Facebook removes Thai military-linked information influencing accounts


BANGKOK: Facebook has taken down 185 accounts and groups engaged in an information influencing operation in Thailand run by the military, the company said on Wednesday (Mar 3), the first time it has taken down Thai accounts with ties to the government.

The Thailand-based network removed in the latest sweep of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” on the platform included 77 accounts, 72 pages and 18 groups on Facebook and 18 accounts on Instagram, Facebook said.

The company said the accounts were linked to the Thai military and targeted audiences in the southern provinces of Thailand, where conflict has flared on and off for decades as insurgent groups continue a guerrilla war to demand independence.

Thailand’s military spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

About 7,000 people have been killed during the past 15 years as a result of the insurgency in the Malay-speaking, largely Muslim southern region of predominantly Buddhist Thailand.

“This is the first time that we’ve attributed one of our takedowns to links to the Thai military,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy, told Reuters in a briefing.

“We found clear links between this operation and the Thai military’s Internal Security Operations Command. We can see that all of these accounts and groups are tied together as part of this operation.”

The network, mainly active in 2020, used both fake accounts and authentic ones to manage groups and pages, including overt military pages and those that did not disclose their affiliations with the military, Gleicher said.

POSED AS INDIVIDUALS

Some of the fake accounts posed as individuals from Thailand’s southern provinces, Gleicher said, adding that the network had spent about US$350 on Facebook and Instagram advertisements.

Some 700,000 accounts followed one or more of the pages and about 100,000 accounts joined at least one of the groups, he added.

Gleicher said Facebook took action on the network based on deceptive behaviour and not the content posted, which included support for the military and the monarchy, and allegations of violence and criticism of insurgent groups in southern Thailand.

The move was Facebook’s second takedown of information influencing operations in Thailand, after one in 2019 involving 12 accounts and 10 pages that used “fictitious personas”.

In October, Twitter also took down 926 accounts it said were linked to the Thai army that promoted pro-army and pro-government content. The army denied that it was behind the accounts.

Twitter in November also suspended a Thai pro-royalist account linked to the palace that a Reuters analysis found was connected to thousands of others that spread content in favour of Thailand’s monarchy.

Facebook on Wednesday said it has taken down four other networks from Iran, Russia and Morocco engaged in coordinated inauthentic behaviour.

The company said it has removed more than 100 networks engaged in inauthentic behaviour globally in recent years.



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WhatsApp Getting a Self-Destructing Image Feature Similar to Disappearing Photos on Instagram DM


Facebook-owned instant messaging platform WhatsApp may be working on a new self-destructing images feature that will make images sent on a chat disappear for both the receiver and the sender. This will be similar to the disappearing messages feature that WhatsApp Messenger introduced back in November last year. The upcoming feature was spotted by WABetaInfo, a website that (quite accurately) tracks WhatsApp development.

In a tweet, WABetaInfo said that WhatsApp’s disappearing images feature will be similar to the disappearing image concept of Instagram Direct. From the screenshots shared by WABetaInfo, it can be seen that WhatsApp will add a new toggle button next to the text box in the image preview (while sending images) window. Tapping the toggle button will show a pop-up saying “This media will disappear once you leave this chat.” Users will then be able to share the image that will automatically disappear as soon as they leave the chat.

Those who receive a self-destructing image will also be alerted about the self-destructing traits. Upon opening a disappearing image, users will see a notification with the same message. WABetaInfo also said that WhatsApp won’t allow users to export these self-destructing images. However, there is not measures in place for taking screenshots, giving users a workaround if they wish to save any of the disappearing images they receive. It won’t even alert the sender in case a screenshot is taken for the said image.





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Coworkers who became friends discover they are biological sisters


When Julie Tinetti and Cassandra Madison began working at the same bar in 2013 they hit it off instantly.

Not only did the two women share a striking physical resemblance but Julie, 31, and Cassandra, 32, bonded over the fact that they both tattoos of the Dominican Republic flag.

Both women had gotten the tattoos as a tribute to the fact they had both been adopted from the Central American country as babies by families in the United States.

The discovery immediately prompted both Julie and Cassandra to compare adoption certificates, however, they were disappointed to discover the details on each document didn’t match up.

“Papers said we were from two different cities (with) different last names. And, our mothers’ names on our paperwork were different,” Julie told Good Morning America.

