Firefox has joined Google’s WebP party, another endorsement for the internet giant’s effort to speed up the web with a better image format.
Google revealed WebP eight years ago and since then has built it into its Chrome web browser, Android phone software and many of its online properties in an effort to put websites on a diet and cut network data usage. But Google had trouble encouraging rival browser makers to embrace it.
‘Mozilla is moving forward with implementing support for WebP,’ the nonprofit organization said. WebP will work in versions of Firefox based on its Gecko browser engine, Firefox for personal computers and Android but not for iOS.
Committing to a new image format on the web is a big deal. In addition to technical challenges and new security risks, embracing a new image format means embracing it for years and years, because removing support at some point in the future will break websites that rely on it.
It’s one of the central conundrums of the web. Browser makers and website developers want to advance the technology, but they can’t remove older aspects of the foundation as readily as Google can with Android or Apple with its rival iOS software. Websites have a long shelf life.
There are exceptions. Browser makers remove some undesirable interfaces, usually after careful measurement of usage and careful assessment. But it’s harder for widely used technology like Adobe Systems’ Flash Player. We’re several years into a very slow burial of that software foundation. Browser makers and eventually Adobe, too, concluded Flash’s security and stability problems deemed it no longer were worthwhile. Ditching it was made possible by years of work building Flash’s abilities into the web itself.
Mozilla is a major backer of another image format under development, AVIF. Where WebP is based on Google’s VP8 video compression technology, AVIF is based on a newer video format called AV1 from a much broader group, the Alliance for Open Media. That alliance includes a lot of heavy hitters, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, Amazon, Netflix and Facebook, but most of its work is focused on the AV1 video format.
Apple briefly dabbled with WebP support in test versions of its Safari browser but removed that support, an inconvenience for any developers who want to use the format but also have to ensure their websites work on iPhones and iPads. Apple declined to comment.
Uber and its former boss won a lawsuit claiming the company hid scandals that led to investors losing billions.
A Irving, Texas-based firefighter pension fund filed class action claims against the ride-hailing company and its ex-CEO Travis Kalanick, but a California judge ruled that the claims should be tossed Friday, Bloomberg reports.
The lawsuit ‘does not specifically tie any particular misrepresentation by defendants to a decline in Uber’s stock price,’ US District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. wrote in his ruling.
It ‘lumps together’ scandals and makes ‘vague and attenuated connection’ to the fall in Uber’s stock, Gilliam noted.
The judge allowed the fund to revise and refile the complaint. It alleged that Uber and Kalanick hide at least six instances of malfeasance while ‘successfully soliciting billions of dollars in private investment.’
Kalanick stepped down in June 2017 after an independent investigation recommended that changes to senior leadership were needed to mitigate a wave of scandals. He was replaced that August by Dara Khosrowshahi, who has taken a more diplomatic approach to leading the company.
The fate of the Obama-era net neutrality rules could come down to whether the FCC followed proper procedure when it wrote and implemented its repeal of the controversial regulations.
That’s the takeaway from nearly five hours of oral arguments Friday, during which the agency defended its ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ order in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The case pits Mozilla and several other internet companies, such as Etsy and Reddit, as well as 22 state attorneys general against the Republican-led FCC.
It’s hard to say exactly how the three judges on the panel, Robert Wilkins, Patricia Millett and Stephen Williams, will decide the case. Legal experts following along are quick to point out that anything can happen and that the oral arguments are just one piece of the process, which involves thousands of pages of briefs arguing for and against the FCC’s repeal.
The judges spent a lot of time questioning the lawyers who were challenging the FCC’s repeal of the rules. But the arguments that’ll likely win the day involve whether the agency adequately considered concerns from the public safety community and whether the agency should’ve delayed implementation of its deregulation because Congress had changed a key part of the law between the time the FCC adopted its repeal and when it took effect.
‘It’s hard to come away with much certainty about who will be the big winner,’ said Matt Schettenhelm, a legal analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. ‘But the FCC should be encouraged on the question of whether it had authority to deregulate.’
Where the FCC may be more vulnerable is in its process, Schettenhelm added.
‘If the court rules against the FCC, it’s likely to be because it doesn’t think it did it in the proper way,’ he said. ‘Did they dot all their i’s and cross all their t’s.’
Net neutrality proponents are suing the government, charging that the FCC, led by Chairman Ajit Pai, overstepped its bounds when it voted in December 2017 to roll back the Obama-era net neutrality protections, which banned broadband providers from slowing or blocking access to the internet or charging companies higher fees for faster access.
