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Exclusive-Google aims to improve spotty enforcement of children’s ads policy

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Alphabet Inc’s Google said this week it would immediately improve enforcement of an age-sensitive ad policy after Reuters found ads for sex toys, liquor and high-risk investments in its search engine that should have been blocked under its efforts to comply with UK regulations.

Britain started enforcing regulations last September aimed at protecting children from being tracked online. Google in response began modifying settings across its services in Europe and elsewhere for users younger than 18 years. Among the measures it had touted in August was “expanding safeguards to prevent age-sensitive ad categories from being shown to teens.”

Specifically, the search giant began using automated tools to stop ads related to categories such as alcohol, gambling and prescription drugs from being shown to people who are not logged in to a Google account or confirmed to be at least 18.

Tech companies face a growing challenge with policing their sprawling services, and, according to posts on online advertising forums and two advertisers, Google’s enforcement has been spotty.

The advertisers, who sought anonymity out of fear of retribution from the tech company, said they have been frustrated about significant lost sales due to Google’s search engine correctly blocking their ads from signed-out users while erroneously allowing their competitors’ ads.

Ads were shown in the UK to signed-out users last week for leveraged trading, cholesterol medication, adult toy retailers and a major grocer promoting a vodka product, Reuters found.

“We have policies in place that limit where we show certain age-sensitive ad categories,” Google said. “The ads in question were mislabeled and in this instance should have been restricted from serving. We are taking immediate steps to address this issue.”

It declined to elaborate on the adjustments.

Google advertising rivals such as Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Microsoft Corp either ban many categories of age-sensitive ads altogether or have put the onus on advertisers to target their ads in ways that limit exposure to minors. Microsoft declined to comment, and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

The UK Children’s Code requires online services to meet 15 design and privacy standards to protect children, such as limiting collection of their location and other personal information. Google said its filtering of age-sensitive ads is core to its compliance with the code.

Advocacy group 5Rights Foundation, which campaigned for the regulation and reviewed the findings by Reuters, said tech companies should regularly publish internal research on how well they are living up to the code and their own policies.

“We must be wary of ‘safety washing,'” 5Rights said. “Tech companies need to back up their claims with action, and demonstrate how they are complying with regulations, particularly in the early stages of implementation.”

Google did not respond to the comments. The company declined to share detailed information with Reuters about how often it had failed to block age-sensitive ads.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office said in November it had reached out to Google, Apple Inc and other companies in social media, streaming and gaming to review their conformance to the code. The review is ongoing, the privacy regulator told Reuters.

 

(Reporting by Paresh Dave in Oakland, Calif.; Editing by Kenneth Li, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Matthew Lewis)

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Gunman entered Texas school unimpeded, police say as questions swirl about response

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WASHINGTON — Law enforcement officials described in chilling detail Thursday the time it took for tactical officers to finally gun down an 18-year-old attacker after he shot and killed 19 students and two teachers inside a fourth-grade classroom in small-town Texas.

Victor Escalon, the south Texas regional director for the state’s Department of Public Safety, stood before a backdrop of stone-faced police officers, investigators and officials — a news conference that appeared aimed at deflecting mounting concerns about what took so long.

The gunman entered the school at about 11:40 a.m. local time through an apparently unlocked door, and contrary to initial reports, encountered no resistance, Escalon said — the armed school safety officer, normally a fixture at educational facilities around the U.S., was not there.

“He was not confronted by anybody,” he said. “Four minutes later, law enforcement are coming in to solve this problem step by step.”

Those officers who initially arrived on the scene pursued the gunman into the school, but soon after had to take cover when the shooter began opening fire on them, he continued. It would be a full hour before Border Patrol officers wearing tactical gear found their target.

“They don’t make entry initially because of the gunfire they’re receiving,” Escalon said of the officers who arrived on the scene first.

“But we have officers calling for additional resources — everybody that’s in the area, tactical teams. We need equipment — we need specialty equipment. We need body armour; we need precision riflemen; negotiators.”

Students and teachers were also being evacuated from the building at the same time, he added.

Escalon also suggested that even if tactical officers had been able to breach the classroom sooner, it might have already been too late for the children and teachers inside.

