annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company says it “pioneered, and have inspired other companies to adopt, an integrated philanthropy model called the 1-1-1 model, which leverages 1 percent of a company’s equity, employee time and product to help improve communities around the world. In addition, we have spearheaded initiatives to create a world where equal pay, equal advancement, equal opportunity and equal rights become a reality for our employees and the broader world.”

The Salesforce employee petition was part of a fledgling movement among tech workers challenging their employers on government contracts they perceived as unethical, inspired by protests at Google. So far, only Google has changed its practices. After protests, the company said it would not renew a defense contract called Project Maven that involved facial recognition through drones, but will continue to do government work.

The RAICES fund-raising campaign was started in June by former Facebook employees Charlotte and Dave Willner. In a recent interview with WIRED, Facebook executive Chris Cox cited the RAICES fundraiser as an example of how the social network’s tools can be used for good.


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How to Fix “passwd: Authentication token manipulation error” in Linux

In Linux, the passwd command is used to set or change user account passwords, while using this command sometimes users may encountered the error: “passwd: Authentication token manipulation error” as shown in below example.

Recently I was logging in to my CentOS server using my username “tecmint“. Once I am logged in I am trying to change my password using passwd utility, but a second after I am getting the following error messages.

# su - tecmint
$ passwd tecmint
Changing password for user tecmint
Changing password for tecmint
(current) UNIX password: passwd: Authentication token manipulation error 

In this article, we will explain different ways of fixing “passwd: Authentication token manipulation error” in Linux systems.

1. Reboot System

The first basic solution is to reboot your system. I can’t really tell why this worked, but it did worked for me on my CentOS 7.

$ sudo reboot 


If this fails, try out the next solutions.

2. Set Correct PAM Module Settings

Another possible cause of the “passwd: Authentication token manipulation error” is wrong PAM (Pluggable Authentication Module) settings. This makes the module unable to obtain the new authentication token entered.

The various settings for PAM are found in /etc/pam.d/.

$ ls -l /etc/pam.d/
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 142 Mar 23 2017 abrt-cli-root
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 272 Mar 22 2017 atd
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 192 Jan 26 07:41 chfn
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 192 Jan 26 07:41 chsh
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 232 Mar 22 2017 config-util
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 293 Aug 23 2016 crond
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 115 Nov 11 2010 eject
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 19 Apr 12 2012 fingerprint-auth -> fingerprint-auth-ac
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 659 Apr 10 2012 fingerprint-auth-ac
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 147 Oct 5 2009 halt
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 728 Jan 26 07:41 login
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 172 Nov 18 2016 newrole
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 154 Mar 22 2017 other
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 146 Nov 23 2015 passwd
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 16 Apr 12 2012 password-auth -> password-auth-ac
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 896 Apr 10 2012 password-auth-ac
....

For instance a mis-configured /etc/pam.d/common-password file can result into this error, running the pam-auth-update command with root privileges can fix the issue.

$ sudo pam-auth-update

3. Remount Root Partition

You might also see this error if the / partition is mounted as read only, which means no file can be modified thus a user’s password can’t be set or changed. To fix this error, you need to mount the root partition as as read/write as shown.

$ sudo mount -o remount,rw /

4. Set Correct Permissions on Shadow File

Wrong permissions on the /etc/shadow file, which stores actual passwords for user accounts in encrypted format can also cause this error. To check the permissions on this file, use the following command.

$ ls -l /etc/shadow

To set the correct permissions on it, use the chmod command as follows.

$ sudo chmod 0640 /etc/shadow

5. Repair and Fix Filesystem Errors

Minor storage drive or filesystem errors can also cause the error in question. You can use Linux disk scanning tools such as fsck to fix such errors.

6. Free Up Disk Space

Furthermore, if your disk is full, then you can not modify any file on the disk especially when file’s size is meant to increase. This can also cause the above error. In this case, read our following articles to clean up disk space can help solve this error.

  1. Agedu – A Useful Tool for Tracking Down Wasted Disk Space in Linux
  2. BleachBit – A Free Disk Space Cleaner and Privacy Guard for Linux Systems
  3. How to Find and Remove Duplicate/Unwanted Files in Linux Using ‘FSlint’ Tool

You will also find these articles relating to managing user passwords in Linux.

  1. How to Reset Forgotten Root Password in RHEL/CentOS and Fedora
  2. How to Force User to Change Password at Next Login in Linux
  3. How to Run ‘sudo’ Command Without Entering a Password in Linux

That’s it for now! If you know any other solution to fix “passwd: Authentication token manipulation error”, let us know via the feedback form below. We will be grateful for your contribution.

