Oct
09
2018
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Workplace by Facebook launches Safety Check for business users

Workplace, Facebook’s communications platform for enterprises, is launching its own version of Safety Check today. Safety Check itself is obviously not a new feature. Indeed, Facebook has now activated this tool, which lets you report your status during a crisis, thousands of times. For business users, though, Facebook is now offering a number of new tools that allow them to activate this feature at will, run drills with their workforce and get an accurate headcount of their employees’ status.

“Safety Check for Workplace is essentially the enterprise version of the Safety Check that we have in the big blue app [Facebook’s name for its flagship mobile app],” Facebook CIO Atish Banerjea told me. He noted that a few years ago, Facebook first built a version of this for its own employees. “Then the idea came of extending this to the customers of Workplace, primarily because given the global expansion of companies, with people traveling all over the world, keeping track of employees during times of crisis and during a natural disaster has become a very difficult challenge,” he explained.

Safety Check lets businesses locate their employees and notify them through Workplace Chat and other avenues when they are in harm’s way. The tool also allows these companies to regularly ping those who haven’t confirmed themselves as safe yet.

Facebook notes that Workplace doesn’t use any mobile geolocation technologies here to identify where employees are. That data has to come from the companies that use the tool and the travel services they use to know when they are on the road and the employee data they have to know who works in which location. Banerjea noted that this is very much on purpose and in line with the way Workplace handles data. This is not the Facebook app, after all, so none of the employee data is ever shared with Facebook.

What’s interesting here is that this is the first time Facebook has taken a tool that its own internal Enterprise Engineering group built for its employees and brought it to a wider audience. Typically, this group only builds tools for Facebook’s own growing employee base, but the team decided to take this one public. The challenge was then to ensure that this tool, which was meant to handle the demands of Facebook’s more than 30,000 employees and run on its own proprietary stack, could scale up to work for companies that are far larger. “As you can imagine, the scaling challenges are significantly different,” Facebook’s VP of Enterprise Engineering Anil Wilson told me. “Where we are talking about going from tens of thousands of employees at Facebook and going to supporting hundreds of thousands of employees in many companies.”

To get Safety Check for Workplace up and running, the company organized an internal hackathon in February of this year. “We had to completely rebuild the product,” Wilson said. “We had to switch out the backend technology to help with scale.” The team also redid its data models to accommodate new features and redesigned the user experience to be more in line with the rest of the Workplace experience. In the process, the team also added support for new features, including multi-language support.

Unsurprisingly, the Enterprise Engineering group is now also looking at bringing to a wider audience other tools that Facebook first developed for its internal usage. “There’s tons of opportunity,” Wilson said. “We don’t have the specific products mapped out yet.” Most of the tools that his team builds are very much meant for Facebook’s own specific use cases, no matter whether those are HR applications, or tools for the finance group or the marketing and sales teams. But he believes there is plenty of room for taking some of those and making them available to Workplace customers as premium offerings.

Wilson also noted that this move to bringing more of these internally developed tools to the public is going to help his group with hiring. “We’re already a pretty interesting organization to come and work for,” he said. “But the fact that some of our products are now potentially going to be launched externally adds an additional dimension of interest for engineers who are coming to work on our team.”

Jun
22
2018
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Security, privacy experts weigh in on the ICE doxxing

In what appears to be the latest salvo in a new, wired form of protest, developer Sam Lavigne posted code that scrapes LinkedIn to find Immigration and Customs Enforcement employee accounts. His code, which basically a Python-based tool that scans LinkedIn for keywords, is gone from Github and Gitlab and Medium took down his original post. The CSV of the data is still available here and here and WikiLeaks has posted a mirror.

“I find it helpful to remember that as much as internet companies use data to spy on and exploit their users, we can at times reverse the story, and leverage those very same online platforms as a means to investigate or even undermine entrenched power structures. It’s a strange side effect of our reliance on private companies and semi-public platforms to mediate nearly all aspects of our lives. We don’t necessarily need to wait for the next Snowden-style revelation to scrutinize the powerful — so much is already hiding in plain sight,” said Lavigne.

Doxxing is the process of using publicly available information to target someone online for abuse. Because we can now find out anything on anyone for a few dollars – a search for “background check” brings up dozens of paid services that can get you names and addresses in a second – scraping public data on LinkedIn seems far easier and innocuous. That doesn’t make it legal.

“Recent efforts to outlaw doxxing at the national level (like the Online Safety Modernization Act of 2017) have stalled in committee, so it’s not strictly illegal,” said James Slaby, Security Expert at Acronis. “But LinkedIn and other social networks usually consider it a violation of their terms of service to scrape their data for personal use. The question of fairness is trickier: doxxing is often justified as a rare tool that the powerless can use against the powerful to call attention to perceived injustices.”

