Like the Empire State Building observation deck and a Circle Line cruise ship, the view from the top of a double-decker bus in New York has long been reserved for tourists and maybe the occasional local cajoled into showing them around. The bus part, however, is about to change: Starting this spring, Staten Island commuters will begin boarding blue-and-yellow double-deckers that will whisk them from their outer borough homes to the heart of Manhattan’s business district.
Yes, New York City is getting a bus makeover, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced this week, complete with 10 electric buses, already testing in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. And if you can believe it, the addition of shiny new vehicles to the fleet isn’t the most exciting thing about it. The MTA is also giving the city’s bus system—all 325 routes and 16,350 stops, used by 2.4 million riders every weekday—a “top-to-bottom, holistic review and redesign,” its first in decades. By reexamining the entire bus system, the city has a chance to fix its routes, ease congestion, give better options to transit riders, and maybe even relieve the pressure on its strained subway network.
In terms of direness, this revamp is closer to an episode of Hoarders than your standard spring cleaning. Since 2009, New York City’s annual bus ridership has plunged by almost 11 percent, even as the city’s population booms and its overcrowded subway flirts with collapse. The pattern repeats itself all over the country. In the LA area, annual ridership is down 25 percent over the same period, as more cars plug up highways and side streets. Austin, Texas, Denver, Colorado, and Washington, DC—all with growing populations—each saw bus use drop in recent years.
The problem isn’t the bus itself. The success of bus networks in countries like Brazil, China, and Germany—where nearly 100-foot-long human-toters have their own lanes and traffic signals, and race through congestion at 25 mph—makes clear that people are down with the things, as long as they’re practical, efficient, and safe. In Manhattan, buses average 5.5 mph. Chances are you could jog at that pace.
Part of the problem is that New York’s bus system was designed around the city as it once was, with lines connecting to the streetcars, busy wharfs, and big businesses of the time. The city has changed, of course. The bus network, not so much. Take the three lines that terminate in Port Richmond, a Staten Island ferry terminal. Those were probably super convenient—until 1962, when ferries stopped using the port.
A recent series of radical bus redesign projects have shown that smarter routing and scheduling can make all the difference. In 2015, Houston cut low-frequency routes in favor of a high-frequency grid that operates 24/7, and improved connections to the city’s light-rail network. Transit ridership climbed 7 percent. Seattle, Portland, and Columbus, Ohio, have seen similar results from their own network rejiggerings.
New York’s plans are still a bit sketchy, timeline-wise, though transit advocates are heartened by the involvement of new New York City Transit Authority president Andy Byford, who stepped into his role in January after establishing himself as a get-‘er-done kind of transit official in Toronto. We do know, however, that the redesign effort will kick off in Staten Island, where new routes (announced last summer) will have their debut in August.
But how does one go about redoing an entire city’s bus network, and making it easier for residents to get around? First things first: gathering data, so you can fit routes and stops to current patterns of living, working, and commuting. Fortunately, most cities have access to a wealth of data about how people are moving around inside of them.
The census offers a good baseline. New York can also track MetroCard use to know how many people are getting on which buses. It has years of GPS data to help determine where their vehicles are most likely to get stuck in traffic. It even has some intel about where ride-hailing companies are picking up and dropping off passengers, offering a better sense of what’s happening on the roads.
There’s the good, old-fashioned, underrated human too. “Operators know which stops are the busiest and which are not, and the most successful agencies we’ve seen in redesigning their networks engage operators at the very beginning,” says Kirk Hovenkotter, who studies transit agencies at the New York-based research and advocacy group TransitCenter.
Even the public can be helpful. In Houston, conversations between the transit agency and various community groups began in 2013, almost two years before the city officially launched its new network. Just know that you won’t make everybody happy. “You’ll definitely get some grumbling,” says Jon Orcutt, who directs communications at TransitCenter. “It’s inherent in change.”
The goal is to get a fresh picture of where people are, and where they go, and make the buses match up. If this neighborhood suddenly has hundreds of thousands more people in it, time for a bus line. If this waterfront area has a new ferry, maybe build some connections to it.
With those inputs in hand, start craft routes that do cure the maladies that plague many a system. Today, many routes curve and swerve, trying to cover the entire map, and get riders as close to their destinations as possible. That sounds nice, but hurts efficiency—too many stops, too many turns—and leads to infrequent service.
Organizations like the National Association of City Transportation Officials have encouraged metros to make long bus routes less circuitous, valuing efficient grid service. Cities are also thinking about cutting down the number of bus stops. This is doubly attractive in places—like a lot of New York—where sidewalk infrastructure makes it easy for riders to walk an extra block or so for the bus. New York (and other cities) are thinking seriously about bus-only lanes, bus stops that don’t block traffic, and traffic signals that give public transit—and not private cars—the jump on green lights. It’s even going for all-door boarding, making it faster to get everybody aboard. When San Francisco’s transit agency did something similar, dwell times at bus stops dropped 13 percent.
Cap that off by sending the buses where the people are, and voila: a bus system that might actually work. Now, NYC just has to fix the dang subway.
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc said on Monday that it removed or put a warning label on 1.9 million pieces of extremist content related to ISIS or al-Qaeda in the first three months of the year, or about double the amount from the previous quarter.
FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, also published its internal definition of “terrorism” for the first time, as part of an effort to be more open about internal company operations.
The European Union has been putting pressure on Facebook and its tech industry competitors to remove extremist content more rapidly or face legislation forcing them to do so, and the sector has increased efforts to demonstrate progress.
Of the 1.9 million pieces of extremist content, the “vast majority” was removed and a small portion received a warning label because it was shared for informational or counter-extremist purposes, Facebook said in a post on a corporate blog here.
Facebook uses automated software such as image matching to detect some extremist material. The median time required for takedowns was less than one minute in the first quarter of the year, the company said.
Facebook, which bans terrorists from its network, has not previously said what its definition encompasses.
The company said it defines terrorism as: “Any non-governmental organization that engages in premeditated acts of violence against persons or property to intimidate a civilian population, government, or international organization in order to achieve a political, religious, or ideological aim.”
The definition is “agnostic to ideology,” the company said, including such varied groups as religious extremists, white supremacists and militant environmentalists.
Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Leslie Adler
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Google owner Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) reported first-quarter sales and profit Monday that topped financial analysts’ estimates as it achieved better pricing on ads and saw unrealized income from startup investments, sending its shares up about 1 percent after-hours.
FILE PHOTO: The Google logo is pictured atop an office building in Irvine, California, U.S., August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
The results eased concerns that investment in new ventures beyond its core search business was undermining Alphabet’s outlook. There also were no immediate signs that rising global privacy concerns would affect profits.
Alphabet’s profit margins have fallen in recent quarters as it ramps up costly new projects in cloud computing and hardware at its core Google unit, and despite spending cuts on an unprofitable set of ancillary initiatives known as “other bets.”
But quarterly profit of $9.4 billion, or $13.33 per share, exceeded estimates of $6.56 billion, or $9.28 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. About $3.40 of the earnings per share were attributable to a new accounting method for unrealized gains in Alphabet’s investments in startups such as Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL].
Excluding the investment-related gains and other items, adjusted earnings were $9.93 per share, topping the $9.28 per share consensus.
The price for clicks and views of ads sold by Google rose in its favor as advertisers pursued ad slots on its search engine, YouTube video service and millions of partner apps and websites.
Investor appetite for Alphabet has been weakened by a combination of cost and regulatory concerns as officials across the world seek to force changes in Google’s business practices, such as giving customers more control over privacy of their data. Shares had fallen nearly 3.5 percent this year until a swift pre-earnings rebound last week.
U.S. lawmakers initially sought to question Google alongside rival Facebook Inc (FB.O) at a hearing this month on how British data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica was able to acquire data on unwitting Facebook users.
Google was later excused. But analysts who follow the company have said Google may not escape European Union regulators, which plan to begin enforcing a new data privacy law next month. It could prompt more users to reject receiving personalized ads online, costing Google a few billion dollars in annual sales, said Brian Wieser, a senior analyst at Pivotal Research.
Advertisers also may limit ad-buying this year while sorting out their own compliance with the new European policy, known as General Data Protection Regulation, he said.
Still, any pullback would be temporary because of the effectiveness of Internet advertising compared with declining media such as print and broadcast, analysts say. Alphabet’s first-quarter results again showed that advertisers’ attraction to Google’s powerful systems in particular is strong, which could help it rebound from any privacy setbacks.
Worldwide ad sales increased to $31.1 billion, above the average analysts’ estimate of $30.3 billion.
Revenue from Google’s mobile app store and growth priorities such as cloud computing services and consumer devices was $4.4 billion in the first quarter.
But Google saw its operating margin fall compared with a year ago as it acquired 2,000 employees in Taiwan for $1.1 billion from HTC Corp (2498.TW).
Google also saw cost increases from moving up when it awards equity to employees and acquiring streaming rights for its YouTube TV offering.
Executives have said some costs will moderate this year.
Reporting by Paresh Dave and Arjun Panchadar; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Henderson
Angry mobs of Buddhists in Sri Lanka last month attacked minority Muslims, burning mosques and killing at least one. Those riots appear to have been triggered in part by false stories spread on Facebook and WhatsApp. And despite efforts by governments and nonprofits to alert them to the mounting risk, Facebook is accused of doing next to nothing to remove clear incitements to violence in the weeks leading up to the attacks.
The sequence of events in Sri Lanka is detailed in a bruising new report by the New York Times, which threatens to undermine Facebook’s longstanding claim to be a force for good in the world. At their heart were allegations of a plot by Muslim Sri Lankans to sterilize the country’s Sinhalese-speaking Buddhist majority, supported by a false story on Facebook saying that police had seized 23,000 sterilization pills from a Muslim pharmacist in the town of Ampara.
In an episode eerily reminiscent of reactions to the Hillary Clinton Pizzagate conspiracy theory, those stories led a mob of Buddhists to storm a Muslim-owned restaurant in the town of Ampara, falsely claiming its food was laced with drugs. The exchange exploded into beatings, rioting, and mosque-burning. Video of those events was also uploaded to Facebook, feeding further violence and the death of a 27-year-old aspiring journalist.
Aside from the brutal violence itself, the most disturbing part of the Times report is the allegation that Facebook, which has no offices in Sri Lanka, ignored or deflected repeated attempts by government officials and nonprofit monitors to intervene in a growing storm of hatred. As early as October of 2017, Sri Lankan officials pleaded with Facebook to better police hate speech, hire more Sinhalese-speaking content screeners, and establish a direct point of contact with local authorities.
Instead, Facebook insisted its content-flagging tool would be enough to alert the company to dangerous content. Members of a Sri Lankan group called the Center for Policy Alternatives did as recommended, repeatedly flagging posts including messages such as “Kill all Muslims, don’t even save an infant.” But “nearly every report,” according to the Times, was deemed to not violate Facebook’s standards. According to the Times, Facebook still has not filled around 25 positions for Sinhalese screeners that have been open since June.
The violence in Sri Lanka mirrors similar events in Myanmar, India, Mexico, and even the United States. They strike at the heart of Facebook’s utopian promise to connect people, showing that such connections can spread violent hatred as quickly as cute baby pictures.
Ethnic and religious resentments are not created by Facebook. But as the Times points out, Facebook’s core structure – including an algorithm that prioritizes content that gets the most engagement – may help foment outrage and tribalism. In nations with weak legal systems, citizens may be more likely to take justice into their own hands.
“The germs are ours,” as one Sri Lankan official told the Times, referring to the sectarian devisions in Sri Lanka, “but Facebook is the wind, you know?”
The pilot and copilot have had been hailed as heroes, and Southwest CEO Gary Kelly was praise for the fast apology and condolence statement he offered via video. But you can imagine that the airline might want to continue to respond to the affected passengers quickly.
Apparently, it has. Even as the federal investigation into the incident continues, Southwest reportedly sent letters with personal apologies and quick compensation to passengers from Flight 1380 just a day after the emergency.
Obviously, any big company that faced a debacle like this needs to do something similar and quick. Many do, but only in exchange for people offering to drop all claims against the company (more on whether that’s happening here, in a second).
