Microsoft on the Issues http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues News and perspectives on legal, public policy and citizenship topics Fri, 22 Jul 2016 13:14:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.3 Microsoft’s ‘revenge porn’ approach one year later http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/07/22/microsofts-revenge-porn-approach-one-year-later/ Fri, 22 Jul 2016 13:00:06 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=39388 To help put victims back in control of their online imagery and their privacy, one year ago today Microsoft announced its approach to non-consensual pornography on our consumer services. We see this milestone as an appropriate time to take stock of our efforts to-date and to review how our dedicated reporting method was received and is being used.   Sharing sexually intimate images of another person online without that person’s consent Read more »

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To help put victims back in control of their online imagery and their privacy, one year ago today Microsoft announced its approach to non-consensual pornography on our consumer services. We see this milestone as an appropriate time to take stock of our efforts to-date and to review how our dedicated reporting method was received and is being used.  

Sharing sexually intimate images of another person online without that person’s consent is a gross violation of personal privacy and dignity, not to mention a crime in several places. Such conduct, commonly referred to as “revenge porn,” and other forms of digital incivility, are on the rise globally, plaguing online environments and damaging nearly every aspect of a victim’s life.

In the first six months that Microsoft began removing links to photos and videos from search results in Bing, and blocking access to the actual content when shared on OneDrive or Xbox Live, we received a total of 537 requests for content takedowns via our dedicated web reporting page. Of those requests, 63 percent (338) were accepted and the remainder have been denied, largely because they were not, in fact, requests to remove non-consensual pornography.

When we remove links or content, we do so globally and, as promised last July, we started reporting these data in March. Removal requests for the six months ending June 2016 will be reported in September as part of our twice-annual Content Removal Requests Report, one of three such documents available at our Transparency Hub.

Since September, our web-reporting form has been available in 38 languages and 86 locales in which Microsoft does business. In April, we started receiving non-English-language takedown requests from victims in Germany and the Netherlands, and have since also received reports from victims in Brazil, Denmark, India and the U.K.       

Taking the past year’s learnings into account, we want to make it easier for victims to understand what we need from them so that we’re able to respond to their requests quickly and completely. To help with this, we’ve created a new video to explain how to locate “source” URLs to non-consensual pornography. Obtaining these source URLs allows us to more swiftly remove such links from Bing search. We encourage victims, advocates and concerned friends to watch the video so that requests for content removal, when submitted, can be as detailed and complete as possible.

As this offensive conduct has increased, momentum is growing to fight back. Most recently, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California) introduced a bipartisan bill criminalizing distribution of non-consensual pornography. Microsoft participated in California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ initiative, and we shared our approach to addressing non-consensual pornography in public forums, including The Family Online Safety Institute’s annual conference last November.         

We’ll continue to iterate on our reporting mechanisms, improve their discoverability and our processes, and grow our collaborative efforts because we remain committed to combatting non-consensual pornography on our services. We want to encourage a culture of digital civility across our online properties and the internet at large, and we’ll soon be releasing new research in this area. In the meantime, for more information about revenge porn, visit the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative or Without My Consent. To learn more about online safety generally, see our website and resources; “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  

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Our search warrant case: An important decision for people everywhere http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/07/14/search-warrant-case-important-decision-people-everywhere/ Thu, 14 Jul 2016 17:53:10 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=39325 Today the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in a case brought by Microsoft addressing the global application of U.S. search warrants for people’s email. The court ruled in favor of Microsoft overturning an earlier ruling from a lower court. We obviously welcome today’s decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The decision is important for three reasons: it ensures that Read more »

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Today the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in a case brought by Microsoft addressing the global application of U.S. search warrants for people’s email. The court ruled in favor of Microsoft overturning an earlier ruling from a lower court.

We obviously welcome today’s decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The decision is important for three reasons: it ensures that people’s privacy rights are protected by the laws of their own countries; it helps ensure that the legal protections of the physical world apply in the digital domain; and it paves the way for better solutions to address both privacy and law enforcement needs.

First, this decision provides a major victory for the protection of people’s privacy rights under their own laws rather than the reach of foreign governments. It makes clear that the U.S. Congress did not give the U.S. government the authority to use search warrants unilaterally to reach beyond U.S. borders. As a global company we’ve long recognized that if people around the world are to trust the technology they use, they need to have confidence that their personal information will be protected by the laws of their own country.

