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September 26, 2018
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China splits the internet while the U.S. dithers

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There are few stories as important right now as the internet being ripped asunder by the increasing animosity between the U.S. and China. Eric Schmidt, the former chairman of Alphabet, said last week at a private event in San Francisco that “I think the most likely scenario now is not a splintering, but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America.”

He should know: Alphabet and its Google subsidiary are on the front lines of that split, experiencing a massive furor over the company’s Project Dragonfly to launch a censored search engine in the Middle Kingdom. It’s hardly alone though, with Apple facing militant criticism from Chinese netizens over its iPhone presentation and Facebook finding its application for a corporate entity on the mainland being returned and rejected.

At the heart of this split is the death of the internet as we once knew it: a unified layer for the transfer of human knowledge. As the internet has gained more and more power over society and our everyday lives, the need by governments worldwide to tame its engineering to political and moral ends has increased dramatically.

About four years ago, I wrote a piece called “From internet to internets” in which I argued that this sort of split was obvious. As I wrote at the time: “Across the world, it is becoming abundantly clear that the internet is no longer the independent and self-reliant sphere it once was, immune to the peculiarities of individual countries and their laws. Rather, the internet is firmly under the control of every government, simultaneously.”

Yet, the rules that countries like Spain put in place around media and news didn’t split the internet as I had predicted. The economic power of the U.S. and China did. Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu may have declined in value this year, but their combined market caps is still in the trillions of dollars. WeChat, which is owned by Tencent, has more than a billion users, and while only 10% of its user base is estimated to be outside China, the ties are growing as more countries build economic bridges with the mainland.

Sometimes, those bridges are quite literal. Through the Belt and Road initiative and fledgling institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China has provided massive outlays to other nations primarily around infrastructure, building partnerships and deepening economic ties.

China and the U.S. are increasingly fighting a global battle for tech legitimacy (Photo by Jason Lee / AFP / Getty Images)

That infrastructure is sometimes roads, but it can also be in areas like telecommunications. Huawei has made massive inroads into Africa, both in smartphones and in core infrastructure. Chinese-owned Transsion, which most Westerners have probably never heard of, is the dominant smartphone manufacturer on the continent.

Chinese-made telecom infrastructure. Chinese handsets. Increasingly Chinese apps. For all of the concerns of Congress and national security officials about Huawei and ZTE equipment entering the American or Australian markets, the real fight for the future of the internet is going to be in precisely these developing regions which have no incumbent technology.

That’s what has made the Trump administration’s strategy toward trade negotiations with China so miserable to watch. The focus has been on repeated rounds of tariffs that will ensure that Chinese goods — particularly in high-tech industries — are more expensive to American consumers, allowing domestic manufacturers to better compete. Yet, the policies have done nothing to ensure that American values around the internet are exported to continents like Africa or South America, or that Cisco’s equipment will be chosen over Huawei’s.

That might be changing at long last. The Financial Times reported yesterday that the Trump administration is preparing to double down on the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which offers commercial lending facilities to developing countries. It would be merged into another agency and given a much more rich budget (as high as $60 billion) to go and compete with Chinese financing around the world.

Maybe that measure will be successful in closing the strategic distance between the two countries. Maybe rumors that the administration is going to broadly double down on the trade war will lead to a much more comprehensive set of policies.

But along the way, regardless of what happens, these skirmishes will lead to a fracturing of the internet, and along with it, the death of the internet as a bastion and voice of freedom and knowledge for all people everywhere.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook plans voter drive, partners with Democratic/Republican Institutes

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Facebook will push users to register to vote through a partnership with TurboVote, has partnered with the International Republican Institute and International Democratic Institute non-profits to monitor foreign election interference, and will publish a weekly report of trends and issues emerging from its new political ads archive. Facebook has also confirmed that its election integrity war room is up and running and the team is now ‘red teaming’ how it would react to problem scenarios such as a spike in voter suppression content.

These were the major announcements from today’s briefing call between Facebook’s election integrity team and reporters.

Facebook’s voter registration drive will also partner with TurboVote, which Instagram announced yesterday will assist it with a similar initiative

Much of the call reviewed Facebook’s past efforts, but also took time to focus on the upcoming Brazilian election. There, Facebook has engaged with over 1000 prosecutors, judges, and clerks to establish a dialog with election authorities. It’s partnered with three fact-checkers in the country and worked with them on Messenger bots like “Fátima” and “Projeto Lupe” that can help people spot fake news.

The voter registration drive mirrors Instagram’s plan announced yesterday to work with TurboVote to push users to registration info via ads. Facebook says it will also remind people to vote on election day and let them share with friends that “I voted”. One concern is that voter registration and voting efforts by Facebook could unevenly advantage one political party, for instance those with a base of middle-aged constituents who might be young enough to use Facebook but not so young that they’ve abandoned it for YouTube and Snapchat. If Facebook can’t prove the efforts are fair, the drive could turn into a talking point for congressional members eager to paint the social network as biased against their party.

