MEMPHIS, Tenn.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Frontdoor, Inc. (NASDAQ: FTDR), the nation’s leading provider of home service plans, today published its first corporate sustainability report. Frontdoor is committed to developing environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives that strengthen its value as a service provider, employer and global corporate citizen.
The company’s sustainability journey has been marked by meaningful initiatives and impacts since the company’s inception. This report reflects the company’s dedication to transparency in action and highlights its work in areas such as corporate governance, privacy and information security, employee relations and diversity and inclusion, community relations and environmental sustainability.
“We have made significant progress in our three years as a standalone company, and I’m proud of the meaningful work that our team is doing in this area,” said Rex Tibbens, president and chief executive officer of Frontdoor. “We are in the early stages of our journey but are committed to continuing to strengthen our practices and disclosures and operating in a way that benefits those in the world around us.”
In its 2021 sustainability report, the company shares an overview of its activities in four key areas: strengthening the company, supporting its people, serving communities and sustaining the world.
Highlights of Frontdoor’s 2021 sustainability report include:
Appliance contractors who leveraged Streem technology, which uses augmented reality, computer vision and machine learning, to facilitate more remote service calls reported a 6 to 7 percent reduction in onsite diagnostic service trips from January 1, 2021 through November 30, 2021.
Frontdoor and the economy rely on skilled labor. In 2021, Frontdoor invested in the next generation of contractors in partnership with two trade schools, awarding more than two dozen scholarships to students pursuing a career in the skilled trades.
Creating a vibrant, productive workforce begins with a rewarding pay program. Frontdoor offers competitive compensation, including a $15 minimum wage, which is informed by benchmarking analysis and reviewed for equity.
Frontdoor received over 2 million service requests for appliances, water heaters and HVAC systems for the twelve months ended October 31, 2021, helping to enhance efficient consumption of natural resources and avoid waste through repair and refurbishment.
“The 2021 sustainability report is the first of many and demonstrates our belief that responsibility begins with accountability,” said Tibbens. “As we move forward, each year we will strive to make progress in the areas outlined in the document and ensure that our business practices are impactful, meaningful and sustainable over time.”
Visit frontdoorhome.com to view or download the company’s full sustainability report. The report incorporates disclosures under both the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) frameworks.
Frontdoor is a company that’s obsessed with taking the hassle out of owning a home. With services powered by people and enabled by technology, it is the parent company of four home service plan brands: American Home Shield, HSA, Landmark and OneGuard, as well as ProConnect, an on-demand membership service for home repairs and maintenance, and Streem, a technology company that enables businesses to serve customers through an enhanced augmented reality, computer vision and machine learning platform. Frontdoor serves 2.2 million customers across the U.S. through a network of approximately 17,500 pre-qualified contractor firms that employ an estimated 62,000 technicians. The company’s customizable home service plans help customers protect and maintain their homes from costly and unexpected breakdowns of essential home systems and appliances. With 50 years of home services experience, the company responds to over four million service requests annually. For details, visit frontdoorhome.com.
This news release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These forward-looking statements are based on management’s current expectations and beliefs, as well as a number of assumptions concerning future events. These statements are subject to risks, uncertainties, assumptions and other important factors. Readers are cautioned not to put undue reliance on such forward-looking statements because actual results may vary materially from those expressed or implied. The reports filed by Frontdoor pursuant to United States securities laws contain discussions of these risks and uncertainties. Frontdoor assumes no obligation to, and expressly disclaims any obligation to, update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. Readers are advised to review Frontdoor’s filings with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (which are available on the SEC’s EDGAR database at www.sec.gov and via Frontdoor’s website at investors.frontdoorhome.com).
On a Sunday night in September, Ashley Estrada was at a friend’s home in Los Angeles when she received a strange notification on her iPhone: “AirTag Detected Near You.”
An AirTag is a 1.26-inch disc with location-tracking capabilities that Apple started selling earlier this year as a way “to keep track of your stuff.” Ms. Estrada, 24, didn’t own one, nor did the friends she was with. The notification on her phone said the AirTag had first been spotted with her four hours earlier. A map of the AirTag’s history showed the zigzag path Ms. Estrada had driven across the city while running errands.
“I felt so violated,” she said. “I just felt like, who’s tracking me? What was their intent with me? It was scary.”
posted on TikTok, Reddit and Twitter about finding AirTags on their cars and in their belongings. There is growing concern that the devices may be abetting a new form of stalking, which privacy groups predicted could happen when Apple introduced the devices in April.
warned its community of the tracking potential of the devices after an AirTag was found on a car bumper. Apple complied with a subpoena for information about the AirTag in the case, which may lead to charges, West Seneca police said.
And in Canada, a local police department said that it had investigated five incidents of thieves placing AirTags on “high-end vehicles so they can later locate and steal them.”