While Microsoft filed and persisted with this case, we benefited every step of the way from the broad support of many others. We are grateful for this support, including the filing of amicus briefs in the case by 28 technology and media companies, 23 trade associations and advocacy groups, 35 of the nation’s leading computer scientists and the government of Ireland itself. The enormous breadth of this support has been vital to the issue, and it remains so as we look to the future.

Second, since the day we filed this case, we’ve underscored our belief that technology needs to advance, but timeless values need to endure. Privacy and the proper rule of law stand among these timeless values. We hear from customers around the world that they want the traditional privacy protections they’ve enjoyed for information stored on paper to remain in place as data moves to the cloud. Today’s decision helps ensure this result.

Finally, as we’ve recognized since we filed this case, the protection of privacy and the needs of law enforcement require new legal solutions that reflect the world that exists today – rather than technologies that existed three decades ago when current law was enacted. We’re encouraged by the recent bipartisan support that has emerged in Congress to consider a new International Communications Privacy Act. We’re also encouraged by the work of the U.S. Justice Department in pursuing a new bilateral treaty approach with the government of the United Kingdom.

Today’s decision means it is even more important for Congress and the executive branch to come together to modernize the law. This requires both new domestic legislation and new international treaties. We should not continue to wait. We’re confident that the technology sector will continue to roll up its sleeves to work with people in government in a constructive way. We hope that today’s decision will bring an impetus for faster government action so that both privacy and law enforcement needs can advance in a manner that respects people’s rights and laws around the world.

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WePROTECT Global Alliance releases strategy to end child sexual abuse online http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/07/13/weprotect-global-alliance-releases-strategy-to-end-child-sexual-abuse-online/ Wed, 13 Jul 2016 13:00:26 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=39292 More child victims identified and safeguarded; more perpetrators apprehended, and an internet free of material depicting child sexual exploitation and abuse. This is the vision of the new WePROTECT Global Alliance to End Child Sexual Exploitation Online, an organization that brings together the U.K.’s WePROTECT Children Online initiative and the Global Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online, launched in 2012 and co-chaired by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Read more »

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child online safety

Photo: UNICEF

More child victims identified and safeguarded; more perpetrators apprehended, and an internet free of material depicting child sexual exploitation and abuse. This is the vision of the new WePROTECT Global Alliance to End Child Sexual Exploitation Online, an organization that brings together the U.K.’s WePROTECT Children Online initiative and the Global Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online, launched in 2012 and co-chaired by the U.S. Department of Justice and the European Commission.

Microsoft is privileged to be a part of and to support the new WePROTECT Global Alliance through our participation on the WePROTECT Global Alliance Board; the commitments we made in signing the industry Statement of Action to end child sexual exploitation and abuse online, and our own contributions and innovations to the broad, global effort to best protect children in the digital age.

The WePROTECT Global Alliance announced its vision and strategy at an international launch event at the United Nations in New York on Monday. On Tuesday, a new partnership and global fund to End Violence Against Children, administered by UNICEF and sponsored in part by the U.K. government, was also launched. The fund seeks to prevent violence against children, including online sexual exploitation and abuse; “accelerate real action for children in their homes, schools, and communities … and strengthen collaboration between and among organizations, and across borders.” The fund is seeking additional donors, as the U.K. government alone is contributing a total of 50 million pounds over the next four years, earmarked for programs to combat online sexual abuse.

“The horrific global crime of online child sexual exploitation is one that challenges our very humanity and must be eradicated,” said Joanna Shields, the U.K. Minister for Internet Safety and Security. With the WePROTECT Global Alliance, “(w)e are building a global initiative to tackle this crime beyond any initiative that has existed before, with 70 countries signed up to join the WePROTECT initiative and the existing Global Alliance Against Child Abuse Online, and the support of technology leaders including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and TENCENT.”

In a strategy document outlining its commitment to eradicate the online distribution of child sexual abuse images, the alliance articulated the massive global nature of the problem; vowed to secure high-level commitments from all parts of the international system, and championed a tool to help countries independently self-assess their progress in combatting these vile crimes. Indeed, in 2014, INHOPE, the association of internet hotlines and helplines, assessed 83,644 URLs as containing child sexual abuse imagery worldwide, a 71 percent increase from the prior year. The grave nature of the problem is echoed in data compiled by the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). In 2015 alone, NCMEC received a record 4.4 million reports of child sexual abuse imagery on online services from more than 1,100 companies actively reporting to its CyberTipline. In the prior 17 years combined, NCMEC received a total of 3.1 million CyberTips.