The partnerships with the Institutes that don’t operate domestically are designed “to understand what they’re seeing on the ground in elections” around the world so Facebook can move faster to safeguard its systems, says Facebook’s Director of Global Politics and Government Outreach Team Katie Harbath. Here, Facebook is admitting this problem is too big to tackle on its own. Beyond working with independent fact checkers and government election commissions, it’s tasking non-profits to help be its eyes and ears on the ground.

The war room isn’t finished yet, according to a story from the New York Times published in the middle of the press call. Still under construction in a central hallway between two of Facebook’s Menlo Park HQ buildings, it will fit about 20 of Facebook’s 300 staffers working on election integrity. It will feature screens showing dashboards about information flowing through Facebook to help the team quickly identify and respond to surges in false news or fake accounts.

Overall, Facebook is trying to do its homework so it’s ready for a “heat of the moment, last day before the election scenario” and won’t get caught flat-footed, says Facebook director of product management for News Feed Greg Marra. He says Facebook is “being a lot more proactive and building systems to look for problems so they don’t become big problems on our platform.” Facebook’s director of product management for Elections and Civic Engagement Samidh Chakrabarti noted, this is “One of the biggest cross-team efforts we’ve seen.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Instagram will promote mid-term voting with stickers, registration info

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Facebook is getting ready to purposefully influence the U.S. mid-term elections after spending two years trying to safeguard against foreign interference. Instagram plans to run ads in Stories and feed powered by TurboVote that will target all US users over 18 and point them towards information on how to get properly registered and abide by voting rules. Then when election day arrives, users will be able to add an “I Voted” sticker to their photos and videos that link to voting info like which polling place to go to.

Combined, these efforts could boost voter turnout, especially amongst Instagram’s core audience of millenials. If one political party’s base skews younger, they could receive an advantage. “Ahead of National Voter Registration Day, we are helping our community register to vote and get to the polls on November 6th” Instagram writes. “From today, Instagram will connect US voters with the information they need to get registered.”

In 2010, a non-partisan “Get out the vote” message atop the Facebook News Feed was estimated to have driven 340,000 additional votes. The study by Nature suggested that “more of the 0.6% growth in turnout between 2006 and 2010 might have been caused by a single message on Facebook”. That’s significant considering the 2000 election had a margin of just 0.1 percent of voters.

You can watch Instagram’s video ads for voting below, which feature a cartoony purple Grimace character and are clearly aimed at a younger audience. They purposefully avoid any Democrat or Republican imagery, but also stick to a polished and American style that could ensure the clips aren’t mistaken for Russian propaganda.

Earlier this year, the company admitted that 120,000 Instagram posts by the Russian military intelligence group the Internet Research Agency reached 20 million Americans in an attempt to sow discord surrounding the 2016 Presidential election. They used a variety of image memes about polarizing social issues to try to divide the country. Facebook has since doubled its security staff to 20,000, required identity verification for political advertisers, and has stepped up its effort to delete scores of fake accounts associated with election interference.

The Russian disinformation attacks could still make users weary to learn about voting from social media. But more turnout means a more democratic society, so it’s easy to see the positive impact of Instagram efforts here. The question remains whether this voter drive will end up the subject of congressional scrutiny at another enevitable hearing on social media and political bias.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook rolls out photo/video fact checking so partners can train its AI

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Sometimes fake news lives inside of Facebook as photos and videos designed to propel misinformation campaigns, instead of off-site on news articles that can generate their own ad revenue. To combat these politically rather than financially-motivated meddlers, Facebook has to be able to detect fake news inside of images and the audio that accompanies video clips. Today its expanding its photo and video fact checking program from four countries to all 23 of its fact-checking partners in 17 countries.

“Many of our third-party fact-checking partners have expertise evaluating photos and videos and are trained in visual verification techniques, such as reverse image searching and analyzing image metadata, like when and where the photo or video was taken” says Facebook product manager Antonia Woodford. “As we get more ratings from fact-checkers on photos and videos, we will be able to improve the accuracy of our machine learning model.”

The goal is for Facebook to be able to automatically spot manipulated images, out of context images that don’t show what they say they do, or text and audio claims that are provably false.

In last night’s epic 3,260-word security manifesto, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that “The definition of success is that we stop cyberattacks and coordinated information operations before they can cause harm.” That means using AI to proactively hunt down false news rather than waiting for it to be flagged by users. For that, Facebook needs AI training data that will be produced as exhaust from its partners’ photo and video fact checking operations.

