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This Week in Tech News: Why Am I Seeing This?

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Facebook reveals algorithm influences to users

Facebook reveals algorithm influences to users

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Facebook users will no longer have to wonder why they view certain posts before others.

For the first time, Facebook will provide a “Why am I seeing this post?” button which analyses user activity to reveal their influences and connections to Facebook’s algorithms, resulting in particular photos, stories, and videos popping up on a users’ newsfeed according to their rank. The feature will be accessible to global users by 2nd May, according to the BBC.

The decision is part of Facebook’s initiative to be more transparent and allow users to have more control over their feeds, especially given that the company has endured several privacy scandals recently, according to Reuters. “The basic thing that this tool does is let people see why they are seeing a particular post in their news feed, and it helps them access the actions they might want to take if they want to change that,” Facebook’s Head of News Feed John Hegeman told Reuters.

Reuters provides examples of the data that will be provided to the Facebook user about the reasoning behind Facebook’s algorithm and why certain posts are visible to a user. These range from the user being friends with the poster, the user frequently liking or commenting on a particular friend’s post(s) in the past, or that the user has similar interests to other Facebook users that find the post popular. Additionally, Facebook’s “Why Am I Seeing this Ad?” feature will be further updated and will explain how certain ads on the platform target customers using email lists.

Our Youth are the Future

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This year, 15,000 Californian girls, aged ten, will experience an online program meant to nurture their interest in technology, providing them with support to withstand challenges in the STEM field, according to PR Newswire. Thanks to a partnership between start-up tech education company littleBits, Disney, and the University of California at Davis, these young women will experience “Snap the Gap.”

Snap the Gap will provide thousands of future tech whizzes with a mentorship with a STEM professional for one year – as well as a littleBits STEM starter pack of learning tools – with the goal of closing the gender gap in STEM learning and highlighting career opportunities in the field. According to TechCrunch, littleBits, which has partnered with Disney since 2016, is a company focused on educational initiatives and emphasising the incredible opportunities that STEM careers provide.

According to the website, Snap the Gap defines their initiative as, “an action-oriented program that uses three proven components to impact the gender gap: hands-on learning, a peer community, and mentorship.” The pilot program was made possible by a $1.1 million grant from the Walt Disney Company, according to UC Davis. At the completion of the program, UC Davis will analyse and measure the participants’ attitudes and (perceptions) of STEM involvement both before and after they complete the program.

In similar news, The LEGO Group announced on Tuesday the launch of their latest STEAM program, Education Spike. According to TechCrunch, classrooms will have access to unique builder kids that include lessons to combine LEGO bricks with motors and sensors that are controlled through an app on a mobile device. The result is a programmable robot that can be incorporated into lesson plans for grades six to eight, according to CNET.

Say Goodbye to Google+

In October of 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported on Google’s decision to not reveal the exposition of data of hundreds of thousands of users of the search giant’s social network, Google+. The network was an invite-only platform that was established in June of 2011 and opened to the public later in the year, according to the BBC.

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The company came clean about the October data breach in a blog post two months later, where they announced the discovery of a bug that affected a Google+ API accounts and resulted in the data exposure to third party developers of an estimated 52.5 million users. A Google Support blog post in January 2019 revealed the company’s decision to shut down the network as a result of low usage and their inability to meet customer expectations. The network reported 500 million users, but had alarmingly low engagement — especially compared to Facebook’s 750 million users and Twitter’s 100 million, according to the BBC. Finally, Google provided the date of 2nd April as the initial closing date of consumer Google+ accounts, pages, photos and videos.

Specialists say that Google+ had a low chance for success, according to the BBC, simply due to its need to compete with social media giants like Facebook that already had strong user traction. Aspects of the site were not user-friendly, such as the strict real-name-only policy that resulted in the frequent deletion of business pages. Additionally, users on Google+ did not take to the a “Plus-One” button as well as on Facebook (“Like”) or Twitter (“Favorite”). Google’s attempts to popularise the network included requiring a Google+ account to comment on Youtube videos and review applications on the Google Play store – requirements met with backlash from users.

According to CNBC, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai will testify before the House Judiciary Committee regarding the company’s data breaches and transparency practices.

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