But there’s something interesting in how Southwest handled the issue–a combination of what they offered, and how they worded the apology letter, as reported, signed by Kelly:
We value you as our customer and hope you will allow us another opportunity to restore your confidence in Southwest as the airline you can count on for your travel needs. … In this spirit, we are sending you a check in the amount of $5,000 to cover any of your immediate financial needs.
As a tangible gesture of our heartfelt sincerity, we are also sending you a $1,000 travel voucher…
Our primary focus and commitment is to assist you in every way possible.
What leaps out at me is, oddly, the smallest financial part of the compensation: the $1,000 travel voucher. (Although, it’s funny: psychologically people sometimes put a higher subjective value on a tangible thing valued at a certain amount, then they do on cash.)
Even in the wake of tragedy, Southwest is taking steps to try to keep these customers–as customers.
As some commenters have pointed out, while the uncontained engine failure aboard flight 1380 was terrifying for passengers, and resulted in loss of life and injury, it’s by no means the first time a flight suffered a similar catastrophe and ultimately landed.
Commercial airlines like a 737 are designed to be able to fly with one of the engines disabled, and professional aircrew train and drill on what to do in this kind of situation. The emergency was deftly handled by Captain Tammie Jo Shults and first officer Darren Ellisor.
Part of why this story was so widely reported however, is that passengers were immediately sharing it on social media. One passenger famously paid $8 for inflight WiFi even while he thought the plane was going to crash, so that he could broadcast on Facebook Live what was happening and say a farewell to friends and family.
So, connect this to the travel vouchers. Beyond taking a step toward repairing the relationship with these passengers, what better PR result could Southwest hope for than some positive travel experiences and social media posts from one of them, as a result?
I wouldn’t expect Southwest to articulate this rationale; that would actually undercut it. And, I do have a couple of other questions about how this all works, for which I’ve reached out to Southwest for answers. I’ll update this post when I hear back.
For example, I would assume that the family of the passenger who died on the flight, Jennifer Riordan, would be treated differently, and maybe also the seven passengers who reportedly were injured.
There’s also the question of whether these are really just goodwill payments, or a way to quickly settle 100 or more potential claims against the airline. If it’s the more traditional, transactional legal strategy of just trying to settle claims quickly, then that undercuts a lot of this.
However, I’m judging based on the experience of one passenger, Eric Zilbert of Davis, California, that this might not be the case. Zilbert reportedly checked with a lawyer before accepting the compensation,” to make sure I didn’t preclude anything.” Based on the lawyer’s advice, went ahead and did so.
Of course, this doesn’t mean every passenger is happy with the gesture. For example, Marty Martinez of Dallas, the passenger who became famous after he livestreamed the emergency landing over Facebook Live, said he’s not satisfied.
“I didn’t feel any sort of sincerity in the email whatsoever, and the $6,000 total that they gave to each passenger I don’t think comes even remotely close to the price that many of us will have to pay for a lifetime.”
Even so, Southwest sort of got what they’d probably like to see in his case, anyway: a tangible demonstration that despite the experience aboard Flight 1380, he’s willing to fly with the airline again.
The proof? He gave his quote to an Associated Press reporter, the account said, “as he prepared to board a Southwest flight from New York.”
LONDON (Reuters) – London’s Transport Commissioner Mike Brown met Uber [UBER.UL]boss Dara Khosrowshahi in January, a freedom of information request revealed, as the Silicon Valley app fights to keep its cars on the streets of its most important European market.
FILE PHOTO – Dara Khosrowshahi, Chief Executive Officer of Uber Technologies, attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Picture
Uber is battling a decision by the city’s transport regulator last September to strip it of its license after it was deemed unfit to run a taxi service, a ruling Uber is appealing.
Since then Uber has made a series of changes to its business model, responding to requests from regulators, including the introduction of 24/7 telephone support and the proactive reporting of serious incidents to London’s police.
Khosrowshahi flew to London in October for discussions with Brown after which Uber promised to make things right in the British capital city.
The pair had a second meeting in London in January, according to a response to a freedom of information request from Reuters.
“The Commissioner met with Dara Khosrowshahi on 3 October 2017 and 15 January 2018, both meetings took place in London,” Transport for London (TfL) said.
A TfL spokesman declined to provide an immediate comment on what was discussed at the meeting. Uber declined to comment.
Reuters had asked for a list of every meeting which had taken place between Uber and TfL’s private hire team and/or Brown since Sept. 22 but TfL declined to release such details.
“We are not obliged to supply the remainder of the information requested in relation to meetings as it … relates to information where disclosure would be likely to prejudice the exercise by any public authority of its functions ..,” it said.
A court hearing over Uber’s appeal is due this month before the substance of the appeal is heard in June.
Reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by Stephen Addison
BERLIN (Reuters) – German lawmakers will question a senior Facebook Inc manager about data privacy in the wake of revelations that the personal information of millions of users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen in front of displayed stock graph in this illustration photo, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
Lawmakers in the Bundestag lower house of parliament will grill Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president for global public policy, during a closed-door session on Friday morning.
The meeting mirrors the appearance of Facebook’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg before a U.S. Congressional joint hearing on April 10-11 over the scandal engulfing the world’s largest social network.
The 87 million Facebook users affected included nearly three million Europeans and Zuckerberg is also under pressure from EU lawmakers to come to Europe to shed light on the data breach.
“Facebook needs to show more openness and transparency when dealing with user data,” said Nadine Schoen, deputy leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc in the Bundestag.
She said Facebook needed to do more than just pay lip service and it remained to be seen how serious the company was about really improving user rights.
“It is not enough to exchange the gray T-shirt and jeans for suit and tie,” she said in reference to Zuckerberg’s appearance in the U.S. Congress.
The senior lawmaker said that Facebook so far was giving the impression that it only wanted to save its business model.
“For example, the company is already rowing back in the supposedly world-wide announced implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation,” Schoen warned, referring to privacy rules that will enter force in the European Union next month.
“We no longer need excuses, but facts,” she said.
German Justice Minister Katarina Barley last month summoned executives of the firm, including European public affairs chief Richard Allan.
Misuse of data by Facebook means it will in future be bound by stricter regulations and the threat of tougher penalties for further privacy violations, Barley said after the meeting.
Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Douglas Busvine
Woodman School is a tiny, whitewashed schoolhouse lodged in a remote clearing in Montana’s Lolo National Forest. It has a total of 35 students, and in January, all of them got the same assignment: Write a letter to local lawmakers explaining why you want internet access at school.
“If we had internet, we could do tests at our own school and not have to get bussed to Lolo and take tests on their computers,” scrawled one Woodman third grader on a sheet of looseleaf.
“We as a school are behind in our education,” wrote a seventh grade student. “It takes half an hour to load a document.”
Their teachers completed the assignment, too, describing their classroom shelves filled with unused Chromebooks and hours spent at the library checking out books for student research projects. Only about three Woodman students can access Google at a time, thanks to the overloaded and dilapidated DSL line that currently serves the school and all of its neighbors within 10 miles. Safety’s a concern too, given the entire area is a cellular dead zone. “The lack of bandwidth is affecting how I teach, but most of all it is affecting my students’ learning,” wrote one teacher named Jill Wilson. “They are frustrated and know that they don’t have the technology promised to them by our country.”
For the students at Woodman, it’s not supposed to be this way. Last summer, Montana Governor Steve Bullock visited the school to announce $2 million in state funding that he said would “close the connectivity gap” at schools like theirs. Woodman’s technology director, Jeff Crews, worked with CenturyLink, the only internet service provider in the area, to submit a request for federal funding under the so-called E-rate program, which is supposed to subsidize broadband expansion for schools.
Nearly a year later, the students of Woodman are still waiting, after being denied funding by the organization that administers E-rate. “It’s insane that we’re in 2018, but we have internet speeds that, I kid you not, are around modem speeds,” Crews says.
The Woodman School is hardly alone. Under the Trump administration, rural schools requesting funding for broadband expansion have faced record delays and denials, according to the non-profit EducationSuperHighway, which works to get schools connected to the internet. By their count, more than 60 eligible fiber projects have been unfairly denied since 2017, a rate that EducationSuperHighway CEO Evan Marwell says has spiked dramatically from years prior. Meanwhile, more than 30 schools have been waiting about a year for approval. On average, they currently wait 240 days for an answer. That’s despite state governments having put up $200 million in funds to supplement broadband expansion projects. “The table is set, and what we’ve run into is a bunch of red tape,” says Marwell.
The current issues with E-rate stem from a 2014 order that aimed to modernize the program, which has been in place since the Clinton administration. The order set aside additional funding for expanding broadband connectivity in schools, and shifted focus away from legacy systems like subsidized phone service. As part of this transition, the Universal Service Administrative Company—an offshoot of the Federal Communications Commission that oversees E-Rate—also began offering to pay upfront for “special construction” costs involved in building new fiber channels to extremely rural schools like Woodman. On top of that, it offered to match the money that states put up to pay for construction. With these two subsidies combined, a school like Woodman was looking at a 90 percent discount on brand new fiber internet service.
But because USAC now fronts more of the costs, it’s also more cautious about how that money gets spent. “One of the overriding themes you’ve seen from the Trump FCC has been eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse above all else,” says Marwell. That was FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s justification for proposing new restrictions on the Lifeline program, which supplies internet service to poor families.
Now, USAC asks E-rate applicants detailed questions about the precise cost of each fiber construction project, the route the fiber would take to get to the school, and other specifics that the small schools asking for these funds have struggled to answer. Often, the problems preventing students from getting online prove to be blandly bureaucratic.
One of many issues Woodman has faced: USAC will only pay for the fiber that the school uses. It stands to reason that the government wouldn’t want to subsidize an internet service provider’s broader business. But it’s also economically unfeasible for CenturyLink to build an entire fiber network for just one school, without picking up other customers in the area. And yet, in the application process, there’s no easy way for CenturyLink to distinguish between the cost of providing fiber to Woodman and the cost of building out the larger network. “This is a frustrating issue for both applicants and service providers alike, including CenturyLink,” said company spokesperson Linda Johnson.
Pai has himself acknowledged problems with the E-rate program. Last April, he wrote a letter to then-USAC CEO Chris Henderson, pointing out what Pai described as “serious flaws in USAC’s administration of the E-Rate program.” Henderson resigned just a month later, and has since been replaced by Department of Agriculture veteran Radha Sekar.
“Chairman Pai believes that the E-rate program is critically important to closing the digital divide for the nation’s students, particularly in rural areas,” an FCC spokesperson told WIRED. “The Chairman has directed the Universal Service Administrative Company to take steps to make the processing of all E-rate applications—including, but not limited to, fiber applications—more efficient.”
But a year since that letter was written, experts say issues with E-rate have hit an all time low. “This is the worst I think I’ve ever seen; it’s absolutely appalling,” says one industry source with decades of experience with the program.
Eric Chambers, a director of E-rate services for the Northwest Council for Computer Education, has consulted dozens of schools—including Woodman—on how to secure E-rate funding for 15 years. Before the modernization changes, Chambers estimates he only had to appeal one denial every few years. Now, it’s more like eight per year. “Small districts without a consultant usually just give up on it. It’s more work than they get benefit back,” Chambers says. “No one should have to pay me to do this work.”
Across the country, red tape has blocked 750,000 students from access to high speed internet, according to EducationSuperHighway. In Montana alone, 45,000 students live with limited connectivity. “I visited Woodman School and know that the need is there,” said Governor Bullock in a statement to WIRED. “Red tape stands in the way of closing the gap for more than 45,000 Montana students who are still without access to the high-speed internet they need to take advantage of digital learning.”
Woodman School is now appealing USAC’s denial of the school’s 2017 application. The overall cost of the project was estimated at around $980,000, 90 percent of which would have been covered by federal and state funds. According to Crews, the remaining $98,000 seemed manageable, even for a small school like Woodman. If the appeal fails, Crews says Woodman will likely look into satellite internet options, which are far slower and less reliable than fiber and run up against data usage caps each month. “Not the best solution,” Crews says, “but better than what we have now.”
Until then, the students and teachers at Woodman will continue to wait for something that the rest of the country takes for granted.
Have you used a friend’s laptop to charge your iPhone and gotten a prompt that says, “Trust This Computer?” Say yes, and the computer will be able to access your phone settings and data while they’re connected. And while it doesn’t feel like your answer really matters—your phone will charge either way—researchers from Symantec warn that this seemingly minor decision has much higher stakes than you’d think.