Though little has happened yet, net neutrality supporters fear that the lack of protections ultimately could mean higher prices and fewer choices for consumers. Internet service providers, however, argue the rules make it harder to invest in their networks and improve their ability to serve you.
The vote to repeal the regulations happened more than a year ago, but they didn’t officially come off the books until June. The backlash among supporters was immediate. Democrats in Congress unsuccessfully tried to undo the repeal through the Congressional Review Act. Though the measure passed the Senate, it failed in the House.
Several states, including California, Oregon and Washington, have also been passing legislation to protect these principles. Governors in other states, like New York and Montana, have already signed executive orders banning the states from doing business with companies that don’t comply with net neutrality.
Then there are the lawsuits, which got their day in court Friday.
Behind the clash
The former, Democrat-led FCC reclassified broadband networks to make them subject to the same strict regulations that govern telephone networks. Supporters say the reclassification was needed to give the rules an underlying legal basis.
The stricter definition provoked a backlash from Republicans, who said the move was clumsy and blunt.
Pai, appointed by President Donald Trump, called the 2015 rules ‘heavy-handed‘ and ‘a mistake.’ He argued the rules deterred innovation because internet service providers had little incentive to improve the broadband network infrastructure. (You can read Pai’s op-ed on CNET here.) Pai took the FCC back to a ‘light’ regulatory approach, pleasing both Republicans and internet service providers.
But net neutrality supporters say there are several things wrong with Pai’s analysis and the repeal order, which also abdicated the FCC’s authority to oversee broadband networks altogether. The FCC’s order also tries to prevent states from passing their own net neutrality regulations. Net neutrality proponents say the rollback and its preemption of state authority is unlawful. And they’re asking the federal appeals court to throw out the FCC’s repeal.
What’s at stake, net neutrality proponents say, is the future of the internet. They fear that without rules of the road to protect the internet as we know it, it may not exist much longer.
‘Today we fought for an open and free internet that puts consumers first,’ Dennelle Dixon, COO of Mozilla, said on Friday. ‘We believe the FCC needs to follow the rules like everyone else. We argued before the court that the FCC simply cannot renounce its responsibility to protect consumers on a whim. It’s not permitted by law, and it’s not permitted by sound reasoning.’
The big argument in the case is whether the FCC had the right to change its mind and repeal the rules. This is a fight that could be difficult for net neutrality supporters to win, because the courts have generally given discretion to expert agencies, like the FCC, when it comes to technical aspects of regulation.
At issue in this case is whether the FCC should have the latitude to decide whether broadband is a lightly regulated ‘information service’ or whether it’s a highly regulated ‘telecommunications service.’ The distinction is at the heart of the conflict in the net neutrality debate.
But on this particular issue, the US Supreme Court decided in 2005 in the Brand X case that it was too complicated for the court to decide how to classify broadband. Instead, it deferred to the expertise of the FCC. It’s this deference to decide how broadband should be classified that helped the agency win its battle in the same DC Circuit appeals court, which upheld the 2015 rules three years ago.
Still, the attorney representing Mozilla, Pantelis Michalopoulos, tried to argue during oral arguments that the FCC’s reasoning in how it classified broadband was flawed in 2005 and is flawed even more now, because many of the services that the FCC used to justify its classification of broadband as an information service, no longer exist.
He said it was as though the FCC was looking at a ‘surrealist painting that shows a pipe and captions it, ‘This is not a pipe.”
He resurrected the late US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s ‘the internet is like a pizzeria delivery service’ analogy from his dissent in the Brand X case. Scalia argued then that the FCC not classifying broadband as a telecom service was like a pizzeria saying it bakes a pizza and can drive it to your home but that it doesn’t offer pizza delivery.
Michalopoulos updated the analogy, saying that the pizza shop no longer bakes pizzas, and instead offers only an Uber Eats delivery service. But because it doesn’t offer ‘pizza delivery,’ the cars in which it transports that pizza to your home aren’t subject to traffic laws.
Judge Williams, who was appointed to the DC Circuit in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, pushed back with his own pizza analogy.
Though the arguments made for interesting thought exercises and brought some laughter to the proceeding, Schettenhelm said that from a legal perspective, they didn’t seem to move the needle much.
‘I’m not sure the challengers to the FCC made much progress in their argument about how to interpret the statute,’ he said. ‘It seems it could still go both ways, and the court has been clear that the FCC gets to decide.’
Randolph May, president of conservative think tank The Free State Foundation, said the discussion parsing the technology and function of internet access ‘devolved into the metaphysical.’