But fast-forward to January this year when Cassandra and Julie discovered they were in fact full biological sisters after they were able to track down their birth family through an ancestry DNA test.

RELATED: Daughter of killer’s paralysing question

‘WE STARTED DRESSING ALIKE’

When they began working together at the Russian Lady Bar in Connecticut, Julie and Cassandra quickly formed a close friendship.

“We become friends, start wearing matching clothes, having a blast together and telling everyone we’re sisters,” Cassandra wrote on Facebook.

“We started hanging out. We would go out for drinks, for dinner. We started dressing alike,” Julie told Good Morning America.

Their friendship continued when the pair stopped working together, with Julie and Cassandra attributing their close bond to the fact they had both been adopted.

But then Cassandra began searching for her birth family two years ago, tracking down her biological dad Adriano Luna Collado through a 23andMe DNA test.

RELATED: ‘My mother sold me into slavery’

‘THEY COULDN’T TAKE CARE OF US’

Sadly Cassandra’s biological mother Yulianna Collado had died in 2015 after a heart attack.

The discovery led Cassandra to discover she had five biological siblings in the Dominican Republic, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that her dad revealed he had another daughter who had been adopted out.

In another surprise twist, Julie’s childhood friend Molly Sapadin, had also been adopted from the Dominican Republic as a baby and bore a resemblance to the two other women.

Molly and Cassandra compared adoption papers, which revealed they had the same last name and Yulianna listed as their birth mother.

But a DNA test ruled out Molly as Cassandra’s biological sister and instead revealed they were distant relatives.

This prompted Cassandra to find out once and for all if she and Julie were related.

RELATED: Step-siblings defend relationship

A DNA test revealed that Cassandra and Julie were what they had long suspected – sisters – while Molly is their third cousin.

Molly and Julie were adopted on the same day and now believe their adoption papers were mixed up by authorities.

Julie and Cassandra have since discovered they were adopted out by their parents as one of their brothers had been seriously ill.

“On top of the DR [Dominican Republic] being a very poor country, they couldn’t take care of us,” Julie told GMA. “I was (born) 17 months later and they weren’t ready.”

“Julia and I are not upset with our biological parents. We understand that they did the best they could with what they had,” Cassandra told Inside Edition.



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Alternative Mardi Gras parade could attract thousands


A fringe group of activists has split from the main Mardi Gras event saying the organisers have lost touch with the community.

One of the organisers, Toby, from Pride In Protest, told news.com.au the Sydney Mardi Gras’ decision to hold a ticketed event at the Sydney Cricket Ground has turned the event into “an absurdity”.

“When we saw the event was going to be in the SCG, a ticketed event, that’s so far out of the realm of us being able to participate in it,” they said.

“A paid event that’s not open for the community? It’s an absurdity,” Toby said.

The decision to allow uniformed police and corrections officers, and members of the Liberal Party to march in the parade has caused major friction in recent years.

This year’s event marks the first time the parade has been ticketed. It will include a performance from pop star Rita Ora.

“Essentially people would be paying $20 to watch the police and the Liberal Party walk around in a circle in the SCG,” Toby said. “That is so far removed from what the event really should be representing.”

RELATED: Complete guide to the Sydney Mardi Gras 2021

RELATED: Call to ban cops from Mardi Gras

The alternative march, at 2pm this Saturday, has attracted 4200 attendees on Facebook.

“The spirit of Mardi Gras is political and it’s open to the community — so we wanted to provide that for people,” Toby said.

“What it means for us is we should be pushing for the political demands we need today and we should give people a chance to march for those issues.

“One of (our issues) is the increasing corporatisation of the event which means a lot of the floats are just dedicated to financial sponsors of the event.

“The other issue causes the most tension is that the police and correctional services march in uniform at the parade.

“We see this as increasingly not representing what Mardi Gras should be doing, which is being a political rally about our rights today.”

Toby also said Pride in Protest take issue with the Liberal Party marching in the parade, linking the Party to anti-Trans legislation proposals, and offshore detention. He said the issues have been simmering for about four years.

A former Mardi Gras board associate Katherine Wolfgramme earlier called the organisers a “bunch of troublemakers” in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.

Another Mardi Gras board member said Pride In Protest “care about every far left cause that is out there and I think it frustrates them that Mardi Gras as a business”.

The board member continued: “You can’t run it as an organisation that tries to address every social issue which is out there.”

