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Facebook child abuse detection hit by new EU rules



Facebook has switched off some of its child abuse detection tools in Europe in response to new rules from the EU.

The company said it has had no choice but to do so, since the new privacy directive bans automatic scanning of private messages.

The change only applies to messaging services rather than all content uploaded to Facebook.

However, there is no change in the UK, where measures are “consistent with applicable laws”, Facebook said.

The problem has emerged despite warnings from child protection advocates that the new privacy rules effectively ban automated systems scanning for child sexual abuse images and other illegal content.

Some other firms, including Microsoft, have not made such changes, arguing the most responsible approach is to keep the technology functioning.

But few companies deal with the sheer volume of private messages as Facebook, which runs its own messenger service and owns Instagram.

Last week, it was revealed that implementing it would put restrictions on some features of messaging apps.

But the impact on child protection tools has also now kicked in.

“This train crash has been approaching since the summer,” said John Carr of the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety.

“Neither the EU nor one of the world’s largest and most powerful tech companies could find a way of avoiding it. It is a very sad day for the children of Europe.

“We are heading for a very strange world if privacy laws can be used to make it easier for paedophiles to contact children, or for people to circulate or store pictures of children being raped.”

Spotting exploitation

The new rules update long-standing privacy protocols so that they now cover additional forms of messaging – such as email and online chat.

This has had the unintended effect of prohibiting advanced tools designed to spot:

  • Newly created violent and exploitative images not yet logged by investigators
  • Online conversations that have the hallmarks of abusers grooming victims

Anna Edmundson, head of policy at the NSPCC, said tech firms’ ability to scan for such content was “fundamental” to protection efforts.

In October, the Council of the European Union said it was aware of the problem it posed for the detection of child abuse-related content – because no exception for scanning for it existed in law.

“Providers will not be able to continue to take such action unless a legislative measure is adopted with urgency and brought into effect by 21 December 2020,” the October press release warned.

However, no such exemption arrived in time.

As a result, “the European Commission and child safety experts have said that the directive does not provide a legal basis for these tools”, Facebook said in a blog post explaining the issue.

“The safety of our community is paramount, and we are advocating for changes that will allow us to resume our efforts to identify this type of material.”

Other options

The social network added that it could not estimate how many people or messages would be affected, in part because lower-tech solutions still remain an option.

Children or adults sent inappropriate messages can still report them for investigation, and there are basic safety measures such as a restrictions on adults messaging children they do not already know.

But Facebook-owned WhatsApp is not affected – since messages on that platform are end-to-end encrypted and cannot be scanned anyway.

Facebook and other big internet companies haven’t said how many alerts the controversial EU data privacy law could stop – but experts have already worked it out.

The US National Center for Missing & Exploited Children acts as a global warehouse for reports of online child abuse material.

In the first nine months of this year, it received more than 52 million reports – and about 2.3 million of those involved offenders or victims in the EU.

That’s about 250,000 alerts a month – a figure that’s consistent with 2019.

The overwhelming majority of those reports come from Facebook. So even if some nations will continue receiving alerts, the loss of the EU data will have a significant effect on investigating what is often a borderless crime.

The European Commission plans to introduce legislation addressing child sexual abuse online next year.

In the meantime, the only way to bridge the legal gap is, Facebook maintains, an exemption granted by either the European Parliament or individual member states.

Microsoft, however, has opted to maintain its child safety procedures despite the legal difficulties.

In a joint statement with Google, LinkedIn, Roblox, and Yubo, it said that the complex impact of multiple, related laws “has created significant ambiguity” with unintended consequences that could hurt users.

“Given this, we believe the only responsible approach is to remain steadfast in honouring our safety commitments that European – and, indeed, users around the world – expect and rely upon,” it said.

It noted that despite there being “no articulated, harmonised regulatory approach for the near future”, the companies remained hopeful that officials would resolve the problem “soon”.

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independent– BlackBerry phones, once the height of mobile devices, are finally being shut off.

The company announced that services for the older devices will be brought to an end on 4 January. At that point, they will “no longer reliably function”, BlackBerry said, and will be unable to get data, texts or make phone calls, including to emergency numbers.

