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The silent partner cleaning up Facebook for $500m a year – The Irish Times

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In 2019, Julie Sweet, the newly-appointed chief executive of global consulting firm Accenture, held a meeting with top managers. She had a question: Should Accenture get out of some of the work it was doing for a leading client, Facebook?

For years, tensions had mounted within Accenture over a certain task that it performed for the social network. In eight-hour shifts, thousands of its full-time employees and contractors were sorting through Facebook’s most noxious posts, including images, videos and messages about suicides, beheadings and sexual acts, trying to prevent them from spreading online.

Some of those Accenture workers, who reviewed hundreds of Facebook posts in a shift, said they had started experiencing depression, anxiety and paranoia. In the United States, one worker had joined a class-action lawsuit to protest the working conditions. News coverage linked Accenture to the grisly work. So Sweet had ordered a review to discuss the growing ethical, legal and reputational risks.

At the meeting in Accenture’s Washington office, she and Ellyn Shook, head of human resources, voiced concerns about the psychological toll of the work for Facebook and the damage to the firm’s reputation, attendees said. Some executives who oversaw the Facebook account argued that the problems were manageable. They said the social network was too lucrative a client to lose.

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The meeting ended with no resolution.

Facebook and Accenture have rarely talked about their arrangement or even acknowledged that they work with each other. But their secretive relationship lies at the heart of an effort by the world’s largest social media company to distance itself from the most toxic part of its business.

Toxic content

For years, Facebook has been under scrutiny for the violent and hateful content that flows through its site. Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly pledged to clean up the platform. He has promoted the use of artificial intelligence to weed out toxic posts and touted efforts to hire thousands of workers to remove the messages that AI doesn’t.

Behind the scenes, Facebook has quietly paid others to take on much of the responsibility. Since 2012, the company has hired at least 10 consulting and staffing firms globally to sift through its posts, along with a wider web of subcontractors, according to interviews and public records.

No company has been more crucial to that endeavour than Accenture. The Fortune 500 firm, better known for providing high-end tech, accounting and consulting services to multinational companies and governments, has become Facebook’s single biggest partner in moderating content, according to an examination by The New York Times.

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Accenture has taken on the work – and given it a veneer of respectability – because Facebook has signed contracts with it for content moderation and other services worth at least $500 million (€422 million) a year, according to the New York Times examination. Accenture employs more than a third of the 15,000 people whom Facebook has said it has hired to inspect its posts. And while the agreements provide only a small fraction of Accenture’s annual revenue, they give it an important lifeline into Silicon Valley. Within Accenture, Facebook is known as a “diamond client”.

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Their contracts, which have not previously been reported, have redefined the traditional boundaries of an outsourcing relationship. Accenture has absorbed the worst facets of moderating content and made Facebook’s content issues its own. As a cost of doing business, it has dealt with workers’ mental-health issues from reviewing the posts. It has grappled with labour activism when those workers pushed for more pay and benefits. And it has silently borne public scrutiny when they have spoken out against the work.

Those issues have been compounded by Facebook’s demanding hiring targets and performance goals and so many shifts in its content policies that Accenture struggled to keep up, 15 current and former employees said. And when faced with legal action from moderators about the work, Accenture stayed quiet as Facebook argued that it was not liable because the workers belonged to Accenture and others.

“You couldn’t have Facebook as we know it today without Accenture,” said Cori Crider, a co-founder of Foxglove, a law firm that represents content moderators. “Enablers like Accenture, for eye-watering fees, have let Facebook hold the core human problem of its business at arm’s length.”

The New York Times interviewed more than 40 current and former Accenture and Facebook employees, labour lawyers and others about the companies’ relationship, which also includes accounting and advertising work. Most spoke anonymously because of non-disclosure agreements and fear of reprisal. The New York Times also reviewed Facebook and Accenture documents, legal records and regulatory filings.

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Facebook and Accenture declined to make executives available for comment. Drew Pusateri, a Facebook spokesperson, said the company was aware that content moderation “jobs can be difficult, which is why we work closely with our partners to constantly evaluate how to best support these teams”.

Stacey Jones, an Accenture spokesperson, said the work was a public service that was “essential to protecting our society by keeping the internet safe”.

Neither company mentioned the other by name.

Pornographic posts

Much of Facebook’s work with Accenture traces back to a nudity problem.

