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The Technology 202: Trump campaign ads reignite concerns about census misinformation on Facebook

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With Tonya Riley

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Facebook’s handling of a deceptive Trump campaign ad is sparking worries that the social network won’t live up to the promises it made to police misinformation about the 2020 census on its platform. 

The social network eventually took down the ads, saying they violated policies that prohibit posts and ads that misrepresent how to participate in the census, my colleagues Craig Timberg and Tara Bahrampour reported yesterday. 

But Facebook only took the rare step of censoring the president’s ads after its initial decision to permit them was widely criticized, as first reported by the political newsletter Popular Information

Civil rights leaders are concerned that it took the company almost a day to come to its final conclusion. They first alerted Facebook on Wednesday to the Trump ads, which called Facebook users to “take the official 2020 Congressional District Census today.” The ads were not related at all to the national count and instead linked to a Trump campaign survey that collected information and solicited a donation. 

“It demonstrates a real failure in their enforcement and internal infrastructure to identify and remove these kinds of posts that can have a very detrimental impact on users, Vanita Gupta, the president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told me in an interview.

Here’s a screenshot of a Trump ad that Facebook removed:

While transparency advocates saw Facebook’s announcement in December it would adopt a census misinformation as a key victory after an 18-month fight, they’re now gearing up for another battle: Getting the company to follow through on them. 

“It’s going to take 24-hour vigilance on the part of organizations that have far fewer resources than Facebook has to ensure the enforcement of these policies,” Gupta told me. 

Civil rights leaders are bracing for more issues to arise as Census Day approaches on April 1. They’re concerned that the count could be a target for bad actors trying to suppress participation, particularly among marginalized groups that have been traditionally wary of the government-led exercise. 

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said he did not know how many impressions the ads received. Gupta said she has asked the company to share that data. 

Rashad Robinson, the president of the racial justice advocacy organization Color of Change, said such ads should be blocked before they hit hundreds or thousands of views. 

“Right-wing extremists will only continue to find new ways to peddle propaganda and spread misinformation online to discourage participation from people of color in the 2020 census and upcoming elections,” Robinson said in a statement. “In the absence of much-needed governmental oversight, Facebook must enforce its own content rules otherwise, our democracy will remain at risk of dangerous intervention.”

Gupta said she took her concerns about the recent Trump ads directly to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg in an email yesterday. The census misinformation policy was seen by activists as a rare bright spot from the company following months of jostling over the companies’ policies that allow any politician to lie in ads or posts. 

Other tech companies have also adopted census misinformation policies under pressure. The Census Bureau has also been coordinating with them to dispel misinformation and misconceptions about the count, but it did not respond to multiple requests for comments about the commander-in-chief’s ads. 

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh declined to comment to my colleagues about the ads or Facebook’s decision.

202 vs. 650

BITS, NIBBLES AND BYTES

BITS: Tens of thousands of political ads on Facebook apparently designed to influence voters in key battleground states did not disclose their connections, a security audit of the company’s online ad archive by New York University researchers found. The researchers’ findings could seed further doubt about the social media giant’s preparedness to protect voters from manipulation ahead of the 2020 presidential election, my colleagues Tony Romm and Isaac Stanley-Becker report. 

More than 86,000 Facebook pages ran at least one political ad that was not properly disclosed, according to the report shared by researchers with The Post.  Facebook later caught and included these ads in its archive. About 20,000 ads, some of which touched on politics, also had been purchased by “likely inauthentic communities,” according to the report

Facebook pointed to some of the steps it has taken since researchers concluded their report. In October the company began requiring Facebook pages that purchase political ads to provide more information about their identities, such as their tax-identification number.

“Our authorization and transparency measures have meaningfully changed since this research was conducted,” spokesman Joe Osborne said in a statement. 

But researchers still expressed concerns with Facebook’s follow-through on its protocols. “Enforcement really needs to be stepped up,” researcher Laura Edelson told my colleagues.

NIBBLES: Tech companies and privacy advocates are facing the most serious legislative threat in more than a decade to strong encryption protection, my colleague Joseph Marks reports.  The EARN IT Act threatens to revoke legal protections from tech companies that don’t meet government set-standards for preventing online child sexual exploitation. 

It’s unclear if the Senate Judiciary committee bill which will garner the political support it needs, but advocates have taken it as a warning shot of new war over encryption protections.