“The driving force for Mardi Gras has to be looking for LGBTQ people and that is it because that is what unites us as a group.”

The Mardi Gras March 2021: Take Over Oxford Street was organised by a collective of six LGBTIQ affiliated community organisations, who plan to walk the original route of the 1978 Mardi Gras.

Toby said the group has five main demands, including an end to a “transphobic” religious freedom bill proposed by the Morrison Government.

The group also opposes a NSW Parliament bill, introduced by Mark Latham, that looks to restrict the discussion of gender in classrooms.

Toby said the bill could lead to “teachers being deregistered if they recognise their trans students”.

Two other main demands of the march are #NoPrideInDetention and #BlackLivesMatter.

“We can’t say at all that we’ve won all the rights that we have today until every single member of our community has those rights,” Toby said.

“A huge amount of people in detention are queer, and often that’s why they’ve sought asylum, because (in some other countries) homosexuality is illegal.”

The organisers also want all sex work decriminalised, and all drugs legalised.



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Remains found at Mollymook Beach identified as missing Ingleburn man


Human remains found on the NSW south coast belong to a missing Ingleburn man, police say.

It comes a day after NSW Police ruled out the remains found at a beach at Mollymook late on Friday belonged to alleged fraudster Melissa Caddick.

On Wednesday, the force said the remains had been determined to belong to a man reported missing from Sydney last month.

The 37-year-old man was last seen at an ATM in Kiama about 1.30pm on Monday, after he caught a train from Ingleburn.

Officers from Campbelltown City Police Area Command commenced inquiries to locate the man and will continue to lead investigations into the his final movements.

His death is not being treated as suspicious.

Police were called to the Mollymook Beach about 6.30pm on Friday, after a member of the public located human remains.

It came hours after police told the public about discovering Ms Caddick’s badly decomposed foot in an Asics running shoe at Bournda Beach the previous Sunday.

After campers found Ms Caddick’s shoe on February 21 police confirmed the foot inside belonged to her by comparing DNA from her toothbrush.

Mystery of what happened to Ms Caddick continues, with police not ruling out foul play or that she might have taken her own life.



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WhatsApp iOS Update Brings New Animations, Ability to Disable Read Receipts for Voice Messages


Facebook-owned instant messaging platform WhatsApp is getting an update on iOS that brings some new features like a new animation for voice messages and disables receipts for voice messages, depending on the users’ read receipt settings. The new update comes as version 2.21.40 on iOS and has been made live on the App Store. Somehow, the WhatsApp listing on the App Store does not show any new changes in the changelog (it shows changes from the previous update). This is the first iOS update for WhatsApp since the app was updated back in November 2020 with features like disappearing messages.

While the App Store listing does not mention any update in the changelog, a report in WABetaInfo details the minor updates version 2.21.40 has brought on the iOS app. The update brings a new progress bar animation for voice messages. Once a voice messages reaches the end, the seeker jumps back to the start. This animation, according to the changes detailed by WABetaInfo, is only there on devices running on iOS 13 and later. Apart from the new voice note animation, the new update also brings changes to the read receipts for voice messages. Now, if a read receipt is disabled from the settings, it will be implemented in voice messages as well. A sender won’t be able to see if the reciever has listended to the voice message. Read receipts can be disabled by going into Settings > Account > Privacy > Read Receipts.

The ability to disable read receipts is not there on the Android version of WhatsApp. It is not known if WhatsApp is planning to bring the update to the Android version, but the WABetaInfor report said that there is also a possibility that WhatsApp may remove the feature from the next iOS update.





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Countdown Begins for ISRO’s First Mission in 2021, Brazil’s Amazonia-1 on Board


If things go as planned, an Indian rocket will launch a Brazilian satellite for the first time from Sriharikota spaceport on Sunday. It’s also Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) first launch of 2021.

Subject to weather conditions, the blastoff is scheduled at 10.24 hours from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota, where countdown commenced at 08.54 hours on Saturday for the PSLV-C51/Amazonia-1 mission. PSLV-C51 rocket, which is the 53rd mission of PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), will launch Amazonia-1 of Brazil as primary satellite and 18 co-passenger payloads from the first launch pad of the Sriharikota spaceport in Andhra Pradesh’s Nellore district, about 100 kms from Chennai.

