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Oversight Board presses Meta to revise ‘convoluted and poorly defined’ nudity policy



Meta’s Oversight Board, which independently evaluates difficult content moderation decisions, has overturned the company’s takedown of two posts that depicted a non-binary and transgender person’s bare chests. The case represents a failure of a convoluted and impractical nudity policy, the Board said, and recommended that Meta take a serious look at revising it.

The decision concerned two people who, as part of a fundraising campaign for one of the couple who was hoping to undergo top surgery (generally speaking the reduction of breast tissue). They posted two images to Instagram, in 2021 and 2022, both with bare chests but nipples covered, and included a link to their fundraising site.

These posts were repeatedly flagged (by AI and users) and Meta ultimately removed them, as violations of the “Sexual Solicitation Community Standard,” basically because they combined nudity with asking for money. Although the policy is plainly intended to prevent solicitation by sex workers (another issue entirely), it was repurposed here to remove perfectly innocuous content.

When the couple appealed the decision and brought it to the Oversight Board, Meta reversed it as an “error.” But the Board took it up anyway because “removing these posts is not in line with Meta’s Community Standards, values or human rights responsibilities. These cases also highlight fundamental issues with Meta’s policies.”

They wanted to take the opportunity to point out how impractical the policy is as it exists, and to recommend to Meta that it take a serious look at whether its approach here actually reflects its stated values and priorities.

The restrictions and exceptions to the rules on female nipples are extensive and confusing, particularly as they apply to transgender and non-binary people. Exceptions to the policy range from protests, to scenes of childbirth, and medical and health contexts, including top surgery and breast cancer awareness. These exceptions are often convoluted and poorly defined. In some contexts, for example, moderators must assess the extent and nature of visible scarring to determine whether certain exceptions apply. The lack of clarity inherent in this policy creates uncertainty for users and reviewers, and makes it unworkable in practice.

Essentially: even if this policy did represent a humane and appropriate approach to moderating nudity, it’s not scalable. For one reason or another, Meta should modify it. The summary of the Board’s decision is here and includes a link to a more complete discussion of the issues.

The obvious threat Meta’s platforms face, however, should they relax their nudity rules, is porn. Founder Mark Zuckerberg has said in the past that making his platforms appropriate for everyone necessitates taking a clear stance on sexualized nudity. You’re welcome to post sexy stuff and link to your OnlyFans, but no hardcore porn in Reels, please.

But the Oversight Board says this “public morals” stance is likewise in need of revision (this excerpt from the full report lightly edited for clarity):

Meta’s rationale of protecting “community sensitivity” merits further examination. This rationale has the potential to align with the legitimate aim of “public morals.” That said, the Board notes that the aim of protecting “public morals” has sometimes been improperly invoked by governmental speech regulators to violate human rights, particularly those of members of minority and vulnerable groups.

…Moreover, the Board is concerned about the known and recurring disproportionate burden on expression that have been experienced by women, transgender, and non-binary people due to Meta’s policies…

The Board received public comments from many users that expressed concern about the presumptive sexualization of women’s, trans and non-binary bodies, when no comparable assumption of sexualization of images is applied to cisgender men.

The Board has taken the bull by the horns here. There’s no sense dancing around it: the policy of recognizing some bodies as inherently sexually suggestive, but not others, is simply untenable in the context of Meta’s purportedly progressive stance on such matters. Meta wants to have its cake and eat it too: give lip service to people like the trans and NB people like those who brought this to its attention, but also respect the more restrictive morals of conservative groups and pearl-clutchers worldwide.

The Board Members who support a sex and gender-neutral adult nudity policy recognize that under international human rights standards as applied to states, distinctions on the grounds of protected characteristics may be made based on reasonable and objective criteria and when they serve a legitimate purpose. They do not believe that the distinctions within Meta’s nudity policy meet that standard. They further note that, as a business, Meta has made human rights commitments that are inconsistent with an approach that restricts online expression based on the company’s perception of sex and gender.

