Weekly Roundup 24 March through 7 April

By Cat Ramsey | April 19, 2022

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A picture of the Sama office in Nairobi. The office is to the left, a big building with a lot of windows, while the office's sign in centered and to the right is a street. It's a sunny day.
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Image credit: Khadija Farah for TIME
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Former content moderators are reigniting the debate over effective content moderation by suing big tech platforms for poor working conditions and psychological trauma. TikTok has just been slammed with another lawsuit, and Daniel Motaung, a former Meta moderator who was fired after leading a drive for fair working conditions, has released an open letter, threatening legal action if his demands are not met. Moderators are exposed to horrific content while also facing strict productivity requirements under supervision of technology which tracks how many posts they review and how much time they spend on each post. 

Not only does this cause long-term psychological damage and reinforce colonialist exploitation (a Meta content moderator working in Kenya called it, “modern slavery”), but these conditions also significantly reduce the effectiveness of content moderation. Harm to workers could be significantly reduced with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), but platforms’ automated moderation tools largely lack the ability to accurately process local slang and nuances in local contexts. Nevertheless, platforms can take steps to better fulfill their duty to both the information space and their employees by adhering to labor laws and contractual obligations.

Russian Invasion of Ukraine

  • At the beginning of the Russian invasion, the local government in Kyiv repurposed technology in the city to support safety of residents during the war, including adapting apps for paying city fees into maps showing bomb shelters and critical supply depots, and adapting systems warning of metro closures into systems warning of incoming bombs. 
  • Social media platforms have stepped up their efforts to regulate content since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, but now researchers are concerned that the removal of posts containing “graphic content,” which violates the platforms’ terms of agreement, is deleting evidence of war crimes. 
  • Roskomnadzor, the Russian telecommunications regulator has fined Wikipedia about 50,000 USD for refusing to delete information about the war in Ukraine, considered illegal in Russia due to the law passed in early March banning “fake news.” 
  • Pro-Kremlin disinformation is proliferating in the Chinese information space. While the civilian casualties in Bucha have sparked outrage and caused widespread condemnation of Russian actions, Chinese state media has shunted responsibility for the massacre onto the United States, as the “initiator of the Ukraine crisis.” 

Gender and Inclusion

  • The Center for Countering Digital Hate has released a report on abuse against women on Instagram. The report details the misogynistic abuse targeting five high profile women and the failures of the platform to provide adequate safety measures or responding mechanisms. 

Global Tech Policy

  • The US State Department’s new Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy began operations on April 4th, and will focus on “the national security challenges, economic opportunities, and implications for U.S. values associated with cyberspace, digital technologies, and digital policy.”
  • On the 25th of March, European lawmakers finalized regulatory legislation known as the Digital Markets Act, which seeks to restrict Big Tech monopolies and encourage greater competition in the digital communications sector. The act primarily targets US technology firms such as Apple and Google, who have objected that the legislation will degrade security and disincentivize competition. 
  • China recently connected a 15,000km undersea cable to Kenya, the latest expansion of the country’s “digital silk road” on the continent. Cyber analysts have raised concerns that Chinese-provided technology could potentially be abused by authoritarian leaders in the region.
  • The Chinese tech sector is experiencing unprecedented layoffs in response to President Xi Jingping’s continued clampdown on private business. While Xi has long sought to curtail the independence of Chinese tech giants, such as Alibaba and TenCent, experts warn that job losses in one of the country’s most lucrative industries could lead to social unrest.

Open Internet

  • The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has released a report on internet shutdown trends, determining that governments are shutting down the internet for longer periods of time, and becoming more targeted, honing in on particular platforms and apps and local communities. 
  • After a surge of gang-related killings, El Salvador has passed a law making it punishable by law for journalists to publish or share  messaging from gangs. The potential sentence of 10-15 year in prison has led the press to call the law an act of censorship in line with the government’s crackdown on the media. 
  • Following Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s declaration of a state of emergency over economic protests,  access to major social media networks was blocked in the country for 16 hours. 

Cybersecurity

  • A cyber espionage team linked with Hamas has been using fake Facebook accounts to catfish high ranking Israeli officers and steal sensitive information. After making contact, the catfish account operators moved the conversation onto WhatsApp in order to acquire the officials’ phone numbers. The cyber spies then convinced the officials to download an app and open a file containing malware. 
  • Symantec's Threat Hunter Team has stated that Cicada, a cyber-spy group linked to the Ministry of State Security of China, began a global espionage campaign in mid-2021, targeting activists, NGOs, governments, and religious groups. 
  • Justice Department officials unsealed several indictments on Russian operatives accused of hacking critical US infrastructure, one of whom is a member of the infamous Triton/Trisis group, known for targeting US and Saudi oil refineries with data-wiping malware, making it one of the Kremlin’s most disruptive hacking teams.
  • A Romanian security research firm recently disclosed that it had discovered a major vulnerability in Wyze security cameras, allowing hackers to download and watch video footage. Wyze is no stranger to security controversies, with notable examples such as accidentally leaking the information of 2.4 million customers in 2019.
  • A Belarusian hacking group known as Ghostwriter is currently using the browser-in-browser (BitB) phishing technique to exploit the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. Non-state and state actors, such as Iran and North Korea, are increasingly using the chaos surrounding the war to engage in mass phishing and spear-phishing campaigns against vulnerable organizations and individuals.

Disinformation

  • The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) has released a database of facts established during the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia about the 1992-1995 Bosnian Serb army’s siege of Sarajevo and related actions. The database will serve as a means to counter disinformation and genocide denial. 
  • A vast uptick of pro-Kremlin twitter accounts are originating from India, providing further evidence that the country’s social media landscape is quickly becoming a battleground for global public opinion. While there is some evidence that these accounts are part of a coordinated campaign, public opinion in the country has been split between support and condemnation of Russia’s invasion. 
  • The Toronto-based social media app Rumble is finding an increasing audience with far-right groups around the globe, regularly putting out conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The app markets itself as an alternative to the stricter algorithms of Google and Facebook, with banned figures such as Alex Jones returning to social media vis-a-vis Rumble.

Data Protection and Privacy

  • European police share fingerprint, DNA, and vehicle registration data across borders, and now facial recognition is being added to this system. This will strengthen Europol, but digital rights experts warn that the system threatens human rights and it is not uncommon for facial recognition to misidentify people. 
  • The Malaysian government may be planning to sell the MySejahtera contact tracing app to a private company, raising privacy concerns. The Malaysian public has been required to use the app over the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, and though the government has stated that the public’s private data is secure, it is unclear who owns the intellectual property of the app. 

Blockchain

  • Environmental advocacy groups have launched a grassroots campaign to cut the massive amounts of energy needed to mine Bitcoin. “Change the Code Not the Climate” is explicitly appealing to Bitcoin promoters, such as Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey, to encourage environmental changes in the mining industry.

Other Tech News

  • Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) has announced the successful take down of the servers of Hydra, a prominent Russian darknet website. The cybercrime division of the Attorney General’s Office in Frankfurt am Main has seized cryptocurrency amounting to an equivalent of 23 million euros. 
  • Palestinian protestors are using private messaging apps to raise awareness of Mista’arvim, the undercover Israeli police, at their protests and avoid arrest. The new strategy has empowered the protestors to stand up to the Mista’arvim, whose targeted use against an ethnic group is undemocratic. 
  • The vacuum-company Dyson will be rolling out a noise-canceling set of headphones that simultaneously purifies polluted air. The product, called Zone, is Dyson’s first foray into the wearable technology sector.
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