Given the scope and reach of the problem, it will take years, mostly likely decades, to even noticeably limit the online availability of child sexual abuse imagery, and realize the vision of the WePROTECT Global Alliance. A primary milestone in that journey will be the first WePROTECT Global Alliance Summit in 2017, where the group will build on the momentum created by the first two WePROTECT Summits in London and Abu Dhabi, as well as the long-standing work of the Global Alliance.

For our part, Microsoft has been working to protect children online for two decades, and has been combatting the spread of child sexual abuse material for more than a dozen years. We stand ready to continue to play a significant role, and to work closely with others in industry, government and civil society to bring an end to these horrific crimes.

To learn more about Microsoft’s work combatting the spread of child sexual abuse material online, download our policy fact sheets available here. To learn more about online safety and child online protection generally, visit our website; view our resources; “like” us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

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EU-US Privacy Shield: Progress for privacy rights http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/07/11/eu-us-privacy-shield-progress-privacy-rights/ Mon, 11 Jul 2016 14:00:05 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=39268 Today in a post on the Microsoft EU Policy Blog, Microsoft Vice President for EU Government Affairs John Frank welcomed the new E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield decision, which the European Commission is expected to announce on July 12. Microsoft regards privacy as a fundamental right, and the new Privacy Shield advances this right by setting a new high standard for the protection of Europeans’ personal data. “This is an important achievement Read more »

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Today in a post on the Microsoft EU Policy Blog, Microsoft Vice President for EU Government Affairs John Frank welcomed the new E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield decision, which the European Commission is expected to announce on July 12. Microsoft regards privacy as a fundamental right, and the new Privacy Shield advances this right by setting a new high standard for the protection of Europeans’ personal data.

“This is an important achievement for the privacy rights of citizens across Europe, and for companies across all industries that rely on international data flows to run their businesses and serve their customers. The successful and rigorous negotiations also demonstrate progress between Europe and the United States on a vital issue for transatlantic coordination. While we rely on different legal frameworks, we share the same privacy values on both sides of the Atlantic,” Frank writes.

Microsoft will now start the process of implementing the Privacy Shield requirements, which it previously announced that it would sign up for in April 2016.

To learn more, read Frank’s post on the Microsoft EU Policy Blog.

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Experts call for increased efforts to help prevent online child sexual abuse http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/07/05/experts-call-increased-efforts-help-prevent-online-child-sexual-abuse/ Tue, 05 Jul 2016 16:07:06 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=39229 Vile images are being taken out of online circulation; child victims are being identified and rescued; and perpetrators are being apprehended, but awareness-raising and educational efforts need to increase to help prevent child sexual exploitation and abuse, according to experts attending an international conference in London last week. “We need to do more work ‘upstream,’” Simon Bailey, Chief Constable of the Norfolk U.K. Police told the Marie Collins Foundation conference, Read more »

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Vile images are being taken out of online circulation; child victims are being identified and rescued; and perpetrators are being apprehended, but awareness-raising and educational efforts need to increase to help prevent child sexual exploitation and abuse, according to experts attending an international conference in London last week.

“We need to do more work ‘upstream,’” Simon Bailey, Chief Constable of the Norfolk U.K. Police told the Marie Collins Foundation conference, “From Discovery to Recovery – Online Sexual Abuse of Children.” “We need to prevent the abuse from ever taking place in the first place.”

I had the pleasure of speaking at the conference and sharing evidence of Microsoft’s long-standing commitment to child online protection, which includes ridding our internet services of illegal child sexual abuse imagery. I also witnessed the foundation’s effort to recruit members to its new Global Protection Online Network, designed to enable professionals helping child victims recover from online abuse and meet the needs of those children and their families.

Microsoft provided seed funding to establish the network so members could share case studies and best practices; create evidence-based approaches to determine children’s recovery needs, as well as assess the training needs of similarly placed professionals. While it may not be industry’s role to identify and safeguard victims – that is the domain of law enforcement – we can support non-governmental organizations dedicated to these critical pursuits. At Microsoft, we see victims’ services as an area that can benefit from industry support.

To put the problem in perspective, Chief Constable Bailey estimated that more than 100 million indecent images of children are in circulation online today, adding that internet companies made 4.4 million CyberTip reports to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 2015 alone. NCMEC then analyzed 139 million images and videos last year – further evidence these crimes against children are on the rise. In the previous 17 years, from 1998 to 2014, NCMEC reported a total of 3.1 million CyberTip reports by online companies. As for the Norfolk police, the constable said every warrant to search an alleged online child sexual abuse offender’s home that is executed results in the seizure, on average, of 11 devices and 160,000 images.