“Strong encryption is a bedrock for national security, our digital economy and individual safety—including children… EARN IT erodes that,” the Consumer Technology Association, which includes Facebook and Microsoft among its members, said on Twitter.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a longtime encryption advocate, called the bill “a trojan horse to give Attorney General Barr and Donald Trump the power to control online speech and require government access to every aspect of Americans’ lives.”

A coalition of 25 civil society organizations, wrote a letter to the senators sponsoring the legislation and members of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees expressing strong opposition to the “EARN IT Act.” 

“The bill as drafted would not fulfill its purported goal of catching criminals responsible for child exploitation online,” the groups wrote. “Rather, eliminating or undermining encryption on some online platforms will likely achieve the opposite, and make law enforcement’s job harder by simply pushing criminals to other communications options.” 

Tech companies have expressed more willingness to endorse 11 voluntary principles to combat online child exploitation introduced by Attorney General William Barr yesterday.

BYTES: A top State Department official warned members of Congress yesterday that Russia is behind “swarms of online, false personas, spreading misinformation about coronavirus, my colleague Tony Romm reports. The entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation is at play, Lea Gabrielle, the coordinator of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, said during a broader hearing examining the department’s growing role in combating online propaganda from abroad. 

An unpublished report from the State Department revealed nearly 2 million tweets pushing coronavirus-related conspiracy theories. 

Gabrielle did not link that report with her broader conclusions about Russian interference online, Tony writes. But she said actors tied to the country — through ‘state proxy websites,’ official state-owned media and fake accounts online — were part of an effort to ‘take advantage of a health crisis, where people are terrified worldwide, to try to advance their priorities.’

The U.S. government has offered no public evidence backing up its claims about coronavirus disinformation, sparking criticism from tech companies implicated in the allegations and confusion among some lawmakers. Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), the top Democrat on the subcommittee that convened the hearing, called on the State Department to share more about its findings with the public. 

Twitter also said earlier this week it is “not seeing significant coordinated platform manipulation efforts around these issues, and questioned the State Department’s research methodology.

“We always welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the government agencies tasked with protecting the integrity of the 2020 election; however, non-peer reviewed research using our public API can be deeply flawed,” said Katie Rosborough, a company spokeswoman.

PRIVATE CLOUD

— Twitter updated its rules against hateful conduct yesterday to include language that dehumanizes on the basis of age, disability or disease. The move could crack down on xenophobic and racist content sparked by the coronavirus outbreak.

  • But advocates say it doesn’t go far enough: “While Twitter’s expansion of their policies against hateful conduct to prohibit content that dehumanizes people based on age, disability, or disease is an important step forward, this policy update falls far short of protecting all users and the public,” Jessica J. González, co-founder of Change the Terms and co-CEO of Free Press, said in a statement. “Twitter must expand its hateful conduct policies to protect people of color and prohibit language that dehumanizes people based on their race, ethnicity, or immigration status.”

—Venture firm Sequoia Capital sent out a memo to founders and CEOs of its portfolio companies with suggestions on how they can deal with the potential business consequences of the spreading disease. The memo, which harks back to a presentation the firm sent out before the financial crisis in 2008, signals growing concerns in the VC world over the long-lasting consequences of the global health crisis on businesses.

  • “It will take considerable time — perhaps several quarters — before we can be confident that the virus has been contained,” the team wrote. It will take even longer for the global economy to recover its footing.”

— More news from the private sector:

PUBLIC CLOUD

— News from the public sector:

The House on Thursday approved a bill that would ban Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials from downloading social media app TikTok onto government-issued devices.

The Hill

#TRENDING

—  Tech news generating buzz around the Web:

CHECK-INS

—Coming up:

  • The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust will host a hearing on “Competition in Digital Technology Markets: Examining Self-Preferencing by Digital Platforms” on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
  • Nava Public Benefit Corporation will host a conversation moderated by the Technology 202’s Cat Zakrzewski on “Impact at Scale: From Big Tech to Civic Tech” on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
  • The Senate Committee Judiciary will hold a hearing Wednesday on “The EARN IT Act: Holding the Tech Industry Accountable in the Fight Against Online Child Sexual Exploitation” on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m.
  • The Code for America Summit will take place March 11-13 in Arlington, VA.
  • SXSW will take place in Austin March 13-22.
  • FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks and FTC Co missioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter will jointly host a field hearing in Detroit, Michigan on 5G technology and big data on March 16 at 1 p.m.
  • The Game Developers Conference will take place in San Francisco March 16-20.