Airbnb Can’t Win New York—But It Can’t Quit Either

Anyone who has been paying attention to the escalating showdown between Airbnb and New York City’s hotel industry will not be surprised that the $31 billion startup just lost, handily. This afternoon, the New York City Council passed a bill that will force Airbnb to provide the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement with the names and addresses of its hosts. Other cities have passed similar laws, resulting in precipitous declines in listings. Because New York has strict laws about the homes that are allowed to be listed, and many hosts choose to skirt them, this could have more detrimental effects as the city identifies and fines these hosts more easily.

It’s the latest in a long history of battles between the startup and the city. “In 2010, I said, ‘This is gonna be a one-year challenge.’” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said, while addressing New York regulatory challenges at the Code Conference in May, adding that now “it doesn’t seem like the end is in sight with that challenge.”

But regardless of how many rules officials impose, Airbnb can’t afford to abandon New York City. That’s not because it’s one of the company’s largest markets — Airbnb’s listings are so diffuse that its top five markets, which include the Big Apple, account for just 4.3 percent of its listings. The New York political fight is resource-intensive enough that if the market were purely about revenue, there’d be a good argument for Airbnb to pull out of New York altogether.

Simply put, you can’t be a travel company in the 21st century and not operate in New York City. Airbnb has to maintain and grow its New York listings because it’s one of the top spots for travelers.

Even more, what happens in New York will influence how the world perceives the company, and it’ll set a precedent for other markets. As Airbnb looks for new ways to grow in the run-up to its initial public offering, the company is encountering regulatory crackdowns across the globe. The New York situation mirrors legislative efforts underway in Los Angeles, and comes months after San Francisco passed a measure mandating that hosts register with the city. Should Airbnb pull out of New York, caving to the special interests of the hotel industry, it sends a message that it might be willing to do the same in other places over time, eventually losing ground in markets where it has brokered a fragile peace.

Should Airbnb pull out of New York, it sends a message that it might be willing to do the same in markets where it has brokered a fragile peace.

Though Airbnb has attempted to collaborate with New York City regulators, it has hit a dead end in navigating the city’s quagmire of politicians. “New York is way behind other cities, and we’re moving farther away from a compromise position,” says Julie Samuels, executive director of the advocacy group Tech NYC, adding, “the only thing standing in the way of an agreement is pure politics.” The company’s New York troubles date back to a key decision Airbnb made in its earliest years: to ask forgiveness rather than permission as it rolled out its service in cities.

At the time, this idea was a central tenet in the on-demand economy’s playbook for launch. In most cities it worked. In New York, however, it backfired. In 2010, before most people had even heard of home-sharing or Airbnb, the New York state legislature passed the Multiple Dwelling Law, an amendment to fight illegal hotels. Tenants of apartments in shared buildings couldn’t rent their entire homes for fewer than 30 days. Early on, Airbnb chose to ignore it.

As Airbnb grew large enough to threaten hotels and their unions, an organized group of opponents latched onto the Multiple Dwelling Law to argue the service was illegal. After a protracted fight with the attorney general that ended with a scathing report published in 2014, Airbnb began devoting resources to New York City policy. But by then, its opponents had organized in their efforts to shut the service down. In 2016, New York state passed a bill that made it illegal even to advertise a listing in which a home is rented for fewer than 30 days. The day the bill was signed into law, 20,000 Airbnb listings were deemed illegal, and the hosts were threatened with up to $7,500 in fines for just posting.

Meanwhile, the hotel industry and unionized hotel workers have been supporting city politicians and have invested heavily in advertising and lobbying campaigns criticizing Airbnb for reducing the amount of affordable housing in cities. They’ve run ads promoting a recent report from city comptroller Scott Stringer that claimed Airbnb was driving rents up and taking affordable housing off the market.

While it got a lot of press attention, the report’s results were called into question by the company that provided the information. To analyze Airbnb’s impact on rents in the city, it relied on data scraped by AirDNA, an independent company that collects and analyzes data from Airbnb listings. An AirDNA spokesperson told The New York Times that Stringers’ team had come to “flawed conclusions” because it misinterpreted the data, and that Airbnb had no material impact on city rents.

Regardless, the latest city council legislation was introduced shortly after the report’s publication. It requires hosts of the city’s close to 50,000 listings to provide both the listing address and their home addresses, and answer some basic questions. Under the bill, violators will be fined up to $25,000 per listing not shared.