Global efforts to eradicate child sexual abuse online continue among a range of stakeholders – governments, companies, law enforcement agencies and civil society organizations – and, as several of the conference speakers noted, those collective efforts are taking place under the banner of the WePROTECT Global Alliance to End Child Sexual Exploitation Online, the new organization that joins the U.K.’s WePROTECT Children Online initiative with the Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online, started by the U.S. Department of Justice and the European Union.

Microsoft is honored to be part of the new WePROTECT Global Alliance through our participation on the WePROTECT Global Alliance Advisory Board, the commitments we made in signing the group’s Statement of Action for industry and our own contributions to help protect children in the digital age. To learn more about Microsoft work in combatting the spread of child sexual abuse material online, download our policy fact sheets available here. To learn more about online safety and child online protection generally, visit our website; view our resources; “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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Cybersecurity norms for nation-states and the global ICT industry http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/06/23/cybersecurity-norms-nation-states-global-ict-industry/ Thu, 23 Jun 2016 10:00:24 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=39133 Today, I am pleased to share a new white paper about cybersecurity norms for nation-states and the global information and communications technology (ICT) industry, “From Articulation to Implementation: Enabling Progress on Cybersecurity Norms.” This publication is a reflection of our ongoing efforts to advance trust in the global ICT ecosystem through development of “rules of the road” for nation-states engaged in cyber operations, as well as industry actors impacted by Read more »

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Today, I am pleased to share a new white paper about cybersecurity norms for nation-states and the global information and communications technology (ICT) industry, “From Articulation to Implementation: Enabling Progress on Cybersecurity Norms.” This publication is a reflection of our ongoing efforts to advance trust in the global ICT ecosystem through development of “rules of the road” for nation-states engaged in cyber operations, as well as industry actors impacted by these activities. Our goal is to contribute to the development of frameworks and practices that protect people and companies from the effects of state-sponsored cyber operations.

Global ICT companies acutely understand that technology products and online services, including the underlying internet infrastructure, are often the battlefield for cyber conflicts and conduit for other attacks launched by governments and their proxies. (Learn more about our views on government activity online as a cyber threat category.) Because of this phenomena, Microsoft believes that cybersecurity norms are not just for governments, and the global ICT industry must also undertake commitments that enhance trust in ICT systems. This perspective is reinforced by the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts, an intergovernmental task force charged with developing cybersecurity norms, which called upon the private sector and civil society to contribute to the development of cybersecurity norms.

In our new paper, we put forward a three-part organizing framework for the current cybersecurity norms dialogue: offensive norms, defensive norms and industry norms. Offensive norms are the province of nation-states, as these norms concern self-restraint in the conduct of cyber operations. Defensive norms are relevant to both governmental and non-governmental actors because these norms address defensive measures against nation-state activities in cyberspace. Industry norms are also important to both governments and the private sector, but are focused on addressing industry’s role in mitigating the risks facing technology users from nation-state activity in cyberspace.

We believe that norms should advance common objectives where possible, regardless of whether the norms are focused on offense, defense or industry. The chart below provides a side-by-side view of Microsoft’s proposed norms for nation-states, with our corresponding proposals for industry norms. While there is a strong complementary structure for nation-state norms and industry norms, they vary in two important instances: nation-states possess the ability to create mass effects through offensive cyber activities; and the global ICT industry has the ability to patch all customers, even during conflicts between and among governments. (Learn more about our proposed norms for nation-states.)

cybersecurity

We recognize that cybersecurity norms are unlikely to be effective as a policy tool without further development of cyber attack attribution processes. Accordingly, our paper outlines the current challenges surrounding attribution of cyber attacks, and we propose a public-private forum to address attribution of severe cyber attacks that would involve a globally-diverse group of technical experts, subject to peer review. Indeed, the development of cybersecurity norms will require new forms of cooperation and new mechanisms to surmount challenges that are unique to cyberspace. New models for public-private partnership – on a global scale – will be essential.

As governments commit increasing resources into offensive cyber capabilities, the global ICT industry must strengthen its resolve, and take active steps to prevent user exploitation through adherence to industry norms. We must continue to raise the bar in our defensive capabilities to deter nation-states from targeting technology users. We hope these proposed norms set government and industry on a path for broader discussions to enhance trust between governments, enterprises and technology users.

