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TechScape: How the UK forced global shift in child safety policies | Facebook

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I bring good news: regulation works.

The last month has brought a flurry of changes to major tech platforms related to child safety online, and specifically to the use and protection of children’s personal data.

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First, there was Instagram. In late July, Facebook announced some sweeping changes to the platform, billed as “giving young people a safer, more private experience”. The company began giving those under 16 private accounts by default, ensuring that kids only share content publicly if they actively dive into settings and change their privacy preferences accordingly.

It also introduced a new set of restrictions for people with “potentially suspicious accounts” – “accounts belonging to adults that may have recently been blocked or reported by a young person for example.” In other words, if you’re a creep who goes around messaging kids, you’ll soon find that young people don’t show up in your algorithmic recommendations; you won’t be able to add them as friends; you won’t be able to comment on their posts; and you won’t be able to read comments others have left.

Finally, the platform announced “changes to how advertisers can reach young people with ads”. People under 18 can now only be targeted on Instagram by “their age, gender and location”: the vast surveillance apparatus that Facebook has built will not be made available to advertisers. Instagram’s rationale for this is that, while the platform “already [gives] people ways to tell us that they would rather not see ads based on their interests or on their activities on other websites and apps … young people may not be well equipped to make these decisions.”

At the time, I found that last change the most interesting one by far, because of the implicit claim it was making: that it’s bad to target people with adverts if you’re not absolutely certain that’s what they want. Facebook would hardly accept that targeted advertising can be harmful, so why, I wondered, was it suddenly so keen to make sure that young people weren’t hit by it?

Along came Google

Then YouTube announced a surprisingly similar set of changes, and everything started to make a bit more sense. Again, the default privacy settings were updated for teen users: now, videos they upload will be private by default, with users under 18 having to manually dig into settings to publish their posts to the world.

Again, advertising is being limited, with the company stepping in to remove “overly commercial content” from YouTube Kids, an algorithmically curated selection of videos that are supposedly more child-friendly than the main YouTube catalogue. In YouTube proper, it’s updated the disclosures that appear on “made for kids” content that contain paid promotions. (Paid promotions are banned on YouTube Kids, so despite being officially “Made for kids” such content isn’t allowed on the platform explicitly for kids. Such is the way of YouTube).

And YouTube also introduced a third change, adding and updating its “digital wellbeing” features. “We’ll be turning to take a break and bedtime reminders on by default for all users ages 13-17 on YouTube,” the company said. “We’ll also be turning autoplay off by default for these users.” Both these settings can again be overruled by users who want to change them, but they will provide a markedly different experience by default for kids on the platform.

And TikTok makes three

A couple of days behind Google came TikTok, and everything clicked into place. From our story:

TikTok will prevent teenagers from receiving notifications past their bedtime, the company said … [It] will no longer send push notifications after 9pm to users aged between 13 and 15. For 16-year-olds and those aged 17 notifications will not be sent after 10pm.

People aged 16 and 17 will now have direct messages disabled by default, while those under 16 will continue to have no access to them at all. And all users under 16 will now be prompted to choose who can see their videos the first time they post them, ensuring they do not accidentally broadcast to a wider audience than intended.

It’s probably not a coincidence that three of the largest social networks in the world all announced a raft of child-safety features in the summer of 2021. So what could have prompted the changes?

Age appropriate

Well, in just over two weeks’ time, the UK is going to begin enforcing the age appropriate design code, one of the world’s most wide-ranging regulations controlling the use of children’s data. We’ve talked about it before on the newsletter, in one of the B-stories in July, and I covered it in this Observer story:

The code, which was introduced as part of the same legislation that implemented GDPR in the UK, sees the Information Commissioner’s Office laying out a new standard for internet companies that are ‘likely to be accessed by children’. When it comes into force in September this year, the code will be comprehensive, covering everything from requirements for parental controls to restrictions on data collection and bans on “nudging” children to turn off privacy protections.

I asked the platforms whether the changes were indeed motivated by the age appropriate design code. A Facebook spokesperson said: “This update wasn’t based on any specific regulation, but rather on what’s best for the safety and privacy of our community. It’s the latest in a series of things we’ve introduced over recent months and years to keep young people safe on our platforms (which have been global changes, not just UK).”

