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Privacy Lapses Could Be Part of Google, Facebook Antitrust Cases in the US

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Antitrust authorities probing Facebook and Alphabet’s Google have struggled with scrutinising companies whose products are popular and free. Now they may have a solution: Use privacy as a test. As the US Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission, Congress and the states investigate whether Internet companies are flouting antitrust laws, academics and even some regulators are pushing to go beyond the traditional focus on price as a determinant of harm. Enforcers, they say, should also consider privacy lapses as a proxy for anti-competitive behaviour.

Their legal reasoning goes like this: Monopolists generally stop innovating, let product quality slip and treat customers poorly, knowing no competitor has the ability to grab market share. Repeated privacy lapses can be a sign that a company — Facebook is often cited as a prime example — has let product quality and customer service slip, knowing its social-media dominance is unassailable.

Sen. Josh Hawley, the Republican senator from Missouri, buys this argument. Facebook, he said, has suffered few real consequences despite its shoddy record on protecting users’ privacy. Consumers have nowhere else to go to get the totality of what Facebook offers — a classic antitrust problem of degrading quality.

“One of the reasons data privacy concerns are so pressing is because these companies are monopoly size,” Hawley, a big-tech antagonist who sued Google when he was his state’s attorney general, told Bloomberg last week. “If we had a viable alternative to Facebook that wasn’t scooping up someone’s data, that wasn’t selling our information without telling us, then I would be less concerned.”

Hawley echoed a view that is gaining traction with federal and state antitrust enforcers, as well as the leaders of a congressional probe into big Internet platforms. One advantage of the privacy-erosion-is-antitrust theory is that no new laws are needed to enforce it.

Days after the Justice Department’s Google probe was revealed in June, for instance, its antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, linked the two issues, noting that quality can figure in antitrust analysis in addition to price and that “privacy can be an important dimension of quality.”

Delrahim noted that the 1998 case against Microsoft didn’t revolve around higher prices. Instead, the US alleged that the software company illegally maintained a monopoly over personal-computer operating systems by blocking manufacturers from installing a browser that competed with its own. Both browsers were free to consumers.

Including privacy in the investigations would expand the range of issues enforcers are known to be looking at, including Facebook’s past acquisitions and Google’s conduct in the digital advertising market. Facebook and Google declined to comment.

Rep. David Cicilline, the Rhode Island Democrat leading the House probe of the tech sector, referred in a hearing earlier in November to “the obvious cost to personal privacy that has resulted from consolidation in the digital marketplace.”

Privacy and competition have long been treated as distinct areas of the law. Google and Facebook have agreed to pay fines for privacy violations under consumer-protection statutes, but they have faced little antitrust action.

One reason is that federal courts have clung to the consumer-welfare standard and often demand evidence of higher prices before deciding cases in favour of enforcers. Just last year, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 for American Express Co. and against the US and 11 states alleging that cardholders were harmed when American Express prohibited merchants from steering customers to cards with lower fees. The majority’s rationale? There was no evidence that American Express’s policy harmed consumers by pushing up the price of credit-card transactions.

Now, Hawley, Delrahim and Cicilline are signalling a shift in the way the government thinks about antitrust enforcement, particularly in technology. State attorneys general are exploring similar ideas.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is leading the states’ Facebook probe, said the coalition will “use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions may have endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising.”

The public interest in the overlap is relatively new, said Dina Srinivasan, a former digital ad executive who has written that Facebook’s data practices could form the basis of an antitrust case.

“We’ve seen this momentum in many of those circles since the beginning of the year,” she said.

Srinivasan argued in a February article in the Berkeley Business Law Journal that consumers were able to rebuff Facebook’s tracking of users on third-party websites when the social media market was competitive. After the demise of rivals such as MySpace, Facebook expanded tracking to millions of websites to further its advertising business despite consumer pushback, she noted. A truly competitive market would swiftly punish such practices, Srinivasan wrote.

Not all legal experts agree that privacy violations could be part of any antitrust suit. A case that’s “based on a data privacy theory of harm is not in the cards,” said Jim Tierney, who oversaw tech-sector antitrust enforcement at the Justice Department from 2006 to 2016 and is now a partner at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliff, a law firm that counts Facebook as a client. Tierney said he doesn’t do any work for the company.

Others see a different problem. “Consumers seem just willing to give up the data,” said Sam Weinstein, a professor at Cardozo Law School. “If that’s what’s happening, it’s hard to see antitrust interceding.”

Some non-US jurisdictions have sought to twin privacy and antitrust, with mixed results. Germany’s competition authority, the Federal Cartel Office, in February ordered Facebook to overhaul how it tracks users off its site over allegations that the company used its dominance to force consumers to accept unfair terms. Facebook responded that the agency misapplied German law because the company faces “fierce competition.”

In August, however, a German court suspended the ruling, expressing “serious doubts about the legality” of the order. The agency is appealing.