In fact, the Symantec team has found that hacks exploiting that misplaced “Trust” comprise a whole class of iOS attacks they call “trustjacking.” Once a user authorizes a device, they open themselves to serious and persistent attacks while their phone is connected to the same Wi-Fi network as a hacker, or even remote attacks when the devices are separated.
Adi Sharabani, Symantec’s senior vice president of modern operating system security, and Roy Iarchy, the modern operating system research team leader, will make that case Wednesday, in a presentation at the RSA security conference in San Francisco.
“Once this trust is established, everything is possible,” Sharabani told WIRED last week. “It introduces a new vector of attack.”
Sharabani and Iarchy’s presentation focuses largely on a feature known as iTunes Wi-Fi Sync, the tool that lets iOS devices sync with desktop iTunes over Wi-Fi. For this process you physically connect a mobile device to a computer once, indicate that the iOS device can trust the computer going forward, and then enable iTunes Wi-Fi Sync from the PC. After that the two devices can sync and communicate whenever they are on the same Wi-Fi network without any further approval from the iPhone or iPad.
It’s a reasonable and useful feature when used as intended. But an attacker could also plant a malicious computer—perhaps one shaped like a charging station or external battery—and trick people into connecting their devices and granting trust out of confusion or disinterest.
Once a trusted Wi-Fi Sync connection is established, attackers can not only do basic syncing, but also take advantage of controls meant for developers to manipulate the victim iOS device. A hacker could work quickly to install malware on the phone, or initiate a backup to gather data like a victim’s photos, app information, and SMS/iMessage chats. Attackers with trust privileges could also start watching a target device’s screen in real-time by initiating screenshots on the phone and then syncing them to the attack computer. Or they could play a long game, silently retaining their trusted status until it is long forgotten, for a future attack.
“We discovered this by mistake actually,” Sharabani says. “Roy was doing research and he connected his own iPhone to his own computer to access it. But accidentally he realized that he was not actually connected to his own phone. He was connected to one of his team members’ phones who had connected their mobile device to Roy’s desktop a few weeks before. So Roy started to dig into what exactly he could do and find out if he were an attacker.”
You can imagine a number of scenarios where this could work as a targeted attack. Everyone has places they visit regularly: an office, a coffee shop, the local library. Attackers could anticipate that a victim iOS device would regularly connect to the same Wi-Fi network as the trusted attacker computer—enabling clandestine, malicious backups with iTunes Wi-Fi Sync. The researchers point out that an attacker wouldn’t necessarily be geographically limited; after gaining a foothold, they could combine trustjacking with a type of attack called “malicious profiles,” which takes advantage of how iOS manages configuration packages for apps to get around access restrictions, establish continuous remote access. Beginning in iOS 10, though, Apple started making it harder for hackers to carry out malicious profile attacks.
It’s tempting to put the onus on the iPhone owner here; you shouldn’t, after all, connect with sketchy computers an trust them in the first place. And Apple, which declined to comment for this story, seems to agree. When Sharabani and Iarchy disclosed their findings to the company, it did add a second prompt in iOS 11 to require a device’s passcode as part of authorizing a new computer as trusted. This makes it more difficult for anyone other than the device owner to establish trust.
But Sharabani and Iarchy argue that it’s unreasonable to put it entirely on the user to make the correct choice about trusting a device, especially since the authorization persists indefinitely once it’s established. There’s also currently no way to see a list of devices that have outstanding trusted status.
In these transactions, iOS’s wording is also unhelpful. The prompts say, “Trust this computer? Your settings and data will be accessible from this computer when connected,” which might seem to mean that nothing will be exposed when the devices are no longer physically connected. In fact, given that Wi-Fi sync can be enabled in desktop iTunes without any involvement of the mobile device, there’s much more potential for long-term connection than users may realize.
Consider, too, that an attacker who successfully infects a target’s PC with malware can exploit the trust a victim grants his own computer. A user will obviously trust their own computer, and their phone and PC will frequently be on the same Wi-Fi network. So an attacker who has infected a target’s computer can get a two-for-one of also having regular access to the victim’s iOS devices.
“Apple took the very quick act of adding the passcode,” Sharabani notes. “With that said, this is a design problem. They could better design the future behavior of the features, but it will take them time to implement. That’s why it’s so important to alert users and raise awareness. Users need to understand the implications.”
Sharabani and Iarchy say they haven’t seen trustjacking attacks in the wild so far, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there or coming. And though Apple doesn’t offer a list of the computers an iOS device trusts, it is possible to scrub the trusted computers list entirely. In iOS 11 users can go to Settings > General > Reset > Reset Location & Privacy to get a clean slate, after which people can start to be more cognizant of which computers they authorize. (Note that doing this reset also revokes all specially granted app permissions.) Another helpful defense for users is to encrypt iOS device backups with a strong password. With this turned on, an attacker abusing Wi-Fi Sync can still make their own backups of a victim device, but they will be encrypted with whatever password the target chose.
The researchers see iOS’s authorization prompts as a single point of failure, where the operating system could provide a few more prompts in exchange for more layers of defense against trustjacking. No one wants one seemingly insignificant mistake to blow up in their face weeks or months later. But while users wait for Apple to architect long-term solutions, their best defense is to become discerning and extremely selective about doling out trust.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL], viewed with suspicion in congress as a potential threat to U.S. national security, has laid off five employees at its Washington office and slashed lobbying expenditures, according to sources familiar with the matter and government filings.
FILE PHOTO: The Huawei logo is seen during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 26, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
Huawei, the world’s third largest smartphone maker, let go its vice president of external affairs Bill Plummer and four other people in the Washington office, sources said. The New York Times was first to report the shake-up.
The company also slashed lobbying expenditures to $60,000 in 2017 from $348,500 in 2016, according to Huawei filings.
“Like every company, we continually evaluate our organization and align our resources to support our business strategy and objectives,” a Huawei spokesman said. “Any changes to staffing size or structure are simply a reflection of standard business optimization.”
