Meta has set up an internal task force after reporters researchers discovered its systems helped “connect promote a vast network of accounts” devoted to underage-sex content, The Wall Street Journal has reported. Unlike forums file transfer services, Instagram not only hosts such activities but promotes them via its algorithms. The company acknowledged enforcement problems has taken actions including restricting its systems from recommending searches associated with sex abuse.
“Child exploitation is a horrific crime,” Meta told the WSJ in a statement. “We’re continuously investigating ways to actively defend against this behavior.”
Along with the task force, Meta told reporters that it is working on blocking child sexual abuse material (CSAM) networks taking steps to change its systems. In the last two years, it has taken down 27 pedophile networks is working on removing more. It has blocked thousands of related hashtags (with millions of posts for some) took action to prevent its systems from recommending CSAM-related terms. It’s also trying to stop its systems from connecting potential abusers with each other.
However, the report should be a wakeup call for Meta, the company’s former security chief Alex Stamos told the WSJ. “That a team of three academics with limited access could find such a huge network should set off alarms at Meta,” he said, noting that the company far better tools than outside investigators to map CSAM networks. “I hope the company reinvests in human investigators.”
Academics from Stanford’s Internet Observatory UMass’s Rescue Lab were able to quickly find “large-scale communities promoting criminal sex abuse,” according to the report. After creating test users viewing a single account, they were immediately hit with “suggested for you” recommendations of possible CSAM sellers buyers, along with accounts linking to off-platform content sites. Following just several recommendations caused the test accounts to be inundated with sex-abuse content.
“Instagram is an onramp to places on the internet where there’s more explicit child sexual abuse,” said UMass Rescue Lab director Brian Levine. The Stanford group also found that CSAM content is “particularly severe” on the site. “The most important platform for these networks of buyers sellers seems to be Instagram.”
Meta said the company actively seeks to remove such users, having taken down 490,000 accounts violating child safety policies in January alone. Its internal statistics show that child exploitation appears in less than one in 10 thousposts, it added.
However, until queried by reporters, Instagram was allowing users to search terms that its own systems know may be associated with CSAM material. A pop-up screen warned users that “These results may contain images of child sexual abuse” that can cause “extreme harm” to children. However, it then allowed users to either “Get resources” or “See results anyway.” The latter option has now been disabled, but Meta didn’t respond when the WSJ asked why it was allowed in the first place.
Furthermore, attempts by users to report child-sex content were often ignored by Instagram’s algorithms. And Facebook’s own efforts to exclude hashtags terms were sometimes overridden by the systems, suggesting users try variations on the name. In testing, researchers found that viewing even one underage seller account caused the algorithm to recommend new ones. “Instagram’s suggestions were helping to rebuild the network that the platform’s own safety staff was in the middle of trying to dismantle.”
A Meta spokesperson said it’s currently building system to prevent such recommendations, but Levine said the time to act is now. “Pull the emergency brake. Are the economic benefits worth the harms to these children?” Engadget has reached out to Meta for comment.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission. All prices are correct at the time of publishing.
Ozempic Wegovy are brnames for the drug semaglutide. Many countries have approved Wegovy for weight loss in people who are obese or overweight Ozempic for people with type 2 diabetes.
How do these drugs work?
Drugs such as semaglutide mimic the actions of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1, or GLP-1. These so-called GLP-1 analogues have several effects, including slowing stomach emptying, acting on the brain to reduce appetite boosting the release of insulin, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels.
For more than a decade, GLP-1 analogues have been used to help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar some users experienced modest weight loss. “These drugs augment a system that already exists within the human body, whose role it is to suppress appetite following meal ingestion,” says Simon Cork at Imperial College London.
Why are they making headlines now?
GLP-1 analogues have started to be prescribed for weight loss in people without type 2 diabetes. They have also become available in formulations that are more potent easier to use.
Initially GLP-1 analogues were approved for use at a lower dose needed to be given by twice-daily injections. In the latest formulations they are once-weekly injections, with Wegovy’s full dose being 2.4 milligrams for weight loss Ozempic being used at a maximum dose of 2 milligrams for type 2 diabetes.
How widely available are they?
In 2021, Wegovy was approved for weight loss in several countries, including the US Canada. Praise from some celebrity users brought it widespread publicity.