Researchers now believe AirTags, which are equipped with Bluetooth technology, could be revealing a more widespread problem of tech-enabled tracking. They emit a digital signal that can be detected by devices running Apple’s mobile operating system. Those devices then report where an AirTag has last been seen. Unlike similar tracking products from competitors such as Tile, Apple added features to prevent abuse, including notifications like the one Ms. Estrada received and automatic beeping. (Tile plans to release a feature to prevent the tracking of people next year, a spokeswoman for that company said.)
“Apple automatically turned every iOS device into part of the network that AirTags use to report the location of an AirTag,” Ms. Galperin said. “The network that Apple has access to is larger and more powerful than that used by the other trackers. It’s more powerful for tracking and more dangerous for stalking.”
Apple does not disclose sales figures, but the tiny $29 AirTags have proved popular, selling out consistently since their unveiling.
An Apple spokesman, Alex Kirschner, said in a statement that the company takes customer safety “very seriously” and is “committed to AirTag’s privacy and security.” He said the small devices have features that inform users if an unknown AirTag might be with them and that deter bad actors from using an AirTag for nefarious purposes.
“If users ever feel their safety is at risk, they are encouraged to contact local law enforcement who can work with Apple to provide any available information about the unknown AirTag,” Mr. Kirschner said.
Police could ask Apple to provide information about the owner of the AirTag, potentially identifying the culprit. But some of the people who spoke with The Times were unable to find the associated AirTags they were notified of and said the police do not always take reports of the notifications on their phones seriously.
After a Friday night out with her boyfriend this month, Erika Torres, a graduate music student in New Orleans, was notified by her iPhone that an “unknown accessory” had been detected near her over a two-hour period, moving with her from a bar to her home.
other devices could set off the alert, including AirPods. When Ms. Torres posted a video about her experience to YouTube, a dozen people commented about it happening to them. “The number of reports makes me think there must be some sort of glitch that is causing all these people to experience this,” Ms. Torres said. “I hope they’re not all being stalked.”
posted a video of her ordeal on TikTok, which went viral.
“Apple probably released this product with the intent to do good, but this shows that the technology can be used for good and bad purposes,” Ms. Estrada said.
Ms. Estrada said she was told by a Los Angeles police dispatcher that her situation was a nonemergency and that if she wanted to file a report she’d have to bring the device with her to the station in the morning. She didn’t want to wait and disposed of it after taking several photos.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles police told The Times that the department had not heard of cases in which an AirTag had been used to track a person or a vehicle. But Ms. Estrada said that after she posted her TikTok video, an Apple employee, acting on their own, contacted her. The employee was able to connect the AirTag to a woman whose address was in Central Los Angeles.
Another woman was notified by her iPhone that she was being tracked by an “unknown accessory” after leaving her gym in November. When she got home, she called the police.
pushed an update to AirTags to cause them to start beeping within a day of being away from their linked devices, down from three days. Still, “they don’t beep very loudly,” Ms. Galperin said.
A person who doesn’t own an iPhone might have a harder time detecting an unwanted AirTag. AirTags aren’t compatible with Android smartphones. Earlier this month, Apple released an Android app that can scan for AirTags — but you have to be vigilant enough to download it and proactively use it.
Apple declined to say if it was working with Google on technology that would allow Android phones to automatically detect its trackers.
People who said they have been tracked have called Apple’s safeguards insufficient. Ms. Estrada said she was notified four hours after her phone first noticed the rogue gadget. Others said it took days before they were made aware of an unknown AirTag. According to Apple, the timing of the alerts can vary depending on the iPhone’s operating system and location settings.
The devices’ inconsistencies have caused confusion for people who weren’t necessarily being tracked nefariously. Mary Ford, a 17-year-old high school student from Cary, N.C., received a notification in late October that she was being tracked by an unknown AirTag after driving to an appointment. She panicked as she searched her car.
Ms. Ford only realized it wasn’t a threat when her mother revealed she had put the tracker in the vehicle about two weeks earlier to follow her daughter’s whereabouts.
“I was nervous about Mary being out and not being able to find her,” said her mother, Wendy Ford. She said she hadn’t intended to keep the knowledge of the AirTag from her daughter, “but if I knew she would have been notified, I probably would have told her.”
Jahna Maramba rented a vehicle from the car-sharing service Turo last month in Los Angeles, then received a notification about an unknown AirTag near her on a Saturday night with her girlfriends.
She took the vehicle to her friend’s parking garage where she searched the outside of the car for an hour before its owner notified her that he had placed the device inside the vehicle. Ms. Maramba had been driving the car for two days.
A spokesperson for Turo said in a statement that the company has no control over the technology car owners use on the vehicles they rent out.
“Imagine finding out via a notification that you’re being tracked,” Ms. Maramba said. “And you can’t do anything about it.”
WASHINGTON, Dec 24 (Reuters) – A New York state judge on Friday ordered the New York Times to return internal documents to the conservative activist group Project Veritas, a restriction the newspaper said violates decades of First Amendment protections.