The retrenchment comes amid a steady drip of bad news for the Chinese telecommunications company prompted by concerns by U.S. national security experts and China hawks who are loath to see equipment made by a Chinese firm installed in the U.S. telecommunications network.
In February, two Republican U.S. senators introduced legislation that would block the government from buying or leasing telecommunications equipment from Huawei or China’s ZTE Corp , citing concerns that the companies might use their access to spy on U.S. officials.
Such concerns have extended to handsets. In January, AT&T Inc was forced to scrap a plan to offer its customers Huawei handsets after some members of Congress lobbied against the idea with federal regulators.
The United States this week banned American firms from selling parts and software to ZTE for seven years. Washington accused ZTE of violating an agreement on punishing employees after the company illegally shipped U.S. goods to Iran.
Despite being hampered in getting a foothold in the U.S. market, Shenzhen-based Huawei saw net profit rise to 47.5 billion yuan ($7.3 billion) in 2017, sharply up from a 0.4 percent increase in 2016. The rise was partly the result of a 85 percent drop in net financing expenses and partly due to higher revenue.
Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by David Gregorio
LONDON (Reuters) – A British technology firm has been awarded a contract by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to use biometric facial verification technology to improve border control, the first foreign firm to win such a contract in the United States.
London-based iProov will develop technology to improve border controls at unmanned ports of entry with a verification system that uses the traveller’s cell phone.
British trade minister Liam Fox said in a statement on Monday that the contract was “one example of our shared economic and security ties” with the United States.
IProov said it was the first non-U.S. firm to be awarded a contract under the Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP), which is run by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate.
Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Michael Holden
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s digital chief will meet with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in San Francisco as the world’s largest social network faces increasing scrutiny over its use of personal data.
FILE PHOTO: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo
Privacy concerns have swamped Facebook since it acknowledged last month that information about millions of users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, a firm that has counted U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral campaign among its clients.
Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice President in charge of digital issues will meet with Zuckerberg on Tuesday, as well as meeting with Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, to discuss issues such as data protection, online privacy, illegal content and fake news.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg spoke to Ansip’s justice counterpart last week in what was described as an open and constructive discussion.
A tough new EU data protection law entering into force on May 25 has acquired new prominence following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, with European policymakers saying it will set a standard worldwide.
Zuckerberg has also been asked to speak before the European Parliament to explain how Europeans’ Facebook data may have been misused.
Reporting by Julia Fioretti, editing by David Evans
Streaming service Netflix is famous for its unique culture. The most well-known example is the company’s no-vacation policy, which allows employees to take off as many days as they choose, whenever they choose. That policy is just a symbol of a broader attitude in the company, according to CEO Reed Hastings.
“There’s a whole lot of that freedom,” Hastings said on stage Saturday, at the TED conference in Vancouver. He purposely built Netflix to have a culture of open information sharing after his first company, Pure Software, struggled because it was too obsessed with creating processes to prevent mistakes from happening. “We were trying to dummy-proof the system, and eventually only dummies wanted to work there,” he said. Workers across the company are given updates on a wide range of Netflix’s projects, not just the ones their department is working on.
The Netflix culture of information sharing builds a sense of responsibility among employees, Hastings said. “We’re like the anti-Apple. They compartmentalize, we do the opposite. Everyone gets all the information.” He added: “I find out about big decisions made all the time that I had nothing to do with.”
That’s why Hastings promotes courage as a fundamental value at the company. “We want people to speak the truth, and we say, ‘To disagree silently is disloyal.’” He added, “It’s not ok to let a decision go through without saying your piece. We’re very focused on trying to get to good decisions with a good debate.”
Netflix, which recently turned 20, has had some time to foster this culture. In contrast, Facebook, where Hastings is a board director, is 14. When asked about Facebook’s recent privacy scandal and two years of negative headlines, Hastings noted that Facebook and other social media companies “are clearly trying to grow up quickly.”
He compared social media to television, which was viewed in the 1960s as “a vast wasteland” sure to rot the minds of humanity. “It turns out everybody was fine and there was some adjustment. I think of it as, all new technology has pros and cons and social media is figuring that out,” he said.
But has Facebook been completely unfairly criticized? “Oh, it’s not completely unfairly,” he said. He added, in a show of support for Facebook’s CEO, “Mark [Zuckerberg] is leading the charge on fixing Facebook and he’s very passionate about that.”
Hastings has not withheld criticism in his capacity as a board director in the past. He questioned fellow board director Peter Thiel’s support of Donald Trump and fitness to serve on the Facebook board, even offering to resign after the communications became public, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Hastings could leave Facebook’s board for another reason. As Facebook has moved deeper into original content, including acquiring rights to stream sporting events, speculation has swirled that Hastings could step down for competitive reasons. Indeed, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg resigned from Walt Disney Co.’s board in March, citing conflicts of interest. Last spring, Hastings said his board seat had not created a “big conflict, yet” because Facebook was acquiring different types of content than Netflix.
As seemingly every tech giant converges around original video content, Netflix, the “anti-Apple” company which started out mailing people DVDs, is finding itself up against all of Silicon Valley. Last year Apple announced it would spend $1 billion acquiring and developing original content for a forthcoming streaming service. Amazon spent $4.5 billion acquiring non-sports content in 2017 and Hulu spent $2.5 billion.
But Netflix is not shrinking from the competition. The company has plans to spend around $8 billion on content with the aim of making half of that original. Hastings doesn’t think the eye-popping spending is enough. “There are so many great shows on other networks, so we have a long way to go,” he said. Besides, he added, “that’s spread globally so it’s not as much as it sounds.” (The TED audience, which included numerous billionaires, politely chuckled.)
Hastings clearly enjoys of the spoils of fierce completion. “I love competing, I love going up against Disney and HBO, that’s what gets me going,” he said. He has already taken on Hollywood—the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley are next.
Twenty-seven years ago, a group of physicists made an accidental discovery that flipped mathematics on its head. The physicists were trying to work out the details of string theory when they observed a strange correspondence: Numbers emerging from one kind of geometric world matched exactly with very different kinds of numbers from a very different kind of geometric world.
Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.
To physicists, the correspondence was interesting. To mathematicians, it was preposterous. They’d been studying these two geometric settings in isolation from each other for decades. To claim that they were intimately related seemed as unlikely as asserting that at the moment an astronaut jumps on the moon, some hidden connection causes his sister to jump back on earth.