Citing several reports and internationally-negotiated definitions and trends, the Board’s decision suggests that a new policy be forged that abandons the current structure of categorizing and removing images, substituting something more reflective of modern definitions of gender and sexuality. This may, of course, they warn, leave the door open to things like nonconsensual sexual imagery being posted (much of this is automatically flagged and taken down, something that might change under a new system), or an influx of adult content. The latter, however, can be handled by other means that total prohibition.

When reached for comment, Meta noted that it had already reversed the removal and that it welcomes the Board’s decision. It added: “We know more can be done to support the LGBTQ+ community, and that means working with experts and LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations on a range of issues and product improvements.” I’ve asked for specific examples of organizations, issues, or improvements and will update this post if I hear back.


Tesla more than tripled its Austin gigafactory workforce in 2022



Tesla’s 2,500-acre manufacturing hub in Austin, Texas tripled its workforce last year, according to the company’s annual compliance report filed with county officials. Bloomberg first reported on the news.

The report filed with Travis County’s Economic Development Program shows that Tesla increased its Austin workforce from just 3,523 contingent and permanent employees in 2021 to 12,277 by the end of 2022. Bloomberg reports that just over half of Tesla’s workers reside in the county, with the average full-time employee earning a salary of at least $47,147. Outside of Tesla’s factory, the average salary of an Austin worker is $68,060, according to data from ZipRecruiter.

TechCrunch was unable to acquire a copy of the report, so it’s not clear if those workers are all full-time. If they are, Tesla has hired a far cry more full-time employees than it is contracted to do. According to the agreement between Tesla and Travis County, the company is obligated to create 5,001 new full-time jobs over the next four years.

The contract also states that Tesla must invest about $1.1 billion in the county over the next five years. Tesla’s compliance report shows that the automaker last year invested $5.81 billion in Gigafactory Texas, which officially launched a year ago at a “Cyber Rodeo” event. In January, Tesla notified regulators that it plans to invest another $770 million into an expansion of the factory to include a battery cell testing site and cathode and drive unit manufacturing site. With that investment will come more jobs.

Tesla’s choice to move its headquarters to Texas and build a gigafactory there has helped the state lead the nation in job growth. The automaker builds its Model Y crossover there and plans to build its Cybertruck in Texas, as well. Giga Texas will also be a model for sustainable manufacturing, CEO Elon Musk has said. Last year, Tesla completed the first phase of what will become “the largest rooftop solar installation in the world,” according to the report, per Bloomberg. Tesla has begun on the second phase of installation, but already there are reports of being able to see the rooftop from space. The goal is to generate 27 megawatts of power.

Musk has also promised to turn the site into an “ecological paradise,” complete with a boardwalk and a hiking/biking trail that will open to the public. There haven’t been many updates on that front, and locals have been concerned that the site is actually more of an environmental nightmare that has led to noise and water pollution. The site, located at the intersection of State Highway 130 and Harold Green Road, east of Austin, is along the Colorado River and could create a climate catastrophe if the river overflows.

The site of Tesla’s gigafactory has also historically been the home of low-income households and has a large population of Spanish-speaking residents. It’s not clear if the jobs at the factory reflect the demographic population of the community in which it resides.

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Launch startup Stoke Space rolls out software tool for complex hardware development



Stoke Space, a company that’s developing a fully reusable rocket, has unveiled a new tool to let hardware companies track the design, testing and integration of parts. The new tool, Fusion, is targeting an unsexy but essential aspect of the hardware workflow.

It’s a solution born out of “ubiquitous pain in the industry,” Stoke CEO Andy Lapsa said in a recent interview. The current parts tracking status quo is marked by cumbersome, balkanized solutions built on piles of paperwork and spreadsheets. Many of the existing tools are not optimized “for boots on the ground,” but for finance or procurement teams, or even the C-suite, Lapsa explained.

In contrast, Fusion is designed to optimize simple inventory transactions and parts organization, and it will continue to track parts through their lifespan: as they are built into larger assemblies and go through testing. In an extreme example, such as hardware failures, Fusion will help teams connect anomalous data to the exact serial numbers of the parts involved.

