Tag: politics

Tech companies unite to fight for Dreamers

In September, President Trump announced that he would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers protections to undocumented immigrants who came to the US at a young age. This week, Reuters reported that Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM and other large tech companies plan to lobby Congress to pass legislation that will continue to protect these so-called Dreamers. The total number of companies involved is around two dozen, though that could change before the coalition launches.

After the president announced his decision, tech company executives expressed their disappointment in numerous ways, including on Twitter and via email. Hundreds of CEOs signed an open letter from pro-immigration group FWD.us (co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg) urging the president to continue the program.

It's likely that some action will happen on the DACA front as the holidays approach. In December, Congress will hopefully pass a spending bill (or face a US government shutdown). Reuters reports that Democrats may use this opportunity to pass legislation to protect Dreamers, trading their votes to avert a shutdown in exchange for promised protections.

Via: Business Insider

Source: Reuters

51 percent of tech experts say fake news can’t be fixed

With content peddlers Facebook and Google still struggling to combat fake news, especially during crises like the Las Vegas shooting, the proliferation of such false content might seem like an unstoppable flow. If that's your opinion, you're in the (slight) majority. A Pew survey of over 1,100 'tech experts' and scholars found that 51 percent believed the fake news problem will continue to get worse in the next decade.

When asked to explain their reasoning, both groups centered their outlooks on the potential of technology to prevent (or fail to prevent) people from enacting their less-than-noble agendas. In practice, this has meant the string of Russian actors influencing the 2016 election and its aftermath, but their successful efforts have opened the door to other bad actors with nefarious motives.

Those believing technology won't stop their efforts had two major arguments: Human desire pleasing content will inevitably feed the fake news machines, and that technological advance will outpace our ability to comprehend and control it. The 49 percent believing we'll get a handle on fake news have serious faith in eventual tech fixes, along with our human capability to recognize a collective threat and collectively organize a solution. More extensive responses can be read on the survey's page.

In the meantime, tech titans are still scrambling to produce fixes to stem the tide of fake news. Facebook continues to introduce possible solutions, like applying its algorithms to supply a fact-checking feedback loop, but fake news continues to slip through, as we saw with Google's ads yesterday. And then, of course, there's Twitter's late policing.

Via: Recode

Source: Pew Research Center

Congress seeks transparent online political spending with Honest Ads Act

Following revelations that Kremlin-backed online actors bought and ran divisive social media advertising during the 2016 presidential election, three Senators introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at regulating online ad buys. If passed, it would require Google, Facebook, Twitter and the rest of their ilk to follow the same rules as traditional media.

Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar devised the bill, dubbed the Honest Ads Act. Republican Senator John McCain announced his support for the bill earlier this week and has since been added as a co-sponsor.

"In the wake of Russia's attack on the 2016 election, it is more important than ever to strengthen our defenses against foreign interference in our elections," McCain wrote in a statement read by Senator Klobuchar during a press conference on Thursday. "Unfortunately, US laws requiring transparency in political campaigns have not kept pace with rapid advances in technology allowing our adversaries to take advantage of these loopholes to influence millions of Americans with impunity."

This bill would close those loopholes by demanding that online and social media companies make and retain copies of all political ads run on their networks, and make them available to the public. These rules would apply to any online entity (ie websites, apps, search engines or social/ad networks) with more than 50 million uniques in traffic per year, Re/Code reports. On the other side, for any campaign that spends more than $500 on ads per year, these platforms will need to make not only the ad itself available to the public but also information regarding who bought it, who it's targeted at and how much it cost to run. These new rules mirror those that broadcasters have had to conform to for decades.

"We know that our next election is only 383 days away," Senator Klobuchar said. "We know that Russia will continue to divide our country and, worse than that, we may have other foreign interests trying to divide our country."

"I've been a state candidate four times, statewide in Virginia," Senator Warner chimed in. "I think as a candidate, or as someone running against me, I ought to have the ability to at least go and look at the content of the ads being run for or against an individual campaign."

