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Instagram Can Track User Data, Behaviour via Its In-App Browser; Meta Responds: Report

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Instagram app can track its users’ every interaction — including all form inputs like passwords, addresses, every single tap, text selections, and screenshots — with external websites that are accessed through the platform’s in-app browser, as per a report. The Instagram app reportedly injects JavaScript code into every website shown, including when clicking on ads, which allows the company to monitor all user interactions. As per Meta, the script which Instagram app injects helps the company “aggregate events” and respect users’ App Tracking Transparency (ATT) opt-out choice.

As per a blog post by Felix Krause, who owns fastlane — an open source platform aimed at simplifying Android and iOS deployment — Instagram app injects their JavaScript code into every website shown, including when clicking on ads, in the app. Injecting custom scripts into third-party websites allows the platform “to monitor all user interactions, like every button & link tapped, text selections, screenshots, as well as any form inputs, like passwords, addresses and credit card numbers” without users’ consent.

In layman’s words, when you tap on a website link, swipe up link, or a link to purchase anything through ads on Instagram, it opens a window in the in-app browser instead of opening it in the default browser (Google Chrome, Safari, among others) that you have set on your phone. As per the blog, Instagram app injects their JavaScript code into every website shown, allowing them to “monitor everything happening on external websites — without the consent from the user, nor the website provider” — when you are using the opened website in Instagram’s in-app browser.

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App Tracking Transparency feature in iOS 14.5 allows users to decide which apps have the permission to track their data. Meta reportedly said that this has cost the company $10 billion (roughly Rs. 80,000 crore) a year. The blog notes that in order to be safe from the tracking, users can copy and open the link in their preferred browsers. Apple’s web browser Safari blocks third-party cookies by default, Google Chrome will soon start phasing out third-party cookies, and Firefox’s recently-announced Total Cookie Protection will prevent any cross-page tracking.

Meanwhile, Meta responded to Krause saying that the script that gets injected “isn’t the Meta Pixel” — a snippet of JavaScript code that allows tracking visitor activity on a website. Meta says that it is the pcm.js script, which “helps aggregate events, i.e. online purchase, before those events are used for targeted advertising and measurement for the Facebook platform.” Meta also said that the injected script respects the user’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) opt-out choice “which is only relevant if the rendered website has the Meta Pixel installed.” ATT is a framework on iOS that requires all iOS apps to ask users for permission to share their data.

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Krause says he has reverted to Meta asking more details on the same. He, however, points that all of this (injecting code and respecting user’s ATT choice) “wouldn’t be necessary if Instagram were to open the phone’s default browser, instead of building & using the custom in-app browser.”


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US Senate Panel Approves Bill Empowering News Organisations to Negotiate With Facebook, Google for Revenue

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The US Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve a bill aimed at allowing news organizations to band together to negotiate with Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook and win more revenue.

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 15 to 7, according to a congressional aide. It must now go to the Senate for their approval. A similar bill is before the US House of Representatives.

The bill is aimed at giving news and broadcast organisations more clout after years of criticism that big tech companies use their content to attract traffic and ad revenue without fairly compensating the publishers, many of which struggle financially.

The bill, led by Democrat Amy Klobuchar, attracted some Republican support, with Senators John Kennedy and Lindsey Graham sponsoring it. Other Democrats, like Senator Alex Padilla, expressed reservations about it.

The bill hit a speed bump earlier this month when Senator Ted Cruz won backing for a plan to include provisions to address what he considers the platforms stifling conservative voices.

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On Thursday Klobuchar won support for an amendment that specified that prices for use of content was the issue.

“The goal of the bill is to allow local news organisations to get compensation when major titans, monopolies like Facebook and Google, access their content,” she said at a committee session to vote on the bill.

Unlike other bills aimed at reining in big tech, some progressive groups oppose this measure, including Public Knowledge, on the grounds that it favors big broadcasters like News Corp, Sinclair, and Comcast/NBCU.

