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Apple Music Brings Change to Streaming, but is it Enough?

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Beats co-founder and Apple employee Jimmy Iovine speaks at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Monday, June 8, 2015. The maker of iPods and iPhones announced Apple Music, an app that combines Beats 1, a 24-hour, seven-day live radio station, with an on-demand music streaming service. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Beats co-founder and Apple employee Jimmy Iovine speaks at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Monday, June 8, 2015. The maker of iPods and iPhones announced Apple Music, an app that combines Beats 1, a 24-hour, seven-day live radio station, with an on-demand music streaming service. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

RYAN NAKASHIMA, AP Business Writer

When Apple launches its Apple Music streaming service at the end of June, it will affect things big and small in the music industry.

Hundreds of millions of iPhone and iPad users in more than 100 countries will get to try the $10-per-month service for free for the next three months when it is pushed to their devices with a free upgrade.

They’ll get unlimited access to tens of millions of songs during the trial, and afterward be required to pay a monthly fee for access, instead of paying for each album or song download.

“It’ll change the way you experience music forever,” CEO Tim Cook promised Monday at Apple’s annual conference for software developers, held in San Francisco.

It could become one more thing that keeps current iPhone and iPad users inside the Apple Inc. ecosystem, while enticing others in.

Here’s a look at some of the major aspects of Apple Music.

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INTEGRATION WITH SIRI

Subscribers will be able to ask Siri, Apple’s mobile digital assistant, all sorts of unusual questions about music, and have any of millions of tunes play back in response.

Executive Eddy Cue demonstrated a few of them Monday, including asking for a playlist of the top 10 hits in the alternative genre, asking for a song from the soundtrack of the movie “Selma,” and even asking for the top song from May 1982. (It was Joan Jett & the Blackheart’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”)

Using Siri’s artificial intelligence and one’s voice could come in handy when working out, going on a jog or driving a car equipped with Apple’s Car Play.

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REAL RADIO, OVER THE INTERNET

In modern times, Internet radio has been defined by automated playlist generators like Pandora, Songza and others. Apple is changing that game by bringing back living, breathing DJs. It plans to run “Beats 1,” a live 24/7 radio station hosted by DJs — including former BBC host Zane Lowe — in Los Angeles, New York and London. The service will be free to users with an Apple ID.

It will also offer standard genre-based Internet radio stations, this time with playlists curated by humans, instead of the algorithms that power the soon-to-be-disappearing feature, iTunes Radio.

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CONNECT

Apple is opening a new platform for artists that allows them to release to fans content such as lyrics to an upcoming song, behind-the-scenes video, or even new tracks. Any user can access “Connect” through a tab on the Apple Music app, and can follow artists and access their feeds. Only subscribers will be able to view, save and like the content.

Requiring payment for what might be considered promotional content is new to subscription services, but super-fans may be drawn in.

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APPLE MUSIC VS. MY MUSIC VS. BEATS MUSIC

Apple device users who have bought songs or albums on iTunes needn’t worry. Their music will still be on their devices, and in many cases, still saved to the cloud.

Music that isn’t available for streaming but still for sale on iTunes, like songs from the Beatles, can be integrated into playlists. Subscription music can be saved for offline listening alongside downloads.

And the some 300,000 subscribers to Beats Music, which Apple bought along with the headphone line for $3 billion last year, will have the opportunity to transfer their playlists over to Apple Music, at which point, their Beats subscription will be canceled.

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RECOMMENDATIONS

Apple touts its human curation so much, it’s making you pay for it. A new “For You” tab will offer subscribers music suggestions based on artists and genres they say they like, as well as what they actually listen to. A team of music experts is said to be behind every pick. This feature is a nearly direct import from Beats Music.

“These people are going to help you with the most difficult question in music: What song comes next?” said Apple executive Jimmy Iovine, who helped develop the service.

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BETTER DEAL FOR RECORD LABELS, ARTISTS

Music fans who have read about artists and record labels complaining about the tiny royalties they get from streaming services may have something to cheer about.