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Hats off to the UK for smartphone unlocking laws, and more tech news today

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Your tech news digest, by way of the DGiT Daily tech newsletter, for Tuesday, 27 October 2020

1. UK bans locked phones, hooray!

The UK has announced a ban on the sale of network-locked phones, finally ending one of the vices that carriers try and use to keep you loyal to them.

  • The BBC reported that while it typically costs about £10 to get a locked smartphone unlocked, studies showed that’s not the full story, with half of all those who try to do so experience difficulties:
  • “These [difficulities] can include facing a long wait to receive the code needed to trigger the process, as well as then finding that the code does not work.”
  • “We know that lots of people can be put off from switching because their handset is locked. So we’re banning mobile companies from selling locked phones, which will save people time, money and effort — and help them unlock better deals,” Ofcom connectivity director Selina Chadha was quoted as saying on the regulator’s website.

Finally: 

  • This is a welcome change, with most reactions saying finally, this is long overdue, and so on.
  • While some carriers in the UK were already keeping phones unlocked, the likes of giants including Vodafone and BT were not, and will now need to comply by December, 2021. Which isn’t soon enough really, but at least it will come into place.
  • The whole practice was a great scheme for carriers but really made little sense in any other business model in the world, where consumers pay for devices they can only use while paying a certain company. Telecommunications is unique, and carriers will always wield power when they can get away with it.

Elsewhere?

  • In Europe, this is generally the case already, and in Singapore, for example, locked phones are banned.
  • In Australia phones are generally unlocked too, except in some cases with prepaid phones where phones are often affordable but made cheaper through locks.
  • In South Africa, major carrier Vodacom started adding locks as recently as a year ago, reversing previous unlocked phones.
  • And of course, there’s the US, where locked phones are much more common. Some devices may only be compatible with specific networks too. For example, some phones like the OnePlus 7T require a specific Verizon variant as the standard unlocked model doesn’t work on Verizon. Which is strange!
  • Verizon, for example, keeps a lock for 60 days after purchase before then unlocking. And it’s completely legal to unlock a phone, which leads to guides like ‘How to unlock a Verizon phone’ being popular, for Verizon’s pre-paid devices.
  • Otherwise, unlocking a phone locked to AT&T on a contract may require that you’ve paid out a 24-month plan already and jumping through various hoops.
  • It may be that moves like this commendable one from the UK regulator heaps pressure on other countries, too.

2. The OnePlus Nord N10 and N100 were announced yesterday with the leaks right on the money. They’re more affordable or budget phones with headphone jacks, and with microSD card slots for the first time for OnePlus phones. We don’t know pricing yet but it’s going to be in a battle with the likes of the Google Pixel 4a and iPhone SE for the N10 (Android Authority). And wait, wasn’t every OnePlus phone supposed to have a high refresh rate screen? (Android Authority).


3. Samsung Galaxy S30 Ultra specs leak: An S20 Ultra with a new coat? Oh, and don’t expect a charger or earphones in the Galaxy S30’s box (Android Authority).


4. Fairphone 3 Plus review: Sustainability comes with compromises (The Verge).


5. Facebook is the latest to jump into mobile cloud gaming. I had a look, the games on offer are …extremely Facebook. Plus, digs at Apple’s iOS policies (Android Authority).


6. Microsoft adds mouse and trackpad support to Office apps on iPad (Engadget).


7. iPhone 12 drop test confirms the new screen helps durability, to an extent (Engadget).


8. Roku Ultra 2020 review: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, which makes it a tough sell over the Roku Streaming Stick Plus which is half the cost (CNET).


9. AMD agrees to buy Xilinx for $35 billion in stock, which may open up 5G and automotive electronics as Xilinx invented the FGPA (NY Times)


10. “Sometimes I think of how cakes are a miracle.” (Twitter)


11. Moon holds more water in more places than ever thought — but don’t overdo it. “To be clear, this is not puddles of water,” stressed lead researcher Casey Honniball (AP).