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Technology delivers hope to refugees http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/06/20/technology-delivers-hope-to-refugees/ Mon, 20 Jun 2016 13:00:04 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=39031 Atallah Taba watched his wife die after a bomb ripped apart their home outside of Damascus, Syria. Instantly, the 74-year-old lost everything he worked for his whole life. Still grieving for the loss of his partner and the mother of their six children, Atallah made the painful decision to flee his home, clinging onto a few precious family photos and his smartphone. He traveled on foot for weeks, across hundreds Read more »

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World Refugee Day 2016, citizenship

Atallah Taba, right, at a refugee camp. Photo courtesy of NetHope.

Atallah Taba watched his wife die after a bomb ripped apart their home outside of Damascus, Syria. Instantly, the 74-year-old lost everything he worked for his whole life. Still grieving for the loss of his partner and the mother of their six children, Atallah made the painful decision to flee his home, clinging onto a few precious family photos and his smartphone. He traveled on foot for weeks, across hundreds of miles, towards Turkey before he was captured by the Turkish army. Exhausted, Taba told them, “Kill me, but don’t send me back to Syria.”

Taba’s story is heartbreaking and it’s even more devastating to think that there are millions of men, women and children who have endured similar hardships. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, worldwide there are 65 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, of whom about one in three are refugees escaping from conflict and persecution. The scale and complexity of the worldwide refugee crisis, including 4.8 million Syrian refugees, is overwhelming.

Today on World Refugee Day, we recognize the strength, bravery and resilience of refugees. And we share our gratitude for those who, amidst all the despair, are working so hard to bring hope to these people. Taba eventually made it safely to the Cherso refugee camp in Greece. He and many others are being assisted by organizations like our nonprofit partners that are dedicated to helping refugees survive, recover and rebuild their lives.

I met with our nonprofit partners and U.N. representatives earlier this year when I traveled to Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, where thousands of U.N. tents form a makeshift desert city of over 75,000 people. I saw how, every day, our nonprofit partners overcome incalculable challenges to deliver shelter, food, medical aid and other critical services to people who have had their homes, jobs, loved ones and dreams ripped away from them. We had many conversations about how technology has essentially become a new form of aid as it enables communication between refugees and their families, coordination within and between aid agencies, access to information about migration routes, and the rebuilding of refugees’ lives.

I heard many stories about the profound impact that technology has made on refugees and the agencies supporting them. When our partner NetHope installed Wi-Fi at the Cherso camp, Taba was finally able to contact his daughter after two long years of separation. Before that, he had no way to reach her to tell her he was alive and safe. They now communicate every week. For Taba, technology delivers more than just communication; it delivers relief, a sense of control over his own destiny, and a powerful glimmer of hope. In many ways, technology is a lifeline for refugees like Taba.

“Increasingly, we’re seeing that communications capabilities are absolutely essential to affected populations, on par with food, water and shelter,” says Lauren Woodman, NetHope chief executive officer. Being able to connect with family, friends and humanitarian agencies and governments that are helping refugees flee for safety and settlement, is an essential component of solutions that help communities help themselves.”

World Refugee Day 2016, citizenship

Access to education is one of the top concerns for refugees living in settlements. Photo copyright Dominik Hetzer.

NetHope and its consortium of 49 nonprofits improve access to technology, including connectivity for refugees. We commend their impact and are optimistic about what more can be done by leveraging the benefits of technology. For instance, with access to the internet and cloud technology, pilot programs to deliver much-needed education to refugee children are already underway. Our partner, The Norwegian Refugee Council, has been able to teach computer skills to adults, so that they have a better chance of getting a job in the future. With improved access to technology, more refugees in Greece can apply for resettlement, which is only possible online. These are some of our partner organizations who are leveraging technology to help refugees regain hope for the future:

  • Mercy Corps is addressing the needs of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq through the provision of food, shelter, and hygiene and sanitation services, as well as investing in the well-being and learning opportunities of youth, who are the key to future peace, growth and stability in the region.
  • International Rescue Committee provides critical aid and legal counseling, helping more than 3 million Syrian refugees recover and rebuild their lives. IRC’s chief information officer, Madeleine Fackler, shared that part of her work is “implementing solutions that facilitate communication and coordination throughout our organization – which has been critical.”
  • Save the Children provides access to clean water, medical care, clothes and shelter, and trauma counseling, and has impacted more than 3.8 million displaced children in the Middle East.
  • The Norwegian Refugee Council distributes food aid, water and sanitation infrastructure, education, and shelter, and has served over half a million refugees.