According to two people familiar with the matter, last-minute deal-making did result in a better streaming deal for record labels and artists.

Instead of sharing the industry-standard 55 percent of subscription streaming revenue with labels and artists, Apple will share around 58 to 60 percent. Music publishers in charge of songwriting royalties also saw a slight bump in their cut from the standard 10 to 12 percent to about 14 percent of subscription revenues, the people said. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the deals are confidential.

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ANDROID

Apple is letting users of Google’s competing Android mobile operating system use a version of the Apple Music app beginning this fall. But those users will have to pay to access Beats 1 and some features of Connect that Apple device users will get for free.

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CAN APPLE COME FROM BEHIND?

Industry analysts expect Apple’s biggest advantages — its huge user base, ability to sell its services with attractive TV ads, and global reach — will get the service up and running successfully.

Whether it will dramatically raise the popularity of streaming services is unclear. Currently, Apple’s Beats Music serves just a tiny fraction of the 41 million paying music subscribers globally.

Russ Crupnick, managing partner of research firm Music Watch Inc., says he’s not sure whether Apple has come up with the right package of services to make paid music streaming at $10 a month take off.

“You’ve got to really change the mindset of consumers to have them say, ‘Wow, this makes it worth the money,'” Crupnick says. “I still think you’ll have a lot of people who will say, ‘No thanks, I’ll take the 99-cent track. There are a lot of places where I can listen to music, thank you very much.'”

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Technology Writer Anick Jesdanun in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

HBCU

Feds Give Morgan State U. $1.5M Grant for STEM Programs

WASHINGTON INFORMER — Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen announced Friday more than $1.5 million in federal grant funding for Morgan State University to foster its STEM-related programs. The grant, to be administered over a three-year period through the National Science Foundation, will fund innovative ways to train MSU faculty to better engage learning among undergraduate and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students.

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Courtesy of morgan.edu

Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen announced Friday more than $1.5 million in federal grant funding for Morgan State University to foster its STEM-related programs.

The grant, to be administered over a three-year period through the National Science Foundation, will fund innovative ways to train MSU faculty to better engage learning among undergraduate and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students.

The grant is also the latest federal support for the university’s STEM programs.

“STEM education is the key to Maryland’s modern innovation economy, and one of the best ways to expand the opportunities for students in STEM fields is by providing more chances for undergraduate students to receive hands-on learning,” said Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. “This grant award recognizes Morgan State’s record in educating African American students and will provide Morgan with the ability to deepen its range of already high-quality STEM offerings. Ongoing federal investments like these are critical to increasing the diversity of our nation’s STEM fields.”

Van Hollen said that in addition to hands-on learning being more fun for students, it’s proven to increase their retention and knowledge.

“This funding will help teachers across the country combine this proven technique with STEM education programs, and it will help better prepare our students for the jobs of the future,” said Van Hollen, member of the Senate’s budget and appropriations committees. “This is an exciting opportunity that puts Morgan State at the forefront of this work, which will benefit our students, our communities, and ultimately our economy. I will continue working to support STEM education and secure funding in Congress to prepare our children for future success.”

In May, the two Democratic senators also applauded the award of $1.25 million for MSU to broaden opportunities for African American students in STEM fields.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer

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Afro

Baltimore Black Engineers Celebrate 30 Years

THE AFRO — The chapter had a black tie gala fundraiser to support for their work to support collegiate and pre-collegiate students, as well as professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The event included an awards ceremony, which honored individuals and organizations recognizing outstanding achievement in various areas in support of the NSBE-BMAC mission.