TikTok declined to comment on whether the changes were prompted by the code, but I understand that they were – though the company is rolling them out globally because, once it built the features, it felt it was the right thing to do. And according to Google, the updates were core to the company’s compliance with the AADC, and the company said it was aiming beyond any single regulation – but also wouldn’t comment on the record.

I also called up Andy Burrows, the head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, who shared my scepticism at claims that the timing of these launches could be coincidental. “It is no coincidence that the flurry of announcements that we’ve seen comes just weeks before the age appropriate design comes into effect,” he said, “and I think it’s a very clear demonstration that regulation works.”

The lack of public acknowledgment from the companies that regulation has influenced their actions is in stark contrast to the response to GDPR two years ago, when even Facebook had to acknowledge that it didn’t suddenly introduce a whole array of privacy options out of the goodness of its heart. And the silence has correspondingly led to an odd gap at the heart of coverage of these changes: they’ve had widespread coverage in the tech press, as well as many mainstream American papers, with barely a whisper of acknowledgment that they are almost certainly down to a regulatory limitation in a mid-sized European market.

That, of course, is exactly how the tech companies would want it. Recognising that even a country as comparatively minor as the UK can still pass regulations that affect how platforms work globally is a shift in the power relationships between multinational companies and national governments, and one that might spark other nations to reassess their own ability to force changes upon tech companies.

Not that everyone is fully compliant with the age appropriate design code. The big unanswered question is around verification, Burrows points out: “The code is going to require age assurance, and so far we haven’t seen publicly many, or indeed any, of the big players set out how they’re going to comply with that, which clearly is a significant challenge.” In everything I’ve written above – every single restriction on teen accounts – the platforms are fundamentally relying on children to be honest as part of the sign-up process. It’s hard to verify someone’s age online, but very soon UK law isn’t going to take “it’s hard” as a sufficient excuse. The next few weeks are going to be interesting.

If you want to read the complete version of this newsletter please subscribe to receive TechScape in your inbox every Wednesday.



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Will this be one of the world’s first RISC-V laptops? • The Register

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Pic As Apple and Qualcomm push for more Arm adoption in the notebook space, we have come across a photo of what could become one of the world’s first laptops to use the open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture.

In an interview with The Register, Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V International, signaled we will see a RISC-V laptop revealed sometime this year as the ISA’s governing body works to garner more financial and development support from large companies.

It turns out Philipp Tomsich, chair of RISC-V International’s software committee, dangled a photo of what could likely be the laptop in question earlier this month in front of RISC-V Week attendees in Paris.

A slide that shows a picture of a laptop and says, 'Will we see the first RISC-V laptop released in 2022?'

A slide from the RISC-V Week event in Paris teasing a potential RISC-V laptop coming in 2022 … Click to enlarge.

Tomsich teased the device at the end of a talk with Mark Himelstein, CTO of RISC-V International, about the software optimization work needed to mature the RISC-V ecosystem.

“The big question that everybody is asking themselves, and the one where I’m wondering, Mark, if we’ll be able to pull this off: will we see the first RISC-V laptop announced this year?” Tomsich said as he showed a picture of a black, brandless laptop that had a large question mark over it.

Tomsich then hinted at the potential specs of the laptop:

Tomsich shared the photo of the mystery PC while promoting a few milestones for RISC-V, including the March launch of the first portable RISC-V computer, modeled after Kyocera’s classic TRS-80 Model 100 “slab” computer from 1983. Tomsich also hailed Alibaba Cloud for getting Android 12 to work on its own RISC-V silicon, and RISC-V compiler support for Java through OpenJDK.

What could the RISC-V laptop be for?

We were able to extract the image of the mystery laptop from the slide to get a slightly closer look:

A photo of what could be a laptop running a RISC-V processor, as shown at the RISC-V Week event in Paris in early May.

A photo of what could be a RISC-V laptop, as shown at the RISC-V Week event in Paris. Click to enlarge.

Unfortunately, there’s not much we can discern from this photo. The device itself looks fairly rough, pretty much a prototype, which means the laptop is likely being used for development and testing purposes.