These co-passenger satellites include Satish Dhawan Sat (SD SAT) from Chennai-based Space Kidz India (SKI). A picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been engraved on the top panel of this spacecraft. “This is to show solidarity and gratitude for his (PM’s) Aatmanirbhar initiative and space privatisation”, said SKI, which is also sending up “Bagavad Gita” in SD (secured digital) card.

It’s also a big day for Bengaluru-headquartered ISRO’s commercial arm NewSpace India Limited (NSIL). PSLV-C51/Amazonia-1 is the first dedicated commercial mission of NSIL, which is undertaking it under a commercial arrangement with Seattle, US-based satellite rideshare and mission management provider, Spaceflight Inc.

“We are eagerly looking forward to the launch. We are very proud to launch the first Brazilian-built satellite, Chairman and Managing Director of NSIL, G Narayanan, told PTI. The 637-kg Amazonia-1, which will be the first Brazilian satellite to be launched from India, is the optical earth observation satellite of National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

“This satellite would further strengthen the existing structure by providing remote sensing data to users for monitoring deforestation in the Amazon region and analysis of diversified agriculture across the Brazilian territory,” an ISRO statement said. In view of the strict COVID-19 pandemic norms in place at SDSC SHAR, Sriharikota, gathering of media personnel is not planned there and launch viewing gallery will be closed.

However, the live telecast of the launch will be available on ISRO website, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter channels. The 18 co-passenger satellites are: four from ISRO’s Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (three UNITYsats from consortium of three Indian academic institutes and the SD SAT from SKI) and 14 from NSIL.

SKI will also be sending 25,000 names on board SD SAT.”When we finalised the mission, we had asked people to send the names that will be sent to space”, an SKI official said.





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Tiger shark caught by Sydney fisherman on boat near Botany Bay


A photo has captured the moment a group of Sydney game fishermen reeled in a shark so big it dwarfed their boat.

Port Hacking Game Fishing Club member Paul Barning and his crew caught a 395kg tiger shark during a competition off the coast of Sydney.

The massive shark was brought in with a 15kg break line and it was caught between Botany Bay and Port Hacking during the NSW Game Fishing Interclub State championship during the weekend.

An incredible photo of the scene shows the crew’s boat, ‘Dark Horse’, almost overwhelmed by the size of the shark.

The tiger shark barely fits onto the vessel and its head is almost the same size as the boat’s Honda engine.

Six crew members on board can be seen working hard to get in on the boat.

Once ashore, the tiger shark was weighed and given to scientists for marine research.

According NSW Game Fishing Association records, the biggest tiger shark ever caught weighed 694.kg and was a male captured at Swansea near Newcastle in 2008

Mr Barning commented on a post about the shark that it “took 45 minutes” to reel in.

Tiger sharks can grow up to 6m in length and weigh up to a tonne. They are born measuring between 50cm-75cm in length while the average tiger shark grows to 287cm-330cm.

Most of the comment reactions to the Port Hacking Game Fishing’s post about the shark were positive, with one use responding “what a cracker of a shark!”

However, some comments were negative with one user asking, “What’s the thrill of killing something for the sake of it?”
Tiger sharks are not a protected species in Australia but many groups, such as the Australian Marine Conservation Society, believe they should be due to a study showing a 71 per cent decline in their population during the past 30 years.

On Sunday the same fishing club posted a picture of another big catch – a 340kg shark caught by the crew of a boat appropriately named The Undertaker.



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A Losing Battle For Facebook Because Privacy Always Wins With Users


It is nothing new. Facebook has been, to anyone willing to hear, complaining about why it feels that Apple’s new and incoming privacy measures with the iOS 14.5 update for the Apple iPhone and the iPadOS 14.5 update for the Apple iPad, are plainly wrong. All the complaints would have you believe that Apple has a single-minded vendetta against Facebook, the social media giant, and against the small businesses that end up advertising on Facebook, Instagram and other social media networks and web-based platforms. In fact, Facebook has launched a new advertising campaign called ‘Good Ideas Deserve to be Found’ in which they say that Apple is taking away the gift of personalized advertisements. Facebook criticizes Apple of attacking small businesses. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Before you make up your mind that personalized adverts are a great thing (which they may be, no one is debating that), you need to understand how they work. There are many apps that feed off your data, knowingly or not, to serve you advertisements on apps and websites. That is their business model. They track you across apps and websites that you access on your smartphone, build a virtual profile based on what you are browsing for, what you are shopping for and what other ads you click on, to serve you personalized adverts which further increases the chances of you clicking on them, resulting in a purchase. You might have often wondered why you see ads very similar to something that you browsed on a shopping website a couple of days ago, on your Facebook or Instagram newsfeed. That’s exactly how.