In the weeks running up to the new legislation, Airbnb countered in every possible way. It released a report showing that city council members who had backed the legislation had accepted tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from the hotel lobby. It sent an actor dressed as “Mr. Big Hotel Tycoon” to join protests outside city council offices.

The day before the bill passed, Airbnb’s policy and public affairs head Chris Lehane, a former Clinton administration political consultant, hosted a conference call for press in which he criticized regulators for putting politics before policy, saying: “The Office of Special Enforcement is using its power to target political opponents.” Lehane fell back on a familiar saw, claiming that Airbnb’s hosts, most of whom, he suggested, were just trying to cover their own housing costs by pulling in a little extra from the service, would be the ones to suffer. And he complained the legislation violated hosts’ privacy, a concern so great, he suggested, that Airbnb would consider taking legal action.

Lehane fell back on a familiar saw, asserting that Airbnb hosts were just trying to cover their own housing costs, and that they would be the ones to suffer.

Just hours before the bill was expected to be signed, Airbnb revealed that it planned to finance a host’s lawsuit against the city.

Though Airbnb is voicing concerns about privacy, ultimately the new legislation is problematic for the company because it enforces a state law—and it’s at the state level that Airbnb may one day succeed in improving Airbnb’s standing. A bill introduced in Albany last year would modify the state occupancy law in a way that would legalize most Airbnb rentals. So far, the proposal has remained ensnared in the capital’s divisions, subject to a different set of politics, and it failed to advance before the legislative session that ended last month. Unfortunately for Airbnb, the state legislature won’t reconvene until January.


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Don’t Expect Big Changes from Europe’s Record Google Fine

European regulators took a big swing at Google Wednesday for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system, fining the company €4.34 billion ($5 billion) and ordering changes to Android designed to put Google rivals on a more level playing field. But it’s not clear that the fine or the operational changes will have much effect.

“Google has basically won,” says Maurice Stucke, cofounder of the Konkurrenz Group and a law professor at the University of Tennessee. “They already dominate mobile. Just think about the number of apps, like with Google Play and the like. There’s no way you’re going to have another operating system that is going to threaten that. Bing invested, gosh, billions of dollars in its search engine, and it still hasn’t really made a significant dent.”

The decision by the European Commission, the EU’s regulatory arm, found that Google manages Android, which runs roughly 80 percent of the world’s smartphones, in ways that illegally harm competition. The ruling focused on three practices: the bundling of Google’s Chrome web browser and its search app as a condition for licensing the Google Play store; payments Google makes to phone manufacturers and telecom companies to exclusively preinstall the Google search app on their devices; and Google’s practice of prohibiting device makers from running Google apps on Android “forks,” or alternative versions of the software unapproved by Google. In its ruling, the commission ordered Google to stop all of those practices.

The commission said preinstalled apps create “a status quo bias,” making users more likely to adopt default settings. It said Google’s Search app is used more often on Android phones, where it is preinstalled, than on Windows Mobile devices, where users must download it. “This also shows that users do not download competing apps in numbers that can offset the significant commercial advantage derived through preinstallation,” the release says. As a result, the commission said, other companies don’t innovate on search, harming consumers.

Stucke says Google’s search engine benefits as more people use it, helping Google’s algorithm predict better responses and understand opaque questions, and forcing website operators to develop and index content that is optimized for Google.

What’s more, Stucke says, the decision will not impact Google’s leap from mobile to voice through digital personal assistants, smart appliances, and devices like Google Home, where the default search results will introduce even more bias.

Google said it would appeal the decision. In a blog post, Google CEO Sundar Pichai argued that Android creates more choice than in “the dial-up age” by providing technology for app developers and more affordable options for consumers. “We’ve always agreed that with size comes responsibility,” wrote Pichai. “But we are concerned that today’s decision will upset the careful balance that we have struck with Android, and that it sends a troubling signal in favor of proprietary systems over open platforms.”

The Android case is one of three lodged against Google by European antitrust regulators. Last year, the commission fined Google €2.42 billion ($2.7 billion) for abusing its dominance as a search engine to illegally privilege its own comparison shopping service. Google appealed the decision. The commission also is investigating restrictions that Google has placed on websites displaying search ads from Google’s competitors. In July 2016, the commission issued a preliminary conclusion that found Google had abused its dominance in that arena as well.

Google made Android open source and lets handset makers license it for free. But the commission said the restrictions Google puts on handset makers who use Android inhibits competition. The commission began investigating Google’s management of Android in April 2015.