At Microsoft, we know that technology can play a big role in empowering people and organizations to achieve more – especially for underserved and vulnerable populations such as refugees. We also understand that technology alone is not enough. To truly empower every person on the planet, and to deliver on the promise of a public cloud for public good, we must partner with great nonprofit organizations such as NetHope and its member organizations. And today we celebrate our partners and all those who are working every day to support and empower refugees around the world. To learn more about our partner NetHope and their member organizations, please visit: nethope.org.

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Microsoft interns in British Columbia get a lesson in changing the world http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/06/17/microsoft-interns-british-columbia-get-lesson-changing-world/ Fri, 17 Jun 2016 16:30:47 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=39052 In March, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stood on a stage at the Build 2016 conference, in front of an audience of hundreds – with many more watching online – and introduced Seeing AI, a research project that aims to help the visually impaired or blind better navigate the world around them. The Seeing AI research prototype uses computer vision, image and speech recognition, natural language processing and machine learning to Read more »

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Microsoft Canada Excellence Centre, Vancover, British Columbia

Elias Haroun was one of the college students who were Microsoft interns in Vancouver, British Columbia, and worked on Seeing AI, a research project that aims to help the visually impaired or blind better navigate the world around them.

In March, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stood on a stage at the Build 2016 conference, in front of an audience of hundreds – with many more watching online – and introduced Seeing AI, a research project that aims to help the visually impaired or blind better navigate the world around them. The Seeing AI research prototype uses computer vision, image and speech recognition, natural language processing and machine learning to attempt to describe a person’s surroundings, read text, answer questions, and even identify emotions on people’s faces.

The announcement was a great moment for the teams of Microsoft developers and others who helped create the prototype. Among them was a group you might not expect: College students who served as Microsoft interns in Vancouver, British Columbia. These bright young people who attend school in Canada played a surprising role in the development of this innovative idea as part of their Microsoft experience.

“It felt great,” says Concordia University senior Elias Haroun, about seeing Nadella on stage introducing Seeing AI. “I had become so attached to this project, and worked hard to help bring it to life. Seeing the Microsoft CEO talk about it was incredible.”

Technology professionals who work at Microsoft’s British Columbia offices, which significantly expanded today with the opening of the Microsoft Canada Excellence Centre (MCEC), are especially proud of The Garage Internship Program, which includes 50 students from Canadian universities each year. Students are paid for their time, spending 16 weeks building apps for Microsoft’s newest and most exciting platforms and devices.

Seeing AI was initially created at Microsoft One Week, a three-day worldwide employee hackathon, in which thousands of employees work on projects that are meaningful to them. It was later brought to the MCEC, where interns were given the chance to help build out the prototype. That included helping servers communicate with Microsoft Cognitive Services, a critical piece of the research project that, for example, reads words aloud into an earpiece and also explains images or surroundings.

Shweta Sharma, a senior at McMaster University in Ontario, won’t soon forget her internship experience at Microsoft. “I was inspired by Saqib Shaikh, the Microsoft software developer, blind from an early age, who was one of our sponsors for Seeing AI,” she says. “Having an immense amount of responsibility and ownership over our project is not something you normally experience in an internship, and made the experience especially valuable.”

Also valuable, according to University of British Columbia junior Irene Chen, was the chance to collaborate with Microsoft employees in distant corners of the world.

“We worked with teams in Japan, Serbia and London, among others,” she says. Irene was responsible for the language understanding aspects of Seeing AI. “I watched it grow from having zero vocabulary to being able to comprehend simple questions,” she explains.

One of the reasons Microsoft expanded in British Columbia is that Vancouver – and Canada overall – is a hotbed for technological innovation.

“Vancouver is becoming a global center for technology, and we’re committed to helping grow Canada’s innovation economy,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith.

These bright, young students are perhaps the best example of the entrepreneurial, creative spirit of the region. De Martin, the MCEC director, is excited about what the future holds. “We look forward to seeing what the current group of interns can do, and to contributing to their development, and to the betterment of Canada as a whole,” he says.

For more information about Microsoft’s Garage Intern program in Vancouver, and to apply, visit https://mcec.microsoft.ca/internships/.