“It looked totally outrageous,” said David Morrison, a mathematician at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and one of the first mathematicians to investigate the matching numbers.
Nearly three decades later, incredulity has long since given way to revelation. The geometric relationship that the physicists first observed is the subject of one of the most flourishing fields in contemporary mathematics. The field is called mirror symmetry, in reference to the fact that these two seemingly distant mathematical universes appear somehow to reflect each other exactly. And since the observation of that first correspondence—a set of numbers on one side that matched a set of numbers on the other—mathematicians have found many more instances of an elaborate mirroring relationship: Not only do the astronaut and his sister jump together, they wave their hands and dream in unison, too.
Recently, the study of mirror symmetry has taken a new turn. After years of discovering more examples of the same underlying phenomenon, mathematicians are closing in on an explanation for why the phenomenon happens at all.
“We’re getting to the point where we’ve found the ground. There’s a landing in sight,” said Denis Auroux, a mathematician at the University of California, Berkeley.
The effort to come up with a fundamental explanation for mirror symmetry is being advanced by several groups of mathematicians. They are closing in on proofs of the central conjectures in the field. Their work is like uncovering a form of geometric DNA—a shared code that explains how two radically different geometric worlds could possibly hold traits in common.
Discovering the Mirror
What would eventually become the field of mirror symmetry began when physicists went looking for some extra dimensions. As far back as the late 1960s, physicists had tried to explain the existence of fundamental particles—electrons, photons, quarks—in terms of minuscule vibrating strings. By the 1980s, physicists understood that in order to make “string theory” work, the strings would have to exist in 10 dimensions—six more than the four-dimensional space-time we can observe. They proposed that what went on in those six unseen dimensions determined the observable properties of our physical world.
“You might have this small space that you can’t see or measure directly, but some aspects of the geometry of that space might influence real-world physics,” said Mark Gross, a mathematician at the University of Cambridge.
Eventually, they came up with potential descriptions of the six dimensions. Before getting to them, though, it’s worth thinking for a second about what it means for a space to have a geometry.
Consider a beehive and a skyscraper. Both are three-dimensional structures, but each has a very different geometry: Their layouts are different, the curvature of their exteriors is different, their interior angles are different. Similarly, string theorists came up with very different ways to imagine the missing six dimensions.
One method arose in the mathematical field of algebraic geometry. Here, mathematicians study polynomial equations—for example, x2 + y2 = 1—by graphing their solutions (a circle, in this case). More-complicated equations can form elaborate geometric spaces. Mathematicians explore the properties of those spaces in order to better understand the original equations. Because mathematicians often use complex numbers, these spaces are commonly referred to as “complex” manifolds (or shapes).
The other type of geometric space was first constructed by thinking about physical systems such as orbiting planets. The coordinate values of each point in this kind of geometric space might specify, for example, a planet’s location and momentum. If you take all possible positions of a planet together with all possible momenta, you get the “phase space” of the planet—a geometric space whose points provide a complete description of the planet’s motion. This space has a “symplectic” structure that encodes the physical laws governing the planet’s motion.
Symplectic and complex geometries are as different from one another as beeswax and steel. They make very different kinds of spaces. Complex shapes have a very rigid structure. Think again of the circle. If you wiggle it even a little, it’s no longer a circle. It’s an entirely distinct shape that can’t be described by a polynomial equation. Symplectic geometry is much floppier. There, a circle and a circle with a little wiggle in it are almost the same.
“Algebraic geometry is a more rigid world, whereas symplectic geometry is more flexible,” said Nick Sheridan, a research fellow at Cambridge. “That’s one reason they’re such different worlds, and it’s so surprising they end up being equivalent in a deep sense.”
In the late 1980s, string theorists came up with two ways to describe the missing six dimensions: one derived from symplectic geometry, the other from complex geometry. They demonstrated that either type of space was consistent with the four-dimensional world they were trying to explain. Such a pairing is called a duality: Either one works, and there’s no test you could use to distinguish between them.
Physicists then began to explore just how far the duality extended. As they did so, they uncovered connections between the two kinds of spaces that grabbed the attention of mathematicians.
In 1991, a team of four physicists—Philip Candelas, Xenia de la Ossa, Paul Green and Linda Parkes—performed a calculation on the complex side and generated numbers that they used to make predictions about corresponding numbers on the symplectic side. The prediction had to do with the number of different types of curves that could be drawn in the six-dimensional symplectic space. Mathematicians had long struggled to count these curves. They had never considered that these counts of curves had anything to do with the calculations on complex spaces that physicists were now using in order to make their predictions.
The result was so far-fetched that at first, mathematicians didn’t know what to make of it. But then, in the months following a hastily convened meeting of physicists and mathematicians in Berkeley, California, in May 1991, the connection became irrefutable. “Eventually mathematicians worked on verifying the physicists’ predictions and realized this correspondence between these two worlds was a real thing that had gone unnoticed by mathematicians who had been studying the two sides of this mirror for centuries,” said Sheridan.
The discovery of this mirror duality meant that in short order, mathematicians studying these two kinds of geometric spaces had twice the number of tools at their disposal: Now they could use techniques from algebraic geometry to answer questions in symplectic geometry, and vice versa. They threw themselves into the work of exploiting the connection.
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
At the same time, mathematicians and physicists set out to identify a common cause, or underlying geometric explanation, for the mirroring phenomenon. In the same way that we can now explain similarities between very different organisms through elements of a shared genetic code, mathematicians attempted to explain mirror symmetry by breaking down symplectic and complex manifolds into a shared set of basic elements called “torus fibers.”
A torus is a shape with a hole in the middle. An ordinary circle is a one-dimensional torus, and the surface of a donut is a two-dimensional torus. A torus can be of any number of dimensions. Glue lots of lower dimensional tori together in just the right way, and you can build a higher dimensional shape out of them.
To take a simple example, picture the surface of the earth. It is a two-dimensional sphere. You could also think of it as being made from many one-dimensional circles (like many lines of latitude) glued together. All these circles stuck together are a “torus fibration” of the sphere—the individual fibers woven together into a greater whole.
