Scientists teach AI to determine our political affiliation based on the cars we drive


A group of scientists recently developed an AI model which uses Google Street View photographs to determine startlingly accurate social insights about a geographic area. By looking at the cars we drive, the researchers’ deep learning network can determine a community’s racial, political, and economic makeup. The research was conducted by scientists and based at Stanford university, using an AI training method called a convolutional neural network (CNN). This method involves creating a “gold standard” set of images, checked by humans, which are used to teach a computer how to classify new images on its own. In this case the…

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Facebook told the U.S. government that it’s open to new, limited political ad disclosure rules

Its comments to the FEC, however, don’t mention issues-focused ads, which Russian agents bought in 2016.

Facebook told the U.S. government that it would support limited new federal rules requiring companies and campaigns to disclose more information about online political ads.

But the social giant — in comments filed with the Federal Election Commission on Monday — did not appear to wade into what should be done about issues-related political ads, the kinds of ads purchased by Russian agents in an attempt to sow social unrest around the 2016 presidential election.

Specifically, Facebook said it supported the FEC’s efforts to clarify when tech companies must disclose the origin of political ads, and what those disclosures must include.

Facebook also endorsed rules requiring greater transparency around candidate-focused ads that run in the weeks around Election Day, a move that would subject tech platforms to similar guidelines that currently apply to broadcasters and newspapers.

And Facebook asked the FEC to be open-minded about how those disclosures should look. The tech company recently announced that it would place an icon on political ads about federal candidates to help users learn more about them — and it touted that plan as it urged the agency to consider similarly flexible rules.

Taken together, Facebook’s comments appear to amount to a marked departure from 2011, when the company actually sought an exemption from FEC advertising regulations. At the time, Facebook said its ads were too small for the feds to require it to include text explaining who paid for it in the first place. In the end, the FEC never adopted any rules.

“Ad formats available on Facebook have expanded dramatically since that time,” Facebook said Monday. “Today, some of Facebook’s ads continue to be limited in size, with text limitations or truncations based on format and placement of the ad. But other formats allow for additional creative flexibility. Ads can now include videos, can include scrolling carousels of images, and can even cover the entire screen of a mobile device.”

But Facebook’s comments omitted a key element: A reference to issue-focused ads, or the kinds of ads that don’t mention a specific candidate or campaign, but push a viewpoint on a specific social issue, like gun control.

Many of the ads purchased by Russian accounts during last year’s presidential election were issue-based ads intended to stoke unrest around issues like immigration, gun control or Black Lives Matter. Those ads do not currently require any kind of disclosure, and Facebook is not interested in regulating them, its comments appeared to suggest.

Doing so could require the company to regularly make editorial decisions about what counts as an issues-focused ad and what doesn’t, and Facebook has long argued that it provides a neutral platform for all ideas. In contrast, Google was less shy about pointing out the troublesome issues ads — and asking the FEC for clarity as to how they should be handled, particularly when they are purchased by foreign entities.

For now, the FEC does not yet have a proposal. It is only seeking initial public comment, the deadline for which is today. All three tech giants — Facebook, Google and Twitter — have asked for clarity as part of that process, even if they disagree on what those rules should cover.

The FEC could ultimately decide to stand down in 2017, adopting no regulations now, much as it did in 2011. In the meantime, it’s why lawmakers on Capitol Hill have pursued a bill of their own. So far, though, Facebook, Google and Twitter each has declined to endorse the measure, called the Honest Ads Act, which would require them to make copies of political ads available for public inspection.


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Senators want FEC to improve transparency for online political ads

It's not just companies like Google asking the Federal Election Commission to improve disclosure for online political ads. A group of 15 Democrat senators (led by Sens. Claire McCaskill, Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner) has filed an official comment c…
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Recode Daily: Google asks the U.S. government for explicit rules around foreign-bought online political ads

Plus, Twitter is rethinking about verification after it blue-checked a white supremacist, and your connected holiday gift guide (privacy not included).

Musical.ly, the video lip-syncing app that took off like a rocket three years ago, will sell for at least $ 800 million. The buyer is Jinri Toutiao, the Chinese media startup. Musical.ly itself was created in China but enjoyed huge growth in the U.S. That growth has stalled in the last year, though. [Peter Kafka / Recode]

After white supremacist Jason Kessler was verified on Twitter, the company temporarily paused all account verifications while it clarifies its policy. Twitter verification gives public figures a blue checkmark next to their names, which has become a sort of status symbol. The controversy arose less than a month after CEO Jack Dorsey recommitted once again to eliminating “hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence” from the platform. Meanwhile, Dorsey says he “absolutely” willing to testify before Congress about Russia if he had been invited. But he was — repeatedly. [Kurt Wagner / Recode]

Contradicting earlier reports, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the Department of Justice did not ask him to sell CNN as a condition of acquiring Time Warner, and reiterated that he does not intend to sell CNN. If completed, the deal would transform AT&T into a colossus capable of both producing content and distributing it to millions of people via its wireless and satellite services. [Peter Kafka / Recode]

Comedian Louis C.K. has been accused of sexual misconduct by five women; last night’s scheduled premiere of his new movie, “I Love You, Daddy” was canceled, as was a scheduled appearance on Stephen Colbert’s show. And comedian Kathy Griffin, who lost high-profile jobs and was all but hounded out of the country after an ill-advised social media stunt about beheading Donald Trump, is on an international “Laugh Your Head Off” tour — and Trump’s condemnation is fueling her fierce new act. [The New York Times]

Wallpaper scored an interview with Apple design chief Jony Ive and Stefan Behling, one of the lead architects on the company’s new Apple Park HQ, which the design magazine calls “in some ways, the ultimate Apple product.” Ive goes into detail about how the unique circular structure functions, and muses on his concepts for the new iPhone X. Apple, meanwhile, released its latest diversity report, which notes that the overall racial and gender makeup of its workforce remains mostly unchanged since 2016. [Nick Compton / Wallpaper]

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