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(L to R: Mrs. Steffanie B. Easter, Director, Navy Staff, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations; Mrs. Earnestine Baker, Executive Director – Emerita Meyerhoff Scholars Program, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Legacy Achievement Award Honoree; Dr. Eugene M. DeLoatch, Dean Emeritus Morgan State University School of Engineering, Legacy Achievement Award Honoree; Dr. James E. West, Inventor, Professor, Johns Hopkins University, Legacy Achievement Award Honoree; Mr. William S. Redmond, III, President, NSBEBMAC) (Courtesy Photo)
By AFRO Staff

On June 22, nearly 200 people gathered at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture, in downtown Baltimore to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the National Society of Black Engineers Baltimore Metropolitan Area Chapter (NSBE-BMAC).

The chapter had a black tie gala fundraiser to support for their work to support collegiate and pre-collegiate students, as well as professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The event included an awards ceremony, which honored individuals and organizations recognizing outstanding achievement in various areas in support of the NSBE-BMAC mission.

Steffanie B. Easter, director of Navy Staff for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, was the keynote speaker.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

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Defender News Network

Houston’s Tourism and Arts industries receive a financial boost

DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — Houston First Corporation and Airbnb, the online home sharing platform, have announced a breakthrough agreement in which Houston’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) will be collected from Airbnb customers which started July 1. The 7 percent tax on Airbnb rentals will flow to Houston First, a government corporation that promotes and markets Houston’s travel, tourism and arts communities around the world and operates the city’s finest convention, arts and entertainment venues. 

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Houston, Texas (Photo by: Defender News Network)

By Defender News Service

Houston First Corporation and Airbnb, the online home sharing platform, have announced a breakthrough agreement in which Houston’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) will be collected from Airbnb customers which started July 1.

The 7 percent tax on Airbnb rentals will flow to Houston First, a government corporation that promotes and markets Houston’s travel, tourism and arts communities around the world and operates the city’s finest convention, arts and entertainment venues.

Houston becomes the largest Texas city to reach an agreement with Airbnb for collection of the HOT, required by state law to be used to boost the city’s travel and tourism industries and local art (Tax Code 351).  HOT may be used only to directly promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry. Also by state law, 19.3 cents of every dollar collected goes to city arts programs. Houston has the highest percentage in Texas of HOT funding dedicated to the arts.

HOT collections by Airbnb are expected to generate $3 million a year in Houston.

“Airbnb’s agreement to collect a tax that had already had been levied on hotel and motel guests will boost Houston First’s efforts to further increase the number of visits to Houston, which drew a record-high 22.3 million people in 2018,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “In turn, that will mean more dollars flowing into the Houston economy, creating even more jobs and benefitting Airbnb’s business and its affiliated local hosts. The additional funding for Houston’s thriving arts scene is icing on the cake and will add to the dynamic forces that are making Houston a more attractive place to enjoy for residents and visitors alike.”

Airbnb has partnered with over 400 local governments throughout the U.S. to collect and remit taxes, making it easy for hosts to pay their fair share while contributing new revenue for local governments. The company already collects the Texas State Hotel Occupancy Tax on behalf of all hosts (including in Houston) under an agreement with the Texas Comptroller’s Office. Airbnb delivered $15.3 million in tax revenue to the state in the first year of the agreement, nearly doubling the initial expectations.

“This additional revenue will further support Houston First’s mission to promote our city as a premier global destination and build partnerships to improve the quality of life of Houstonians,” said Brenda Bazan, president & CEO of Houston First. “We appreciate the role played by Airbnb and local Houstonian hosts in complementing our booming hotel industry and supporting tourism growth.”

“We believe this partnership will unlock significant new revenue for Houston moving forward, as it has for the state,” said Laura Spanjian, senior public policy director for Airbnb. “Our Houston hosts have stepped up time and time again, from supporting neighbors during Hurricane Harvey to generating economic activity in underserved communities, and now their efforts will benefit the Houston tourism and art communities as well.”

“This is a great day for Houston’s art community, as we count on this revenue to grow our vibrant arts landscape.  We know that arts and culture fuel tourism for Houston,” John Abodeely, CEO Houston Arts Alliance. “We hope other short-term rental platforms will follow Airbnb’s good-citizen example.”