In an unusual written ruling, Justice Charles Wood of the Westchester County Supreme Court directed the New York Times to return to Project Veritas any physical copies of legal memos prepared by one of the group’s lawyers, and to destroy electronic versions.
Wood had entered a temporary order against the New York Times last month, drawing criticism from freedom of the press advocates. read more
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Project Veritas, led by James O’Keefe, has used what critics view as misleading tactics like secret audio recording to expose what it describes as liberal media bias. The group is the subject of a Justice Department probe into its possible role in the theft of a diary from President Joe Biden’s daughter, Ashley, pages of which were published on a right-wing website.
Project Veritas objected to a Nov. 11 Times article that drew from the legal memos and purported to reveal how the group worked with its lawyers to “gauge how far its deceptive reporting practices can go before running afoul of federal laws.”
Wood said in Friday’s ruling that the Project Veritas legal memos were not a matter of public concern and that the group has a right to keep them private that outweighs concerns about freedom of the press.
“Steadfast fidelity to, and vigilance in protecting First Amendment freedoms cannot be permitted to abrogate the fundamental protections of attorney-client privilege or the basic right to privacy,” Wood wrote.
A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, said the newspaper would appeal the ruling.
Sulzberger said the decision barred the Times from publishing newsworthy information that was obtained legally in the ordinary course of reporting.
“In addition to imposing this unconstitutional prior restraint, the judge has gone even further (and) ordered that we return this material, a ruling with no apparent precedent and one that could present obvious risks to exposing sources should it be allowed to stand,” Sulzberger said.
Libby Locke, a lawyer for Project Veritas, said in a statement that the New York Times’ behavior was “irregular,” and that the ruling affirms that view.
“The New York Times has long forgotten the meaning of the journalism it claims to espouse, and has instead become a vehicle for the prosecution of a partisan political agenda,” Locke said.
Project Veritas has been engaged in defamation litigation against the New York Times since last year, when the newspaper published a piece calling the group’s work “deceptive.”
The Times had not faced any prior restraint since 1971, when the Nixon administration unsuccessfully sought to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers detailing U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Jan Wolfe;
Editing by Mary Milliken and Leslie Adler
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
As a designer who specializes in residential structures, Luis Martinez has lived this at home, and has now made it his career. His design business, Studioo15, has surged over the past two years as residents across Los Angeles have used the new state laws to add thousands of backyard units. Yet about half of his clients, he said, are people like his parents who want to have existing units legalized.
Bernardo and Tomasa Martinez, both in their early 60s, immigrated to Los Angeles from Mexico in 1989. Working in the low-wage service sector — she was a waitress; he worked as a laborer loading a truck — they settled in a two-bedroom house in South Los Angeles that had four families and 16 people. Luis Martinez, who crossed the border as a child, was surrounded by love and family, in a house where money was tight and privacy nonexistent.
Eventually the family was able to buy a small three-bedroom in Boyle Heights, on the east side of Los Angeles. It sits on a block of fading homes that have chain link fences in the front and a detached garage out back. To supplement the family income, the Martinezes converted the garage into a rental unit without a permit. Bernardo Martinez and a group of local handymen raised the floor and installed plumbing that fed into the main house, while Luis helped with painting.
Luis remembers that nobody complained, probably because the neighbors were doing the same thing. “It was normal,” he said, “like, ‘I live in the garage’ and some garages were nicer than others.”
Mr. Martinez went to East Los Angeles College after high school, then transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, where he got an architecture degree in 2005. In the years after graduation, when the Great Recession struck, his father lost his job and, after a spell of unemployment, took a minimum wage job mowing the lawn at a golf course. To help with bills, they rented the garage unit to Bernardo Martinez’s brother for $500 a month. “Withthe minimum wage, you can’t afford to pay a mortgage and food for everybody,” Tomasa Martinez said.
‘Home Sweet Legal Home’
The point of informal housing is that it’s hard to see — it is built to elude zoning authorities or anyone else who might notice from the street.
Jake Wegmann, a professor of urban planning at the University of Texas at Austin, describes this as “horizontal density,” by which he means additions that make use of driveways and yard space, instead of going up a second or third floor. Because both the tenants and owners of these units don’t want to be discovered, there is essentially no advocacy on behalf of illegal housing dwellers, even though the number of tenants easily goes into the millions nationwide.
The anonymity reflects yet another instance in which criminals stymied by rules in the physical world can operate freely on the internet — an issue that has surfaced in problems involving misinformation, questionable advertisements and merchandise glorifying crimes.
Pawnshops, for example, are regulated in almost every state, said Richard Rossman, a sergeant with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida who is also part of the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail.
“If you’re going to sell an item to a pawnshop, the seller has to pledge that property is his or hers, it is not stolen, and the pawnshop documents the item appropriately on a state-regulated form and we can hold the seller accountable and the pawnshop accountable,” Sergeant Rossman said. “There’s no mechanism in place right now that requires the collection of that data on the online marketplaces.”