Torus fibrations are useful in a few ways. One is that they give mathematicians a simpler way to think of complicated spaces. Just like you can construct a torus fibration of a two-dimensional sphere, you can construct a torus fibration of the six-dimensional symplectic and complex spaces that feature in mirror symmetry. Instead of circles, the fibers of those spaces are three-dimensional tori. And while a six-dimensional symplectic manifold is impossible to visualize, a three-dimensional torus is almost tangible. “That’s already a big help,” said Sheridan.
A torus fibration is useful in another way: It reduces one mirror space to a set of building blocks that you could use to build the other. In other words, you can’t necessarily understand a dog by looking at a duck, but if you break each animal into its raw genetic code, you can look for similarities that might make it seem less surprising that both organisms have eyes.
Here, in a simplified view, is how to convert a symplectic space into its complex mirror. First, perform a torus fibration on the symplectic space. You’ll get a lot of tori. Each torus has a radius (just like a circle—a one-dimensional torus—has a radius). Next, take the reciprocal of the radius of each torus. (So, a torus of radius 4 in your symplectic space becomes a torus of radius ¼ in the complex mirror.) Then use these new tori, with reciprocal radii, to build a new space.
In 1996, Andrew Strominger, Shing-Tung Yau and Eric Zaslow proposed this method as a general approach for converting any symplectic space into its complex mirror. The proposal that it’s always possible to use a torus fibration to move from one side of the mirror to the other is called the SYZ conjecture, after its originators. Proving it has become one of the foundational questions in mirror symmetry (along with the homological mirror symmetry conjecture, proposed by Maxim Kontsevich in 1994).
The SYZ conjecture is hard to prove because, in practice, this procedure of creating a torus fibration and then taking reciprocals of the radii is not easy to do. To see why, return to the example of the surface of the earth. At first it seems easy to stripe it with circles, but at the poles, your circles will have a radius of zero. And the reciprocal of zero is infinity. “If your radius equals zero, you’ve got a bit of a problem,” said Sheridan.
This same difficulty crops up in a more pronounced way when you’re trying to create a torus fibration of a six-dimensional symplectic space. There, you might have infinitely many torus fibers where part of the fiber is pinched down to a point — points with a radius of zero. Mathematicians are still trying to figure out how to work with such fibers. “This torus fibration is really the great difficulty of mirror symmetry,” said Tony Pantev, a mathematician at the University of Pennsylvania.
Put another way: The SYZ conjecture says a torus fibration is the key link between symplectic and complex spaces, but in many cases, mathematicians don’t know how to perform the translation procedure that the conjecture prescribes.
Over the past 27 years, mathematicians have found hundreds of millions of examples of mirror pairs: This symplectic manifold is in a mirror relationship with that complex manifold. But when it comes to understanding why a phenomenon occurs, quantity doesn’t matter. You could assemble an ark’s worth of mammals without coming any closer to understanding where hair comes from.
“We have huge numbers of examples, like 400 million examples. It’s not that there’s a lack of examples, but nevertheless it’s still specific cases that don’t give much of a hint as to why the whole story works,” said Gross.
Mathematicians would like to find a general method of construction—a process by which you could hand them any symplectic manifold and they could hand you back its mirror. And now they believe that they’re getting close to having it. “We’re moving past the case-by-case understanding of the phenomenon,” said Auroux. “We’re trying to prove that it works in as much generality as we can.”
Mathematicians are progressing along several interrelated fronts. After decades building up the field of mirror symmetry, they’re close to understanding the main reasons the field works at all.
One active area of research creates an end run around the SYZ conjecture. It attempts to port geometric information from the symplectic side to the complex side without a complete torus fibration. In 2016, Gross and his longtime collaborator Bernd Siebert of the University of Hamburg posted a general-purpose method for doing so. They are now finishing a proof to establish that the method works for all mirror spaces. “The proof has now been completely written down, but it’s a mess,” said Gross, who said that he and Siebert hope to complete it by the end of the year.
Another major open line of research seeks to establish that, assuming you have a torus fibration, which gives you mirror spaces, then all the most important relationships of mirror symmetry fall out from there. The research program is called “family Floer theory” and is being developed by Mohammed Abouzaid, a mathematician at Columbia University. In March 2017 Abouzaid posted a paper that proved this chain of logic holds for certain types of mirror pairs, but not yet all of them.
And, finally, there is work that circles back to where the field began. A trio of mathematicians—Sheridan, Sheel Ganatra and Timothy Perutz—is building on seminal ideas introduced in 1990s by Kontsevich related to his homological mirror symmetry conjecture.
Cumulatively, these three initiatives would provide a potentially complete encapsulation of the mirror phenomenon. “I think we’re getting to the point where all the big ‘why’ questions are close to being understood,” said Auroux.
Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s Sina Weibo will remove gay and violent content, including pictures, cartoons and text posts, during a three-month clean-up campaign, the microblogging platform said.
FILE PHOTO – A man holds an iPhone as he visits Sina’s Weibo microblogging site in Shanghai May 29, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Friday’s announcement comes amid a clampdown targeting content across social media platforms as China’s leaders look to tighten their grip on a huge and diverse cultural scene popular with the young.
Weibo announced the move on its official administrator’s account, saying the action aimed to comply with China’s new cyber security law that calls for strict data surveillance.
The post drew more than 24,000 comments, was forwarded more than 110,000 times, and prompted users to protest against the decision, using the hashtag “I am gay”.
“I am gay and I’m proud, even if I get taken down there are tens of millions like me!,” said one poster, who used the handle “rou wan xiong xiong xiong xiong” and posted a photo of himself.
Some posts were quickly blocked by the platform, with the message displayed that they contained “illegal content”.
This week, news and online content portal Toutiao, which is luring investors, was forced to pull a joke sharing app after a watchdog denounced its “vulgar and improper content”.
Award-winning gay romance “Call Me By Your Name” was also dropped from a Chinese film festival last month. Homosexuality is not illegal in China, but activists say the conservative attitudes of some parts of society have prompted occasional government clampdowns.
Weibo has so far cleared 56,243 pieces of content, shut 108 user accounts and removed 62 topics considered to have violated its standards, it added.
Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Clarence Fernandez