“According to the information we have, the majority of the gunfire was in the beginning — in the beginning,” he said. “I say numerous, more than 25 (rounds) — I repeat, it was a lot of gunfire in the beginning.”

Media reports Thursday, coupled with cellphone video of the civilian pandemonium outside, detailed how parents and bystanders, well aware of the imminent threat inside the building, were frantically trying to get officers to go into the school to confront the gunman.

A Wall Street Journal report detailed how one of the parents on the scene was handcuffed by federal marshals who accused her of interfering with a police investigation. After local officers convinced their colleagues to set her free, she ran into the school and emerged with her two kids, the paper reported.

Escalon did not directly answer questions about why it took so long for tactical officers to get into the classroom, but promised more details would be forthcoming.

U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to Uvalde on Sunday to “offer comfort” to the families of the victims and meet with community leaders, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre as she urged Congress to take meaningful steps toward tougher gun restrictions.

“We need the help of Congress … we cannot do this alone,” she said. “We need them to step in and to deal with this gun violence that we’re seeing, that’s tearing up not just families but communities across the country.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he’s asked Texas Sen. John Cornyn to meet with Democrats to talk about legislation, but offered no details about what he hopes to see, beyond “an outcome that can actually pass and become law.”

That’s a tall order: Congress remains in a state of gridlock, in part because the Senate is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, but also because so many U.S. lawmakers support the rights of gun owners and enjoy the generous financial backing of the National Rifle Association.

The NRA, easily one of the most powerful political groups in the U.S., is meanwhile pressing ahead with its annual meeting in Houston despite the tragedy that unfolded Tuesday just a four-hour drive away.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the families and victims involved in this horrific and evil crime,” the association said in a statement that described the gunman as a “lone, deranged criminal.”

“As we gather in Houston, we will reflect on these events, pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members, and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.”

Texas Republicans Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz have come under withering criticism for their planned appearances at the convention, which begins Friday. Former president Donald Trump has already confirmed he’ll be there to deliver a speech.

“They are contributing to the problem of gun violence, not trying to solve it,” Jean-Pierre said of the NRA.

“They don’t represent gun owners who know that we need to take action. And it’s shameful that the NRA and their allies have stood in the way of every attempt to advance measures that we all know will save lives.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.

 

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

 

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version contained an incorrect spelling of Uvalde, Tex.

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Quebec drops section of assisted-death bill to ensure it gets adopted quickly

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QUEBEC — The Quebec government is removing a section of its end-of-life care bill that would have allowed quadriplegics and people with cerebral palsy to receive an assisted death.

Health Minister Christian Dubé told reporters Thursday he is making the change to ensure the bill is passed before the legislature breaks for the summer break ahead of a fall election.

Dubé said opposition parties expressed concern with the article, which was part of a bill tabled Wednesday, because the question of extending medical aid in dying to people with neuromuscular disorders was never debated in the province.

The minister told reporters he had followed the advice of Quebec’s College of Physicians, which had pushed for serious neuromuscular disabilities to be included in the bill. The aim was to harmonize the Quebec legislation with federal law.

“There is a legal blur between the federal government and Quebec, which is very uncomfortable for doctors,” Dubé said, adding he had listened to the concerns to those on the front line. But in the end he has decided to postpone that element until “Quebecers are ready.”

In order for the bill to pass before the end of the session, it needs unanimous approval from all five parties in the legislature. The main thrust of the bill is to allow people to make an advanced request for an assisted death in the event they develop severe Alzheimer’s disease.

Opposition parties were caught off guard by the addition of severe neuromotor impairment, which had not come up for debate, and denounced Dubé’s decision to include it.

“But it’s so silly, why did they put it in the bill? We just lost 48 hours, we don’t have time to lose,” said Vincent Marissal of Québec solidaire.

In a series of tweets, the College of Physicians said it is confident the public supports its proposed expansion of medical aid in dying and will make its case before a future legislature committee hearing.

“Medical assistance in dying is a very sensitive issue that must move forward in consensus,” the college said.  “It is important to us that the situation be clarified so that doctors can provide this care legally and with peace of mind to eligible people who request it.”

Premier François Legault said it was important to have all parties in agreement.