The coalition has gotten support from industry groups and retailers, including pharmacy chains, Home Depot and Ulta Beauty, on bipartisan legislation known as the INFORM Consumers Act. The bill would require online marketplaces to authenticate the identity of “high-volume third-party sellers,” including their bank account information and tax identification, and allow consumers to see basic identification and contact information for those sellers. The rule would apply to vendors who made 200 or more discrete sales in a year amounting to $5,000 or more.
Etsy, OfferUp and eBay said they supported the legislation after opposing a draft that raised privacy and safety concerns for sellers, especially people selling small-scale items like a couch or people with craft businesses at home. Etsy noted that mass-produced items were not usually allowed on its marketplace, even if they were being sold legitimately. Meta, which owns Facebook Marketplace, and the RealReal, which sells high-end secondhand goods, declined to comment on the legislation.
Meta said that Facebook Marketplace users could report items they thought were stolen and that law enforcement could contact the company regarding suspicious items.
Amazon said in a statement that “we regularly request invoices, purchase orders or other proofs of sourcing when we have concerns about how a seller may have obtained particular products that they want to sell.” It added that it employed 10,000 people working to prevent fraud and abuse on its site, and supported the INFORM Consumers Act.
An increasing number of countries — including Britain, France, Israel, Italy and Singapore — were moving on Friday to restrict travel from South Africa and other countries in the region, a day after South African authorities identified a concerning new coronavirus variant with mutations that one scientist said marked a “big jump in evolution.”
In the past, governments have taken days, weeks or months to issue travel restrictions in response to new variants. This time, restrictions came within hours of South Africa’s announcement — and hours before health officials from the country were scheduled to discuss the variant with the World Health Organization.
Britain, France and Israel announced bans on flights from South Africa and several neighboring countries on Thursday, citing the threat of the new variant. Britain’s flight ban applies to six countries — South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe — and begins at noon local time on Friday.
“More data is needed but we’re taking precautions now,” Sajid Javid, the British health secretary, said on Twitter.
“While no cases have been detected so far on French territory, the principle of maximum precaution must apply,” Jean Castex, France’s prime minister, said in a statement, adding that anyone in France who had recently traveled to those countries should get tested and identify themselves to the authorities.
The governments of Croatia, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Japan and Singapore announced on Friday that they would impose similar restrictions. Markets were down in Japan in response to the variant’s discovery, and officials in Australia and in New Zealand said that they were monitoring it closely.
“Our scientists are at work to study the new B.1.1.529 variant,” Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, said in a statement, using the variant’s scientific name. “Meanwhile we err on the side of caution.”
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union’s executive arm, also said in a Twitter post on Friday morning that it would propose restricting air travel to European countries from southern Africa because of concerns about the variant.
The @EU_Commission will propose, in close coordination with Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) November 26, 2021
In the past two days, scientists detected the variant after observing an increase in infections in South Africa’s economic hub surrounding Johannesburg. So far only a few dozen cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong, Israel and Botswana.
A number of variants have emerged since the onset of the pandemic. One underlying concern about them is whether they will stymie the fight against the virus or limit the effectiveness of vaccines. South African scientists will meet with the World Health Organization technical team on Friday to discuss the new variant, and the authorities will assign it a letter of the Greek alphabet.
In a statement posted on Friday on a government website, South Africa said it would urge Britain to reconsider its travel restrictions, saying: “The U.K.’s decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the U.K. seems to have been rushed, as even the World Health Organization is yet to advise on the next steps.”
In December last year, South Africa was the first nation to report the appearance of the Beta variant, which has now spread to nearly 70 countries. Scientists have been concerned that some clinical trials have shown that vaccines offer less protection against the Beta variant. Since then, the more virulent and aggressive Delta variant has spread all over the world and is believed to be fueling the latest surge in cases.
With over 1,200 new infections, South Africa’s daily infection rate is much lower than that in Germany, where new cases are driving a wave. However, the density of mutations on this new variant raises fears that it could be highly contagious, leading scientists to sound the alarm early.
“This variant did surprise us — it has a big jump in evolution, many more mutations than we expected, especially after a very severe third wave of Delta,” said Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.
Emma Bubola, John Yoon and Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting.
— Mike Ives, Lynsey Chutel and Andrés R. Martínez
Scientists are still unclear on how effective vaccines will be against the new variant flagged by a team in South Africa, which displays mutations that might resist neutralization. Only several dozen cases have been fully identified so far in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.
The new variant, B.1.1.529, has a “very unusual constellation of mutations,” with more than 30 in the spike protein alone, according to Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.
On the ACE2 receptor — the protein that helps to create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells — the new variant has 10 mutations. In comparison, the Beta variant has three and the Delta variant two, Mr. de Oliveira said.
The variant shares similarities with the Lambda and Beta variants, which are associated with an innate evasion of immunity, said Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.
“All these things are what give us some concern that this variant might have not just enhanced transmissibility, so spread more efficiently, but might also be able to get around parts of the immune system and the protection we have in our immune system,” Dr. Lessells said.