Manufacturing problems meant its manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, had trouble meeting global demand, so some doctors started prescribing Ozempic, which had been approved for people with type 2 diabetes in certain countries several years earlier. This led to shortages for people who required it for diabetes control.
In the UK, Wegovy was approved in 2021, but only got the nod from England’s medical guidelines body the National Institute for Health Care Excellence in March 2023, when it said the drug should be given by weight loss clinics within the country’s national health service. Wegovy is expected to become available in the UK this year, while Ozempic has been available for type 2 diabetes since 2019.
In June 2023, the UK government announced the introduction of a two-year pilot that gives people with obesity access to new drugs, such as Wegovy, outside of a hospital setting.
How effective are they?
Very. It is a cliche but obesity doctors are talking about a paradigm shift in the field of obesity management. Previously, a loss of about 5 per cent of body weight would be considered a good result for any weight loss intervention outside of stomach surgery is considered a benchmark in obesity drug trials.
Wegovy leads to about a 15 per cent reduction in body weight over a year, when combined with exercise eating healthily.
In fact, some people seem to feel that the GLP-1 analogues have caused them to become too gaunt, as reflected in the rise of the search terms “Ozempic face” “Ozempic butt”. “Ozempic doesn’t do anything specific to the skin,” says Alexander Miras at Ulster University, UK. It is the weight loss that causes these apparent side effects, with similar outcomes often also occurring after weight loss surgery, he says.
Do the drugs have any side effects?
Side effects can be mild, such as nausea, constipation diarrhoea, which tend to occur as people get used to the drug. More worrying side effects include inflammation of the pancreas, although this is relatively rare.
How about hair loss?
Hair loss has been reported by some semaglutide users. This is also sometimes seen after significant weight loss from other causes, such as stomach surgery, says Miras.
Hair loss following weight loss surgery is thought to be due to physiological stress on the body causing an increased number of hair follicles to enter their “resting” phase, which leads to the hairs falling out a few months later. It stops when the weight loss stabilises, however, the hair doesn’t always grow back, says Miras.
Do these drugs also help with addictions?
Perhaps. There have been many anecdotal reports of people taking these medicines for diabetes or weight control who lose their urge to drink alcohol or see waning of other habits that could be described as “behavioural addictions”, such as compulsive shopping.
This is supported by research in animals that found the GLP-1 analogues lower consumption of alcohol addictive drugs. A small trial in people has hinted at a similar effect from a GLP-1 analogue called exenatide, which reduced heavy drinking, but only in people who were obese.
The explanation could be connected with the way the drugs act on the brain to reduce food cravings, but the exact mechanism is unclear. We are only at the beginning of understanding how these treatments could support people with alcohol drug additions, says Daniel Drucker at Sinai Health in Toronto, Canada. “The clinical trial data is not yet in to substantiate the anecdotes.”
What happens to a user’s weight long-term?
The longest trial of Wegovy lasted two years found that people’s weight broadly plateaued in the second year.
In most countries, Wegovy has been approved for two years’ use, but if people stop taking the drug, they generally regain the lost weight – two-thirds of it after one year, according to one trial.
“The weight loss is only sustained for as long as the drug is taken because as soon as you stop the drug, all of those physiological processes that are trying to get your body weight back up kick in again,” says Cork.
This suggests that after two years of use, there will be demfrom consumers for doctors to continue prescribing the drug “off label”. “I think there’ll be a big push to try to change those guidelines,” says Cork.
Ozempic can be prescribed long-term for type 2 diabetes because the condition is usually life-long.
Canadian discount store chain Dollarama Inc beat market expectations for quarterly sales on Wednesday, benefiting from strong demfor its cheaper groceries household supplies.
With surging prices of groceries gasoline hammering consumer spending power, cost-conscious buyers have been thronging to dollar stores to snap up on affordable goods, boosting sales at Dollarama.
The company’s U.S. counterpart Dollar Tree Inc, however, trimmed its annual profit forecast in May, while Dollar General Corp cut its annual profit sales forecast, both citing slowing demfor discretionary goods.
IMF says U.S. inflation remains ‘stubbornly high,’ forecasts peak of 5.4% in 2023
Last month, retail bellwether Walmart Inc said it saw strong demfor its low-priced groceries other essentials, is expecting this trend to continue in the back half of the year.