Also opposing the bill are two technology industry trade groups that Facebook and Google belong to: the Computer & Communications Industry Association and NetChoice.

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© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Buying an affordable 5G smartphone today usually means you will end up paying a “5G tax”. What does that mean for those looking to get access to 5G networks as soon as they launch? Find out on this week’s episode. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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WhatsApp Working to Keep Iranians Connected Amid Widespread Internet Shutdown Over Nationwide Protests

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Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp said on Thursday that it was working to keep users in Iran connected after the country restricted access to the app and social media platform Instagram.

WhatsApp “will do anything” within its technical capacity to keep the service accessible and that it was not blocking Iranian phone numbers, the messaging service said in a tweet.

We exist to connect the world privately. We stand with the rights of people to access private messaging. We are not blocking Iranian numbers. We are working to keep our Iranian friends connected and will do anything within our technical capacity to keep our service up and running

— WhatsApp (@WhatsApp) September 22, 2022

Iran on Wednesday restricted access to Instagram and WhatsApp, two of the last remaining social networks in the country, amid protests over the death of a woman in police custody, according to residents and internet watchdog NetBlocks.

Last week’s death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by morality police in Tehran for “unsuitable attire”, has unleashed anger over issues including freedom in the Islamic Republic and an economy reeling from sanctions.

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Protesters in Tehran and other Iranian cities torched police stations and vehicles earlier on Thursday as public outrage over the death showed no signs of abating, with reports of security forces coming under attack.

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that the country had imposed a near-total Internet blackout on Wednesday on the fifth day of protests against the government over Amini’s death, after she was held by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating its strictly-enforced dress code.

Previously, a government official had hinted that security concerns might prompt measures to restrict internet access. As previously mentioned, Instagram and WhatsApp were the last major social media networks operating in Iran.

The country currently blocks Facebook, Telegram, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and WhatsApp. However, top Iranian officials have access to public accounts on these platforms, while Iranians are able to access these services using virtual private networks and proxies, according to the report.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Buying an affordable 5G smartphone today usually means you will end up paying a “5G tax”. What does that mean for those looking to get access to 5G networks as soon as they launch? Find out on this week’s episode. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

See also  Snap Launches Parental Control Tool Family Center, Lets Parents Check Teens’ Contacts
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Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen Launches ‘Beyond the Screen’ Organisation to Tackle Social Media Harms

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Whistleblower Frances Haugen – a former Facebook engineer who leaked documents suggesting the firm put profits before safety – on Thursday launched an organisation devoted to fighting harm caused by social media.

The new Beyond the Screen nonprofit said that its first project will be to document ways big tech is failing in its “legal and ethical obligations to society” and help come up with ways to solve those problems.

“We can have social media that brings out the best in us, and that’s what Beyond the Screen is working toward,” Haugen said in a statement.

“Beyond the Screen will focus on tangible solutions to help users gain control of our social media experience.”

Haugen last year leaked reams of internal studies showing executives knew of their site’s potential for harm, prompting a renewed US push for regulation.

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Haugen contended the tech titan, which has since rebranded itself as Meta, put profits over safety. Meta has fought back against the accusation.

Haugen’s nonprofit said it will collaborate with groups including Common Sense Media and Project Liberty that share a “commitment to supporting healthier social media.”

Beyond the Screen’s first project “represents a bold, inclusive, and much-needed effort to drive a seismic shift in how social media operates,” Project Liberty founder Frank McCourt said, according to Beyond the Screen’s statement.

“We look forward to working with Frances and her team to launch this new initiative and advance our shared goal of enabling healthier digital communities and stopping harmful business models.”

Since leaving Facebook in 2021, Haugen has advocated in the US and other countries for legislation meant to make social media platforms safer, particularly for young people.

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Buying an affordable 5G smartphone today usually means you will end up paying a “5G tax”. What does that mean for those looking to get access to 5G networks as soon as they launch? Find out on this week’s episode. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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