March 20, 2018 · Cloud Computing, Hosting News, Web Hosting · Comments Off on U.S. FTC to question Facebook over consultancy's access to user data

SAN FRANCISCO/LONDON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc said Tuesday it faced questions from the lead U.S. consumer regulator about how its users’ personal data was mined by a political consultancy hired by Donald Trump’s campaign.

U.S. and European lawmakers have demanded an explanation of how the consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, gained access to the data in 2014 and why Facebook failed to inform its users, raising broader industry questions about consumer privacy.

Facebook said on Tuesday it had been told by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that it would receive a letter this week with questions about the data acquired by Cambridge Analytica. It said it had no indication of a formal investigation.

“We remain strongly committed to protecting people’s information. We appreciate the opportunity to answer questions the FTC may have,” Facebook Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman said.

The FTC, the regulatory agency in charge of consumer protection, is reviewing whether Facebook violated a 2011 consent decree it reached with the authority over its privacy practices, a person briefed on the matter told Reuters.

“We are aware of the issues that have been raised but cannot comment on whether we are investigating. We take any allegations of violations of our consent decrees very seriously as we did in 2012 in a privacy case involving Google,” an FTC spokesman said.

Under the 2011 settlement, Facebook agreed to get user consent for certain changes to privacy settings as part of a settlement of federal charges that it deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended, Bloomberg reported.

If the FTC finds Facebook violated terms of the consent decree, it has the power to fine the company thousands of dollars a day per violation.

Facebook will brief U.S. Senate and House aides on Wednesday, congressional staff said.

Facebook shares lost 5.7 percent in heavy trading to a six-month low, extending Monday’s 7-percent fall, and was set for its worst two-day drop since July 2012. Its market capitalization was down by another $25 billion as investors fretted the world’s largest social media network could face massive fines and that its dented reputation could scare off users and advertisers.

Shares of Snap Inc fell 4 percent and Twitter Inc was down 9.6 percent.

Facebook and its peers Alphabet Inc’s Google and Twitter face a backlash over their role during the U.S. presidential election by allowing the spread of false information that might have swayed voters toward Trump.

A Congressional official said House Intelligence Committee Democrats plan to interview Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie. The committee has already interviewed by video teleconference Cambridge Analytica chief Alexander Nix, according to the Congressional official, but a transcript of that interview has not yet been made public.

People walk past the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

The White House said the President believes that Americans’ privacy should be protected.

“If Congress wants to look into the matter or other agencies want to look into the matter, we welcome that,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told Fox News Channel.


In Britain, the Information Commissioner’s Office, an independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, was seeking a warrant on Tuesday from a judge to search the offices of London-based Cambridge Analytica.

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Created in 2013, Cambridge Analytica markets itself as a source of consumer research, targeted advertising and other data-related services to both political and corporate clients.

According to the New York Times, it was launched with $15 million in backing from billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer and a name chosen by the-then future Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon.

Facebook says the data were harvested by a British academic, Aleksandr Kogan, who created an app on the platform that was downloaded by 270,000 people, providing access not only to their own personal data but also their friends’.

Facebook said Kogan then violated its policies by passing the data to Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has since suspended both the consulting firm and SCL (Strategic Communication Laboratories), a government and military contractor.

Facebook said it had been told that the data were destroyed.

Kogan says he changed the terms and conditions of his personality-test app on Facebook from academic to commercial part way through the project, according to an email to Cambridge University colleagues obtained and cited by CNN.

Kogan says Facebook made no objection, but Facebook says it was not informed of the change, CNN reported. Kogan was not immediately reachable for comment.

“If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook’s policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made,” Facebook said.

Cambridge Analytica has denied all the media claims and said it deleted the data after learning the information did not adhere to data protection rules.

Reporting by David Ingram in San Francisco, Kate Holton and Paul Sandle in London, David Shephardson and Susan Heavey in Washington; Additional reporting by Munsif Vengattil; Writing by Susan Thomas, Editing by Nick Zieminski

March 19, 2018 · Cloud Computing, Hosting News, Web Hosting · Comments Off on Call Centers Tap Voice-Analysis Software to Monitor Moods

We all know how it feels to be low on energy at the end of a long work day. Some call-center agents at insurer MetLife are watched over by software that knows how it sounds.

A program called Cogito presents a cheery notification when the toll of hours discussing maternity or bereavement benefits show in a worker’s voice. “It’s represented by a cute little coffee cup,” says Emily Baker, who supervises a group fielding calls about disability claims at MetLife.

Her team reports that the cartoon cup is a helpful nudge to sit up straight and speak like the engaged helper MetLife wants them to be. The voice-analysis algorithms also track customer reactions. When call agents see a heart icon, they know the software has detected a heightened emotional state, either positive or negative. Baker says that emotional sixth sense can be helpful when talking with people adjusting to life’s most stressful events. “If a call becomes not so positive, it lets the associate to know to offer a little bit of hope,” she says.

Voice-controlled virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa are becoming common in homes. MetLife is part of a quieter experiment using the same underlying technology to create superhuman helpers that are still part human. In workplaces, though, deploying smarter software will yield consequences more complex than just “Algorithms in, humans out.” A McKinsey report last year concluded that many more jobs will be transformed than eliminated by new technology in coming years.

