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Facebook’s VP of ads says Russian meddling aimed to divide US

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Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, in Athens, Greece, on Friday, May 27, 2016.

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Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, in Athens, Greece, on Friday, May 27, 2016.

Facebook and other social media platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, have come under intense scrutiny in past weeks, as more information has surfaced about how Russian actors used those platforms to spread misinformation online.

Mueller’s 37-page indictment, released on Friday, revealed the depth of Russian involvement in the U.S. political process. The document stated that a Russian organization, called the Internet Research Agency, created fictitious American personas on social media platforms and other Internet-based media to wage “information warfare” against the United States.

Facebook’s Goldman stated that sowing chaos, not electing Trump, was Russia’s primary intent in infiltrating American social media networks.

“Most of the coverage of Russian meddling involves their attempt to effect the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election. I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal,” he wrote on Twitter.

To prove his point, he referenced an anti-Islam protest in Houston in November 2017. Russian trolls were later shown to have organized both sides of the protest.

The fact that it all benefited Trump, was just an added plus for Russia, according to Goldman.

“I think the Russians believed that Trump would be a more divisive leader,” he said.

Facebook has released the names of several fake accounts, groups and events created and orchestrated by Russians on social media. But even the company admits it can’t catch all of the ads. Goldman emphasized Facebook is actively working to prevent such manipulation in the future.

“We are also taking aggressive steps to prevent this sort of meddling in the future by requiring verification of political advertisers and by making all ads on the platform visible to anyone who cares to examine them,” Goldman said.



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Flights to Europe are about to rise as U.S. eases Covid travel restrictions

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Tourists look at the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy, on Aug. 25, 2021.

Andrea Merola | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The window to find dirt-cheap fares to Europe is closing.

The Biden administration on Monday said the U.S. in November will start allowing vaccinated foreigners from 33 countries, including the U.K., China and EU nations, easing rules set early in the pandemic.

That’s great news for airlines that are desperate to drum up revenue after a historic lull in demand for routes that were among the most popular before the Covid-19 pandemic. Many EU countries have been welcoming U.S. tourists for months since vaccinations became widely available, but that was not reciprocated by the United States.

“In the past, as restrictions have been eased, there has been an increase in bookings for travel, and we expect a similar reaction here,” Conor Cunningham, executive director of MKM Partners, wrote in a research note to investors.

Bargain hunters eager to take advantage of the relatively cheap flights might be out of luck as demand for trans-Atlantic travel rises.

Round-trip flights to Europe, including the U.K., from the U.S. are going for about $565, a level not seen in its roughly five years of collecting data, said fare-tracking company Hopper.

Fares had dropped 15% from Aug. 30, after the European Union recommended that its member countries reinstate travel restrictions on the U.S. The advisory was non-binding, however, and U.S. travelers can still visit a host of countries if they meet requirements like proof of Covid-19 vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, if not a combination of both.

Adit Damodaran, Hopper’s economist, said he expects airfare to rise from Europe to the U.S. on the lifted travel restrictions and from the U.S. to Europe as more travelers realize the EU notice “was a soft advisory.”

Airlines didn’t immediately say whether they would add flights following the loosened U.S. travel rules, but carriers pounced with added service to destinations like Iceland, Croatia and Greece when those countries started allowing U.S. visitors in earlier this year.

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Democrats to put debt limit suspension in funding bill

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conducts news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center with House Democrats on achievements including the For The People Act and the agenda for the remainder of the year, on Friday, July 30, 2021.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

Democratic congressional leaders on Monday said they will try to pass a bill that both prevents a government shutdown and suspends the U.S. debt limit as they try to dodge two possible crises in one swoop.

Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to fund the federal government. Separately, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has told lawmakers that the U.S. will likely not be able to pay its bills sometime in October if Congress does not suspend or raise the debt ceiling.

The House plans to vote this week on legislation that addresses both issues. The bill would fund the government through December and suspend the debt ceiling through the end of 2022, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement.

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The bill’s fate is uncertain. Republicans have said they will not join Democrats in voting to suspend the debt ceiling, raising the prospect of a default that could devastate the global economy.

Pelosi and Schumer on Monday said the GOP has an obligation to address the debt limit because the party helped to pass sprawling coronavirus aid plans last year.

“Addressing the debt limit is about meeting obligations the government has already made, like the bipartisan emergency COVID relief legislation from December as well as vital payments to Social Security recipients and our veterans,” they said, adding that a default “could plunge the country into a recession.”

Democrats also noted that the funding bill will include relief money for a recent string of natural disasters — which could make it more appealing to GOP lawmakers who represent states hit by storms. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told NBC News he is inclined to back a funding bill that includes a debt ceiling suspension because it would include “critical” relief funding for his state, which was recently battered by Hurricane Ida.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has tried to force Democrats to suspend the debt ceiling as part of their up to $3.5 trillion bill to invest in the social safety net and climate policy. He did not back down from his position on Monday.

“They have every tool to address the debt limit on their own,” he said.

McConnell said his party would vote for a short-term government funding bill that does not include a debt limit suspension.

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What’s new and how to install it

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Apple released iOS 15, its big annual iPhone software update, on Monday.

This year’s version has some big changes, including the ability of FaceTime to make calls to Windows and Android users, artificial intelligence that can better identify animals, plants and other items in photos, and a feature that better controls limits on notifications.

While Apple pushes out updates on a regular basis throughout the year, the annual update that is released alongside new iPhones has the most additional features and changes.

