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Now Snapchat has a TikTok copycat, too


For years, social media platforms have blatantly copied some of Snapchat’s most creative features. Instagram and parent company Facebook ripped off Stories — posts that disappear after 24 hours — which Snapchat created in 2013. Others followed suit with their own versions, including YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn and just last week, Twitter.

Facebook and Instagram also followed Snapchat in introducing augmented reality filters, another popular Snapchat feature that allows users to overlay their faces with digital crowns, animal ears and other fun modifications.
Now, Snapchat is the one doing the copying.
On Monday, Snapchat unveiled a new section of its app called “Spotlight,” which could be seen as a twist on features from the popular short-form video app TikTok. Snapchat describes Spotlight as “a new entertainment platform for user-generated content within Snapchat.” The hub will surface the “most entertaining” Snaps from its user community and it will be personalized to people’s individual interests over time.
Sound familiar?
It should, as the feature resembles TikTok’s “For You Page,” the main place where people browse content on the platform, which has been lauded for expertly curating content to a user’s personal interests. TikTok also pulls in videos from both big social media stars and users with small followings. Like on TikTok, Snapchat’s Spotlight lets users create or upload a video, add captions, use special effects and add music or original sound.
Snapchat isn’t the only one taking inspiration from TikTok, which has exploded in popularity this year, especially with many people stuck at home during the pandemic. Instagram launched its own TikTok clone called Reels earlier this year, while YouTube began testing a new short-form video product called “Shorts.” These launches have come amid geopolitical turmoil for TikTok and its Chinese parent company, which have faced whiplash and confusion over its future in the United States.
Snapchat users don’t need a public account to be featured in Spotlight. The company said it will moderate every Snap before it makes it to Spotlight, through a combination of human review and its automated systems. Spotlight’s algorithm will take into account the amount of time spent watching a video, if it’s “favorited” or if it’s shared with friends, as well as negative factors such as someone skipping a video. True to Snapchat’s ethos, there won’t be public comments on Spotlight Snaps.
As an incentive for content creators — and average users — to submit their Snaps for consideration, Snapchat will distribute $1 million each day to those who make the most entertaining Spotlight Snaps. The company said rewards will be available at least through the end of the year, and users must be 16 years or older to qualify. While Snapchat wouldn’t share how much an individual person could make from a Spotlight Snap, it said the earnings would be “significant.” The company said earnings are determined by a “proprietary formula” that rewards a Snapchatter largely based on the total number of unique video views the Snap got in a given day compared to other posts.
Creators are a huge part of any social media platform and are increasingly being courted to produce exclusive content. Snapchat’s financial incentive is just the latest example of platforms fighting for online talent. TikTok has also set up a creator fund, which is projected to reach $1 billion in payouts in the US over the next three years, and ahead of Reels’ launch, Facebook reportedly offered money to top TikTok stars to use its competing platform.
Spotlight will initially be available in 11 markets starting Monday, including the US, Canada, Australia and the UK, but will expand to more places soon.

Pentagon innovates new weapons to ‘fight through’ next-gen cyberattacks


The flight trajectory of ICBMs, targeting accuracy of an Abrams tank 120mm cannon, sharing of enemy location intelligence in real-time or the decreasing of critical sensor-to-shooter times for small arms, missile attacks, bomber strikes and other weapons systems … increasingly rely … on computer systems.

Therefore, the scope of impacts potentially delivered through cyberattacks continues to multiply in an exponential fashion, thus helping to explain the Pentagon’s current massive push to innovate new cyber resiliency tactics, techniques and technologies.

Part of the equation pertains to a recognition that cyber defenses must continue, if not even accelerate and increase in intensity after an attacker succeeds in gaining some kind of access or privilege on a system. This dynamic forms the key premise of cyber resilience which, unlike a pure cybersecurity approach, looks at cyberdefense beyond the perimeter or initial points of entry and boundaries of protection. The two are intertwined, yet cybersecurity and cyber resiliency are also somewhat distinct for this reason.