Learn more about the MCEC: http://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/microsoft-opens-state-of-the-art-technology-centre-in-vancouver-british-columbia-583428321.html

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Code.org + TEALS = More AP computer science in high schools http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/05/23/code-org-teals-ap-computer-science-high-schools/ Mon, 23 May 2016 21:33:22 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=38962 Recently, Code.org and the TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) program, agreed to launch a joint pilot program to do even more to support computer science education in U.S. high schools. Computer science (CS) is hugely important to the future of the country, yet currently, only one in four high schools in the U.S. offer computer science courses to their students. Microsoft Philanthropies has been seeding the investment in Read more »

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Recently, Code.org and the TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) program, agreed to launch a joint pilot program to do even more to support computer science education in U.S. high schools. Computer science (CS) is hugely important to the future of the country, yet currently, only one in four high schools in the U.S. offer computer science courses to their students. Microsoft Philanthropies has been seeding the investment in CS education for years, but in order get to a point where computer science classes are offered at all schools, we’ve decided to join up together like Voltron for AP CS Principles. This is why we’re working with Code.org and gathering volunteers from across the technology industry to solve this national crisis together along with many, many others.

TEALS is a grassroots program, supported by Microsoft Philanthropies, that pairs computer science professionals from 200-plus companies across the country with classroom educators to team-teach CS in U.S. high schools. Over two years, the classroom teacher gradually takes over the responsibilities of teaching the course on their own. The team-teaching and volunteer system of TEALS creates a strong ripple effect: it empowers teachers who can multiply the impact by providing computer science education to hundreds more students over the years. I put my background as a software engineer and former high school CS teacher together when I started this program in 2009 in my spare time, and TEALS was embraced and supported by Microsoft Philanthropies in 2011. Since the program started, more than 17,000 high school students have learned from over 1,500 dedicated TEALS volunteers and classroom teachers.

Code.org is a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of diverse backgrounds.  Their vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science.  Among other efforts, Code.org offers CS curriculum and professional development courses to teachers so that they will be sufficiently trained and able to teach CS to their students.

Both TEALS and Code.org are committed organizations dedicated to expanding access to computer science.  We are bringing the best of our both worlds – teacher development and our real-world experts who co-teach CS with the classroom teacher – to shorten the teacher ramp-up time and expand our impact more quickly. We hope that math works out to be 1+1=3 in this case. Code.org focuses on teacher training over the summer, TEALS gives the trained teachers hands on help during the school year. In the first year, we plan to pilot an effort to reach schools where TEALS will provide CS experts who will volunteer in the classroom, supporting and providing expertise to the teacher and Code.org will provide curriculum and professional skills training for the teachers.

TEALS and Code.org have always shared a common vision for bringing CS education to schools across the country ever since Hadi Partovi, Code.org founder, showed me the rough cut of the original video on his phone. This new pilot program, one more collaboration in our longstanding relationship, will combine the best of both our program and secret sauce to achieve even more. TEALS’ success is owed to our incredible volunteers who give up their early mornings to volunteer with us. Their CS expertise is a huge asset to the teachers and to the students. We need computer scientists and software engineers to join this movement in giving back and to help make a difference in the lives of teachers and CS students.

TEALS is recruiting volunteers for this program now.  If you are interested in volunteering, visit https://www.tealsk12.org/ for more information.

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Microsoft’s approach to terrorist content online http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/05/20/microsofts-approach-terrorist-content-online/ Fri, 20 May 2016 16:00:24 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=38929 Terrorist attacks around the world have sparked intense discussion and debate about how best to address content on the Internet that is used to promote terrorist violence or recruit for terrorist groups. We want to use this time to take new steps and outline how we are addressing this important issue. It’s inevitable – and understandable – that digital technology has become a focus of demands for new measures to Read more »

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Terrorist attacks around the world have sparked intense discussion and debate about how best to address content on the Internet that is used to promote terrorist violence or recruit for terrorist groups. We want to use this time to take new steps and outline how we are addressing this important issue. It’s inevitable – and understandable – that digital technology has become a focus of demands for new measures to combat terrorism. The Internet has become the primary medium for sharing ideas and communicating with one another, and the events of the past few months are a strong reminder that the Internet can be used for the worst reasons imaginable.

We believe it’s important that we ground our approach to this critical issue in central principles and values. We have a responsibility to run our various Internet services so that they are a tool to empower people, not to contribute, however indirectly, to terrible acts. We also have a responsibility to run our services in a way that respects timeless values such as privacy, freedom of expression and the right to access information. We’ve therefore carefully considered how to address terrorist content that may appear on our services without sacrificing the fundamental rights we all hold dear. Although Microsoft does not run any of the leading social networks or video-sharing sites, from time to time, terrorist content may be posted to or shared on our Microsoft-hosted consumer services. In light of this, we want to be transparent about our approach to combatting terrorist content.