However, there was one interesting detail that caught our attention: the bottle in the top-left corner of the photo. We learned from a quick Google search that this is a water bottle brand in China called Ganten.

Now, normally we wouldn’t care much about seeing a bottle of water, but we do know that, as of last summer, the Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ISCAS) was planning to build 2,000 RISC-V laptops by the end of 2022 as China looks to reduce its reliance on foreign tech giants like Arm and Intel amid ongoing tensions with Western countries.

Does this mean the mystery laptop is being developed by ISCAS? It’s too soon to say. There could be other RISC-V laptop developments in China, though the ISCAS project is the only one in the country El Reg knows of so far.

The only other public RISC-V laptop development we’re aware of is one in Russia, which is expected to have homegrown RISC-V laptop chips ready for devices by 2025, according to a report from last year. The country is now cut off from Arm and Intel due to its invasion of Ukraine, so RISC-V is probably its best option now due to the ISA’s borderless nature.

As for RISC-V laptops popping up elsewhere in the world, we shouldn’t expect commercial products for a while – though if you know of any, or can identify the machine above, please do let us know. We’re also more than aware of the RISC-V boards out there for developers.

Patrick Little, the CEO of RISC-V chip designer SiFive, told us earlier this year he doesn’t think system-on-chips using the company’s CPU blueprints will find their way into PCs until roughly late 2025.

There’s also the fact that much work is needed for the RISC-V ISA to provide the same level of software support and cross-platform stability that x86 and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Arm, provide for PCs now. ®

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Engineering jobs are coming to Shannon as Ryanair creates 200 roles

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The new facility will create jobs for engineers, mechanics and support staff as Ryanair seeks to expand its fleet to more than 600 aircraft over the next four years.

Ryanair is opening its first heavy maintenance facility in Ireland at Shannon Airport, which the airline said will lead to 200 “high-skill” jobs in the region.

The airline said it will invest €10m into the “state-of-the-art” facility, leased from Shannon Group. This will support the maintenance of Ryanair’s fleet, which it is looking to expand to more than 600 aircraft over the next four years.

Future Human

Jobs to be created at the maintenance facility include licensed engineers, mechanics and support staff.

“Ryanair creates opportunities for highly skilled engineering jobs, with our industry-leading rosters and the youngest fleet in Europe,” Ryanair director of operations Neal McMahon said. “Shannon is an ideal location with opportunities to attract, train and employ local talent to support this new facility.”

Ryanair has operated from Shannon Airport since 1986, opening a base at the airport in 2005. It has carried more than 17m customers to and from the airport to date.

The airline said the investment is a mark of its commitment to both Ireland and the mid-west region.

Shannon Group CEO Mary Considine added that it represents a “vote of confidence” by Ryanair in the future of the airport.

“Having Ryanair at hangar 5, one of 10 fully occupied hangars on our Shannon campus, is another significant boost for the region, creating high-quality jobs for local aviation specialists,” Considine said. “The resulting jobs and investment are also consistent with our strategic plan to increase economic growth and retain skills and talent in the region.”

Ryanair carries around 154m passengers every year on more more than 2,400 daily flights from 82 bases, with its fleet of roughly 470 aircraft. The airline said it has a headcount of more than 19,000 skilled aviation professionals globally.

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Older people using TikTok to defy ageist stereotypes, research finds | TikTok

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Older TikTok users are using the online platform, regarded as the virtual playground of teenagers, to defy ageist stereotypes of elderly people as technophobic and frail.

Research has found increasing numbers of accounts belonging to users aged 60 and older with millions of followers. Using the platform to showcase their energy and vibrancy, these TikTok elders are rewriting expectations around how older people should behave both on and off social media.

“These TikTok elders have become successful content creators in a powerful counter-cultural phenomenon in which older persons actually contest the stereotypes of old age by embracing or even celebrating their aged status,” said Dr Reuben Ng, the author of the paper Not Too Old for TikTok: How Older Adults are Reframing Ageing, and an assistant professor at Yale University.

Interestingly, said Ng, most TikTok elders are women who “fiercely resist common stereotypes of older women as passive, mild-mannered and weak, instead opting to present themselves as fierce or even foul-mouthed,” he said.