This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network

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Government

Committee Democrats Call On Facebook To Halt Cryptocurrency Plans

SEATTLE MEDIUM — Last week, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee; Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Chair of the Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship and Capital Markets Subcommittee; Congressman William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Chairman of the Housing, Community Development and Insurance Subcommittee; Congressman Al Green (D-TX), Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee; and Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), Chairman of the Task Force on Financial Technology, wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Facebook; Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook; and David Marcus, Chief Executive Officer of Calibra, requesting an immediate moratorium on the implementation of Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency and digital wallet.

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Congresswoman Maxine Waters has emerged as one of the strongest legislators, community organizers, and champions for women, children, seniors, veterans, people of color, and the poor. She was elected in November 2018 to her fifteenth term in the U.S. House of Representatives where she proudly represents California’s diverse and dynamic 43rd Congressional District.

By The Seattle Medium

WASHINGTON – Last week, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee; Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Chair of the Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship and Capital Markets Subcommittee; Congressman William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Chairman of the Housing, Community Development and Insurance Subcommittee; Congressman Al Green (D-TX), Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee; and Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), Chairman of the Task Force on Financial Technology, wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Facebook; Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook; and David Marcus, Chief Executive Officer of Calibra, requesting an immediate moratorium on the implementation of Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency and digital wallet.

“Because Facebook is already in the hands of over a quarter of the world’s population, it is imperative that Facebook and its partners immediately cease implementation plans until regulators and Congress have an opportunity to examine these issues and take action,” the lawmakers wrote.“During this moratorium, we intend to hold public hearings on the risks and benefits of cryptocurrency-based activities and explore legislative solutions. Failure to cease implementation before we can do so, risks a new Swiss-based financial system that is too big to fail.”

This letter comes on the heels of Chairwoman Waters’ initial request for Facebook to agree to a moratorium in June.

The Chairwoman has also announced plans to convene a full Committee hearing entitled, “Examining Facebook’s Proposed Cryptocurrency and Its Impact on Consumers, Investors, and the American Financial System” on Wednesday, July 17.

See full text of the letter below.

July 2, 2019

Mark Zuckerberg
Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Facebook
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Sheryl Sandberg
Chief Operating Officer
Facebook
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025

David Marcus
Chief Executive Officer
Calibra
Facebook
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg, Ms. Sandberg, and Mr. Marcus:

We write to request that Facebook and its partners immediately agree to a moratorium on any movement forward on Libra—its proposed cryptocurrency and Calibra—its proposed digital wallet. It appears that these products may lend themselves to an entirely new global financial system that is based out of Switzerland and intended to rival U.S. monetary policy and the dollar. This raises serious privacy, trading, national security, and monetary policy concerns for not only Facebook’s over 2 billion users, but also for investors, consumers, and the broader global economy.

On June 18, 2019, Facebook announced its plans to develop a new cryptocurrency, called Libra, and a digital wallet to store this cryptocurrency, known as Calibra. To assist it in this venture, Facebook has enlisted 27 other companies and organizations to form the Libra Association, which is based out of Switzerland. [1] These companies span the financial services and retail industry and include payment systems, like Mastercard, Paypal, and Visa, and technology giants, like Uber, Lyft, and Spotify. By the target launch date of early 2020, Facebook hopes to have recruited over 100 firms into the Libra Association.

While Facebook has published a “white paper” on these projects, the scant information provided about the intent, roles, potential use, and security of the Libra and Calibra exposes the massive scale of the risks and the lack of clear regulatory protections. If products and services like these are left improperly regulated and without sufficient oversight, they could pose systemic risks that endanger U.S. and global financial stability. These vulnerabilities could be exploited and obscured by bad actors, as other cryptocurrencies, exchanges, and wallets have been in the past. Indeed, regulators around the globe have already expressed similar concerns, illustrating the need for robust oversight.[2]

Investors and consumers transacting in Libra may be exposed to serious privacy and national security concerns, cyber security risks, and trading risks. Those using Facebook’s digital wallet – storing potentially trillions of dollars without depository insurance– also may become unique targets for hackers. For example, during the first three quarters of 2018, hackers stole nearly $1 billion from cryptocurrency exchanges.[3]The system could also provide an under-regulated platform for illicit activity and money laundering.