Call centers have often been on the frontline of changes in labor and technology. A wave of US companies outsourced call centers to cheaper countries such as India and the Philippines beginning in the 1980s. More recently, voice recognition technology has been enthusiastically embraced to automate simple tasks that once required a human on both ends of the line, such as checking a bank balance or confirming a medical appointment.

Anyone who’s spent time with Siri or Alexa knows that computers are far from good enough with language to replace a human customer service agent. But MetLife and other early adopters say call center workers become more empathetic and efficient when they have a machine-learning powered wingman that can recognize words and traces of emotion.

At State Collection Service, this notification appears on a call agent’s screen when software judges based on tone and words that a customer may be becoming unhappy.

State Collection Agency

MetLife’s empathy adviser was developed by MIT spin-out Cogito. CEO Josh Feast says his software can detect signs of distress and other emotions in a customer’s voice thanks to Pentagon-funded research at the university’s Media Lab.

In a project intended to help veterans with PTSD, the Department of Defense paid for medical staff to interview patients with psychological problems and annotate audio files of the data to mark changes in emotional state. That provided the perfect feedstock for machine-learning software now used in industries including healthcare and financial services, says Feast. Cogito applied deep-learning algorithms like those behind the improved speech recognition in assistants like Alexa to the Pentagon’s data, and audio from call centers and other sources.

In addition to nudging call agents to pep up their tone, or respond to distress in a caller’s voice, Cogito’s software listens to the pace and pattern of calls. Agents see a notification if they start speaking more quickly, a caller is silent for a long time, or the caller and agent talk over each other. Humans can notice all those things, but struggle to do so consistently, says Feast. “We’re trying to help someone doing 60 calls a day, and who may be tired,” he says.

Eavesdropping by corporate, emotionally aware software, may bother some consumers, even those used to being watched by cameras and online tracking. Analyzing a customer’s voice doesn’t require additional disclosure beyond the familiar line advising that calls may be monitored. “I’m habituated to that warning but this feels different,” says Elaine Sedenberg, a graduate researcher and co-director of the Center for Technology, Society & Policy at the University of California Berkeley. “I’m not expecting that extra layer of analysis.”

Sedenberg also questions whether technology like Cogito’s works equally well across different groups of people, which could lead to disparities in service between different social or ethnic groups. The company says it has tested the software on a range of demographics, and that non-verbal cues are more reliable across languages than analyzing the words people say. As well as US customers like MetLife and Humana, Cogito is used by Zurich Financial, where the primary language is German. Cogito does not provide guidance to customers on what it would consider inappropriate uses of the product, but says it is designed to only deliver insights that improve customer relations.

MetLife says it’s already seeing Cogito’s insights paying off. The company has deployed the technology in three customer-call teams in different parts of the business, and is planning a wider rollout. Kristine Poznanski, executive vice president of customer solutions, says that the initial deployments have driven customer satisfaction up, and the average duration of calls down.

State Collection Service, which handles collections for many healthcare companies from three call centers in Wisconsin, reports similar gains from deploying a competing product. The company has customized a real-time call monitoring tool from CallMiner, based in Waltham, Massachusetts. It is based on speech analysis technology from Nuance, which for a time powered the speech recognition capabilities of Apple’s Siri.

Employees at State Collection see messages of congratulation and cute animal photos when software suggests a customer is satisfied, for example. When tone and language suggest a caller is getting worked up, employees see a suggestion to “Calm down” and a list of soothing talking points. If a worker omits legally required disclaimers, the system sends a reminder.

Chief operating officer Tracy Dudek estimates that a worker might see three to five notifications a minute during a typical call. That might sound like a lot, but she says call agents like it because it helps them in their job, boosting their chances of a performance-related bonus. The system has helped bring about a significant jump in the number of cases resolved in a single call, and increased revenue per call agent, Dudek says.

As you might expect, making some workers more productive can mean there’s less work for others to do. A few years ago, State Collection introduced a system that uses speech recognition to retrospectively transcribe every call. Since then, Dudek says the company has reduced the number of people and amount of time dedicated to reviewing calls for quality assurance. The newer, real-time voice analysis has helped the company increase the number of call agents overseen by a single supervisor, she says.

The technology has also led to new hires. The CallMiner system can spot shifts in tone or stress in a person’s voice, but it doesn’t automatically decide which phrases are most important to a specific business. So State Collection hired a new employee to identify signals and phrases for the software to watch for. One finding: A person saying “This is ridiculous” is the most reliable indicator they are becoming dissatisfied. Dudek also credits the call monitoring system with helping State Collections grow its business, which has led to more hiring.

As AI-assisted call agents become more common, expect companies to find new ways to use their powers. MetLife is deploying Cogito into a sales team pitching auto and home insurance. Poznanski says she’s interested in using the technology to spot when a person is about to say something signaling a lack of interest so the salesperson can get in first. “When a customer is potentially uninterested we could pick that up sooner to help position the value that MetLife brings,” Poznanski says.

Cogito is also working with the Veterans Administration to test an app that analyzes voice recordings and tries to give health staff a forewarning of major shifts in a patient’s mental health. Some of those who have experienced the technology in the call center could imagine it being useful in more casual situations, too. MetLife’s Baker says she’s thought it could help during presentations. When WIRED asked if she was using the software during a recent interview, she laughed, then turned thoughtful. “I wish I could, I’d love to know how I was doing.”

AIs to Watch Over You