The DGiT Daily delivers a daily email that keeps you ahead of the curve for all tech news, opinions, and links to what’s going down in the planet’s most important field. You get all the context and insight you need, and all with a touch of fun. Plus! Rotating daily fun for each day of the week, like Wednesday Weirdness. Join in!



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Apple to charge more for apps in India and five other countries

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By: Tech Desk | New Delhi |

October 27, 2020 11:43:30 am


apple app store price hike, app store price hike india, app store prices revision, apple app store controversy, apple app store tax, app store tax on developersApple App Store prices set to be increased in six countries (File Photo)

Apple announced on Monday that it will charge more apps in India, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Russia, and South Africa in the next few days. This change will apply to in-app purchases as well and the developer will receive updated price tier charts informing them about the change in prices of their apps. Specifically for India, there will be an increase of two per cent in addition to the goods and services tax of 18 per cent which is already in place. On the other hand, in Indonesia foreign developers will have to bear the burden of an additional 10 per cent tax.

“When taxes or foreign exchange rates change, we sometimes need to update prices on the App Store,” the Cupertino-giant said in the announcement posted on its developer website.

There is no confirmation whether the increase in prices will be applicable or not for other services like Apple Music, Apple TV+ and iCloud. On the other hand, this increase will apply on auto-renewable subscriptions as well. Also, it is yet to be clarified as to when the App Store users will be able to see these changes.

The statement further mentioned, “You can download the updated price tier charts now. Once these changes go into effect, the Pricing and Availability section of My Apps will be updated, and your proceeds will be adjusted accordingly and calculated based on the tax-exclusive price. You can change the price of your apps and in-app purchases (including auto-renewable subscriptions) at any time in App Store Connect. If you offer subscriptions, you can choose to preserve prices for existing subscribers.”

ALSO READ | Fortnite controversies timeline: All the news about the world’s most popular video game

In the near future, the prices of Albania and Iceland as per the other markets with value-added tax selling in US dollars. However, this is not the first instance where Apple has made changes in App store prices for specific countries. The prices were revised in Japan last year. Also, the last time India prices were revised was in the first quarter of 2017.

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Italy has reportedly blocked a 5G deal between Huawei and Fastweb

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Italy has reportedly blocked a 5G deal between Huawei and Swisscom-owned telco Fastweb.

According to multiple sources for Reuters, the Italian government stepped in to block a deal for Huawei to supply Fastweb with 5G core network equipment.

Many European countries have either banned or restricted the use of Huawei’s equipment but Rome is yet to announce its stance. If the reports are true, it would seem Italy looks set to take a strong stance against the Chinese vendor.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Italy in September and warned that Huawei poses a threat to national security.

Back in January, the UK decided to allow Huawei’s gear but with restrictions on the percentage of equipment which can be used in any network. Another stipulation was that Huawei’s equipment cannot be installed near sensitive locations such as military bases and nuclear plants.

However, the decision received significant backlash from allies, several MPs, and even human rights groups.

“Huawei is not a sort of ordinary international telecommunications company, it’s an intimate part of the Chinese state,” former MI6 head Sir Richard Dearlove told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge in July. “And if you know anything about Chinese military strategy, they talk about the fusion of civil and military capabilities.”

Following another security review, the UK decided to ban Huawei’s equipment after deeming the risk too high in the wake of US sanctions which prevented the vendor’s access to American technology.

Several other countries announced bans on Huawei’s equipment in the months after the UK reassessed its position.

Last week, Sweden banned Huawei and ZTE from its rollout of 5G networks. In a statement, the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority said that the “influence of China’s one-party state over the country’s private sector brings with it strong incentives for privately-owned companies to act in accordance with state goals and the communist party’s national strategies.”

The UK has launched consultations with its close allies – particularly those within the Five Eyes security relationship – to fund and procure alternatives to Huawei’s equipment.

Huawei has rejected all the allegations that it poses a security threat and has offered in several countries, including Italy, to undergo any scrutiny to prove its equipment is safe to use.

The Associated Press is reporting that Bulgaria, Kosovo, and North Macedonia have joined the so-called ‘clean network’ effort launched by the US. The EU has so far avoided taking an official stance on the matter.

(Photo by Christopher Czermak on Unsplash)

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the co-located 5G Expo, IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

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