The order to change how Google manages Android applies only in Europe, but Stucke says eliminating the restrictions on Android forks could have a wider impact because it would be hard for Google to implement that regionally. But he and others say the order is unlikely to affect Google’s practices elsewhere unless US authorities order similar changes. Stefan Heumann, a board member at Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, a German think tank focused on new technologies and digitalization, says American intervention seems unlikely amid ongoing trade disputes between the US and Europe. “This case will probably also be politicized in the current trade standoff between the US and the EU and increase the growing transatlantic divisions in the tech sector,” Heumann said.

In the past, when Google has been ordered to change how it operates in one region of the globe, it generally has applied the changes only in that region. For instance, Google responded to similar concerns from competition authorities in Russia by showing users a “choice screen” that let them pick search engines when they opened Chrome for the first time.

Despite the multiple antitrust investigations, Heumann said the commission does not have a clear idea of how to regulate dominant platforms like Google. In an email, he said the impact of Wednesday’s ruling will likely be limited. “Unless we have better concepts on how a fair platform economy should look and what the appropriate regulation is, antitrust cases such as this one will be only imperfect short-term fixes. They won’t address the underlying structural issues,” he said.

A coalition of consumer-oriented US groups, including Consumer Watchdog, the Open Markets Institute, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy, and Fight for the Future, supported the decision in a letter to EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “The US Federal Trade Commission or Department of Justice should also act to end Google’s monopolistic abuses, instead of letting the Europeans be the only cop on the antitrust beat,” said John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s privacy and technology project.

Two nonprofit organizations that receive funding from Google criticized the ruling and echoed the argument that Android improves consumer choice. Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association said in a statement, “Today’s decision punishes the most open, affordable, and flexible operating system in the mobile ecosystem. Android brought more competition, innovation, and consumer choice to the market. These are precisely the things competition authorities are tasked to promote rather than jeopardize.”

Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said the decision was based on European protectionism. “Despite the Commission’s protests to the contrary, it is hard to see how today’s ruling aids consumers,” he said. “Instead, it merely fills European coffers at the expense of American companies.”


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3 Emacs modes for taking notes

No matter what line of work you’re in, it’s inevitable you have to take a few notes. Often, more than a few. If you’re like many people in this day and age, you take your notes digitally.

Open source enthusiasts have a variety of options for jotting down their ideas, thoughts, and research in electronic format. You might use a web-based tool. You might go for a desktop application. Or, you might turn to the command line.

If you use Emacs, that wonderful operating system disguised as a text editor, there are modes that can help you take notes more efficiently. Let’s look at three of them.

Deft

On those rare occasions I’m forced to use a Mac, there’s one tool I can’t do without: the nvALT note-taking application. Deft mode brings the nvALT experience to Emacs.

Deft stores your notes as text files in a single folder on your computer. When you enter Deft mode, it displays a list of your notes along with a short summary. The summary is taken from the first line of the text file. If you add, say, Markdown, LaTeX, or even Emacs Org mode formatting to the first line, Deft ignores the formatting and displays only the text.

To open a note, just scroll down to it and press Enter. Deft does a bit more, though. According to Deft’s developer, Jason Blevins, its primary operation is searching and filtering. Deft does that simply but efficiently. Type a keyword and Deft displays only the notes that have that keyword in their title. That’s useful if you have a lot of notes and want to find one quickly.

Org mode

There would be a couple or three people who would have jumped all over me if I didn’t include Org mode in this article. Why? It’s arguably the most flexible and the most widely used Emacs mode for taking notes. Used in the right way, Org mode can supercharge your note-taking.

Org mode’s main strength is how it organizes your notes. In Org mode, a note file is set up as a large outline. Each section is a node in the outline, which you can expand and collapse. Those sections can have subsections, which also expand and collapse. That not only lets you focus on one section at a time, but it also gives you an at-a-glance overview of the information you have.

You can link between sections of your notes, quickly move sections without cutting and pasting, and attach files to your notes. Org mode supports character formatting and tables. If you need to convert your notes to something else, Org mode has a number of export options.

Howm

When I started using Emacs regularly, howm quickly became one of the modes I leaned heavily on. And even though I’m deep into using Org mode, I still have a soft spot for howm.

Howm acts like a small wiki. You can create notes and task lists and link between them. By typing or clicking a link, you can jump between notes. If you need to, you can also tag your notes with a keyword. On top of that, you can search, sort, and concatenate your notes.

Howm isn’t the prettiest Emacs mode, and it doesn’t have the best UX. It takes a bit of getting used to. Once you do, taking and maneuvering around notes is a breeze. 


Do you have a favorite Emacs mode for taking notes? Feel free to share it by leaving a comment.