"What we have now is ads that are in many ways set to disappear after they've targeted a very select demographic group," Warner continued. "That is not the kind of transparency we need."

Despite its good intentions, the bill will likely face a slog through both houses on its path towards passage. Some factions within the GOP have expressed doubts that the Russian government had anything to do with the 2016 election and are not likely to support this legislation, despite McCain's vocal support for it. Nor is there any guarantee that it will find widespread support in Silicon Valley despite the industry's efforts to solidify their defenses against external interference.

The Senators estimate that the Honest Ad Act could come up for a vote by early next year, if not sooner, should it get rolled into a larger national security package.

Facebook and Google reportedly helped set up anti-Muslim election ads

It looks like Russia wasn't the only one buying ads online to help sway the election last year. Facebook and Google worked closely with conservative non-profit Secure America Now and advertising firm Harris Media on ad campaigns targeting swing state voters with anti-Muslim and anti-refugee messages, and linking Democratic candidates to terrorists, according to a report from Bloomberg. "Unlike Russian efforts to secretly influence the 2016 election via social media, this American-led campaign was aided by direct collaboration with employees of Facebook and Google," the publication says.

One ad is a mock tourism video titled "Book Your Trip to the Islamic State of France." It features an Eiffel Tower with a crescent moon and star atop it, terrorist training camp footage and Muslims praying while a narrator describes a burka-clad Mona Lisa as finally looking "how a woman should."

"Under Sharia Law, you can enjoy everything the Islamic State of France has to offer, as long as you follow the rules," the narrator says.

The ads apparently ran in Nevada and North Carolina during the final weeks of the election, and caused at least one Harris Media employee to feel uncomfortable about their content.

Bloomberg's sources say that Facebook's and Google's sales team worked closely with Secure America Now to improve their multimillion dollar ad campaigns. Google eventually pulled a number of the ads because they violated the company's policies.

Facebook's "eager" sales team supposedly went as far as using Secure America Now's ads for A/B testing a new vertical video format at scale:

"The video they used was 'Are We Safe?', which contrasts colorful scenes of Main Street America with black-and-white pictures of Muslims who have carried out attacks in the US. Facebook tested 12 different versions of the video."

Facebook also worked with a Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany party, also a Harris Media client, to target voters with anti-immigration ads in the country this year.

This report comes after it was discovered that Russia bought some 3,000 ads and cut Facebook a check for over $100,000 during the 2016 election. It was found that Russian agents also purchased ads with Google leading up to last November.

We've reached out to Facebook and Google for more information and will update this post should it arrive.

Source: Bloomberg

Digital rights groups speak out against EU plan to scan online content

For the past few years, the European Union has been developing reforms that would turn Europe into a Digital Single Market. Under such a structure, anyone in Europe would be able to buy goods and services online from any of the EU member states, not just where they currently happen to be, and services like Netflix would be the same in each country, though that piece would be quite a bit harder to implement. However, there's another part of this conversation that has drawn a fair amount of backlash and this week led major rights groups to pen an opposition letter to the EU.

The stipulation in question, reports TorrentFreak, is Article 13 of the current Digital Single Market proposals, which would require online service providers like YouTube and Facebook to constantly scan uploaded content to make sure it doesn't infringe on any copyrights. This would largely replace the current model wherein once a copyright violation is reported, that content is removed. While groups like entertainment companies support such a measure, others have spoken out against it. In an open letter to the EU, dozens of international rights groups -- such as Human Rights Watch, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Reporters without Borders -- helmed by the Civil Liberties Union for Europe and European Digital Rights requested Article 13 be removed from the proposals.

In the letter, the groups say, "Article 13 of the proposal on Copyright in the Digital Single Market include obligations on internet companies that would be impossible to respect without the imposition of excessive restrictions on citizens' fundamental rights." They continue, "In particular, the requirement to filter content in this way would violate the freedom of expression set out in Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. If internet companies are required to apply filtering mechanisms in order to avoid possible liability, they will. This will lead to excessive filtering and deletion of content and limit the freedom to impart information on the one hand, and the freedom to receive information on the other." The groups also make a practical argument, pointing out that similar mandates have been rejected by the Court of Justice twice before and Article 13 would likely be thrown out as well.