“A lot of technologies are focused on preventing attacks. We have put together technologies to recover files or recover critical memory. If an attack were to be detected, we want to fight through that attack and recover a system’s critical functions. Our R&D pushes the envelope in that direction,” Jacob Noffke, principal cyber engineer, Raytheon Intelligence and Space, told Warrior in an interview.

Given these realities, cyber resiliency needs to be multipronged, meaning protections need to involve various aspects of the system, such as hardware, software, operating system functionality and methods, and networks in a coordinated manner.

Noffke explained that Raytheon is now working internally on some new innovations aimed at securing both access to data through a cryptographically oriented hardware device called Boot Shield and an operating system information verification system called Countervail. The plan is to further refine these systems and collaborate with or offer them to the US military services.

“Cyber resiliency involves many emerging requirements and is more than just hardening a system. Advanced adversaries will eventually find a way to gain access to a system, so it is critical for components of computing ecosystems to determine information they receive is authentic,” Noffke said.

While to a certain extent it seems self-evident or even obvious, yet securing data flow between systems, platforms and combat “nodes” continues to take on new levels of urgency, given that AI-empowered technologies, unmanned systems and advanced networking are exponentially improving sensor to shooter time. Data itself is, not surprisingly, increasingly becoming a cherished weapon of war. Intelligence information has of course always been of indescribable value, yet the current ability to change the “speed,” efficiency and precision of the combat-sensitive data transmission is fast evolving as a uniquely modern technical phenomenon.

The Army’s recent Project Convergence at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., showed that the service now has the capacity to decrease sensor to shooter time from minutes … down to seconds. The breakthrough developments in Arizona could easily be characterized as contributing to a large portion of the Army’s involvement in the Pentagon’s Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) effort.

Army program managers say the intent is “to integrate data management capability to better enable data flow across our networks, which will be critical as sensor to shooter data increases as part of CJADC2. Technology being explored includes AI/ML (Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning) capability, cloud data storage at the edge, advanced tactical servers and processors and cross domain solutions,” Paul Mehney, director of communications, PEO C3T (Program Executive Office Command Control Communications-Tactical) told Warrior.

Accomplishing these tasks not only relies upon the secure “transmission” of data but must also enable strong protection of the data systems and computer processing mechanisms themselves. Many weapons developers now recognizing the growing complexity with which cyber defense technologies have been forced to embrace, a circumstance which continues to drive new industry innovators to find new generations of protection technologies.


South Korean chat room operator gets 40 years for blackmail


The operator of online chat rooms in South Korea was sentenced Thursday to 40 years in prison on charges of blackmailing dozens of women, including minors, into filming sexually explicit videos and selling them to others.

The Seoul Central District Court convicted Cho Ju-bin, 24, of violating laws on protecting minors and organizing a criminal ring, court spokesman Kim Yong Chan said.

The court ruled Cho “used various methods to lure and blackmail a large number of victims into making sexually abusive contents and distributed them to many people for an extended period,” according to Kim. “He particularly disclosed the identities of many victims and inflicted irreparable damage to them.”

Cho has maintained he only cheated victims into making such videos but didn’t blackmail or coerce them, prompting some of the victims to testify in court.

Kim said the court decided to isolate Cho from society for a prolonged period in consideration of his attitude and the seriousness of his crime.

Both Cho and prosecutors, who had requested a life sentence, have one week to appeal.

Prosecutors formally arrested or indicted Cho and seven accomplices in June for allegedly producing sexually abusive videos of 74 victims, 16 of them minors, and distributing them on the Telegram messaging app, where users paid in cryptocurrency to watch them in 2019-2020.

A prosecutors’ statement called Cho’s group “a criminal ring” of 38 members. On Thursday, the Seoul court sentenced five of Cho’s accomplices, one of them a 16-year-old, up to 15 years in prison.