Facebook is developing technology tools to assist its fact checkers in this process. “we use optical character recognition (OCR) to extract text from photos and compare that text to headlines from fact-checkers’ articles. We are also working on new ways to detect if a photo or video has been manipulated” Woodford notes, referring to DeepFakes that use AI video editing software to make someone appear to say or do something they haven’t.

Image memes were one of the most popular forms of disinformation used by the Russian IRA election interferers. The problem is that since they’re so easily re-shareable and don’t require people to leave Facebook to view them, they can get viral distribution from unsuspecting users who don’t realize they’ve become pawns in a disinformation campaign.

Facebook could potentially use the high level of technical resources necessary to build fake news meme-spotting AI as an argument for why Facebook shouldn’t be broken up. With Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp combined, the company gains economies of scale when it comes to fighting the misinformation scourage.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

10 critical points from Zuckerberg’s epic security manifesto

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Mark Zuckerberg wants you to know he’s trying his damnedest to fix Facebook before it breaks democracy. Tonight he posted a 3,260-word battle plan for fighting election interference. Amidst drilling through Facebook’s strategy and progress, he slips in several notable passages revealing his own philosophy.

Zuckerberg has cast off his premature skepticism and is ready to command the troops. He sees Facebook’s real identity policy as a powerful weapon for truth other social networks lack, but that would be weakened if Instagram and WhatsApp were split off by regulators. He’s done with the finger-pointing and wants everyone to work together on solutions. And he’s adopted a touch of cynicism that could open his eyes and help him predict how people will misuse his creation.

Here are the most important parts of Zuckerberg’s security manifesto:

Zuckerberg embraces his war-time tactician role

“While we want to move quickly when we identify a threat, it’s also important to wait until we uncover as much of the network as we can before we take accounts down to avoid tipping off our adversaries, who would otherwise take extra steps to cover their remaining tracks. And ideally, we time these takedowns to cause the maximum disruption to their operations.”

The fury he unleashed on Google+, Snapchat, and Facebook’s IPO-killer is now aimed at election attackers

“These are incredibly complex and important problems, and this has been an intense year. I am bringing the same focus and rigor to addressing these issues that I’ve brought to previous product challenges like shifting our services to mobile.”

Balancing free speech and security is complicated and expensive

“These issues are even harder because people don’t agree on what a good outcome looks like, or what tradeoffs are acceptable to make. When it comes to free expression, thoughtful people come to different conclusions about the right balances. When it comes to implementing a solution, certainly some investors disagree with my approach to invest so much in security.”

Putting Twitter and YouTube on blast for allowing pseudonymity…

“One advantage Facebook has is that we have a principle that you must use your real identity. This means we have a clear notion of what’s an authentic account. This is harder with services like Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube, iMessage, or any other service where you don’t need to provide your real identity.”

…While making an argument for why the Internet is more secure if Facebook isn’t broken up

“Fortunately, our systems are shared, so when we find bad actors on Facebook, we can also remove accounts linked to them on Instagram and WhatsApp as well. And where we can share information with other companies, we can also help them remove fake accounts too.”‘

Political ads aren’t a business, they’re supposedly a moral duty

“When deciding on this policy, we also discussed whether it would be better to ban political ads altogether. Initially, this seemed simple and attractive. But we decided against it — not due to money, as this new verification process is costly and so we no longer make any meaningful profit on political ads — but because we believe in giving people a voice. We didn’t want to take away an important tool many groups use to engage in the political process.”

Zuckerberg overruled staff to allow academic research on Facebook

“As a result of these controversies [like Cambridge Analytica], there was considerable concern amongst Facebook employees about allowing researchers to access data. Ultimately, I decided that the benefits of enabling this kind of academic research outweigh the risks. But we are dedicating significant resources to ensuring this research is conducted in a way that respects people’s privacy and meets the highest ethical standards.”

Calling on law enforcement to step up

“There are certain critical signals that only law enforcement has access to, like money flows. For example, our systems make it significantly harder to set up fake accounts or buy political ads from outside the country. But it would still be very difficult without additional intelligence for Facebook or others to figure out if a foreign adversary had set up a company in the US, wired money to it, and then registered an authentic account on our services and bought ads from the US.”

Instead of minimizing their own blame, the major players must unite forces

“Preventing election interference is bigger than any single organization. It’s now clear that everyone — governments, tech companies, and independent experts such as the Atlantic Council — need to do a better job sharing the signals and information they have to prevent abuse . . . The last point I’ll make is that we’re all in this together. The definition of success is that we stop cyberattacks and coordinated information operations before they can cause harm.”

The end of Zuckerberg’s utopic idealism

“One of the important lessons I’ve learned is that when you build services that connect billions of people across countries and cultures, you’re going to see all of the good humanity is capable of, and you’re also going to see people try to abuse those services in every way possible.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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