Whether such a response will have any impact on the EU's decision will remain to be seen, but it looks like it's going to have a fight on its hands if it decides to go forward.

Via: TorrentFreak

Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation, European Commission

Google Advanced Protection is for high-profile hacking targets

Many internet giants offer security measures like two-factor authentication (which you should really use) to keep your account safe from hackers. But there are a handful of people who are so valuable as targets that hackers will go after them specifically -- say, election campaign managers. And Google wants to do something about it. It's introducing the previously rumored Advanced Protection Program, an extra layer of security for people who virtually expect cyberattacks. Sign up and you'll put restrictions on your account that will be borderline onerous, but could be vital when you know you're facing a serious threat.

To start, you need a physical security key to sign in. These certainly aren't unheard of (Facebook supports them), but it's not optional for anyone in Advanced Protection. Google also limits full access to your Gmail and Drive accounts to specific apps (currently its own), so a rogue program can't spy on you or steal your data. And hackers won't have much luck with social engineering, either. There are "additional reviews and requests" if someone claims to be locked out of an account, reducing the chances that someone can impersonate you well enough to get account details.

Google is promising to "continually update" its security measures to adapt to threats. You'll get the latest the company can offer, in other words.

At the moment, Advanced Protection is limited to personal Google accounts. However, you don't need to be a celebrity or political figure to enroll. Google is quick to stress that this is for anyone who has a particular reason to be worried about hacks, such as someone escaping an abusive relationship or a journalist who needs to protect the anonymity of a source. While it's patently obvious that this is coming about as a response to the hacks that defined the 2016 US election (Google makes not-so-vague allusions to the attack on John Podesta's account), it's clearly useful on a much broader level.

Via: Reuters, Wired

Source: Google, Advanced Protection

Facebook trying to find employees with national security clearance

Facebook's next attempt at clearing its name from any future political entanglements is apparently hiring people with national security clearances, according to Bloomberg. "Facebook plans to use these people -- and their ability to receive government information about potential threats -- in the company's attempt to search more proactively for questionable social media," the publication's source says. It makes sense, and given the role the social network played in he 2016 election, is a smart move.

In the last few months alone, Facebook has admitted Russia spent some $100,000 on over 3,000 targeted ads during the election cycle; turned over said ads to election investigators and revealed that some 10 million saw the ads. Twitter and Google have come under fire by the government for Russian agents purchasing advertising on their platforms to influence voters as well. We've reached out to Facebook for more information and will update this post should it arrive.

Source: Bloomberg

Iran blamed for cyberattack on UK parliament

When hackers attacked UK parliament email accounts in June, it was tempting to blame Russia. After all, it's been rather busy lately. However, it looks like people were pointing their fingers in the wrong direction. The Times has learned that British intelligence has pinned the campaign on Iran -- it'd be the country's first cyberattack against the UK, in fact. While the actual damage was relatively limited (about 30 Members of Parliament were compromised out of roughly 9,000 total accounts), the intrusion supports beliefs that Iran has become a serious player in cyberwarfare after years of being little more than a target. Officials aren't commenting on the attack, but there are a few theories as to why Iran would take this risk.

One theory suggests that this was really an exploratory mission: Iran may have been looking for data that could compromise the UK's interests or force it to make concessions. Iran may have been looking for an advantage in trade, too. There's even the possibility that factions in Iran's Revolutionary Guard were trying to undermine the country's anti-nuclear proliferation deal in a bid to cancel it, giving officials the excuse they needed to resume full nuclear technology research.

It's that last part which has politicians worried. Reportedly, officials said the link between Iran and the cyberattack has "complicated" Prime Minister Theresa May's attempts to protect the nuclear deal. They didn't believe it changed the argument in favor of the deal (if anything, it shows why Iran must be contained), but it's no longer as simple as claiming that Iran has turned a corner.