When he was shown before the media following his initial detainment at a police station in March, Cho said “Thank you for stopping the life of a devil (I) couldn’t stop.”

Cho’s case has triggered an intense public uproar and soul-searching in South Korea over a culture that some experts say is too lenient about sexual violence and continuously fails the victims. President Moon Jae-in earlier called for a thorough investigation and stern punishment for those operating such chatrooms and their users.

In recent years, South Korea has been struggling to cope with what the government describes as digital sex crimes, which aside from abusive chatrooms also include the spread of intimate photos and videos taken by smartphones or tiny spy cameras hidden in public spaces and buildings, an issue that triggered massive protests in 2018.


Elon Musk says Tesla Semi will go 621 miles per charge


Elon Musk thinks the Tesla Semi can go the distance.

The world’s second-richest person told the 2020 European Conference on Batteries that Tesla’s new battery technology could deliver a Class 8 truck that can cover 1,000 km, or 621 miles, per charge.

Tesla is taking orders on trucks with advertised ranges of approximately 300 to 500 miles (500 to 800 km), but Musk said the next-generation battery technology revealed at Tesla’s Battery Day event in September has a higher energy density that should increase the range.

“We think this is going to be extremely competitive and compelling to the trucking companies,” Musk told the conference.

Tesla’s new battery uses cells that are structural members of the pack, which helps reduce the overall weight of the system. Musk estimates they would carry a weight penalty of a ton or less compared to a diesel powertrain on a 40-ton truck.

Many of the world’s top legacy truck companies, including Daimler, Navistar and Toyota, have been developing hydrogen fuel cells to power zero-emissions, long-haul trucks, arguing that they are lighter than batteries and quicker to refuel.

Daimler Truck chairman Martin Daum suggested to Bloomberg in 2018 that Tesla’s projections for a 300-500-mile truck were overly optimistic and defied the laws of physics.

“If Tesla really delivers on this promise, we’ll obviously buy two trucks — one to take apart and one to test because if that happens, something has passed us by,” Daum said.

“But for now, the same laws of physics apply in Germany and in California.”

Tesla has announced that it has several hundred reservations for the Semi from several companies that include PepsiCo, Walmart Canada and truck-leasing company Pride Group Enterprises. List prices range from $150,000 to $200,000, but initial plans to have it in production by the end of 2020 have been pushed to at least some time in 2021.


Facebook’s Instagram ‘failed self-harm responsibilities’


Children’s charity the NSPCC has said a drop in Facebook’s removal of harmful content was a “significant failure in corporate responsibility”.

Facebook’s own records show its Instagram app removed almost 80% less graphic content about suicide and self-harm between April and June this year than in the previous quarter.

Covid restrictions meant most of its content moderators were sent home.

Facebook said it prioritised the removal of the most harmful content.

Figures published on Thursday showed that as restrictions were lifted and moderators started to go back to work, the number of removals went back up to pre-Covid levels.

“We want to do everything we can to keep people safe on Instagram and we can report that from July to September we took action on 1.3m pieces of suicide and self-harm content, over 95% of which we found proactively,” said Instagram’s head of public policy Tara Hopkins in a statement.

“We’ve been clear about the impact of Covid-19 on our content-review capacity, so we’re encouraged that these latest numbers show we’re now taking action on even more content, thanks to improvements in our technology.

“We’re continuing to work with experts to improve our policies and we are in discussions with regulators and governments about how we can bring full use of our technology to the UK and EU so we can proactively find and remove more harmful suicide and self-harm posts.”

‘Not surprised’

After the death of the teenager Molly Russell, Facebook committed itself to taking down more graphic posts, pictures and even cartoons about self-harm and suicide.

But the NSPCC said the reduction in takedowns had “exposed young users to even greater risk of avoidable harm during the pandemic”.

The social network has responded by saying “despite this decrease we prioritised and took action on the most harmful content within this category”.