The new variant has largely been detected among young people, the cohort that also has the lowest vaccination rate in South Africa. Just over a quarter of those ages between 18 and 34 in South Africa are vaccinated, said Dr. Joe Phaahla, the country’s minister of health.
While cases of the variant are mainly concentrated in the country’s economic hub, particularly in the country’s administrative capital, Pretoria, it is “only a matter of time” before the virus spreads across the country as schools close and families prepare to travel for the holiday season, Dr. Phaahla said.
— Carl Zimmer
The Hong Kong government said on Thursday that it had detected two cases of a new variant identified in South Africa, which scientists have warned shows a “big jump in evolution” and could limit the effectiveness of vaccines.
The infections were detected in a man who had returned to Hong Kong from South Africa this month, and later in another man staying across the hall in the same quarantine hotel. (Hong Kong requires almost all overseas arrivals to quarantine in hotels for two to three weeks.) The virus’s genetic sequence was identical in both men, suggesting airborne transmission, according to the city’s Center for Health Protection. Both men were vaccinated.
Further sequencing by the University of Hong Kong confirmed that the viruses belonged to the new variant from South Africa, officials said, though they acknowledged that information about the variant’s public health impact was “lacking at the moment.”
Some Hong Kong experts have questioned the length and efficacy of Hong Kong’s quarantines, noting that officials have recorded several cases of residents in quarantine hotels apparently infecting people who were staying in other rooms.
In the case of the latest variant infections, the government has blamed the first man for not wearing a surgical mask when opening his hotel room door, as well as “unsatisfactory air flow” in the hotel. As of Friday afternoon there had been no reports of infections in nearby rooms.
The presence of the new variant may complicate efforts to reopen the border between Hong Kong and mainland China. For months, Hong Kong officials have said that resuming quarantine-free travel between the Chinese territory and the mainland — virtually the only places in the world still pursuing a containment strategy that seeks full eradication of the virus — is their top priority, even though the strategy has damaged the city’s reputation as a global finance hub.
Mainland officials have said that Hong Kong is not doing enough to control the virus, even though the city has recorded just two locally transmitted cases in the last six months. The mainland has recently faced new domestic outbreaks; on Thursday, the National Health Commission there reported four new local cases.
On Thursday evening, Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, John Lee, said mainland officials had told him earlier in the day that Hong Kong had “basically fulfilled” the conditions to reopen the border. He said details would still need to be worked out, including the introduction of a mainland-style “health code” app that has raised privacy concerns.
Asked by a reporter whether the new variant would delay reopening with the mainland, Mr. Lee said only that the Hong Kong authorities would “ensure that adequate research and tracking are done in this regard.”
“Of course, we must manage and control any new risks,” he said.
— Vivian Wang
Nearly 20 months after pandemic lockdowns first began, governments across Europe are beginning to tighten restrictions again amid the latest wave of new coronavirus cases, threatening the gains that the region has made against the pandemic.
France is racing to offer booster shots to all adults and will not renew health passes for those who refuse. Deaths are rising in Germany, with its 68 percent vaccination rate, a worrying trend for a highly inoculated country. Austria has been in a nationwide lockdown since Monday, and made vaccinations mandatory.
In Eastern Europe, where far-right and populist groups have fueled vaccine skepticism, vaccination rates are lower than the rest of the continent. Bulgaria, where a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated, is turning back to shutdowns or other restrictive measures.
The quickly deteriorating situation in Europe is worrisome for the United States, where seven-day average of new cases has risen 24 percent in the past two weeks. (The number of new deaths reported in the United States is down 6 percent.) Trends in new cases in the United States have tended to follow Europe by a few weeks.
“Time and again, we’ve seen how the infection dynamics in Europe are mirrored here several weeks later,” Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, told reporters on Wednesday. “The future is unfolding before us, and it must be a wake-up call for our region because we are even more vulnerable.”
The White House insists that while new infections are on the rise, the United States can avoid European-style lockdowns.
“We are not headed in that direction,” Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said this week. “We have the tools to accelerate the path out of this pandemic: widely available vaccinations, booster shots, kids’ shots, therapeutics.”
But the chief of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that some countries had lapsed into a “false sense of security.”
He issued a warning during a news briefing on Wednesday: “While Europe is again the epicenter of the pandemic, no country or region is out of the woods.”
The Israeli government, which approves any sale of NSO’s software to foreign governments and considers the software a critical foreign policy tool, is lobbying the United States to remove the ban on NSO’s behalf. NSO has said it would fight the ban, but the executive set to take over NSO Group quit after the business was blacklisted, the company said.
One week after the federal ban, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected NSO’s motion to dismiss Facebook’s lawsuit. The Israeli firm had argued that it “could claim foreign sovereign immunity.” A 3-to-0 decision by the court rejected NSO’s argument and allowed Facebook’s lawsuit to proceed.