© 2019 Bloomberg LP

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ELI5: Docusaurus – Making Documentation Easy

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In this post, we will briefly talk about Docusaurus, a website building tool that makes it easy to develop, maintain and deploy a documentation site. If you prefer to learn about Docusaurus in a short video rather than a blog post, go to the Facebook Open Source YouTube channel to watch another episode of ELI5.

Why Docusaurus?

The top open source projects on GitHub have their own documentation sites that contain an overview of the project, short getting started guides, in-depth tutorials and project blogs. These resources are key to the success of any open source project, but building, managing and deploying them can be a lot of work. Unless you’re using Docusaurus.

Docusaurus is an open source project for building, deploying and maintaining websites. This project’s main goal is to get you started with your website in a matter of seconds. Beyond creating the site, Docusaurus emphasizes speed of both developer and end users by following the PRPL pattern and by relying on an incremental build for content changes.

Docusaurus allows developers to use tools they already know like Markdown or MDX to write documentation or blogs. With React as the backbone of Docusaurus, developers can customize their website to fit their use case.

This website building tool also comes with search and localization features. Projects built with Docusaurus leverage Algolia for a built in search engine and Crowdin for language support.

The cherry on top is that you don’t have to manually update your documentation every time you update your code. Docusaurus automatically syncs docs to project releases so that you can spend more of your time working on the things you care about.

Where is it used?

Docusaurus was first released to the public by the Facebook Open Source team in 2017. Since then, this project has been used by a large number of the Facebook open source projects and by over 100 external projects.

Where can I learn more?

Want to learn more about Docusaurus? You can find extensive documentation and tutorials covering a wide range of topics on building and customizing your site. If you want to engage with the community, feel free to join the Discord channel or talk to the team on Twitter.

If you want to see more content about Docusaurus, let us know on our YouTube channel, or by tweeting at us.

About the ELI5 series

In a series of short videos (~1 min in length), one of our Developer Advocates on the Facebook Open Source team explains a Facebook open source project in a way that is easy to understand and use.

We will write an accompanying blog post (like the one you’re reading right now) for each of these videos, which you can find on our YouTube channel.

To learn more about Facebook Open Source, visit our open source site, subscribe to our YouTube channel, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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2020 Developer Circles Community Challenge regional winners announced

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It’s often said that one of the best ways to learn is to become the teacher. That’s why, for this year’s Developer Circles Community Challenge, we invited developers and creators to put an innovative spin on technical education by creating tutorials that showcase the capabilities of Facebook technologies.

Participants created step-by-step written tutorials that demonstrated one or more features of open source tools including Hack, React, React Native, PyTorch and Docusaurus; as well as products including Messenger, Spark AR and Wit.ai.

For their efforts, we offered cash prizes, as well as the opportunity to have their tutorials credited and shared with fellow innovators across the Facebook ecosystem.

Our regional winners

As our first step in deciding the overall winners, we’re very excited to announce our regional winners today.

The teams behind the below inspiring tutorials have each won a US$2,000 cash prize, and will also be invited to make further enhancements to their projects by Monday November 30, in order to have a chance at the global prizes announced in mid-December.

Asia Pacific

Intermediate/ Advanced

Create Smarter Messenger Experiences on Facebook with Bright
Messenger, Wit.AI

Covid Center Bot (Intermediate)
Messenger, Wit.AI

It’s Now Winter — AR Pop-up Card Tutorial Series
Spark AR

Beginner

HayWord | Case Study for Making Real Word Chatbot Messenger
React, Messenger, Wit.AI

