• Sun. Nov 29th, 2020

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Technology

The Technology 202: Facebook’s new ad limits highlight pressure to prepare for chaotic election aftermath

The social network says the move is intended to limit misinformation and abuse of its service, following broad criticism that it has not done enough to stamp out falsehoods on its platform. Facebook hasn’t said how long the ad suspension will last, but in an internal memo to its sales staff that was obtained by the Washington Post, executives told staff to tell advertisers the ban would last a week.

The changes less than a month before Election Day underscore how tech companies are scrambling to address a fast-changing political environment. 

Tech companies have been making key changes to rein in disinformation since Russia used their platforms in 2016 to divide and sow discord among Americans. But critics say many of those steps to limit foreign influence haven’t gone far enough to address disinformation emanating from within the United States – often from the megaphone of the president. 

Social media companies have been trying to game out possible election outcomes to prepare. 

Facebook has also been considering more than 70 different election scenarios, such as what it will do if Trump or other politicians use social media to contest the election results, Facebook’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, told Elizabeth. The company plans to partner with Reuters to send out notifications on election night on Facebook and Instagram with the latest results. Facebook has previously said it would apply labels to posts where a presidential candidate or other party declares victory prematurely, saying the count is ongoing. 

Twitter has also been planning, gaming out nearly a dozen scenarios involving both foreign and domestic disinformation starting on election night and afterwards. The company’s scenarios included situations where people try to deter voting by saying the lines at the polls are too long, or a foreign power hacks documents and leaks them on social media, similar to the hacking of emails from Hillary Clinton then-campaign chair John Podesta’s in 2016, executives told Elizabeth in interviews. Twitter previously banned all political ads, and it’s also been labeling Trump’s tweets when it determines they violate the rules. 

Facebook also announced it would remove posts calling for poll watchers that use militaristic or otherwise intimidating language. 

The new policy applies to anyone – including politicians such as Trump. Trump, both online and at the presidential debate, is urging his supporters to be poll watchers. Earlier this week, Trump shared a post inviting supporters to be “Trump Election Poll Watcher[s].”  The tweet linked to the “Army for Trump” website, where the campaign  is recruiting supporters people to observe counting of physical and absentee ballots on Election Day, as my colleague Joseph Marks reported. His son Donald Trump Jr. appeared in an ad last month urging people to “defend your ballot” and join an “army” to protect the polls.

Election security advocate worry this language could lead to voter intimidation or even violence. Facebook executives said such language, including the words “army” and “battle,” would be prohibited in the future, but it will not retroactively take down ads or posts. 

Critics had mixed reactions to Facebook’s announcements. 

Civil-rights leaders who have been pressuring Facebook to overhaul its policies praised the move. 

“Given the unprecedented attacks on legitimate voting methods that are designed to delegitimize the election, these are important steps for Facebook to take to combat disinformation and the premature calling of the results,” said Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Yet Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has called for Facebook to be broken up, said the changes were “performative.”

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The fly that landed on Mike Pence’s head was the clear social media winner of the first vice presidential debate. 

The Biden campaign’s digital team quickly seized on the viral moment:

The campaign also tweeted out a link to flywillvote.com, which redirected to iwillvote.com, a voter registration site paid for by the Democratic National Committee. The Biden camp was also fast to roll out merch:

The Trump campaign was not as amused: 

Biden appeared to have a slightly better night on social media, which may have also been boosted by an endorsement from pop star Taylor Swift. Yet Trump still dominated on Facebook. Elizabeth has the data based on CrowdTangle:

Social networks favored by conservatives are leaving up alleged Russian disinformation. 

Parler and Gab are leaving up an alleged disinformation campaign spreading false claims that left-wing activists infected Trump with the coronavirus and that mail-in voting leads to fraud, Craig Timberg reports. The same accounts were removed by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube after an FBI tip triggered an investigation into the accounts. 

This appears to be the first-known Russian operation on Parler and Gab, researchers at Graphika say. The disinformation, which largely denigrates Biden and promotes Trump, “resembled” a 2016 campaign linked to Russia’s notorious Internet Research Agency, Graphika said. 

The platform’s refusal to remove the content starkly contrasts with efforts by mainstream platforms to crack down on election disinformation since 2016. “There is a bipartisan consensus that information operations by foreign actors are a threat to the integrity of democracies, and this principle should not stop at the gates of smaller platforms,” John Kelly, chief executive of Graphika. 