Image credit: Stoke Space

“If you think about aerospace in general, there’s a need and a desire to be able to understand the part pedigree of every single part number and serial number that’s in an assembly,” Lapsa said. “So not only do you understand the configuration, you understand the history of all of those parts dating back to forever.”

While Lapsa clarified that Fusion is the result of an organic in-house need for better parts management – designing a fully reusable rocket is complicated, after all – turning it into a sell-able product was a decision that the Stoke team made early on. It’s a notable example of a rocket startup generating pathways for revenue while their vehicle is still under development.

Fusion offers particular relevance to startups. Many existing tools are designed for production runs – not the fast-moving research and development environment that many hardware startups find themselves, Lapsa added. In these environments, speed and accuracy are paramount.

Brent Bradbury, Stoke’s head of software, echoed these comments.

“The parts are changing, the people are changing, the processes are changing,” he said. “This lets us capture all that as it happens without a whole lot of extra work.”

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Amid a boom in AI accelerators, a UC Berkeley-focused outfit, House Fund, swings open its doors



Companies at the forefront of AI would naturally like to stay at the forefront, so it’s no surprise they want to stay close to smaller startups that are putting some of their newest advancements to work.

Last month, for example, Neo, a startup accelerator founded by Silicon Valley investor Ali Partovi, announced that OpenAI and Microsoft have offered to provide free software and advice to companies in a new track focused on artificial intelligence.

Now, another Bay Area outfit — House Fund, which invests in startups with ties to UC Berkeley — says it is launching an AI accelerator and that, similarly, OpenAI, Microsoft, Databricks, and Google’s Gradient Ventures are offering participating startups free and early access to tech from their companies, along with mentorship from top AI founders and executives at these companies.

We talked with House Fund founder Jeremy Fiance over the weekend to get a bit more color about the program, which will replace a broader-based accelerator program House Fund has run and whose alums include an additive manufacturing software company, Dyndrite, and the managed app development platform Chowbotics, whose most recent round in January brought the company’s total funding to more than $60 million.

For founders interested in learning more, the new AI accelerator program runs for two months, kicking off in early July and ending in early September. Six or so companies will be accepted, with the early application deadline coming up next week on April 13th. (The final application deadline is on June 1.) As for the time commitment involved across those two months, every startup could have a different experience, says Fiance. “We’re there when you need us, and we’re good at staying out of the way.”

There will be the requisite kickoff retreat to spark the program and founders to get to know one another. Candidates who are accepted will also have access to some of UC Berkeley’s renowned AI professors, including Michael Jordan, Ion Stoica, and Trevor Darrell. And they can opt into dinners and events in collaboration with these various constituents.

As for some of the financial dynamics, every startup that goes through the program will receive a $1 million investment on a $10 million post-money SAFE note. Importantly, too, as with the House Fund’s venture dollars, its AI accelerator is seeking startups that have at least one Berkeley-affiliated founder on the co-founding team. That includes alumni, faculty, PhDs, postdocs, staff, students, dropouts, and other affiliates.

There is no demo day. Instead, says Fiance, founders will receive “directed, personal introductions” to the VCs who best fit with their startups.

Given the buzz over AI, the new program could supercharge House Fund, the venture organization, which is already growing fast. Fiance launched it in 2016 with just $6 million and it now manages $300 million in assets, including on behalf of Berkeley Endowment Management Company and the University of California.

At the same time, the competition out there is fierce and growing more so by the day.

Though OpenAI has offered to partner with House Fund, for example, the San Francisco-based company announced its own accelerator back in November. Called Converge, the cohort was to be made up of 10 or so founders who received $1 million each and admission to five weeks of office hours, workshops and other events that ended and that received their funding from the OpenAI Startup Fund.

Y Combinator, the biggest accelerator in the world, is also oozing with AI startups right now, all of them part of a winter class that will be talking directly with investors this week via demo days that are taking place tomorrow, April 5th, and on Thursday.

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