In 2007, millions of users joined the social network every month – and many posted naked photos. A settlement that Facebook reached that year with Andrew Cuomo, who was New York’s attorney general, required the company to take down pornographic posts flagged by users within 24 hours.

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Facebook employees who policed content were soon overwhelmed by the volume of work, members of the team said. Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, and other executives pushed the team to find automated solutions for combing through the content, three of them said.

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Facebook also began looking at outsourcing, they said. Outsourcing was cheaper than hiring people and provided tax and regulatory benefits, along with the flexibility to grow or shrink quickly in regions where the company did not have offices or language expertise. Sandberg helped champion the outsourcing idea, they said, and midlevel managers worked out the details.

In 2010, Accenture scored an accounting contract with Facebook. By 2012, that had expanded to include a deal for moderating content, particularly outside the United States.

That year, Facebook sent employees to Manila in the Philippines, and Warsaw, Poland, to train Accenture workers to sort through posts, two former Facebook employees involved with the trip said. Accenture’s workers were taught to use a Facebook software system and the platform’s guidelines for leaving content up, taking it down or escalating it for review.

What started as a few dozen Accenture moderators grew rapidly.

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By 2015, Accenture’s office in the San Francisco Bay Area had set up a team, codenamed Honey Badger, just for Facebook’s needs, former employees said. Accenture went from providing about 300 workers in 2015 to about 3,000 in 2016. They are a mix of full-time employees and contractors, depending on the location and task.

Facebook also spread the content work to other firms, such as Cognizant and TaskUs. Facebook now provides a third of TaskUs’s business, or $150 million a year, according to regulatory filings.

The work was challenging. While more than 90 per cent of objectionable material that comes across Facebook and Instagram is removed by AI, outsourced workers must decide whether to leave up the posts that the AI doesn’t catch.

They receive a performance score that is based on correctly reviewing posts against Facebook’s policies. If they make mistakes more than 5 per cent of the time, they can be fired, Accenture employees said.

Psychological costs

Within Accenture, workers began questioning the effects of viewing so many hateful posts.

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In Dublin, one Accenture moderator who sifted through Facebook content left a suicide note on his desk in 2018, said a mental health counsellor who was involved in the episode. The worker was found safe.

Joshua Sklar, a moderator in Austin who quit in April, said he had reviewed 500 to 700 posts a shift, including images of dead bodies after car crashes and videos of animals being tortured.

If workers went around Accenture’s chain of command and directly communicated with Facebook about content issues, they risked being reprimanded, he added. That made Facebook slower to learn about and react to problems, he said.

Facebook said anyone filtering content could escalate concerns.

Another former moderator in Austin, Spencer Darr, said in a legal hearing in June that the job had required him to make unimaginable decisions, such as whether to delete a video of a dog being skinned alive or simply mark it as disturbing. “Content moderators’ job is an impossible one,” he said.

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In 2018, Accenture introduced WeCare – policies that mental-health counsellors said limited their ability to treat workers. Their titles were changed to “wellness coaches” and they were instructed not to give psychological assessments or diagnoses, but to provide “short-term support” like taking walks or listening to calming music. The goal, according to a 2018 Accenture guidebook, was to teach moderators “how to respond to difficult situations and content.”

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Accenture’s Jones said the company was “committed to helping our people who do this important work succeed both professionally and personally”. Workers can see outside psychologists.

Scrutiny

By 2019, scrutiny of the industry was growing. That year, Cognizant said it was exiting content moderation after tech site the Verge described the low pay and mental-health effects of workers at an Arizona office. Cognizant said the decision would cost it at least $240 million in revenue and lead to 6,000 job cuts.

More than one Accenture chief executive debated doing business with Facebook.

In 2017, Pierre Nanterme, Accenture’s chief at the time, questioned the ethics of the work and whether it fitted the firm’s long-term strategy of providing services with high profit margins and technical expertise, three executives involved in the discussions said.

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No actions were taken. Nanterme died of cancer in January 2019.

Five months later, Sweet, a longtime Accenture lawyer and executive, was named chief executive. She soon ordered the review of the moderation business, three former colleagues said.

Last year, a worker in Austin was one of two from Accenture who joined a class-action suit against Facebook filed by US moderators. Facebook argued that it was not liable because the workers were employed by firms such as Accenture, according to court records. After the judge in the case ruled against Facebook, the company reached a $52 million settlement with the workers in May 2020.

