Weekly Roundup 21 June through 30 June

By Cat Ramsey | June 30, 2022

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cut-outs of Mark Zuckerberg are lined up in front of the US Capitol building on sunny day like a creepy army. Each of the cutouts has the words "fix facebook" on their t-shirts.
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Image credit: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post 2018
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21 June

The European Union (EU) has announced an updated version of its 2018 Disinformation Code of Practice. The new rulebook, like the old one, is voluntary, but several key platforms, including Twitch, have now joined Meta, Twitter, Google, and Microsoft, as well as other smaller platforms, in signing on to follow the guidelines. These commitments have grown as well. 23 new commitments have been added to the 21 from 2018, focusing more on the threats of bots, fake accounts, deep fakes, and demonetizing disinformation. 

The 2018 Code of Practice was criticized for its voluntary nature and a lack of accountability and oversight of signatories. The new version is designed to complement the upcoming Digital Services Act (DSA), which will lay out obligations for platforms based on the size of their user base and will be enforced with fines up to 6% of platforms’ global revenue. Signatories to the Code of Practice demonstrate a commitment to counter disinformation and protect human rights, which is expected to garner them some leeway in fulfilling the obligations of the DSA. Despite plans for the European Commission to oversee a body of civil society organizations, platforms, advertisers, and fact checkers which will meet regularly to assess signatories compliance with the code, the new iteration has sparked similar criticism to the 2018 Code of Practice for allowing fringe platforms that spread disinformation, like Telegram, to opt out.

 

30 June

Meta is in the process of shutting down Crowdtangle, their premier social-monitoring tool. Meta began to decommission Crowdtangle in February, but delayed the plan after the EU passed the landmark Digital Services Act that same month. Since then, the tech giant has confirmed that Crowdtangle will still be operational through  November 2022 while promising to replace it with an “even more valuable” tool for social media monitoring in the future.

Crowdtangle has proven to be an invaluable asset for the democracy and technology community, allowing activists and researchers to study misinformation and observe traffic to malign social media accounts. In spite of Meta’s marked progress in operational transparency, many fear that Crowdtangle’s removal will harm researchers and regular users on the company’s platforms. Others are hoping that Meta delivers on its promise to deliver an effective replacement for Crowdtangle, as future elections are predicted to become further rife with misinformation.

 

Gender and Inclusion

  • Three women in Gaza have developed an app that helps victims of domestic abuse access legal, economic, and social resources. The app, called Our Spaces, is designed to help combat the rising rate of violence against women, which has been exacerbated by deteriorating living conditions in Gaza.
  • Microsoft is responding to concerns about bias in AI and harms caused by invasive uses of the technology by eliminating potentially problematic applications, including facial recognition features that determine emotion or gender. To ensure the ethical application of AI technologies, the company has implemented requirements for users who wish to access this technology. Microsoft will require commitments to use AI only when it will solve the problem it was designed for and the quality of service is equitable across demographics. 
  • Meta has settled a lawsuit on discriminatory housing ad practices by agreeing to remove an advertising feature called “Lookalike Audience,” which shows housing ads to users based on characteristics protected by the Fair Housing Act. Meta plans to develop a new advertisement system for housing because of the ways in which the current use of personalization algorithms create and amplify inequity. 
  • In the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, U.S. senators are calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to conduct an investigation into iOS and Android tracking out of concern that the data of women seeking care will be weaponized against them and reproductive healthcare providers. The open letter to the FTC chair alleges that Apple and Google ​​"knowingly facilitated these harmful practices by building advertising-specific tracking IDs into their mobile operating systems." Healthcare advocates are urging citizens to take personal measures to protect their data from unjust prosecution, while data privacy experts insist only legal guarantees of privacy in the digital age, such as Senator Warren’s (D-MA) bill to prohibit data brokers from selling their customers’ location and healthcare information, can protect the vulnerable.