Let Us Help You Protect Your Digital Life
Those developments helped pave the way for Apple’s lawsuit against NSO on Tuesday. Apple first found itself in NSO’s cross hairs in 2016, when researchers at Citizen Lab, a research institute of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, and Lookout, the San Francisco mobile security company now owned by BlackBerry, discovered that NSO’s Pegasus spyware was taking advantage of three security vulnerabilities in Apple products to spy on dissidents, activists and journalists.
And the company is at risk of default, Moody’s, the ratings agency, warned. Moody’s downgraded NSO by two levels, eight levels below investment grade, citing its $500 million of debt and severe cash flow problems.
NSO’s spyware gave its government clients access to the full contents of a target’s phone, allowing agents to read a target’s text messages and emails, record phone calls, capture sounds and footage off their cameras, and trace the person’s whereabouts.
Internal NSO documents, leaked to The New York Times in 2016, showed that the company charged government agencies $650,000 to spy on 10 iPhone users — along with a half-million-dollar setup fee. Government agencies in the United Arab Emirates and Mexico were among NSO’s early customers, the documents showed.
Those revelations led to the discovery of NSO’s spyware on the phones of human rights activists in the Emirates and journalists, activists and human rights lawyers in Mexico — even their teenage children living in the United States.
The change affects more than a third of Facebook’s daily users who had facial recognition turned on for their accounts, according to the company. That meant they received alerts when new photos or videos of them were uploaded to the social network. The feature had also been used to flag accounts that might be impersonating someone else and was incorporated into software that described photos to blind users.
“Making this change required us to weigh the instances where facial recognition can be helpful against the growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole,” said Jason Grosse, a Meta spokesman.
Let Us Help You Protect Your Digital Life
Although Facebook plans to delete more than one billion facial recognition templates, which are digital scans of facial features, by December, it will not eliminate the software that powers the system, which is an advanced algorithm called DeepFace. The company has also not ruled out incorporating facial recognition technology into future products, Mr. Grosse said.
Privacy advocates nonetheless applauded the decision.
“Facebook getting out of the face recognition business is a pivotal moment in the growing national discomfort with this technology,” said Adam Schwartz, a senior lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization. “Corporate use of face surveillance is very dangerous to people’s privacy.”
Facebook is not the first large technology company to pull back on facial recognition software. Amazon, Microsoft and IBM have paused or ceased selling their facial recognition products to law enforcement in recent years, while expressing concerns about privacy and algorithmic bias and calling for clearer regulation.
Facebook’s facial recognition software has a long and expensive history. When the software was rolled out to Europe in 2011, data protection authorities there said the move was illegal and that the company needed consent to analyze photos of a person and extract the unique pattern of an individual face. In 2015, the technology also led to the filing of the class action suit in Illinois.
Over the last decade, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based privacy advocacy group, filed two complaints about Facebook’s use of facial recognition with the F.T.C. When the F.T.C. fined Facebook in 2019, it named the site’s confusing privacy settings around facial recognition as one of the reasons for the penalty.
Richard Errington clicked to stream a science-fiction film from his home in Britain last month when YouTube carded him.
The site said Mr. Errington, who is over 50, needed to prove he was old enough to watch “Space Is the Place,” a 1974 movie starring the jazz musician Sun Ra. He had three options: Enter his credit card information, upload a photo identification like a passport or skip the video.
“I decided that it wasn’t worth the stress,” he said.
In response to mounting pressure from activists, parents and regulators who believe tech companies haven’t done enough to protect children online, businesses and governments around the globe are placing major parts of the internet behind stricter digital age checks.
People in Japan must provide a document proving their age to use the dating app Tinder. The popular game Roblox requires players to upload a form of government identification — and a selfie to prove the ID belongs to them — if they want access to a voice chat feature. Laws in Germany and France require pornography websites to check visitors’ ages.
called for new rules to protect young people after a former Facebook employee said the company knew its products harmed some teenagers. They repeated those calls on Tuesday in a hearing with executives from YouTube, TikTok and the parent company of Snapchat.
Critics of the age checks say that in the name of keeping people safe, they could endanger user privacy, dampen free expression and hurt communities that benefit from anonymity online. Authoritarian governments have used protecting children as an argument for limiting online speech: China barred websites this summer from ranking celebrities by popularity as part of a larger crackdown on what it says are the pernicious effects of celebrity culture on young people.
“Are we going to start seeing more age verification? Of course,” said Hany Farid, a professor of engineering and computer scienceat the University of California, Berkeley, who has called for more child safety measures. “Because there is more pressure, there’s more awareness now, on how these technologies are harming kids.”
But, Mr. Farid said, regulators and companies need to proceed with caution. “We don’t want the solution to be more harmful than the problem,” he said.
say some websites need to take additional steps to verify their users’ ages when the services collect sensitive user data.