Edmonton man Michael White, convicted of killing pregnant wife, gets full parole
Rise in IBD among young kids ‘baffling’ experts. What’s behind the surge?
Story continues below advertisement
Dollarama on Wednesday reaffirmed its fiscal 2024 same store sales forecast gross margin at 5.0 per cent to 6.0 per cent 43.5 per cent to 44.5 per cent, respectively.
The company’s sales rose to $1.29 billion in the first quarter, from $1.07 billion a year earlier, compared with analysts’ average estimate of $1.25 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
(Reporting by Juveria Tabassum Aatrayee Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)
A device that generates electricity using moisture in the air could be the future of sustainable power generation.
As global energy demands continue to escalate, scientists are increasingly focusing on sustainable energy generation to ensure grid stability address the urgent challenges posed by the unfolding climate crisis.
“Humidity is a vast, sustainable reservoir of energy that, unlike solar wind, is continuously available,” wrote a team of scientists led by Jun Yao, assistant professor of electrical computer engineering at UMass Amherst’s College of Engineering, in a recent study published in Advanced Materials. “However, previously described technologies for harvesting energy from air humidity are either not continuous or require unique material synthesis or processing, which has stymied scalability broad deployment.”
Yao his team have therefore developed a category of devices they termed “Air-gens” that continuously harvest electricity from moisture in the air through a newly elucidated sustainable mechanism that he says can be applied to any material.
“The Air-gen device is made from a thin film containing many small holes called nanopores, which have a diameter smaller than one thousandth of the diameter of human hair,” Yao said in an email. “The top of the film interface is exposed to air, whereas the bottom interface of the film is sealed.
“Water molecules [in the air] can pass through these nanopores from the top interface to the bottom interface, but they easily ‘bump’ into the pore surface before they can travel long,” he continued. “This means that the top interface will be bumped into more frequently than the bottom interface. Water molecules [in the air] can carry electricity or charge — this is why we can have lightning during a thunderstorm — so they donate a portion of the charge to the thin film when they contact its surface.”
As the top of the thin film has more contact with water molecules than the bottom, a charge separation builds up between the two layers, which when connected, results in a flow of electricity.
‘The working principle behind an Air-gen device is similar to that of a cloud building up charge before producing lightning,” added Yao. “Both utilize the movement charge-carrying in air water molecules to build up a charge separation. That’s why, in a loose sense, we may view the Air-gen device as a small-version ‘man-made cloud’.”
A happy accident
The team have been working on the design since 2018, where the initial effect came about as a serendipitous discovery. Yao his students were studying the sensing properties of a material made of protein nanowires that had been synthesized from a bacterium called Geobacter.
“Our initial intention was to make an electronic sensor out of the material, but my student at the time, Xiaomeng Liu, accidentally forgot to plug in power still observed electrical signal in ambient environment,” said Yao.
This happy accident diverged the team’s focus from sensors to energy generation. Yao says the initial discovery also inferred the likelihood of a “generic mechanism”, meaning different types of protein nanowires or materials could give similar results. “From there, we began to think about […] how it could be applied to other materials for broad impact, which has led to our recent paper,” he added.
More is needed before this technology is ready to hit the market, but Yao already has ideas for its use. “Air in itself does not contain high energy density, but excels in terms of abundance continuity,” he said. “The power volume in Air-gens may be improved with vertical stacking — like accommodating more people in a tall building. This means that they may be engineered into different form factors/sizes for various usages, ranging from small-scale (e.g., portable electronics), medium-scale (e.g., environmental deployment of devices), to large-scale (e.g., household usage) solutions.
“It would be good to not to compete for space but to use waste space for energy harvesting, since air is everywhere,” he added.
While this technology represents a promising advancement toward sustainable energy generation, there are several critical areas that require attention before it can be scaled up effectively. These areas include improving the device’s conversion efficiency, reducing costs, addressing scalability challenges. “This is where federal funding industrial investments will play a critical role in determining how fast the pace is,” said Yao.
Reference: Jun Yao, et al., Generic Air-Gen Effect in Nanoporous Materials for Sustainable Energy Harvesting from Air Humidity, Advanced Materials (2023). DOI: 10.1002/adma.202300748