The immense reach that these older TikTok users have means they have the potential to transform negative age stereotypes that proliferate on social media.

“There is considerable evidence that ageist stereotypes preponderate among the young on social media,” said Ng. These prejudices reached an all-time high during the Covid pandemic, during which the deadly virus was labelled a “Boomer remover”.

“The strength of anti-age prejudices means the participation of older adults in social media is vital in ensuring that such ageist ideas are not left unchallenged,” said Ng, whose paper is to be published in the Gerontologist journal.

The paper looked at 1,382 videos posted by TikTok users who were aged 60 or older and had between 100,000 and 5.3 million followers. In total, their videos, all of which explicitly discussed their age, had been viewed more than 3.5bn times.

Ng found that 71% of these videos – including those from accounts such as grandadjoe1933, who has 5.3 million followers, and dolly_broadway, who has 2.4 million followers – were used to defy age stereotypes. A recurring motif was the “glamma”, a portmanteau combining “glamorous” and “grandma”, with videos including those of a 70-year-old woman joyfully parading around the streets in a midriff-bearing top.

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Almost one in five of the videos analysed made light of age-related vulnerabilities, and one in 10 called out ageism among both younger people and their own contemporaries. Other videos positioned older users as superior to younger people. “I may be 86 but I can still drink more than you lightweights” says one clip. “I may be 86 but I can still twerk better than you,” says another, showing an octogenarian leaping up from a fall down the stairs with a twerk.

Analysis by the Pew Research Centre has found a remarkable uptake of technology by older Americans during recent years: in 2000, 14% of people aged 65-plus were internet users; in 2019, it was 73%. Only half of adults owned smartphones in 2014, 81% of those aged 60 to 69 have them today.

Emma Twyning, the director of communications at the Centre for Ageing Better said: “We need to see much more diverse portrayals if we are to truly shift attitudes and cast off negative perceptions of growing older. Social media is the perfect platform to do this and to call out ageism more generally.”

Stuart Lewis, the chief executive of Rest Less, said TikTok was the ideal platform for midlife influencers to take to the stage and defy ageist stereotypes. “Creators are encouraged to be original, raw and unedited – making it the ideal soapbox on which to stand if you want a space to debunk stereotypes and be your uncensored self,” he said.

Prof Fiona Gillison, from the Healthy Later Living Network at the University of Bath, who is leading work on challenging stereotypes about ageing, said the study was important. But she added: “There is a balance to be struck in challenging stereotypes about ageing while also accepting that it is OK to want different things from younger people as we grow older, and accepting that our interests and abilities may change.”

Ultimately, she said, people need to “take the stigma out of needing adjustments as we age while also challenging assumptions that can accompany these. For example that having a hearing aid somehow implies that we are ‘fragile’ or ‘infirm’ in other ways.”

The older users showcasing their energy and vibrancy

@grandadjoe1933

The 88-year-old Staffordshire man is TikTok’s wealthiest “granfluencer”, his videos apparently earning him about £134,000 a year. Grandad Joe has won 5.4 million followers and 156.7 million likes for videos including one of him giggling after his youngest granddaughter gives his grown-up daughter “attitude just like she gave me [when she was younger]”.

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@grandma_droniak

92-year-old Grandmother Droniak went viral, reaching 4.2 million followers, after laying down rules for her funeral including “Cry, but not too much,” “Bertha isn’t invited” and “Get drunk afterwards”.

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@grandmaann2

Grandmaann2 lures viewers to her account with the strapline “I’m old so follow before I die”. Two million people couldn’t resist, and to date they have given her lip-syncs and comedy skits 63.5m likes.

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@its_j_dog

Jenny Krupa, 87, has won 2 million followers and 93m likes since a 2019 video accidentally posted by her grandson, Skylar Krupa, titled “Perks of being old” reached 1,000 views in about 15 minutes.

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@dolly_broadway

The latest video for her 1 million followers shows 89-year-old Dolores Paolino dressing up in a Marilyn Monroe-type dress and telling Kim Kardashian she looks better in it than her.

Other videos show the grandmother from south Philadelphia wearing sequined jumpsuits and swigging from a bottle on her birthday, and pushing ice-cream cones into her grandchildren’s face.

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