“I have one goal, and that is to have a bill that brings everyone together,” Legault said. “We will go with the consensus.”

Quebec’s medical-aid-in-dying law requires that patients give written consent to an assisted death within 90 days of the procedure.

Patients with severe Alzheimer’s, however, are usually incapable of offering clear and informed consent and are therefore currently prohibited under law from accessing medical aid in dying.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

 

 

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Gunman entered Texas school unimpeded, police say as questions swirl about response

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WASHINGTON — Law enforcement officials described in chilling detail Thursday the time it took for tactical officers to finally gun down an 18-year-old attacker after he shot and killed 19 students and two teachers inside a fourth-grade classroom in small-town Texas.

Victor Escalon, the south Texas regional director for the state’s Department of Public Safety, stood before a backdrop of stone-faced police officers, investigators and officials — a news conference that appeared aimed at deflecting mounting concerns about what took so long.

The gunman entered the school at about 11:40 a.m. local time through an apparently unlocked door, and contrary to initial reports, encountered no resistance, Escalon said — the armed school safety officer, normally a fixture at educational facilities around the U.S., was not there.

“He was not confronted by anybody,” he said. “Four minutes later, law enforcement are coming in to solve this problem step by step.”

Those officers who initially arrived on the scene pursued the gunman into the school, but soon after had to take cover when the shooter began opening fire on them, he continued. It would be a full hour before Border Patrol officers wearing tactical gear found their target.

“They don’t make entry initially because of the gunfire they’re receiving,” Escalon said of the officers who arrived on the scene first.

“But we have officers calling for additional resources — everybody that’s in the area, tactical teams. We need equipment — we need specialty equipment. We need body armour; we need precision riflemen; negotiators.”

Students and teachers were also being evacuated from the building at the same time, he added.

Escalon also suggested that even if tactical officers had been able to breach the classroom sooner, it might have already been too late for the children and teachers inside.

“According to the information we have, the majority of the gunfire was in the beginning — in the beginning,” he said. “I say numerous, more than 25 (rounds) — I repeat, it was a lot of gunfire in the beginning.”

Media reports Thursday, coupled with cellphone video of the civilian pandemonium outside, detailed how parents and bystanders, well aware of the imminent threat inside the building, were frantically trying to get officers to go into the school to confront the gunman.

A Wall Street Journal report detailed how one of the parents on the scene was handcuffed by federal marshals who accused her of interfering with a police investigation. After local officers convinced their colleagues to set her free, she ran into the school and emerged with her two kids, the paper reported.

Escalon did not directly answer questions about why it took so long for tactical officers to get into the classroom, but promised more details would be forthcoming.

U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to Uvalde on Sunday to “offer comfort” to the families of the victims and meet with community leaders, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre as she urged Congress to take meaningful steps toward tougher gun restrictions.

“We need the help of Congress … we cannot do this alone,” she said. “We need them to step in and to deal with this gun violence that we’re seeing, that’s tearing up not just families but communities across the country.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he’s asked Texas Sen. John Cornyn to meet with Democrats to talk about legislation, but offered no details about what he hopes to see, beyond “an outcome that can actually pass and become law.”

That’s a tall order: Congress remains in a state of gridlock, in part because the Senate is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, but also because so many U.S. lawmakers support the rights of gun owners and enjoy the generous financial backing of the National Rifle Association.

The NRA, easily one of the most powerful political groups in the U.S., is meanwhile pressing ahead with its annual meeting in Houston despite the tragedy that unfolded Tuesday just a four-hour drive away.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the families and victims involved in this horrific and evil crime,” the association said in a statement that described the gunman as a “lone, deranged criminal.”

“As we gather in Houston, we will reflect on these events, pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members, and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.”

Texas Republicans Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz have come under withering criticism for their planned appearances at the convention, which begins Friday. Former president Donald Trump has already confirmed he’ll be there to deliver a speech.

“They are contributing to the problem of gun violence, not trying to solve it,” Jean-Pierre said of the NRA.

“They don’t represent gun owners who know that we need to take action. And it’s shameful that the NRA and their allies have stood in the way of every attempt to advance measures that we all know will save lives.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.

 

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

 

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version contained an incorrect spelling of Uvalde, Tex.

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