Via: Reuters

Source: The Times

Ofcom orders BBC to show more original British productions

Ofcom has told the BBC it needs to show more programming developed inside Britain. The new rules, part of a revamped operating licence, will require the broadcaster to show at least 75 percent original content on BBC One, Two and Four. From 6 to 10:30pm, or peak hours, that figure will rise to 90 percent on BBC One and Two. The change will effectively ban the BBC from showing movies and TV series bought from international broadcasters during the evening. Instead, the organisation will have to rely on BBC commissions to retain and grow its audience share at night.

The new licence will also demand that the BBC produce more of its programming in different parts of the UK. Half of the BBC's schedule (measured by hours, rather than individual shows) will need to be developed outside of London. Ofcom is also creating minimum quotas for programmes developed inside Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These will be proportionate with each nation's population size, ensuring that the BBC is catering to each region with an appropriate amount of specialised content. Furthermore, the BBC will need to spend the same amount (on a per-head basis) on programming in each UK nation.

Ofcom wants the BBC to have a stronger focus on news and current affairs too. It will increase the relevant quotas for BBC One and Two, and introduce new ones for BBC Radio 1 and 2. Radio 2, for instance, will need to run three hours of news and current affairs during "peak time" each week. Radio 1, meanwhile, will have to run a set number of "major social action campaigns" each year, utilising its still substantial reach with young people across the UK. "Raising awareness of social issues among younger people and providing a platform on which to engage is one of the key ways Radio 1 can set itself apart from other radio stations," the regulator said.

Workforce diversity will be another point of contention. Ofcom says it will, for the first time, make the BBC "publicly accountable" as it tries to improve representation on and off camera. The broadcaster's targets include 15 percent of staff being from ethnic minority groups, and half of all staff and leadership roles being held by women by 2020. The BBC will need to report on its progress each year and Ofcom will scrutinise accordingly. "If audiences are dissatisfied, the BBC must explain itself and put in place measures on how it will improve," the regulator said.

A BBC spokesperson described the new rules as "tough and challenging," but agreed they would create a "distinctive BBC which serves and represents all audiences." "We will now get on with meeting these requirements and continuing to provide the world-class, creative BBC the public wants," they added. The quotas will, undoubtedly, put pressure on a broadcaster already facing budgetary constraints and fierce competition from streaming services such as Netflix. A greater focus on originals is arguably in line with its public broadcasting remit, but could diminish its influence as viewers seek an increasingly broad palette of pop culture.

Source: Ofcom

Fear of the US government led me to censor myself on Twitter

The day I've been dreading for months is drawing near. On October 18th, the Department of Homeland Security's modified system of records is scheduled to go into effect. The updated policy would affect all US immigrants, whether they are new, existing or permanent residents or even naturalized citizens, and how they are identified by the government. More accurately, it would allow the DHS, Border Patrol and other immigration authorities to collect social media handles as part of an individual's official record. As someone who's working in the US on a visa, I was immediately worried about how it would affect my standing.

The reason the DHS gave for the update is that it is beginning to conduct "more immigration actions in an electronic environment" and that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is adjudicating "more immigration benefits and requests for action in its USCIS Electronic Immigration System." Basically, people are increasingly applying online, and the changes would reduce the existing reliance on paper records. What the DHS wants to do is be able to officially identify you by your online persona in addition to existing attributes like your name, birthday and address. The update would also add an individual's "country of nationality; country of residence; the USCIS Online Account Number; social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results" to one's records.

A DHS spokesperson said in a statement, "This amendment does not represent a new policy." The notice published on September 18th was "an effort to be transparent (and) comply with existing regulations" and "due to updates in the electronic immigration system." Multiple requests for clarity on what would change for immigrants -- whether they would have to fill out new forms asking for their social media handles or what would happen for those with private profiles, were not answered.