We’re therefore addressing the issue in two ways, as described below. First we’re taking a number of measures to tackle this content when it appears on our services. Second, we’re investing in partnerships with others who are working to tackle the broader issue.

Microsoft’s services

Specifically, we are:

  • Removing terrorist content: We are amending our terms of use – which already prohibit hate speech and advocacy of violence against others – to specifically prohibit the posting of terrorist content on our hosted consumer services.
  • Defining terrorist content: There is no universally accepted definition of terrorist content. For purposes of our services, we will consider terrorist content to be material posted by or in support of organizations included on the Consolidated United Nations Security Council Sanctions List that depicts graphic violence, encourages violent action, endorses a terrorist organization or its acts, or encourages people to join such groups. The U.N. Sanctions List includes a list of groups that the U.N. Security Council considers to be terrorist organizations.
  • Observing notice-and-takedown: We will continue our “notice-and-takedown” process for removal of prohibited, including terrorist, content. When terrorist content on our hosted consumer services is brought to our attention via our online reporting tool, we will remove it. All reporting of terrorist content – from governments, concerned citizens or other groups – on any Microsoft service should be reported to us via this form.
  • Promoting free expression on Bing: Our Bing search engine strives to be an unbiased information and action tool, presenting links to all relevant information available on the Internet. (Like other search engines, Bing generally does not host content itself.) In the context of a tool for accessing information, we believe that societies, acting through their governments, ought to draw the line between free speech and limitations relating to particular types of content. Therefore, we will remove links to terrorist-related content from Bing only when that takedown is required of search providers under local law. (We are already operating this way in France, for example, where we are routinely provided by the police authority with links to terrorist-related content that is unlawful there.) We do believe, however, that we can help users make informed choices when they may be exposed to information that may cause them significant harm, including terrorist content. Therefore, we are exploring new partnerships with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to display public service announcements with links to positive messaging and alternative narratives for some search queries for terrorist material. We’re hopeful that these upcoming collaborations will help protect troubled individuals from heading down a path toward violence.

Partnering with others

While the steps we take on our own services are important, we are also thinking creatively about other ways to tackle this issue and investing in some new approaches and new partnerships in an effort to meet the challenges presented by terrorists’ use of the Internet:

  • Leveraging new technologies: One challenge is that once a technology firm removes terrorist content, it is often quickly posted again. It is a game of “whack-a-mole,” but with serious consequences. We want to see if technology that has worked well in other circumstances can be used to good effect here. That’s why we are providing funding and technical support to Professor Hany Farid of Dartmouth College to develop a technology to help stakeholders identify copies of patently terrorist content. The goal is to help curb the spread of known terrorist material with a technology that can accurately and proactively scan and flag public content that contains known terrorist images, video and audio.
  • Investing in public-private partnerships: We know that tackling these difficult issues will require new and innovative partnerships bringing together experts and leaders from different backgrounds and perspectives. To help with this, we’re a founding member and a financial sponsor of a new, public-private partnership to develop or enhance activities to help combat terrorist abuse of Internet platforms. Launched in April in Geneva, the initiative brings together the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, civil society, academics, and government and industry representatives, to address terrorist content.
  • Providing additional information and resources: We appreciate that we can also work to enhance education and understanding, especially among young people. To help, we’re also adding new resources to the online safety program pages of our YouthSpark Hub, an important component of Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative, which provides access to educational and economic information and opportunities for young people around the world. YouthSpark Hub provides resources for safer online socializing and tools to identify the risks and responsibilities of being good digital citizens. The new resources include material designed to help young people distinguish factual and credible content from misinformation and hate speech as well as tools for how to report and counter negative content. Experts say youth with more fully developed analytical and critical thinking skills are less likely to start down questionable paths, including those toward radicalization.

Terrorism is one of the truly urgent issues of our time. We are committed to doing our part to help address the use of technology to promote it or to recruit to its causes. As we look at additional measures we can take, our actions will always be consistent with the rule of law and with our belief in our users’ rights to privacy, freedom of expression and access to information. We will continue to work closely and transparently with a wide range of organizations to build on and strengthen these efforts, and we look forward to joining additional initiatives that involve organizations from both the public and private sectors in the coming months.

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