For Sweet, the debate over the Facebook contracts stretched out over several meetings, former executives said. She subsequently made several changes.

In December 2019, Accenture created a two-page legal disclosure to inform moderators about the risks of the job. The work had “the potential to negatively impact your emotional or mental health”, the document said.

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Last October, Accenture went further. It listed content moderation for the first time as a risk factor in its annual report, saying it could leave the firm vulnerable to media scrutiny and legal trouble. Accenture also restricted new moderation clients, two people with knowledge of the policy shift said. Any new contracts required approval from senior management.

But Sweet also left some things untouched, they said.

Among them: the contracts with Facebook. Ultimately, the people said, the client was too valuable to walk away from. – This article first appeared in the New York Times

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Understanding Authorization Tokens and Access for the WhatsApp Business Platform

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The WhatsApp Business Platform makes it easy to send WhatsApp messages to your customers and automate replies. Here, we’ll explore authentication using the Cloud API, hosted by Meta.

We’ll start with generating and using a temporary access token and then replace it with a permanent access token. This tutorial assumes you’re building a server-side application and won’t need additional steps to keep your WhatsApp application secrets securely stored.

Managing Access and Authorization Tokens

First, let’s review how to manage authorization tokens and safely access the API.

Prerequisites

Start by making sure you have a developer account on Meta for Developers. You’ll also need WhatsApp installed on a mobile device to send test messages to.

Creating an App

Before you can authenticate, you’ll need an application to authenticate you.

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Once you’re signed in, you see the Meta for Developers App Dashboard. Click Create App to get started.

Next, you’ll need to choose an app type. Choose Business.

After that, enter a display name for your application. If you have a business account to link to your app, select it. If not, don’t worry. The Meta for Developers platform creates a test business account you can use to experiment with the API. When done, click Create App.

Then, you’ll need to add products to your app. Scroll down until you see WhatsApp and click the Set up button:

Finally, choose an existing Meta Business Account or ask the platform to create a new one and click Continue:

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And with that, your app is created and ready to use. You’re automatically directed to the app’s dashboard.

Note that you have a temporary access token. For security reasons, the token expires in less than 24 hours. However, you can use it for now to test accessing the API. Later, we’ll cover how to generate a permanent access token that your server applications can use. Also, note your app’s phone number ID because you’ll need it soon.

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Click the dropdown under the To field, and then click Manage phone number list.

In the popup that appears, enter the phone number of a WhatsApp account to send test messages to.

Then, scroll further down the dashboard page and you’ll see an example curl call that looks similar to this:

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curl -i -X POST https://graph.facebook.com/v13.0//messages -H 'Authorization: Bearer ' -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -d '{ "messaging_product": "whatsapp", "to": "", "type": "template", "template": { "name": "hello_world", "language": { "code": "en_US" } } }'

Note that the Meta for Developers platform inserts your app’s phone number ID and access token instead of the and placeholders shown above. If you have curl installed, paste the command into your terminal and run it. You should receive a “hello world” message in WhatsApp on your test device.

If you’d prefer, you can convert the curl request into an HTTP request in your programming language by simply creating a POST request that sets the Authorization and Content-Type headers as shown above, including the JSON payload in the request body.

Since this post is about authentication, let’s focus on that. Notice that you’ve included your app’s access token in the Authorization header. For any request to the API, you must set the Authorization header to Bearer .

Remember that you must use your token instead of the placeholder. Using bearer tokens will be familiar if you’ve worked with JWT or OAuth2 tokens before. If you’ve never seen one before, a bearer token is essentially a random secret string that you, as the bearer of the token, can present to an API to prove you’re allowed to access it.

Failure to include this header causes the API to return a 401 Unauthorized response code.

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Creating a Permanent Access Token

Knowing that you need to use a bearer token in the Authorization header of an HTTP request is helpful, but it’s not enough. The only access token you’ve seen so far is temporary. Chances are that you want your app to access the API for more than 24 hours, so you need to generate a longer-lasting access token.

Fortunately, the Meta for Developers platform makes this easy. All you need to do is add a System User to your business account to obtain an access token you can use to continue accessing the API. To create a system user, do the following:

  • Go to Business Settings.