These risks are even more glaring in light of Facebook’s troubled past, where it did not always keep its users’ information safe. For example, Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm hired by the 2016 Trump campaign, had access to more than 50 million Facebook users’ private data which it used to influence voting behavior.[4] As a result, Facebook expects to pay fines up to $5 billion to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and remains under a consent order from FTC for deceiving consumers and failing to keep consumer data private. In the first quarter of 2019 alone, Facebook has also removed more than 2.2 billion fake accounts, including those displaying terrorist propaganda and hate speech.[5]It has also recently been sued by both civil rights groups[6] as well as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for violating fair housing laws on its advertising platform and through its ad delivery algorithms.[7]

Because Facebook is already in the hands of a over quarter of the world’s population, it is imperative that Facebook and its partners immediately cease implementation plans until regulators and Congress have an opportunity to examine these issues and take action. During this moratorium, we intend to hold public hearings on the risks and benefits of cryptocurrency-based activities and explore legislative solutions. Failure to cease implementation before we can do so, risks a new Swiss-based financial system that is too big to fail.

Sincerely,

Rep. Maxine Waters, Chairwoman

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Chair – Subcommittee on Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship and Capital Markets

Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay, Chair – Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance

Rep. Al Green, Chair – Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Chair – Task Force on Financial Technology

[1] The 27 other members of the Libra Association are Mastercard, PayPal, PayU (Naspers’ fintech arm), Stripe, Visa, Booking Holdings, eBay, Facebook/Calibra, Farfetch, Lyft, MercadoPago, Spotify AB, Uber Technologies, Inc., Iliad, Vodafone Group, Anchorage, Bison Trails, Coinbase, Inc., Xapo Holdings Limited, Andreessen Horowitz, Breakthrough Initiatives, Ribbit Capital, Thrive Capital, Union Square Ventures, Creative Destruction Lab, Kiva, Mercy Corps, and Women’s World Banking

[2] See, e.g. The Honorable Randal K. Quarles, Vice Chairman of Supervision for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and Chair of the Financial Stability Board, Financial Stability Board Chair’s letter to G-20 Leaders meeting in Osaka, June 25, 2019, https://www.fsb.org/2019/06/fsb-chairs-letter-to-g20-leaders-meeting-in-osaka/. (“A wider use of new types of crypto-assets for retail payment purposes would warrant close scrutiny by authorities to ensure that that they are subject to high standards of regulation.”); Bank of International Settlements Annual Economic Report, Big tech in finance: opportunities and risks, June 23, 2019, https://www.bis.org/publ/arpdf/ar2019e3.htm. (“Big techs have the potential to become dominant through the advantages afforded by the data-network activities loop, raising competition and data privacy issues. Public policy needs to build on a more comprehensive approach that draws on financial regulation, competition policy and data privacy regulation… As the operations of big techs straddle regulatory perimeters and geographical borders, coordination among authorities – national and international – is crucial.”)

[3] CipherTrace Cryptocurrency Intelligence, Cryptocurrency Anti-Money Laundering Report, 2018 Q3 https://ciphertrace.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/crypto_aml_report_2018q3.pdf.

[4] Kevin Granville, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: What You Need to Know as Fallout Widens, (March 19, 2018).

[5] Facebook, Community Standards Enforcement Report (2019 Q1).

[6] Complaint, Nat’l Fair Housing Alliance et al. v. Facebook, Inc., No. 18-cv-02689 (S.D.N.Y Mar. 27, 2018), https://nationalfairhousing.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/NFHA-v.-Facebook.-Complaint-w-Exhibits-March-27-Final-pdf.pdf.

[7] Charge of Discrimination, U.S. Dep’t of Housing & Urban Development v. Facebook, Inc., FHEO No. 01-18-0323-8 (March 28, 2019), https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/Main/documents/HUD_v_Facebook.pdf.