Chris Gray is an ex-Facebook moderator who is now involved in a legal dispute with the company.

“I’m not surprised at all,” he told the BBC.

“You take everybody out of the office and send them home, well who’s going to do the work?”

That leaves the automatic systems in charge.

But they still miss posts, in some cases even when the creators themselves have added trigger warnings flagging that the images featured contain blood, scars and other forms of self-harm.

Mr Gray says it is clear that the technology cannot cope.

“It’s chaos, as soon as the humans are out, we can see… there’s just way, way more self-harm, child exploitation, this kind of stuff on the platforms because there’s nobody there to deal with it.”

Facebook is also at odds with moderators about their working conditions.

The staff claimed the firm was “needlessly risking” their lives. Facebook has said many are still working from home, and it has “exceeded health guidance on keeping facilities safe” for those who do need to come in.

The figures published on Thursday in Facebook’s latest community standards enforcement report again raise questions about the need for greater external regulation.

The UK government’s promised Online Harms Bill would impose a statutory duty of care on social media providers and create a new regulator.

But it has been much delayed and it is thought legislation won’t be introduced until next year.

‘Let down’

Ian Russell, Molly’s father, said there was a need for urgent action.

“I think everyone has a responsibility to young and vulnerable people, it’s really hard,” he explained.

“I don’t think the social media companies set up their platforms to be purveyors of dangerous, harmful content but we know that they are and so there’s a responsibility at that level for the tech companies to do what they can to make sure their platforms are as safe as is possible.”

The NSPCC is more forthright.

“Sadly, young people who needed protection from damaging content were let down by Instagram’s steep reduction in takedowns of harmful suicide and self-harm posts,” said Andy Burrows, the charity’s head of child safety online policy.

“Although Instagram’s performance is returning to pre-pandemic levels, young people continue to be exposed to unacceptable levels of harm.

“The government has a chance to fix this by ensuring the Online Harms Bill gives a regulator the tools and sanctions necessary to hold big tech to account.”

Last week, Instagram announced it was deploying new software tools across the EU that would lead to more automatic removals of the worst kind of content.

Facebook said “our proactive detection rates for violating content are up from the second quarter across most policies”.

It put this down to the development of AI tools that have helped it detect offending posts in a wider range of languages.

For information and support on mental health and suicide, access the BBC Action Line

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Buzzfeed to take over online news site HuffPost


Online news and lifestyle site Buzzfeed is taking over HuffPost in a deal that brings together two of the most high-profile digital media firms.

Seller Verizon Media will become a minority shareholder in Buzzfeed as part of the deal and invest in the combined company.

The two firms will also join up for advertising and sharing content, a partnership they said would “create new revenue opportunities”.

Buzzfeed chief executive Jonah Peretti will lead the combined business. He co-founded HuffPost, formerly known as the Huffington Post, in 2005 with publisher Arianna Huffington and started Buzzfeed a year later.

HuffPost rose to prominence during the George W Bush presidency as a site for liberal bloggers, many of whom contributed for free.

Buzzfeed made its name creating content like listicles and quizzes, which drew young audiences. It also brought on reporters for its news site.

But digital media firms have struggled to draw online advertising dollars away from tech giants such as Facebook and Google. In recent years, Buzzfeed and HuffPost have both shed staff. In May, Buzzfeed closed its newsrooms in the UK and Australia and slashed staff pay.

Mr Peretti said the new deal would increase Buzzfeed’s heft, by adding HuffPost readers to its audience and allowing it to tap into Verizon’s ad network.

HuffPost is expected to remain a standalone brand, alongside other Buzzfeed sites, including Tasty and Buzzfeed News.

A spokeswoman for Buzzfeed declined to comment on the possibility of job losses triggered by the tie-up.

Verizon Media is part of a US telecom giant, which is known primarily for its pay-TV and mobile phone service. It acquired HuffPost in 2015 when it bought AOL for $4.4bn (£3.32bn), later combining it with Yahoo.