  • Select the business account your app is associated with.
  • Below Users, click System Users.
  • Click Add.
  • Name the system user, choose Admin as the user role, and click Create System User.
  • Select the whatsapp_business_messaging permission.
  • Click Generate New Token.
  • Copy and save your token.

Your access token is a random string of letters and numbers. Now, try re-running the earlier request using the token you just created instead of the temporary one:

curl -i -X POST https://graph.facebook.com/v13.0//messages -H 'Authorization: Bearer ' -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -d '{ "messaging_product": "whatsapp", "to": "", "type": "template", "template": { "name": "hello_world", "language": { "code": "en_US" } } }'

Your test device should receive a second hello message sent via the API.

Best Practices for Managing Access Tokens

It’s important to remember that you should never embed an App Access Token in a mobile or desktop application. These tokens are only for use in server-side applications that communicate with the API. Safeguard them the same way you would any other application secrets, like your database credentials, as anyone with your token has access to the API as your business.

If your application runs on a cloud services provider like AWS, Azure, GCP, or others, those platforms have tools to securely store app secrets. Alternatively there are freely-available secret stores like Vault or Conjur. While any of these options may work for you, it’s important to evaluate your options and choose what works best for your setup. At the very least, consider storing access tokens in environment variables and not in a database or a file where they’re easy to find during a data breach.

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Conclusion

In this post, you learned how to create a Meta for Developers app that leverages the WhatsApp Business Platform. You now know how the Cloud API’s bearer access tokens work, how to send an access token using an HTTP authorization header, and what happens if you send an invalid access token. You also understand the importance of keeping your access tokens safe since an access token allows an application to access a business’ WhatsApp messaging capabilities.

Why not try using the Cloud API, hosted by Meta if you’re considering building an app for your business to manage WhatsApp messaging? Now that you know how to obtain and use access tokens, you can use them to access any endpoint in the API.

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Now people can share directly to Instagram Reels from some of their favorite apps

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More people are creating, sharing and watching Reels than ever before. We’ve seen the creator community dive deeply into video content – and use it to connect with their communities. We’re running a limited alpha test that lets creators share video content directly from select integrated apps to Instagram Reels. Now, creators won’t be interrupted in their workflow, making it easier for them share share and express themselves on Reels.

“With the shift to video happening across almost all online platforms, our innovative tools and services empower creativity and fuel the creator economy and we are proud to be able to offer a powerful editing tool like Videoleap that allows seamless content creation, while partnering with companies like Meta to make sharing content that much easier.”- Zeev Farbman, CEO and co-founder of Lightricks.

Starting this month, creators can share short videos directly to Instagram Reels from some of their favorite apps, including Videoleap, Reface, Smule, VivaVideo, SNOW, B612, VITA and Zoomerang, with more coming soon. These apps and others also allow direct sharing to Facebook , which is available for any business with a registered Facebook App to use.

We hope to expand this test to more partners in 2023. If you’re interested in being a part of that beta program, please fill out this form and we will keep track of your submission. We do not currently have information to share about general availability of this integration.

Learn more here about sharing Stories and Reels to Facebook and Instagram and start building today.

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FAQs

Q. What is the difference between the Instagram Content Publishing API and Instagram Sharing to Reels?

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A: Sharing to Reels is different from the Instagram Content Publishing API, which allows Instagram Business accounts to schedule and publish posts to Instagram from third-party platforms. Sharing to Reels is specifically for mobile apps to display a ‘Share to Reels’ widget. The target audience for the Share to Reels widget is consumers, whereas the Content Publishing API is targeted towards businesses, including third-party publishing platforms such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social that consolidate sharing to social media platforms within their third-party app.

Q: Why is Instagram partnering with other apps?

A: Creators already use a variety of apps to create and edit videos before uploading them to Instagram Reels – now we’re making that experience faster and easier. We are currently doing a small test of an integration with mobile apps that creators know and love, with more coming soon.

Q: How can I share my video from another app to Reels on Instagram?

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A: How it works (Make sure to update the mobile app you’re using to see the new Share to Reels option):

  • Create and edit your video in one of our partner apps
  • Once your video is ready, tap share and then tap the Instagram Reels icon
  • You will enter the Instagram Camera, where you can customize your reel with audio, effects, Voiceover and stickers. Record any additional clips or swipe up to add an additional clip from your camera roll.
  • Tap ‘Next’ to add a caption, hashtag, location, tag others or use the paid partnerships label.
  • Tap ‘Share’. Your reel will be visible where you share reels today, depending on your privacy settings.
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Q: How were partners selected?