“The problem is that doxxing is a crude tool. The torrent of online ridicule, abuse and threats that can be heaped on doxxed targets by their political or ideological opponents can also rain down on unintended and undeserving targets: family members, friends, people with similar names or appearances,” he said.

The tool itself isn’t to blame. No one would fault a job seeker or salesperson who scraped LinkedIn for targeted employees of a specific company. That said, scraping and publicly shaming employees walks a thin line.

“In my opinion, the professor who developed this scraper tool isn’t breaking the law, as it’s perfectly legal to search the web for publicly available information,” said David Kennedy, CEO of TrustedSec. “This is known in the security space as ‘open source intelligence’ collection, and scrapers are just one way to do it. That said, it is concerning to see ICE agents doxxed in this way. I understand emotions are running high on both sides of this debate, but we don’t want to increase the physical security risks to our law enforcement officers.”

“The decision by Twitter, Github and Medium to block the dissemination of this information and tracking tool makes sense – in fact, law enforcement agents’ personal information is often protected. This isn’t going to go away anytime soon, it’s only going to become more aggressive, particularly as more people grow comfortable with using the darknet and the many available hacking tools for sale in these underground forums. Law enforcement agents need to take note of this, and be much more careful about what (and how often) they post online.”

Ultimately, doxxing is problematic. Because we place our information on public forums there should be nothing to stop anyone from finding and posting it. However, the expectation that people will use our information for good and not evil is swiftly eroding. Today, wrote one security researcher, David Kavanaugh, doxxing is becoming dangerous.

“Going after the people on the ground is like shooting the messenger. Decisions are made by leadership and those are the people we should be going after. Doxxing is akin to a personal attack. Change policy, don’t ruin more lives,” he said.

Sep
19
2017
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Google Cloud’s Natural Language API gets content classification and more granular sentiment analysis

 Google Cloud announced two updates this morning to its Natural Language API. Specifically users will now have access to content classification and entity sentiment analysis. These features are particularly valuable for brands and media companies For starters, GCP users will now be able to tag content as corresponding with common topics like health, entertainment and law (cc: Henry).… Read More

Jun
26
2017
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Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter form Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism

 Today Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter collectively announced a new partnership aimed at reducing the accessibility of internet services to terrorists. The new Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism adds structure to existing efforts by the companies to target and remove recruiting materials for terror groups from major web platforms. Together, the four tech leaders say they… Read More

May
02
2017
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Facebook’s fastText library is now optimized for mobile

 This morning Facebook’s AI Research (FAIR) lab released an update to fastText, its super-speedy open-source text classification library. When it was initially released, fastText shipped with pre-trained word vectors for 90 languages, but today it’s getting a boost to 294 languages. The release also brings enhancements to reduce model size and ultimately memory demand. Read More

Apr
19
2017
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Facebook is improving the 360 video experience by predicting where you will look

 From the stage of F8, Joaquin Quinonero, Facebook’s Director of Applied Machine Learning, described a new technique the company is using to improve the watching experience for 360 videos. The format is challenging to deliver because of its size, but Facebook is using machine learning to reduce the number of pixels that have to be rendered at any one time. By predicting where a viewer… Read More

Apr
18
2017
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Facebook analytics gets smarter with Automated Insights and Custom Dashboards

 Facebook’s VP of Partnerships, Ime Archibing, announced updates to Facebook Analytics as well as Facebook Login and Account Kit during his F8 keynote address. Analytics is getting greater customizability and a machine learning boost while Login and Account Kit are benefitting from additional transparency and accessibility. Facebook analytics is a core product for businesses using… Read More

Apr
18
2017
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Udacity is going to help Facebook teach engineers within its Developer Circles

 Facebook’s been steadily growing its Developer Circles initiative in recent months and today the company provided an update on growth and announced a new partnership with Udacity during its annual F8 conference. Developer Circles is Facebook’s community-driven initiative for engaging with and training developers. Facebook’s VP of Partnerships, Ime Archibing, explained… Read More

Dec
06
2016
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Workplace by Facebook seeks work life balance

julien-codornious-facebook5 Workplace by Facebook officially launched six weeks ago and director Julien Codorniou came onstage at Disrupt London today to talk about how the platform is responding to and building features to reduce interruption at work. Workplace is both a desktop and mobile app much like Facebook, but for your colleagues to socialize and communicate. The platform sports the same features as its friends… Read More

Nov
17
2016
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Sprinklr acquires Little Bird, a tool for finding experts on anything via Twitter

twitter-impressionist New York marketing tech firm Sprinklr has acquired Portland-based Little Bird, according to Sprinklr founder and CEO Ragy Thomas. Little Bird was founded in 2011 to help researchers quickly find the top experts and influencers on any given subject via Twitter. It raised from Mark Cuban, Jason Calacanis, Oregon Angel Fund and other individual investors $4.8 million in venture capital to build… Read More

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