An update to the European Union’s rules for video and audio services requires sites to protect minors, which may include checkingusers’ ages. In response to the change, Google said last year that it would ask some users of YouTube, which it owns, for their identification documents or credit card details before they could watch adults-only videos. A spokeswoman for Google pointed to an August blog post where the company said it was “looking at ways to develop consistent product experiences and user controls for kids and teens globally” as regulators applied new rules in different countries.
in a July blog post that it was developing programs to look for signs that users were lying about their age, like spotting when someone who claims to be 21 gets messages about her quinceañera. But when “we do feel we need more information, we’re developing a menu of options for someone to prove their age,” Pavni Diwanji, the company’s vice president of youth products, said in the post. Facebook later said one of the options would involve providing identification documents.
Many of the new age verification efforts require users to submit government-issued identification or credit cards information. But other companies are using, or considering, other options, like software that scans a user’s face to approximate the person’s age.
Let Us Help You Protect Your Digital Life
Critics of the checks worry that the requirement will force users to give sensitive information to websites with limited resources to prevent hacks. Outside companies that offer age checks would be vulnerable, too.
Roblox, the game company, showed prototypes to 10 teenage players, said Chris Aston Chen, a senior product manager at the company.
One possible method required players to get on a video call, while another checked government databases. Mr. Chen said the players gravitated toward using government IDs, an option they trusted and thought was convenient. (Roblox’s chief product officer is a board member of The New York Times Company.)
The technology will also make it easier for Roblox to keep out players it has barred because of inappropriate conduct in the voice chat feature. If those players log back in using a new account but try to verify their age using the same government document, they’ll be locked out.
one user said. The user noted that he had first bought the track on cassette “when I was about 12, almost 30 years ago.”
“This is a rule applied to video sharing platforms in certain countries,” YouTube’s customer support account responded.
Mr. Errington in Britain said YouTube had asked him for a credit card when he tried to watch “Space Is the Place.” He doesn’t have one. And he said he felt uncomfortable uploading a photo ID.
“I wasn’t prepared to give out this information,” he said. “So the Sun Ra video remains a mystery.”
SAN FRANCISCO — In 2019, Facebook researchers began a new study of one of the social network’s foundational features: the Like button.
They examined what people would do if Facebook removed the distinct thumbs-up icon and other emoji reactions from posts on its photo-sharing app Instagram, according to company documents. The buttons had sometimes caused Instagram’s youngest users “stress and anxiety,” the researchers found, especially if posts didn’t get enough Likes from friends.
But the researchers discovered that when the Like button was hidden, users interacted less with posts and ads. At the same time, it did not alleviate teenagers’ social anxiety and young users did not share more photos, as the company thought they might, leading to a mixed bag of results.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, and other managers discussed hiding the Like button for more Instagram users, according to the documents. In the end, a larger test was rolled out in just a limited capacity to “build a positive press narrative” around Instagram.
misinformation, privacy and hate speech, a central issue has been whether the basic way that the platform works has been at fault — essentially, the features that have made Facebook be Facebook.
Apart from the Like button, Facebook has scrutinized its share button, which lets users instantly spread content posted by other people; its groups feature, which is used to form digital communities; and other tools that define how more than 3.5 billion people behave and interact online. The research, laid out in thousands of pages of internal documents, underlines how the company has repeatedly grappled with what it has created.
What researchers found was often far from positive. Time and again, they determined that people misused key features or that those features amplified toxic content, among other effects. In an August 2019 internal memo, several researchers said it was Facebook’s “core product mechanics” — meaning the basics of how the product functioned — that had let misinformation and hate speech flourish on the site.
“The mechanics of our platform are not neutral,” they concluded.
hide posts they do not want to see and turning off political group recommendations to reduce the spread of misinformation.
But the core way that Facebook operates — a network where information can spread rapidly and where people can accumulate friends and followers and Likes — ultimately remains largely unchanged.
Many significant modifications to the social network were blocked in the service of growth and keeping users engaged, some current and former executives said. Facebook is valued at more than $900 billion.
“There’s a gap between the fact that you can have pretty open conversations inside of Facebook as an employee,” said Brian Boland, a Facebook vice president who left last year. “Actually getting change done can be much harder.”
The company documents are part of the Facebook Papers, a cache provided to the Securities and Exchange Commission and to Congress by a lawyer representing Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee who has become a whistle-blower. Ms. Haugen earlier gave the documents to The Wall Street Journal. This month, a congressional staff member supplied the redacted disclosures to more than a dozen other news organizations, including The New York Times.
In a statement, Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, criticized articles based on the documents, saying that they were built on a “false premise.”
“Yes, we’re a business and we make profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people’s safety or well-being misunderstands where our own commercial interests lie,” he said. He said Facebook had invested $13 billion and hired more than 40,000 people to keep people safe, adding that the company has called “for updated regulations where democratic governments set industry standards to which we can all adhere.”
post this month, Mr. Zuckerberg said it was “deeply illogical” that the company would give priority to harmful content because Facebook’s advertisers don’t want to buy ads on a platform that spreads hate and misinformation.
“At the most basic level, I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted,” he wrote.