‘That being so, I see no reason why the court will not again defer to the FCC’s classification decision … because the judges, not having been confirmed as metaphysicians, are likely to follow the Brand X legal precedent,’ he said. ‘And if the DC Circuit doesn’t adhere to the Brand X precedent granting the agency deference in interpreting the definitions, I think the Supreme Court will.’
Instead, he said, the court may agree with the FCC that the agency was reasonable in how it classifies broadband, but it may have a problem with the way the agency got to this conclusion.
The first issue has to do with whether the FCC considered the effects of the repeal on public safety organizations, which the FCC by law must consider. This is an argument that was brought up by firefighters from Santa Clara, California. They joined the lawsuit against the FCC after Verizon throttled their service last summer, at the height of the wildfires in California, jeopardizing the lives of first responders and the public.
The Santa Clara firefighters have conceded that Verizon likely didn’t violate net neutrality principles, because the carrier mistakenly implemented a commercial service agreement between the company and the fire department. But the firefighters argue that since the FCC’s repeal, there is no ‘cop on the beat’ to hear their concerns. This is because as part of its order to repeal, the FCC abdicated its authority to police broadband providers to the Federal Trade Commission.
Stephanie Weiner, who represented the firefighters in the oral arguments, argued that the FCC should have made provisions for public safety in its order.
‘There’s nothing stopping companies from putting first responders at the back of the line, especially if they offer a commercial paid priority service,’ she said.
Millett dug in to this issue of paid priority when questioning FCC lawyer Tom Johnson. She pushed Johnson to explain how paid priority works.
‘Is it a different line or they just go first? I have no idea how it works,’ she said.
Johnson explained that paid prioritization would not hurt ‘best effort’ internet traffic. And he explained it actually could be beneficial to niche providers like public safety, who could subscribe to a better quality service. But Millett questioned what would happen to a municipality that couldn’t afford such a service.
‘To make someone go fast, don’t you have to slow down or delay someone else?’ she asked.
At one point she said she didn’t understand the FCC’s explanation of how public safety would be unaffected.
Schettenhelm said this exchange might be significant if Millett decides the FCC didn’t give enough consideration to the public safety concerns.
Change in the law
Another area where the FCC may be vulnerable has to do with its transparency rule. This is the one aspect of the 2015 net neutrality rules that the FCC kept as part of its repeal. This rule requires internet service providers to disclose how they manage traffic and if they’re going to throttle or block access or offer paid priority. This is a key piece of the FCC’s light touch approach, because these disclosures are what the FTC can use to hold internet service providers accountable to their customers.
But the section of the Communications Act that the FCC uses to justify this authority was changed in May 2018 when Congress passed the Ray Baum Act. Though petitioners challenging the FCC’s repeal argue that the change stripped the FCC of its authority to have a transparency rule, the FCC maintains that its authority was left in tact.
But one thing is clear, the FCC never officially examined or opened public comment on what these changes to the law would mean to its repeal. And the timing of the changes could be problematic, since the law was actually changed between the time the FCC voted to repeal the net neutrality rules in 2017 and when they took effect in June 2018.
‘The fact is that the statute doesn’t exist anymore,’ Schettenhelm said. ‘The FCC could have shown that they were considering what the changes meant to the order before it took effect, and they didn’t.’
Facebook temporarily pulled down a post by a former employee who accused the tech firm of having ‘a black people problem,’ a removal that was quickly noticed by the author.
Mark Luckie, who left his job as Facebook’s strategic partner manager for global influencers, posted his note publicly on Nov. 27. The post accused Facebook of ‘failing its black employees and black users’ and noted that many black users think ‘their content is more likely to be taken down on the platform than any other group.’ While mostly anecdotal, Luckie wrote that posts by black users have been flagged for hate speech.
On Tuesday, Luckie tweeted the social media giant had proved his point by temporarily removing his critical post about Facebook’s treatment of black users. ‘Turns out Facebook took down my post challenging discrimination at the company, disabling users’ ability to share or read it,’ Luckie tweeted. ‘Further proves my point.’
Facebook, which has been criticized in the past for what content it leaves up or pulls down, confirmed that Luckie’s post had been restored. It couldn’t, however, immediately explain what happened.
‘Mark Luckie’s post does not violate our Community Standards and is available on our site,’ Facebook spokesperson Anthony Harrison said in a statement. ‘We are looking into what happened.’
In the post, Luckie alleges that black employees face racial discrimination within Facebook and their complaints to HR aren’t taken seriously enough. Managers called black employees ‘hostile’ or ‘aggressive’ for sharing their thoughts, dissuaded them from an internal black employee group, he wrote in the note. He also alleges that black employees were ‘aggressively accosted’ by security guards and colleagues would sometimes ‘hold their wallet or shove their hands down their pocket’ when he tried to pass by.