IOS 15 is available for a lot of older phones, too, all the way back to the iPhone 6S, which was released in 2015. Here’s what you’ll get.

What’s new in iOS 15?

FaceTime that includes Windows and Android users. FaceTime, Apple’s videoconferencing software, used to be reserved for Apple products only — users who wanted to FaceTime with an Android phone or Windows PC were out of luck. Starting in iOS 15, anyone with an Apple computer will see a button that allows them to create a link to a FaceTime chat. Users can send that link to any computer or phone with a modern web browser, and they can join in the chat too. Users will need to be let into the chat, so the link won’t let random people join without your permission.

Apple’s new Focus feature in iOS 15

Todd Haselton | CNBC

New Messages integration. Some people get lots of different links in Apple Messages, formerly iMessage, throughout the day but don’t have time to check them out until later. Now, Messages will share that information with other apps. For example, if someone sends a link to an Apple News news story, it will show up in the Apple News app in a section called “Shared with You.” Same for Apple Music and Apple Photos. This new integration also applies to Safari web links, podcasts and Apple TV movies and TV shows.

Apple iOS 15 can identify text in photos.

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AI that can tell what’s in a photo, including text. Apple has been improving its photo recognition capabilities in its Photos app for years, and this year it takes a big step forward in terms of the types of objects inside photos it can recognize. With iOS 15, Apple’s software can identify and provide more information about animals, landmarks, plants and books. It also makes text inside your photos searchable, and users can even copy and paste text from a photo into a document. Apple’s AI runs on an iPhone, instead of using the cloud to do the work on a remote server, so the things you identify or copy won’t be sent back to Apple.

Apple’s new Focus feature in iOS 15

Todd Haselton | CNBC

More control of notifications during off-hours. For a few years, iPhone users have had a mode called “Do Not Disturb” that limited notifications except from a list of close contacts. These features have received a big upgrade in iOS 15 that Apple calls “Focus.” The main feature shows only notifications from people and apps you’ve pre-approved. If someone is texting a user who is in Focus Mode, they’ll receive a message that notifications have been silenced, sort of like an away message. Users can create multiple Focus profiles for different situations, such as work, play and sleep. It will allow users to create special home screens so they can, for example, have different collections of apps for work or home.

Apple Maps reminders. Apple Maps comes with annual improvements, including better directions, public transit schedules, and an augmented reality walking directions feature that places big arrows over scenes of the real world telling users where to go. But commuters will probably like best the new real-time alerts that tell users when they need to get off the bus, train or subway before they miss their stop.

New Safari redesign. The default browser on the iPhone is getting its biggest redesign in years, bringing the address bar and back button from the top of the screen closer to the bottom to make it easier for thumbs to reach. If you don’t like the new Safari, you can change it back to the old look. Safari will also save groups of open tabs, so you can come back to them later, and supports extensions — just like Google Chrome or Safari on the desktop — for the first time through Apple’s app stores. Extensions are little apps that let you do more on a site, such as block ads, but there aren’t a lot available yet.

Better system search. Apple’s Spotlight is a power-user feature that searches the web and your files and makes apps easier to access. Users access it when swiping down from the top of the screen. It has a new look this year, with more photos, and Apple-provided information about TV shows, movies, musicians, and links that have been shared with you.

Privacy protections. Apple has emphasized privacy in recent years, but in iOS 15 it’s starting to become a feature worth upgrading for. One new feature is called “App Privacy Report,” and it will show you how often an app accessed your microphone or location over the last seven days. It also will tell users if apps are phoning home to their own servers — which is normal but can highlight certain uses of data that have previously been overlooked. People who pay for iCloud will also get “iCloud Private Relay,” a beta feature that is similar to a VPN and hides IP addresses, which can give away your location. People who use Apple’s Mail app can provide random burner email addresses and hide tracking pixels that tell marketers whether an email has been opened or not.

Faster Siri. Siri no longer needs to send data to a faraway server in order to understand what you’ve asked it. Now, it can do it on the device itself, which will lead to a snappier experience without a slight delay, as well as additional privacy — Apple won’t have access to all the recordings of your Siri requests anymore.

Apple iOS 15 will support storing a driver’s license in Apple Wallet.

Apple

Driver’s license and keys in Apple Wallet. Apple is adding the ability to put driver’s licenses and keys into the Wallet app, but it may be a while before all users can take advantage of these big new features.

Apple says the TSA and eight states are already on board with the program to put driver’s licenses and state ID’s on the iPhone. Users will have to wait until their state government supports the feature.

Users will also be able to store keys, including car ignition keys, in Apple Wallet. If you have a smart home or go to an office with compatible locks, you can start unlocking your front door with your phone as soon as you update with the new software. The car ignition key feature requires a BMW or other compatible vehicle.

Apple iOS 15 will let you watch movies, TV shows and more with friends over FaceTime.

Apple

One big delay: Apple is planning to launch a feature called SharePlay that lets you watch a movie or TV show with other people over FaceTime. But that feature isn’t included yet and is now promised for later this year.

How to get iOS 15

Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller speaks on the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus during a Special Event at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium September 9, 2015 in San Francisco, California.

Getty Images

It’s really easy to install iOS 15. You just need an iPhone SE (1st generation) or newer or an iPhone 6s or newer. Those phones were released in 2016 and 2015, respectively, so most people should get the update. Here’s what you do:

  • Connect your compatible iPhone to Wi-Fi and power.
  • Open Settings.
  • Open General.
  • Open Software Update.
  • Tap Download and Install.

That’s it!

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