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Politics

Facebook to Congress: We’re (still) trying to eliminate gun sales

Facebook responds to questions from 13 senators prompted by a Protocol investigation. But key questions remain unanswered.

Facebook to Congress: We’re (still) trying to eliminate gun sales

Facebook told a group of U.S. senators that its years-long battle to eliminate peer-to-peer gun sales across its platforms "is not done" and that it will "continue to strengthen" enforcement. The 13 lawmakers had publicly sent the questions to Facebook following a Protocol investigation in February, which found that private groups on the website remain a popular place to buy and sell firearms despite Facebook's 2016 ban on gun sales.

Facebook's response, however, leaves many key questions unanswered, including how many gun groups it has removed from the site for violating its policies and how it expects users to report suspected gun sales in closed groups. In the letter, signed by VP of public policy Kevin Martin, Facebook said it did not track how many private groups are suspended for violating its firearms policy, which prohibits the sale or transfer of guns, gun parts, ammunition and 3D-printing files for firearms.


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Martin said Faceook had "policies in place to protect against repeat offenders and recidivist behavior," but he did not provide details. "While we cannot provide specific details lest bad actors use the information to game the system," he wrote, "Facebook would not allow group administrators to set up a new group similar to a previously removed group."

The back and forth between Facebook and Congress represents the latest in a line of content moderation challenges for the company, underscoring how difficult it is to maintain user privacy and engagement while also banning certain behavior.

It's unclear whether members of Congress will seek further answers from Facebook on how it is working to eliminate gun sales, which have persisted despite numerous attempts to prevent users from using the website to arrange private, unregulated transactions. When Facebook announced its ban on gun sales in January 2016, it effectively took a political stand against the so-called "gun show loophole" that Congress could close by enacting universal background checks.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who along with Sen. Ed Markey led the latest letter from concerned senators, voiced his displeasure with Facebook's response. "Facebook's non-answer answer is disappointing, but not surprising. I really hope Facebook can do a better job for the sake of the American people, and use their power to keep users safe, connected and well-informed. That's what we need and deserve, especially in challenging times like the ones we're living with the coronavirus pandemic," Menendez told Protocol.

Protocol sent more than a dozen detailed questions to Facebook seeking to clarify the company's responses. A Facebook spokesperson declined to address any of the questions, saying, "We have no additional comment beyond what is in the letter."

Facebook's approach is similar to how the company has handled inquiries from congresspeople in the past. The latest letter bears striking resemblance to one Facebook sent Sen. Markey in 2016 following criticism in the press over the company's ability to enforce its ban on gun sales. Since then, Facebook has tweaked its AI-based algorithm to automatically detect suspected gun-sale posts numerous times, in part to better detect thinly veiled coded language that's become popular among users.

Common examples include uploading a photo of a gun with the words "Not for sale/Not for trade, just want to discuss" or "PM me to discuss." The approach is meant to shift the conversation to private messaging where, as Protocol demonstrated, users are often eager to discuss terms of a sale or trade.


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In its letter to Sen. Menendez, Facebook addressed changes in its algorithm generally, saying that its "proactive AI technology is able to detect content that includes images of firearms and signals that indicate an intent to sell (including posting contact information such as phone numbers and usernames for other social media accounts and price information)."

As Facebook continues to try to enforce its ban, at least one group has been removed in recent weeks for violating it. The Virginia Gun Enthusiasts group, which Protocol highlighted as an example of how easily users are able to continue to skirt Facebook's ban, has been shut down. Users who try and access the page instead get a blank screen.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the group was removed for violating its policies.

Policy

Arizona bill would reform Google and Apple app stores

HB2005 would allow app developers to use third-party payment systems.

HB2005 could make it through the Arizona House of Representatives as soon as this week.

Photo: James Yarema/Unsplash

Arizona State Rep. Regina Cobb hadn't even formally introduced her app store legislation last month when Apple and Google started storming into the state to lobby against it.

Apple tapped its own lobbyist, Rod Diridon, to begin lobbying in Arizona. It hired Kirk Adams, the former chief of staff to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, to negotiate with Cobb on its behalf. It quickly joined the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, which began lobbying against the bill. And lawyers for both Google and Apple went straight to the Arizona House's lawyers to argue that the bill is unconstitutional.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Power

Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Politics

The PRO Act hurts American competitiveness

"The U.S. needs to focus on helping, not hurting, small businesses," says CTA president and CEO Gary Shapiro.

Nancy Pelosi is among the PRO Act's supporters in Congress.

Photo: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Getty Images

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association.

Should employers be required to give up personal and private information about their employees to union organizers? If 216 Congressional Democrats and two Republicans get their way, employers would have to give a name, phone number and home address to any union official claiming to want to organize their facility. As if anyone in America wants to be visited in their home by a union official financially incentivized to make them sign a unionization petition.

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Gary Shapiro
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer technology companies. He's also a New York Times bestselling author.
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