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Twitter to pay $150 mln to settle with U.S. over privacy, security violations

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(Last Updated On: May 26, 2022)

Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) has agreed to pay $150 million to settle allegations it misused private information, like phone numbers, to target advertising after telling users the information would be used for security reasons, according to court documents filed on Wednesday.

Twitter’s settlement covers allegations that it misrepresented the “security and privacy” of user data between May 2013 and September 2019, according to the court documents.

The company will pay $150 million as part of the settlement announced by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In addition to the monetary settlement, the agreement requires Twitter to improve its compliance practices.

The complaint said that the misrepresentations violated the FTC Act and a 2011 settlement with the agency.

“Specifically, while Twitter represented to users that it collected their telephone numbers and email addresses to secure their accounts, Twitter failed to disclose that it also used user contact information to aid advertisers in reaching their preferred audiences,” the complaint said.

Twitter’s chief privacy officer, Damien Kieran, said in a statement that with the settlement “we have aligned with the agency on operational updates and program enhancements” to protect user privacy and security.

Twitter is a free service that makes money primarily through advertising. Billionaire Elon Musk, who is buying the service for $44 billion, has criticized its ads-driven business model and pledged to diversify its revenue sources.

“If Twitter was not truthful here, what else is not true? This is very concerning news,” Musk said in a tweet late on Wednesday, commenting on the social media company’s ad practices and the fine.

U.S. officials pointed out that of the $3.4 billion in revenue that Twitter earned in 2019, about $3 billion was from advertising.

The company made $5 billion in revenue for 2021. It said in a filing earlier this month that it had put aside $150 million after agreeing “in principle” upon a penalty with the FTC.

“Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan in a statement. “This practice affected more than 140 million Twitter users, while boosting Twitter’s primary source of revenue.”

The complaint also alleges that Twitter falsely said it complied with the European Union-U.S. and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield Frameworks, which bar companies from using data in ways that consumers do not authorize.

Twitter’s settlement follows years of fallout over the privacy practices of tech companies.

Revelations in 2018 that Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, was using phone numbers provided for two-factor authentication to serve ads enraged privacy advocates.

Facebook, now called Meta (FB.O), similarly settled with the FTC over the issue as part of a $5 billion agreement reached in 2019.

Science & Technology

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip

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(Last Updated On: June 26, 2022)

While workers labored on a large construction site in the Gaza Strip, a security guard noticed a strange piece of stone sticking out of the earth.

“I thought it was a tunnel,” said Ahmad, the young guard, referring to secret passages dug by Hamas to help it battle Israel.

In the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas and repeatedly ravaged by war, people are more familiar with burying the dead than digging up their heritage.

But what Ahmad found in January was part of a Roman necropolis dating from about 2,000 years ago — representative of the impoverished Palestinian territory’s rich, if under-developed, archaeological treasures, phys.org reported Sunday.

After the last war between Israel and Hamas in May 2021 left a trail of damage in Gaza, Egypt began a reconstruction initiative worth $500 million.

As part of that project in Jabaliya, in the north of the coastal enclave, bulldozers were digging up the sandy soil in order to build new concrete buildings when Ahmad made his discovery.

“I notified the Egyptian foremen, who immediately contacted local authorities and asked the workers to stop,” said Ahmad, a Palestinian who preferred not to give his full name.

With rumors on social media of a big discovery, Gaza’s antiquities service called in the French non-governmental group Premiere Urgence Internationale and the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem to evaluate the site’s importance and mark off the area, phys.org reported.

“The first excavations permitted the identification of about 40 tombs dating from the ancient Roman period between the first and second centuries AD,” said French archaeologist Rene Elter, who led the team dispatched to Jabaliya.

“The necropolis is larger than these 40 tombs and should have between 80 and 100,” he said.

One of the burial sites found so far is decorated with multi-colored paintings representing crowns and garlands of bay leaves, as well as jars for funereal drinks, the archaeologist added.

Stakes and fences have been erected around the Roman necropolis, which is watched over constantly by guards as new buildings go up nearby, phys.org reported.

Gaza is a tiny, overcrowded strip of land whose population in 15 years has ballooned from 1.4 million to 2.3 million. As a result, building construction has accelerated.

“Some people avoid telling authorities if there is an archaeological discovery on a construction site out of fear of not being compensated” for the resulting work stoppage, Abu Hassan said.

“We lose archaeological sites every day,” which shows the need for a strategy to defend the enclave’s heritage, including training local archaeologists, he said.

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Burmese python weighing almost 100kg caught in Florida

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(Last Updated On: June 24, 2022)

The largest Burmese python ever seen in Florida was caught by researchers who used another python to lure it out of its hiding place in the Everglades, National Geographic reported this week.

The gargantuan snake was a female, measuring nearly 5.4 meters long and weighing 97 kilograms, 13.6 kg more than the next-largest python ever found in the state.

Most Burmese pythons that are found in Florida range between 1.8 and 3 m long, although in their native habitats in Southeast Asia, the snakes commonly reach 5.4 m. The largest can reach lengths of 6 m or more, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Since being introduced in Florida in the 1970s, the invasive pythons have bred successfully in the southern regions of the state, where they prey on many native birds and mammals, as well as the occasional alligator or pet dog, Live Science reported.

A 3.7 m snake nicknamed Dion served as bait for the record-setting female that the team captured in December.

At that time, the team of researchers noticed Dion had stationed himself in one particular location near Naples, within the western Everglades’ ecosystem. When they went to check on him, they found him coiled near a monstrous female.

After an intense wrestling match, the researchers managed to wrangle the huge female into a bag, which they then secured and transported to their research facility.

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Science & Technology

Giant stingray caught in Cambodia is world’s largest freshwater fish

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(Last Updated On: June 22, 2022)

The largest freshwater fish ever recorded was captured in the Mekong River in Cambodia last week by a fisherman collaborating with researchers to document the river’s biodiversity.

The four-meter endangered giant freshwater stingray (Urogymnus polylepis) was hauled from the river on June 13 before being measured and released back into the wild, the non-profit conservation news service Mongabay reported.

Weighing in at nearly 300 kilograms, the stingray surpasses the previous record holder, a 293-kg Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) caught in Thailand in 2005.

Experts say the find emphasizes what’s at stake in the Mekong, a river that’s facing a slew of development threats, including major hydropower dams that have altered the river’s natural flow and exacerbated low river levels due to dry-season droughts in recent years, Mongabay reported.

“This is an absolutely astonishing discovery, and justifies efforts to better understand the mysteries surrounding this species and the incredible stretch of river where it lives,” Zeb Hogan, a fish biologist and leader of the USAID-funded Wonders of the Mekong project, said in a statement.

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