A. We are currently working with a small group of developers that focus on video creation and editing as early partners. We’ll continue to expand to apps with other types of creation experiences.

Q: When will other developers be able to access Sharing to Reels on Instagram?

A: We do not currently have a date for general availability, but are planning to expand further in 2023.

Q: Can you share to Facebook Reels from other apps?

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A: Yes, Facebook offers the ability for developers to integrate with Sharing to Reels. For more information on third-party sharing opportunities, check out our entire suite of sharing offerings .

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What to know about Presto SQL query engine and PrestoCon

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The open source Presto SQL query engine is used by a diverse set of companies to navigate increasingly large data workflows. These companies are using Presto in support of e-commerce, cloud, security and other areas. Not only do many companies use Presto, but individuals from those companies are also active contributors to the Presto open source community.

In support of that community, Presto holds meetups around the world and has an annual conference, PrestoCon, where experts and contributors gather to exchange knowledge. This year’s PrestoCon, hosted by the Linux Foundation, takes place December 7-8 in Mountain View, CA. This blog post will explore some foundational elements of Presto and what to expect at this year’s PrestoCon.

What is Presto?

Presto is a distributed SQL query engine for data platform teams. Presto users can perform interactive queries on data where it lives using ANSI SQL across federated and diverse sources. Query engines allow data scientists and analysts to focus on building dashboards and utilizing BI tools so that data engineers can focus on storage and management, all while communicating through a unified connection layer.

In short, the scientist does not have to consider how or where data is stored, and the engineer does not have to optimize for every use case for the data sources they manage. You can learn more about Presto in a recent ELI5 video below.

Caption: Watch the video by clicking on the image above.

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Presto was developed to solve the problem of petabyte-scale, multi-source data queries taking hours or days to return. These resources and time constraints make real-time analysis impossible. Presto can return results from those same queries in less than a second in most cases, allowing for interactive data exploration.

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Not only is it highly scalable, but it’s also extensible, allowing you to build your own connector for any data source Presto does not already support. At a low level, Presto also supports a wide range of file types for query processing. Presto was open sourced by Meta and later donated to the Linux Foundation in September of 2019.

Here are some Presto resources for those who are new to the community:

What is PrestoCon?

PrestoCon is held annually in the Bay Area and hosted by the Linux Foundation. This year, the event takes place December 7-8 at the Computer History Museum. You can register here. Each year at PrestoCon, you can hear about the latest major evolutions of the platform, how different organizations use Presto and what plans the Technical Steering Committee has for Presto in the coming year.

Presto’s scalability is especially apparent as every year we hear from small startups, as well as industry leaders like Meta and Uber, who are using the Presto platform for different use cases, whether those are small or large. If you’re looking to contribute to open source, PrestoCon is a great opportunity for networking as well as hearing the vision that the Technical Steering Committee has for the project in the coming year.

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Explore what’s happening at PrestoCon 2022:

Where is Presto used?

Since its release in November of 2013, Presto has been used as an integral part of big data pipelines within Meta and other massive-scale companies, including Uber and Twitter.

The most common use case is connecting business intelligence tools to vast data sets within an organization. This enables crucial questions to be answered faster and data-driven decision-making can be more efficient.

How does Presto work?

First, a coordinator takes your statement and parses it into a query. The internal planner generates an optimized plan as a series of stages, which are further separated into tasks. Tasks are then assigned to workers to process in parallel.

Workers then use the relevant connector to pull data from the source.

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The output of each task is returned by the workers, until the stage is complete. The stage’s output is returned by the final worker towards the next stage, where another series of tasks must be executed.

The results of stages are combined, eventually returning the final result of the original statement to the coordinator, which then returns to the client.

How do I get involved?

To start using Presto, go to prestodb.io and click Get Started.

We would love for you to join the Presto Slack channel if you have any questions or need help. Visit the community page on the Presto website to see all the ways you can get involved and find other users and developers interested in Presto.

If you would like to contribute, go to the GitHub repository and read over the Contributors’ Guide.

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Where can I learn more?

To learn more about Presto, check out its website for installation guides, user guides, conference talks and samples.

Make sure you check out previous Presto talks, and attend the annual PrestoCon event if you are able to do so.

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

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