The Foundations of Success
When Mr. Zuckerberg founded Facebook 17 years ago in his Harvard University dorm room, the site’s mission was to connect people on college campuses and bring them into digital groups with common interests and locations.
Growth exploded in 2006 when Facebook introduced the News Feed, a central stream of photos, videos and status updates posted by people’s friends. Over time, the company added more features to keep people interested in spending time on the platform.
In 2009, Facebook introduced the Like button. The tiny thumbs-up symbol, a simple indicator of people’s preferences, became one of the social network’s most important features. The company allowed other websites to adopt the Like button so users could share their interests back to their Facebook profiles.
That gave Facebook insight into people’s activities and sentiments outside of its own site, so it could better target them with advertising. Likes also signified what users wanted to see more of in their News Feeds so people would spend more time on Facebook.
Facebook also added the groups feature, where people join private communication channels to talk about specific interests, and pages, which allowed businesses and celebrities to amass large fan bases and broadcast messages to those followers.
Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, has said that research on users’ well-being led to investments in anti-bullying measures on Instagram.
Understand the Facebook Papers
Card 1 of 6
A tech giant in trouble. The leak of internal documents by a former Facebook employee has provided an intimate look at the operations of the secretive social media company and renewed calls for better regulations of the company’s wide reach into the lives of its users.
The whistle-blower. During an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Oct. 3, Frances Haugen, a Facebook product manager who left the company in May, revealed that she was responsible for the leak of those internal documents.
Ms. Haugen’s testimony in Congress. On Oct. 5, Ms. Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee, saying that Facebook was willing to use hateful and harmful content on its site to keep users coming back. Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, called her accusations untrue.
The Facebook Papers. Ms. Haugen also filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided the documents to Congress in redacted form. A congressional staff member then supplied the documents, known as the Facebook Papers, to several news organizations, including The New York Times.
Yet Facebook cannot simply tweak itself so that it becomes a healthier social network when so many problems trace back to core features, said Jane Lytvynenko, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy Shorenstein Center, who studies social networks and misinformation.
“When we talk about the Like button, the share button, the News Feed and their power, we’re essentially talking about the infrastructure that the network is built on top of,” she said. “The crux of the problem here is the infrastructure itself.”
As Facebook’s researchers dug into how its products worked, the worrisome results piled up.
In a July 2019 study of groups, researchers traced how members in those communities could be targeted with misinformation. The starting point, the researchers said, were people known as “invite whales,” who sent invitations out to others to join a private group.
These people were effective at getting thousands to join new groups so that the communities ballooned almost overnight, the study said. Then the invite whales could spam the groups with posts promoting ethnic violence or other harmful content, according to the study.
Another 2019 report looked at how some people accrued large followings on their Facebook pages, often using posts about cute animals and other innocuous topics. But once a page had grown to tens of thousands of followers, the founders sold it. The buyers then used the pages to show followers misinformation or politically divisive content, according to the study.
As researchers studied the Like button, executives considered hiding the feature on Facebook as well, according to the documents. In September 2019, it removed Likes from users’ Facebook posts in a small experiment in Australia.
The company wanted to see if the change would reduce pressure and social comparison among users. That, in turn, might encourage people to post more frequently to the network.
But people did not share more posts after the Like button was removed. Facebook chose not to roll the test out more broadly, noting, “Like counts are extremely low on the long list of problems we need to solve.”
Last year, company researchers also evaluated the share button. In a September 2020 study, a researcher wrote that the button and so-called reshare aggregation units in the News Feed, which are automatically generated clusters of posts that have already been shared by people’s friends, were “designed to attract attention and encourage engagement.”
But gone unchecked, the features could “serve to amplify bad content and sources,” such as bullying and borderline nudity posts, the researcher said.
That’s because the features made people less hesitant to share posts, videos and messages with one another. In fact, users were three times more likely to share any kind of content from the reshare aggregation units, the researcher said.
One post that spread widely this way was an undated message from an account called “The Angry Patriot.” The post notified users that people protesting police brutality were “targeting a police station” in Portland, Ore. After it was shared through reshare aggregation units, hundreds of hate-filled comments flooded in. It was an example of “hate bait,” the researcher said.
A common thread in the documents was how Facebook employees argued for changes in how the social network worked and often blamed executives for standing in the way.
In an August 2020 internal post, a Facebook researcher criticized the recommendation system that suggests pages and groups for people to follow and said it can “very quickly lead users down the path to conspiracy theories and groups.”
“Out of fears over potential public and policy stakeholder responses, we are knowingly exposing users to risks of integrity harms,” the researcher wrote. “During the time that we’ve hesitated, I’ve seen folks from my hometown go further and further down the rabbit hole” of conspiracy theory movements like QAnon and anti-vaccination and Covid-19 conspiracies.
The researcher added, “It has been painful to observe.”
Reporting was contributed by Davey Alba, Sheera Frenkel, Cecilia Kang and Ryan Mac.