Spark AR Promo Card Filter Tutorial
Spark AR

IndoNLU: Finetuning Tutorial IndoBERT using PyTorch
PyTorch, Docusaurus

Europe

Intermediate/Advanced

How to make Smoke in Spark AR
Spark AR

Creating colliders with Scripting – Spark AR
Spark AR

DIY Alexa With the ESP32 and Wit.ai
Wit.AI

Beginner

Calendar buddy
React, Wit.AI

Spark AR – Audio Visualizer Tutorial
Spark AR

React Custom Animation Hooks Tutorial
React

India

Intermediate/ Advanced

Shockwave
Spark AR

Reactode
React

Transfer Learning Model hosted on Heroku using React & Flask
React, PyTorch

Beginner

ReactNative Tutor ( Learn React Native On the Go )
React Native

Making Conversational Android Apps with Wit.ai
Wit.AI

DevCoder
Wit.AI

Latin America

Intermediate/ Advanced

Updating the Authorization header with Observables
React

Use data from Facebook API in Messenger Bots
Messenger

Manipulating Multiple Scene Objects with Scripts in Spark AR
Spark AR

Beginner

Create a serverless Messenger bot with Wit.ai
Messenger, Wit.AI

Documenting with Docusaurus Version 2 for beginners
Docusaurus

Spark AR – Art Series
Spark AR

Middle East and North Africa

Intermediate/ Advanced

violence Detection in videos using CNN + LSTM
PyTorch

360 Tours
React

Beginner

Messenger Platform Tutorial (TDD Approach)
Messenger

Customer Service Messenger Bot
Messenger, Wit.ai

Build an Encryptor/Decryptor Chatbot on Messenger using Wit
Messenger, Wit.ai

North America

Intermediate/ Advanced

Your Claw Machine
Spark AR

Wit.ai CI and CLI
Wit.ai

Job Finder Bot tutorial
PyTorch

Beginner

Pneumonet-Building an AI COVID-19 Product with Pytorch
Messenger, Wit.ai

Chatbot for Class
React, Docusaurus

Getting Started with React Hooks: useState and useEffect
React

Sub-Saharan Africa

Intermediate/ Advanced

Rabbit Coder (Spark AR Tutorial)
Spark AR

Pytorch For Information Extraction
PyTorch

Architecting and Designing a React Native Application
React Native

Beginner

Wiki Education
Messenger, Wit.ai

Live Chess
React, Docusaurus

Fruit Classifier
PyTorch, Messenger

Our local language winners

In acknowledgment of our diverse, global community, we’re also pleased to offer a set of special local language prizes for the first time. The below winning tutorials have each won a US$1,500 prize.

Arabic

Intermediate/ Advanced

Violence Detection in videos
PyTorch

Beginner

Adding Drag & Drop to React components
React, Docusaurus

French

Intermediate/ Advanced

Systeme De Reconnaissance Du Cache Nez
PyTorch

Beginner

Learn the basics of Spark AR by creating your FanMask filter
Spark AR

Indonesian

Intermediate/ Advanced

Gameo
React, PyTorch, Docusaurus

Beginner

HayWord | Case Study for Making Real Word Messenger Apps
React, Messenger, Wit.ai

Spanish

Intermediate/ Advanced

Chatbots As A Service con Messenger Platform
Messenger

Beginner

Tutorial web voice control using Wit.ai
Wit.ai

New building opportunities coming soon

Congratulations to all of these trail-blazing winners, and to everyone who took part in the Challenge. Stay tuned to our Facebook Developer Circles page for more information on our global winners announcement in December!

We’ll also be hosting a range of challenges including hackathons, as well as product immersion opportunities, for developers and creators in 2021. Don’t forget to sign up for our email newsletter to be among the first to know about these initiatives.

Stay safe and we can’t wait to continue supporting you as you #BuildwithFacebook.

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ELI5: Fresco – Image Management Library for Android

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In this post, we explain Fresco, a powerful system for displaying images in Android applications, in a way that is super simple to understand (or as it’s commonly known online, ELI5). If you’re interested in learning by watching or listening, check out a video about this open source project on our Facebook Open Source Youtube channel.

Why Fresco?

Many of us are accustomed to browsing the Internet using reliable in-home wireless or a high-speed LTE connection on our mobile device. However, many users all over the world don’t have access to reliable internet access or the newest phone. With these limitations, users are unable to effectively use photos, gifs, and other forms of media. These non-text based communication devices help people to come across more genuine, and, without them, people’s conversations stay more formal and often lack genuine personality.

Fortunately, we get to help these people with projects like Fresco. This resources management library ensures that images, animations, and other visual assets can be used on a wide range of devices, even with an unreliable Internet connection. Fresco makes this happen by keeping resources’ memory footprint as small as possible. This functionality lets people use visuals while adjusting the image quality to what the device and the network can handle.

Here’s how it works. Fresco introduces progressive image loading where a low-resolution scan of the image is shown first, and then the quality is gradually improved as more of the image gets downloaded. This functionality is especially useful for devices relying on slow networks.

One use case to consider is how we use Fresco at Facebook. As a company, we aim to make online communication more personal. For this purpose, the Facebook app has animated stickers and gifs where people can authentically express themselves. However, from a technical point of view, these animated stickers and gifs are difficult to support as they need to be decoded, stored and displayed. But with Fresco, these challenges are handled for you, so animation becomes what it should be – a lot of fun!

Where is it used?

Fresco was first open sourced in early 2015. Apart from Facebook, companies like Wikipedia, Twitter and Redfin use this library for their Android apps.

Where can I learn more?

To learn more about Fresco, visit their website. It has great documentation for those who are just starting or want to use more advanced features. In case you would like to see Fresco in action, the project’s site has multiple sample apps for you to try. If you have any questions, you can go to Fresco’s GitHub page or StackOverflow.

If you have any further questions about Fresco, let us know on our Youtube channel, or by tweeting at us. We always want to hear from you and hope you will find this open source project and the new ELI5 series useful.

About the ELI5 series

In a series of short videos (~1 min in length), one of our Developer Advocates on the Facebook Open Source team explains a Facebook open source project in a way that is easy to understand and use.

We will write an accompanying blog post (like the one you’re reading right now) for each of these videos, which you can find on our Youtube channel.

To learn more about Facebook Open Source, visit our open source site, subscribe to our Youtube channel, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Interested in working with open source at Facebook? Check out our open source-related job postings on our career page by taking this quick survey.

Facebook Developers

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