Gab founder Andrew Torba defended the content, saying the alleged Russian accounts “can speak freely on Gab just like anyone else.” Torba declined to say if law enforcement had been in touch about the accounts. 

“No one has filed a complaint, contacted us, or gone through any of the mechanisms Parler provides to alert us to this alleged fraud. If Graphika feels this is a legitimate threat, we welcome them to file a report per our terms of service,” Parler spokeswoman Kate Brown said in a statement.

Supreme Court justices grilled Google yesterday to justify its use of software code owned by Oracle. 

The highest court heard arguments for a decade-in-the-making lawsuit. Oracle sued Google for $9 billion in damages alleging that search giant illegally used code it acquired without permission, Jay Greene reports. 

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. challenged Google’s argument that its move was protected under “fair use” doctrine, which allows the use of copyrighted material when there is no way around it.

 “The only reason there is only one way to do it is because some of Oracle’s product expression was very successful,” Roberts said. “There were a lot of ways to do it when they did, and the fact that the programmers liked it and that is what everybody used — it seems a bit much to penalize them for that.” 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor also grilled Google on why it needed the code to build its operating system when its biggest rival Apple did not.  

The case, which has drawn heavy support from industry on Google’s side, could have significant ramifications on the ability of different technologies to work together in the future, supporters of Google say.

Google’s lawyers argued that the key difference was the requirements for Android to be interoperable with other applications. At least one member of the court, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, seemed compelled by Google’s argument that the code was akin to the utilitarian design of the QWERTY keyboard.

 “At this point in time, it’s really tough, just like the QWERTY keyboard, to go backwards,” Breyer said. “And very bad consequences will flow if you don’t see that distinction.”

Privacy advocates are warning against Amazon’s new biometric payment system. 

The Amazon One technology allows users to simply scan an image of their palms instead of pulling out a card or cash to pay, Heather Kelly reports. 

Other companies including Apple and Samsung have used biometrics like face ID and fingerprints to help users unlock their phones. But unlike Amazon, those companies store the information on the device itself. Amazon’s decision to store the data on the cloud puts it as risk of being breached or being requested by law enforcement, privacy experts say.

“If your credit card number leaks, you can get a new credit card. If a biometric scan of your palm leaks, you can’t get a new hand,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of the privacy group Fight for the Future.

The technology is only currently available in two Amazon Go stores in Seattle, but the e-commerce giant is hoping to push it to other retailers. 

“As with everything at Amazon, we take data security very seriously, and any sensitive data is treated in accordance with long-standing policies. We are confident that the cloud is highly secure,” Amazon spokeswoman Kerri Catallozzi said.

Rant and rave

Do Slack’s users even wear shoes to work anymore? Cole Haan is here with a new fall launch in case:

Others had ideas for some spinoffs:

Hill happenings

House Democrats want Amazon to launch an investigation into the safety of its Amazon Basics products.

The letter to the e-commerce company comes in response to a CNN investigation that found that many of the company’s own electronic products were found to be hazardous and never recalled.

We call on you to thoroughly investigate this matter, immediately issue recalls of defective products, and take comprehensive corrective action to protect your customers from all dangerous products on your platform, including those from your own private label brands,” wrote Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., Jr. (D-NJ) and consumer protection and commerce subcommittee chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) wrote in a letter to Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos.

The letter comes as Amazon faces antitrust scrutiny for allegedly using data from its sellers to benefit the sales of its own in-house brands.

The letter requests that Amazon provide responses to questions including how many Amazon-owned products its pulled for safety reasons and what notification system it has for dangerous products.

Inside the industry

A Texas jury indicted Netflix on charges that its “Cuties” documentary contains lewd images of children.

The filing piles onto complaints by conservatives including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that the documentary about a group of young girls in a dance troupe is sexually suggestive. The filing from a Tyler County, Texas, grand jury argues that the film “appeals to the prurient interest in sex, and has no serious, literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” 

Netflix has vehemently denied the allegations, instead saying that the Sundance-award winning film is a commentary on the sexualization of young girls, The Verge reports. 

Trending

Daybook

  • The Brookings Institution will hold an event on what to expect on tech policy in the next presidential administration today at 2 p.m.
  • The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University is hosting an online symposium on Data and Democracy on October 15 and 16.
  • New America will host an event “Will We Ever Vote on Our Phones” on Oct. 21 at noon.

Before you log off

The most unpredictable two minutes of the whole debate:

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