So, what is Apple doing? The App Tracking Transparency feature that will bring to the forefront a control that would allow users to stop apps from tracking them across apps and websites on their iPhone or iPad. For instance, when you open an app on your iPhone, for the first time or after an update, you will be asked, “Allow XYZ to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?” The two options you will have at this stage would be “Ask App not to Track” or “Allow”. The App Tracking Transparency feature will be part of the Privacy menu in the Settings app. This is another addition to the privacy dialup that Apple has implemented with iOS 14 for the iPhone.

You must notice two things here. First, Apple is not ending data tracking and secondly, Apple is not putting an end to personalized advertisements. What is Apple doing? Simply, the company is ending the free run that apps and web platforms have had till now with tracking your usage habits without even a beg your pardon and will now make them ask you for explicit permission, before they can track you. Apps such as Facebook have built entire business models based on your data, without ever asking for your permission for collecting that, at most times.

In a blog post, Facebook says, “Everyone’s News Feed is unique, which means you’re more likely to see content you want to watch, groups you want to join, creators you want to follow, and products and services you want to buy. This discovery is all powered by personalization, and it’s the not-so-secret sauce that helps people discover products and services that match their needs.” And then carries on portraying a very bleak future for small business and also cite their own Facebook 2020 US State of Small Business Report which suggests 47% of small businesses are saying they might not survive the next six months or are unsure of how long they will stay afloat if current circumstances persist. Earlier this year as well, Facebook has taken the help of some data to paint a bleak picture. “Our studies show that when running ads on the Facebook family of apps to drive sales on their websites, small businesses saw a cut of over 60% of their sales, on average, for every dollar they spent when they weren’t able to use their own data to find customers on Facebook,” Facebook had said at the time.

The number, for sure, seems quite high. And in the larger scheme of things, quite worrying. But on their website which makes this claim, Facebook doesn’t exactly say how it has reached this figure, which we assume would be based on two comparative studies. All the social network says in the explanation is “we compared the aggregated results of advertising campaigns that used the advertisers’ own data to optimize for purchases on the advertisers’ websites compared to the results of only using the ad platform’s data. The research analysis includes over 25,000 global advertising campaigns where advertisers were optimizing for purchases run in 2019.”

And this is exactly the number and perception that was preemptively put into perspective by research firm Deloitte in the Digital Tools in Crisis and Recovery: Small and Medium Business Report from October. Simply put, Facebooks says that small businesses would suffer a 60% cut in revenues if they are not able to do personalized advertising. The Deloitte study suggests that just 34% small and medium businesses increased targeted or personalized advertising since the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, with the largest share of that targeted advertising on social media being taken by Telecom and Technology businesses. Among the small and medium businesses around the world, of the percentage of SMBs surveyed for the report, the maximum focus was on India where 62% of such businesses focused on targeted adverts or paid marketing activities on social media. The survey included more than 4,300 SMBs across 17 countries.

While Facebook may continue to rely on advertising to tell us how amazing personalized advertising may be for us, there isn’t a scenario in which Apple is likely to walk back on the promise of implementing App Tracking Transparency. “We believe users should have the choice over the data that is being collected about them and how it’s used. Facebook can continue to track users across apps and websites as before, App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 will just require that they ask for your permission first,” Apple CEO Tim Cook has already said in a tweet.

What probably worries Facebook is that once Apple does it, Google may also be next to implement such an explicit approval requirement for data tracking, on Android, Google Chrome and more apps and platforms. And that could spell big trouble for Facebook’s business model. And there is that admission, even though it’ll never be worded as such, that when given a choice, most users may not allow apps such as Facebook to track them across the length and breadth of the world wide web. Small businesses can still use the data from users who allow tracking. Small businesses can still use the data Facebook has on users (age, gender, interests, location etc.) and serve their advertisements. And for those who are already customers, small businesses can reach out to them directly anyway. It is Facebook that stands to lose the most, in the middle of all this. The Apple iOS 14.5 arrives anytime now, and we could be embracing a new era of online advertising.





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