The company said in response it wants to support employees when concerns are raised and that Facebook is ‘going to keep doing all we can to be a truly inclusive company.’
Facebook has faced diversity issues before. In 2016, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg scolded employees for crossing out the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter‘ and replacing it with ‘all lives matter’
Silicon Valley tech firms, including Facebook, have struggled to diversify a workforce that is mainly made up of white and Asian men. In July, Facebook reported that about 4 percent of its US workforce was black, up from 2 percent in 2014.
As of about 6 p.m. PT on Friday, the problem seemed to have been resolved. CenturyLink said in a tweet that ‘all consumer services impacted by this event, including voice and 911, have been restored’ and that any latency issues would be cleared within a few hours.
CenturyLink has not yet given any indication what caused the problems.
‘Our network is experiencing a disruption affecting customer services,’ CenturyLink tweeted Thursday morning. ‘We know how important services are to our customers and are working to restore services as quickly as possible.’
A company representative confirmed that efforts continue.
As of Friday afternoon, the company said on Twitter that it’s ‘made progress in restoring services across the network in the last several hours. We are focused on resolving remaining issues.’
The FCC steps in
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the disruption of service ‘particularly troubling’ in its ‘breadth and duration.’
The effect on people’s ability to reach 911 emergency services is ‘completely unacceptable,’ Pai said in a statement. He added that he has been in contact with CenturyLink to emphasize the urgency of restoring service and that he would be monitoring progress closely.
CenturyLink didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the FCC’s investigation.
First there was Prime Day. Now there’s Amazon Day.
Amazon is slowly rolling out a new delivery option for its Prime members in the US, called Amazon Day, the company said Friday. The invite-only program lets members set a specific day of the week for their shipments to arrive.
For example, if you pick Thursday, all the stuff you bought during the week, and select at checkout to arrive on your ‘Amazon Day,’ will be waiting on your doorstep when Thursday comes around. That day will remain as your default for future weeks unless you change it at checkout.
Prime members who join the program will still be able to select their regular one-day, two-day and no-rush shipping options (if they’re available) for every order. Most items that are available for two-day deliveries will get the new Amazon Day option.
‘We’re excited to be testing a new service aimed at making the delivery experience more convenient for customers,’ Amazon spokeswoman Kristen Kish said in a statement.
The program, which comes just ahead of the holiday shopping season, could offer some added benefits for Prime customers. Since the company says Amazon Day orders will arrive in as few boxes as possible, folks will be able to help the environment while cutting down on their mountains of shipping boxes. Plus, people looking to make their deliveries more predictable — and avoid porch thefts in the process — may migrate to the new program.
Though Amazon emphasized consumer choice and predictability when discussing Amazon Day, the program does also offer potential business benefits for the company. By cutting down on multiple deliveries, Amazon could save on shipping and packaging costs. In its latest quarter, Amazon’s shipping costs rose 22 percent worldwide, to $6.6 billion.
Amazon Day is yet another concept the world’s largest e-commerce company is offering to let its customers get deliveries and handle returns in all sorts of ways. For instance, Amazon introduced its Amazon Key in-home and in-car delivery programs, as well as returns at Kohl’s department stores. Amazon is also offering deliveries via drones to a handful of its UK customers.
On Friday, Amazon is inviting a small group of customers to join the new program and plans to bring on more customers in the coming months. Amazon had already been testing the program with its employees over the past few months.
In most cases, customers can add to their Amazon Day orders up to two days before the day arrives. There’s no discount, like Amazon’s no-rush shipping offer, associated with using the program. Customers can set any day of the week for their Amazon Day delivery, including weekends — so long as weekend deliveries are available in their area.
The 43-year-old founder of online fashion mall Zozotown on Saturday tweeted that its New Year’s sale raked in 10 billion yen (around $92,310,000) at the fastest pace ever and offered to split 100 million yen (around $924,000) between 100 randomly selected people who shared his tweet.
‘With gratitude, I will give you 100 million yen [100 million yen grand price for 100 people] from individuals in cash. To apply, just follow me and just RT this tweet. Receptionist is up to 1/7. I will DM directly from winners!,’ reads his translated tweet.
On Monday, he tweeted his thanks to his followers for helping him achieve a retweet world record.
Maezawa had a major financial advantage over Wilkinson, a Nevada teen who surpassed Ellen DeGeneres’ 2014 Oscar selfie with 3.6 million retweets after Wendy’s told him he’d need 18 million to get free nuggets. Ellen’s tweet was retweeted 3.3 million times.
Electronics maker Sharp riffed on Maezawa’s tweet with a humorous push for people to buy its products, as previously noted by Quartz.