This article originally appeared in the Seattle Medium

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Atlanta Voice

Citations jump in 1st year of Georgia cellphone driving law

ATLANTA VOICE — Citations for distracted driving have jumped in the past year since Georgia made it illegal to drive while holding a cellphone. A state law that took effect July 1, 2018, prohibits drivers from holding a cellphone while they’re behind the wheel. They can only make calls using hands-free devices with their phones. Numbers compiled by the Georgia State Patrol show thousands failed to make the change.

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(Photo By: Ameesha Felton/Marine Corps)

By The Atlanta Voice

Citations for distracted driving have jumped in the past year since Georgia made it illegal to drive while holding a cellphone.

A state law that took effect July 1, 2018, prohibits drivers from holding a cellphone while they’re behind the wheel. They can only make calls using hands-free devices with their phones. Numbers compiled by the Georgia State Patrol show thousands failed to make the change.

A report by the State Patrol shows that state police wrote nearly 25,000 tickets for distracted driving in the law’s first year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. That’s an average of 68 tickets per day, and the numbers don’t include tickets issued by local police departments.

“There are so many violations that we see, it’s hard to tell if it’s actually taking a toll yet,” Sgt. Henry Batts, a Georgia state trooper based in Albany, told WALB-TV. “We are getting people to comply with the law. It’s just going to take more tickets, I guess.”

Violating the hands-free law in Georgia is punishable by fines of $50 to $150 — depending on whether it’s a first or subsequent offense — as well as one to three points assessed against the driver’s license.

Tickets written by state police for distracted driving more than doubled within the law’s first six months. The State Patrol said fewer than 4,000 citations were written in the first half of 2018, the final months before the law took effect. That jumped to more than 8,000 distracted driving tickets during the last six months of 2018.

State Patrol officials say police didn’t really step up enforcement of the law until after Oct. 1. And the agency’s numbers show citations have continued to increase in 2019, with more than 16,000 tickets written since Jan. 1.

Thousands more tickets are being written by local police. For example, the Atlanta Police Department said its officers issued more than 17,000 distracted driving tickets in the past year.

Traffic fatalities and collision insurance claims have declined in Georgia since the cellphone law took effect, the Atlanta newspaper reported, and some safety experts say that indicates the law is working.

This article originally appeared in the Atlanta Voice

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Louisiana Weekly

Facebook told about hate speech in secret groups for years

LOUISIANA WEEKLY — Facebook says its standards apply just as much in private groups as public posts, prohibiting most slurs and threats based on national origin, sex, race and immigration status. But dozens of hateful posts in a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents raise questions about how well if at all the company is policing disturbing postings and comments made outside of public view.

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Photo by: Pixabay | Pexels.com

By Ariana Tobin, ProPublica

Facebook says its standards apply just as much in private groups as public posts, prohibiting most slurs and threats based on national origin, sex, race and immigration status.

But dozens of hateful posts in a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents raise questions about how well if at all the company is policing disturbing postings and comments made outside of public view.

Many of the posts ProPublica obtained from the 9,500-member “I’m 10-15” group (10-15 is Border Patrol code for “alien in custody”) include violent or dehumanizing speech that appears to violate Facebook’s standards. For example, a thread of comments before a visit to a troubled Border Patrol facility in Texas by Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, and Veronica Escobar, of Texas, included “fuck the hoes” and “No mames [fist].” Another post encouraged Border Patrol agents to respond to the Latina lawmakers visit by hurling a “burrito at these bitches.” And yet another mocked a video of a migrant man trying to carry a child through a rushing river in a plastic bag. A commenter joked, “At least it’s already in a trash bag” — all probable violations of the rules.

Facebook, citing an open federal investigation into the group’s activities, declined to answer questions about whether any posts in the 10-15 group violated its terms of service or had been removed, or whether the company had begun scrutinizing the group’s postings since ProPublica’s story was published. It also refused to say whether it had previously flagged posts by group members or had received complaints.