 

Global Tech Policy

  • China has proposed a new model of internet governance dubbed IPv6+, which is being modeled as a solution to previous ITU proposals that failed to address global connectivity. Critics have argued that IPv6+ will enhance the CCP’s international image and do little to improve global  internet governance.
  • The EU telecom regulating agency BEREC has moved to prohibit zero-rating practices that exempt certain apps from data caps imposed by internet service providers (ISPs.) The move is the bloc’s latest regulatory expansion as it seeks to shore up its net neutrality program, which won envy and admiration from  advocates across the Atlantic.
  • Many of the major tech companies currently developing AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality) technologies have come together to form the Metaverse Standards Forum, a place for companies and standards organizations to cooperate and develop standards for interoperability and human rights.

 

Open Internet

 

Cybersecurity

  • Over a million WordPress sites were forcibly updated to patch a critical vulnerability that would allow hackers to achieve remote code execution and hijack said sites. Users of Ninja Forms, the WordPress plugin wherein the vulnerability was located, have been advised to run the latest patch to prevent any further attacks. 
  • Microsoft has released a report analyzing the cyber dimension of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The report breaks down the Russian cyber strategy into three sectors; attacks on Ukraine, espionage outside Ukraine, and global influence operations. Each of these efforts has supported the other dimensions of Russia's war strategy.
  • Wired has revealed that Meta has continued to profit off of fake accounts and networks of coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB) on Facebook and Instagram. Meta does not  return money spent on advertisements shown to identified inauthentic accounts, even after CIB networks are taken down.

 

Disinformation

 

Data Protection and Privacy

  • Residents living in occupied Kherson are reporting increased internet disruptions as local ISPs are being forced to switch their servers to Russian infrastructure. This illegal act is exposing Ukrainians to the Russian surveillance network, which has widened in recent years as the regime seeks to quarantine its subjects to online criticism.
  • The UK Home Office uses invasive surveillance policies to monitor and track migrants staying in the country. The Hostile Environment Policy permits the arbitrary confiscation of mobile phones and the collection of country-of-birth data from schools, among other privacy violations. 
  • Instagram rolled out new parental control options this week for users in the UK, allowing adults to set time limits and see any accounts their child reports. Parent company-Meta has greatly expanded adult supervision as the consequences of its platforms’ effect on youth mental health continue to be uncovered.
  • Leaked recordings of TikTok meetings demonstrate that China-based employees of parent company ByteDance can still access U.S. user data and that TikTok is still beholden to leadership  based in China. The recordings have resurrected security concerns regarding foreign exploitation of data. U.S. Senators have released a bill to define and protect sensitive data. 
  • FakeReporter, a disinformation watchdog, has discovered that the fitness app Strava has been exploited to spy on Israeli security forces at secret bases. The U.S.-based app previously sparked privacy concerns by releasing exercise routes of military personnel at bases around the world.
  • Google has announced plans to open a cloud region in Saudi Arabia. Digital rights activists, including Access Now, are concerned that data stored at a center in Saudi Arabia could be exploited by the government to target human rights advocates in the country through either a physical breach or Saudi Arabia’s repressive internet regulation laws.

 

Countering Violent Extremism

  • A damning new study has exposed how Facebook continually fails to crack down on extremist content posted  in East Africa. Evidence gathered by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue reveals that posts blatantly flaunting the logos of al-Shabab and the Islamic State slipped through Facebook’s content moderation policies as regional governments combat a marked increase in terrorist activity.

 

Games for Good

  • Lumi Interactive, a mobile game startup, is working on a game which aims to help players’ mental health through self care activities similar to those players carry out in real life, such as watering plants or practicing daily gratitude. The game, Kinder World, differentiates itself from other mental health games with a focus on relaxation and reducing pressure evident in the fact that it is impossible to lose the game. 

 

Other Tech News

  • Last week’s sensational claim that a Google chatbot developed consciousness has been refuted by a team of ethicists and scientists, who counter that there remains zero evidence of the AI having a mind of its own. The experts point to the chatbot’s ability to model language sequences found on the web, which allows it to quickly learn human speech patterns and imitate them as closely as possible. 
Projects

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