Just a few years later, it wrote down the value of the properties by nearly $5bn.

“While considering opportunities to work together, naturally, Jonah and I also discussed the property he co-founded, HuffPost,” said Verizon Media boss Guru Gowrappan.

“We quickly realised BuzzFeed’s strategy would complement HuffPost’s roadmap, injecting it with new energy and growing the brand into the future.

“We are deeply invested in the continued success of HuffPost and I couldn’t think of a better partner to take HuffPost to the next level.”

Tough times for new media

A few years ago companies like BuzzFeed and HuffPost were growing fast.

The business model was simple. Produce viral content aimed at younger, online savvy audiences and cash in on online advertising revenue.

That hasn’t been as lucrative as they would have hoped.

Ads on digital news stories can actually be quite a clunky way to advertise – less focussed than many advertisers would like.

So Facebook and Google, which offer incredibly bespoke targeting, mop up a massive percentage of online advertising. More than half of all the money spent on online advertising is with these two companies.

Many smaller digital media companies were laying off staff even before the pandemic. Covid-19 has inflamed these problems. People, stuck at home, are clicking more, but advertisers have been cautious.

That’s left companies that were seen as revolutionary only a few years ago trying to work out how to survive.

This takeover should be seen in this context – the latest attempt to find a better way of making digital media work financially.

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Virgin Hyperloop pod transport tests first passenger journey


Virgin Hyperloop has trialled its first ever journey with passengers, in the desert of Nevada.

The futuristic transport concept involves pods inside vacuum tubes carrying passengers at high speeds.

In the trial, two passengers – both company staff – travelled the length of a 500m test track in 15 seconds, reaching 107mph (172km/h).

However, this is a fraction of Virgin’s ambitions for travel speeds of more than 1,000km/h.

Virgin Hyperloop is not the only firm developing the concept but nobody has carried passengers before.

Sara Luchian, director of customer experience, was one of the two on board and described the experience as “exhilarating both psychologically and physically” to the BBC shortly after the event.

She and chief technology officer Josh Giegel wore simple fleeces and jeans rather than flights suits for the event, which took place on Sunday afternoon outside of Las Vegas. Ms Luchian said the journey was smooth and “not at all like a rollercoaster” although the acceleration was “zippier” than it would be with a longer track. Neither of them felt sick, she added.

She said that their speed was hampered by the length of the track and acceleration required.

The concept, which has spent years in development, builds on a proposal by Tesla founder Elon Musk. Some critics have described it as science fiction.

It is based on the world’s fastest magnetic levitation (maglev) trains, then made faster by speeding along inside vacuum tubes.

The Maglev train speed world record was set in 2015 when a Japanese train reached 374mph in a test run near Mount Fuji.

Founded in 2014, Virgin Hyperloop received investment from the Virgin Group in 2017. It was previously known as Hyperloop One and Virgin Hyperloop One.

In a BBC interview in 2018, then Virgin Hyperloop One boss Rob Lloyd, who has since left the firm, said the speed would in theory enable people to travel between Gatwick and Heathrow airports, 45 miles apart on opposite sides of London, in four minutes.

Los Angeles-based Virgin Hyperloop is also exploring concepts in other countries, including a hypothetical 12 minute connection between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which takes more than an hour by existing public transport.

Critics have pointed out that Hyperloop travel systems would involve the considerable undertaking of both getting planning permission and then constructing vast networks of tubes for every travel path.

Ms Luchian acknowledges the potential difficulties, saying: “Of course there’s a lot of infrastructure to be built but I think we’ve mitigated a lot of risk that people didn’t think was possible.”

She added: “Infrastructure is such an important focus for so many people in government. We know people are looking for solutions. They’re looking for the transportation of the future. We can keep building today’s or yesterday’s transport systems and keep encountering the same problems they bring or we can really look to build something that solves those problems.”

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