It is just the latest in a series of endings for the once equally beloved and hated name, which helped drive the mobile revolution and was at the forefront of business and technology. While the BlackBerry has been declared dead a number of times before, the latest move means that the phones themselves will actually stop working.

In 2016, after its phones had been replaced largely by smartphones from Apple and others, BlackBerry announced that it had transitioned away from phones and into making software and that it would focus on providing security tools to companies and governments. It has sold the BlackBerry brand to other companies, who have created devices bearing the name.

In 2020, BlackBerry said that with that move complete, it would start taking offline the legacy services that allowed those old devices to keep working. Phones that run any of BlackBerry’s own operating systems – BlackBerry 7.1 OS and earlier, BlackBerry 10 software – were given an “end of life or termination date” at the start of 2022.

Next week, that date will finally arrive and support will end. While the phones will still be able to perform some of their functions without BlackBerry’s services, many of their central features will be removed, and the phones will not work reliably.

BlackBerry said the support was being removed in recognition of the fact that it now works in security software and that the old products did not reflect its business. It had prolonged support in the years since that transition “as an expression of thanks to our loyal partners and customers”, it said.

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70 Jupiter-sized ‘rogue planets’ discovered in our galaxy



independent– A team of astronomers discovered at least 70 ‘rogue’ planets in our galaxy, the largest collection ever found to date.

While conventional planets (like those in our Solar System) orbit a star, rogue planets roam freely without travelling around a nearby star.

“We did not know how many to expect and are excited to have found so many,” said Núria Miret-Roig, an astronomer at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Bordeaux.

­It would usually be impossible to detect rogue planets because they are hard to spot far from a star’s light. One key fact of their existence made them visible: these planets still give off enough heat to glow millions of years after their creation, making them visible to powerful telescopes.

This heat allowed the 70 planets – each with masses close to that of Jupiter – to be discovered in the Scorpius and Ophiuchus constellations.

“We measured the tiny motions, the colours and luminosities of tens of millions of sources in a large area of the sky,” explained Ms Miret-Roig. “These measurements allowed us to securely identify the faintest objects in this region, the rogue planets.”

The astronomers’ study suggests there could be many more elusive, starless planets yet to be discovered, numbering in the billions in the Milky Way alone.

By studying these planets, astronomers believe they could unlock clues as to how the mysterious objects come to be. It is hypothesised they are generated from the collapse of gas clouds too small to create stars, but they could also have been ejected from a parent system.

“These objects are extremely faint and little can be done to study them with current facilities,” says Hervé Bouy, another astronomer at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique. “The ELT [Extremely Large Telescope, currently being built in Chile] will be absolutely crucial to gathering more information about most of the rogue planets we have found.”

The exact number of rogue planets discovered is vague, because the observations made by the researchers do not allow them to measure the mass of the objects. Bodies with a mass 13 times greater than that of Jupiter are unlikely to be planets, but relying on brightness makes this figure unclear.

The brightness of these objects is also related to age, as the older the planet is the dimmer it will be. The brightest objects in the sample could have a mass greater than the upper limit but be older and therefore dimmer. Researchers estimate there could be as many as 100 more planets yet to be discovered because of this uncertainty.

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Sign up to The Independent’s free cryptocurrency expert panel event



independent– The price of cryptocurrency is seemingly in constant flux which causes a gauntlet for investors to run week to week and day to day.

Bitcoin remains in limbo following last week’s flash crash, which some analysts mistook for the start of a bear market that would see its price continue to tumble in the short term.

None of this is new with cryptocurrency making headlines for years, but its unpredictable nature and complex myriad of currencies means for many it is an area too daunting to delve into.

For those who have taken the plunge and invested there have been those who have become millionaires and even billionaires as a result, while there are those who have also lost a considerable amount as the price proves to be a constant rollercoaster for investors.

To decipher exactly how cryptocurrency works, how to invest and what the future looks like for the likes of bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH) and Cardano (ADA),The Independent is hosting an expert panel to explore the ins and outs of digital money.

The virtual event, which is free to attend, will be hosted by our own crypto expert, tech writer Anthony Cuthbertson and he will be joined by digital currency leaders who will be able to give their first-hand account of trading in the online market.

One of the panellists is none other than Fred Schebesta, a co-founder of financial comparison website Finder, self-made entrepreneur with an estimated net worth of $214million.

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