‘With our gratitude, we would be grateful if many more than 100 people could buy 1 million yen of products (totalling 10 billion yen). The application method doesn’t involve having to RT or follow us, you can just buy it from any store. Taking applications forever,’ the company wrote in Japanese.
Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The social network has infringed on a new cybersecurity law in the country by letting users post content it deemed illegal on its platform, state media reported Wednesday.
Such posts include those containing ‘slanderous content,’ ‘anti-government sentiment’ and the defamation of individuals and organisations, it added, citing the Ministry of Information and Communications.
Despite repeated emails, Facebook did not remove the offending content and refused to hand over information on ‘fraudulent accounts’ to the authorities, the ministry alleged.
The report comes more than a week after a controversial law came into effect on Jan. 1. The law requires internet companies to keep user data locally, remove offending content from their platforms and provide user data to the government without the need for a warrant. Vietnam’s existing rules penalise comments online that contain ‘propaganda against the state’ and ‘reactionary ideology.’
In addition, the ministry accused Facebook of allowing users to sell and advertise illegal and counterfeit products. It also failed to recognise its tax obligations in Vietnam despite earning $235 million from ad sales last year, causing the state to ‘lose money,’ the publication added.
From Russian election meddling to a massive data privacy scandal, Facebook has faced a seemingly endless list of troubles. Now a new report suggests the social network’s leadership may be among its biggest challenges.
Over the past three years, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg ignored warnings, deflected blame and were distracted by other projects as the social network lurched from crisis to crisis, according to a 5,000-word report Wednesday by The New York Times. The paper, which interviewed more than 50 people for the story, painted an unflattering portrait of how the two executives managed the series of scandals, some of which eventually prompted Congress to ask both of them to testify.
The piece focused on Facebook’s handling of fake news posted by Russian trolls ahead of the 2016 presidential election, the impact of which Zuckerberg initially dismissed as ‘crazy,’ and the company’s efforts to deflect blame after the data of 87 million users was harvested by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. The story also touched on in-fighting at the highest of levels of the company.
‘Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view,’ The Times wrote. ‘At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.’
Facebook told the paper it was committed to addressing the challenges.
‘This has been a tough time at Facebook and our entire management team has been focused on tackling the issues we face,’ Facebook said in a statement to The New York Times. ‘While these are hard problems we are working hard to ensure that people find our products useful and that we protect our community from bad actors.’
The social network sent the same statement after CNET asked for comment.
On Thursday, Facebook pushed back harder against the Times story, arguing that it contains ‘a number of inaccuracies.’ In a blog post, it sought to counter assertions by the newspaper about how it dealt with Russian activity, fake news and a group called Definers Public Affairs, among other topics, and pointed to its efforts since 2016 to improve the safety and security of its services.
At one point, according to the Times, Facebook hired Definers Public Affairs, a Republican opposition research firm, to fend off critics. The firm tried to link anti-Facebook sentiment to billionaire George Soros by circulating a research document and pressing reporters to look at financial ties between Soros and groups that protested the tech company at congressional hearings in July.
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal renewed public criticism of Facebook, Definers helped to blunt other critics, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, who criticized the company for its privacy practices, the Times said. NTK Networks, a conservative news site tied to Definers, published dozens of critical stories about Google and Apple, including one that called Cook hypocritical for his statements.
In its blog post Thursday, Facebook said it ended its contract with Definers ‘last night.’
Definers Public Affairs didn’t immediately responded to requests for comment.
Internally, Facebook was dealing with a number of issues, including whether to boot Donald Trump from the social network in 2015 after he called for a ‘total and complete shutdown’ on Muslims entering the US, the paper reported. Separately, Sandberg was angry at Facebook security chief Alex Stamos, who has since left the company, after she found out that his team was looking into potential election meddling by Russian trolls without approval. In 2017, when he told the board of directors the company hadn’t contained the Russian interference on the platform, she apparently felt betrayed.
‘You threw us under the bus!’ she reportedly yelled at Stamos.
In Washington, Facebook not only played down concerns about election meddling but also tapped into its relationships with US lawmakers to control the damage. Minnesota Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who introduced a bill that would require Facebook and other tech companies to disclose who purchased political ads online, reportedly dialed down her criticism of the tech firm after Sandberg complained.
A spokesman for Klobuchar told the Times that Facebook’s lobbying hadn’t changed her commitment to holding the company accountable. ‘Facebook was pushing to exclude issue ads from the Honest Ads Act, and Sen. Klobuchar strenuously disagreed and refused to change the bill,’ he said, in a statement.
Klobuchar’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.