I was raised in Singapore, where political criticism can get you sued (if interpreted as libel), arrested (if seen as inciting violence) or even jailed. At my first full-time job, as a marketing executive for a local oil and gas company, my boss told me not to speak in meetings -- playing dumb was always better than potentially making a mistake, he said. For most of my life, I learned to swallow my feelings. My mother's mantra was "Keep your opinions to yourself," and she sternly repeated it as we made our way to family gatherings and social functions.


When I first came to live in the US, in 2008, I was surprised by how liberally people expressed themselves. I learned that individuals' thoughts have value but also, more important, that we are entitled to them. The notion of freedom of speech was new to me, but as I observed the thriving arts and culture in American society, I understood what liberty was worth. Just as people grow and improve by accepting and learning from different opinions, so a country flourishes by embracing and encouraging open discourse.

I got used to the freedom to air my thoughts on any topic in public forums like Twitter and Instagram. I still refrain from saying anything that would make me look insensitive or give away too much personal information, though. Part of me also continues to fear the wrath of the Singapore government; I worry about what could happen to me when I return to visit family should I unwittingly say something too critical. But for the most part I feel carefree. My posts tend to be a mix of my own articles, random musings, funny videos or frustrating stories about poor customer service and bad PR.

Something changed a few months ago, after I first heard of the DHS' plans to incorporate social media into its visa application process. I started to second-guess myself. I avoided weighing in on topics that would show my political leanings. I dutifully wished my followers a happy Fourth of July, shared the results of the Super Bowl and retweeted posts honoring the fallen victims of 9/11. I sent these tweets mostly out of goodwill, but a small part of me felt it was better to look like I participate in American activities.

I started posting what I imagined a immigration officer would like to see, rather than show an unfiltered version of my thoughts. Truth is, Chinese New Year matters more to me than Fourth of July does, and I didn't really care if the Patriots won. I love America, and I love many of its festivities and people, but I can't change the fact that I grew up elsewhere. And honestly, I shouldn't have to.

I continued to tweet, trying mostly to stay on neutral topics. Occasionally, I let myself express anger at institutions or people, but I only feel safe ranting about issues that people agree on regardless of political views.

I don't want to let my fear get in the way of me expressing myself, but it already has.

But it's what people don't see that I found the most telling. I agonized over whether to soften a jokingly violent tweet about New York's subway system. I didn't want someone to come across those thoughts, assume I was serious, and decide I'm a dangerous individual. Who knows what an immigration officer might think? Eventually, I toned down the language and added qualifiers like "I guess" to make it clear I was merely musing.

There are times I've avoided posting altogether. I kept quiet during the white nationalist rally in Virginia and generally don't comment on things Donald Trump does. But things came to a head when I found myself holding back from sharing negative tweets about American gun laws and political gridlock after the Las Vegas shootings. As my feed filled up with statistics showing how the US and its (lack of) gun control policies have led to massive loss of lives, I longed to retweet and share. But I didn't. Instead, I vented in private messages to trusted friends. I felt like I was back in Singapore.

I'm torn. I don't want to let my fear get in the way of me expressing myself, but it already has.

Maybe I'm being paranoid. A DHS spokesperson said the agency already does "and continues to monitor publicly-available social media to protect the homeland." They might already know everything they need to about me from years of unfiltered tweeting. But when your job, life and future depend on how strangers in some government agency perceive you, wouldn't you be careful too? Yes, my profile is public and anyone can already access it and judge me. But it's one thing to allow random people online to decide if they like you -- it's almost debilitating when your beliefs or personality are used to officially determine if you can visit a country.

The good news is, based on the thousands of comments on the proposal's forum, an overwhelming majority of people are against the upcoming update. Many of them argue that the move would be a violation of the First and Fourth Amendments. Some even claim this is a slippery slope toward a Big Brother–like future with the government monitoring the social media of citizens and immigrants alike. It's still unclear exactly how the changes would affect us, or how they are new, given the vague responses from the USCIS and the DHS. At this point though, my social media is no longer an accurate representation of the person I actually am. It's some facade I've created for the powers that be. Which really makes monitoring it useless anyway.