Facebook’s only response, emailed by a spokeswoman who refused to let ProPublica use her name, was: “We want everyone using Facebook to feel safe. Our Community Standards apply across Facebook, including in secret Groups. We’re cooperating with federal authorities in their investigation.”

Since April, the company has been calling community groups “the center of Facebook.” It has put new emphasis on group activity in the newsfeed and has encouraged companies, communities and news organizations to shift resources into private messaging. These forums can give members a protected space to discuss painful topics like domestic violence, or to share a passion for cookbooks. Groups can be either private, which means they can be found in search results, or secret, which means they are hidden unless you have an invitation.

This is part of an intentional “pivot toward privacy.” In a March blog post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, “Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves and connect more naturally, which is why we build social networks.”

But this pivot also fosters hidden forums where people can share offensive, potentially inflammatory viewpoints. “Secret” groups such as 10-15 are completely hidden from non-members. Would-be participants need an invitation to even find the landing page, and administrators of the groups have full jurisdiction to remove a person’s access at any time.

When such groups operate out of sight, like 10-15, the public has a more limited view into how people are using, or misusing, the platform. In a secret group, only members can flag or report content that might be in violation of Facebook’s policies. The administrators of the group can set stricter policies for members’ internal conversations. They cannot, however, relax broader Facebook standards. They also can’t support terrorist organizations, hate groups, murderers, criminals, sell drugs or attack individuals.

Civil rights groups say they have been noticing and raising the issue of hateful posts in hidden forums for years — with limited response from Facebook.

Henry Fernandez, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and a member of Change the Terms, a coalition of civil rights groups pushing for better content moderation on Facebook, said the platform keeps creating features without “without vetting them for their implications for the use by hate groups or, in this case, Border Patrol agents acting in hateful ways.”

Posts in hidden groups have incited incidents of violence in the real world, most famously against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and at the 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia. The military launched an investigation of a secret Facebook group in 2017 after Marines shared naked pictures of female service members. Facebook has acknowledged the problem and has made some efforts to address it with new initiatives, such as a proposed independent review board and consultations with a group of 90 organizations, most focusing on civil rights.

ProPublica’s Border Patrol story came out the day after Facebook released an audit of civil rights issues on the platform. Recommendations included strengthening hate speech policies around national origin, enforcing a stricter ban on the promotion of white supremacy and removing an exemption that had allowed humorous posts that contained offensive content.

Facebook did not say whether it will make all of the recommended changes. But in a blog post, COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote, “We will continue listening to feedback from the civil rights community and address the important issues they’ve raised so Facebook can better protect and promote the civil rights of everyone who uses our services.”

Jessica Gonzalez, vice president of strategy and senior counsel at Free Press and co-founder of Change the Terms, said that even after the back and forth with auditors, she was not surprised that the hateful posts in 10-15 were not flagged.

“What Facebook released on Sunday is an improvement,” she said, “but I think Facebook has engaged in this all along in an appeasement strategy. They’ll do what they need to do to get the bad publicity off [their] backs.”

The civil rights audit also called for better transparency about civil rights issues on Facebook’s advertising portal, which became a priority for the company after multiple ProPublica investigations and lawsuits by civil rights groups.

Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Business, said the new emphasis on privacy is part of Facebook’s attempt to keep users on the platform, while reassuring investors.

So to the extent that Facebook provides shelter to groups of all kinds — whether they are people who are sharing hateful messages or messages for the good of the world — it benefits their business model.”

Since we published our story, more people have gotten in touch to tell us about other secret groups that may warrant closer scrutiny.

We know there are members of groups who don’t agree with everything that is said in these forums. We need your guidance to do more reporting. We’d like to hear about what’s happening in your communities particularly from those of you who are concerned public servants. Fill out our questionnaire, or send an email toborderpatrol@propublica.org.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power.

This article originally appeared in the Louisiana Weekly.

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