Google Provided Details About How it Fights Disinformation



Google presented a white paper titled “How Google Fights Disinformation” at the Munich Security Conference. The white paper provides details about Google’s work to tackle the spread of misinformation – across Google Search, Google News, YouTube and their advertising systems.

One thing Google is doing is giving users more context. Here is how they do that:

  • “Knowledge: or “Information” Panels in Google Search and YouTube, providing high-level facts about a person or issue.
  • Making it easier to discover the work of fact-checkers on Google Search or Google News, by using labels or snippets making it clear to users that a specific piece of content is a fact-checking article
  • A “Full Coverage” function in Google News enabling users to access a non-personalized, in-depth view of a news cycle at the tap of a finger
  • “Breaking News” and “Top News” shelves, and “Developing News” information panels on YouTube, making sure that users are exposed to news content from authoritative sources when looking for information about ongoing news events
  • Information panels providing “Topical Context” and “Publisher Content” on YouTube, providing users with contextual information from trusted sources to help them be more informed consumers of content on the platform. These panels provide authoritative information on well-established historical and scientific topics that have often been subject to misinformation online and on the sources of news content, respectively.
  • “Why this ad?” labels enabling users to understand why they’re presented with a specific ad and how to change their preferences so as to alter personalization of the ads they are shown, or to opt out of personalized ads altogether
  • In-ad disclosures and transparency reports on election advertising, which are rolling out during elections in the US, Europe and India as a starting point

Google is also empowering users to let them know when they are getting it wrong by using feedback buttons across Search, YouTube, and Google’s advertising products to flag content that might be violating Google’s policies.

In addition, Google is partnering with outside experts. Some of those experts include:

  • First Draft Coalition (which Google helped launch) – a non-profit that convenes news organizations and technology companies to tackle the challenges around combating disinformation online – especially in the run-up to elections
  • Trust Project (which Google is a founding member of) – explores how journalism can signal its trustworthiness online. The Trust Project developed eight indicators of trust that publishers can use to better convey why their content should be seen as credible, with promising results for the publishers who have trialed them.
  • Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) – a non-partisan organization gathering fact-checking organizations from the United States, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, India, and more.

In regard to political ads, the white paper says: “Finally, in order to help understand the context for the election-related ads they see online, we require additional verification for advertisers who wish to purchase political ads in the United States, provide transparency about the advertiser to the user, and have established an online transparency report and creative repository on US federal elections.”

There are a lot more details in the white paper than I have posted here. Overall, it appears to be a good start at fighting disinformation across Google’s products. Part of the white paper mentions “deep fakes”, which will likely be difficult to combat. Google is clearly aware of how malicious actors could use it, and seems to be at least attempting to get ahead of that.


House of Commons Report Calls Facebook “Digital Gangsters”



The House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee released a report titled “Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report”. The 18-month report is focused on Facebook. It concluded that Facebook broke privacy and competition law and should be subject to statutory regulation.

The Guardian posted a detailed article about the report. It included a quote from it: “Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law.”

The Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee’s report includes the following in its summary:

The big tech companies must not be allowed to expand exponentially, without constraint or proper regulatory oversight. But only governments and the law are powerful enough to contain them. The legislative tools already exist. They must now be applied to digital activity, using tools such as privacy laws, data protection legislation, antitrust and competition law. If companies become monopolies they can be broken up, in whatever sector. Facebook’s handling of personal data, and its use for political campaigns, are prime and legitimate areas for inspection by regulators, and it should not be able to evade all editorial responsibility for the content shared by users across its platforms.

According to The Guardian, the report:

  • Accuses Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, of contempt for parliament in refusing three separate demands for him to give evidence, instead sending junior employees unable to answer the committee’s questions.
  • Warns British electoral law is unfit for purpose and vulnerable to interference by hostile foreign actors, including agents of the Russian government attempting to discredit democracy.
  • Calls on the British government to establish an independent investigation into “foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation and the sharing of data” in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election.

TechCrunch reported that Facebook said it rejected all claims it breached data protection and competition laws. Their article included a statement from Facebook’s UK public policy manager, Karim Palant.

It sounds to me like Facebook might actually face some consequences in the UK. Earlier this month, Germany prohibited Facebook from combining user data from different sources (such as Instagram and WhatsApp). Will the United States decide to regulate Facebook? Or will it allow Facebook to continue – to use the words from the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee’s report – to behave like ‘digital gangsters’?


FAA Makes Major Drone ID Marking Change



The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) posted a rule in the Federal Register requiring small drone owners to display the FAA-issued registration number on an outside surface of the aircraft. Owner and operators may no longer place or write registration numbers in an interior compartment. The rule is effective on February 25, 2019. The markings must be in place for any flight after that date.

When the FAA first required registration of small drones in 2015, the agency mandated that the registration marking be readily accessible and maintained in readable condition. The rule granted some flexibility by permitting the marking to be placed on an enclosed compartment, such as a battery case, if it could be accessed without the use of tools.

Subsequently, law enforcement officials and the FAA’s interagency security partners have expressed concerns about the risk of a concealed explosive device might pose to first responders upon opening a compartment to find a drone’s registration number. The FAA believes this action will enhance safety and security by allowing a person to view the unique identifier without handling the drone.

This interim final rule does not change the original acceptable methods of external marking, nor does it specify a particular external surface on which the registration number must be placed. The requirement is that it can be seen upon visual inspection of the aircraft’s exterior.

The FAA has issued this requirement as a Interim Final Rule – a rule that takes effect while also inviting public comment. The FAA issues final rules when delaying implementation of the rule would be impractical, unnecessary, or contrary to public interest. In this case, the agency has determined the importance of mitigating the risk to first responders outweighs the minimal inconvenience this change may impose on small drone owners, and justifies implementation without a prior public comment period.

The FAA will consider comments from the public on this Interim Final Rule, and then will review any submissions to determine if the provisions of the ultimate Final Rule should be changed. The 30-day comment period will end on March 15, 2019. To submit comments, go to http://www.regulations.gov and search for “RIN 2120-AL32”.

As Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao promised last month, the FAA also posted proposed new rules to let drones fly routinely at night and over people and to further integrate them safely into the nation’s airspace. The comment period for these proposals is now open and ends on April 15.


Facebook is Tracking Facebook Haters #1347



Facebook is tracking those they think are a threat to Facebook employees, executives via the Facebook App. While I understand companies have to protect their employees, but using their own app to track those on a blacklist is to me a huge invasion of privacy. I am not even sure this is legal in all countries. While I understand their reasoning it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

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AI is Coming to Take Your Jobs



President Donald Trump has signed an Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence.

Reuters summarized it as “an executive order asking federal government agencies to dedicate more resources and investment into research, promotion and training on artificial intelligence, known as AI.” Reuters pointed out that there was no specific funding announced for the initiative.

According to Reuters:

AI and deep machine learning raise ethical concerns about control, privacy, cybersecurity, and is set to trigger job displacements across industries and companies experts say.

The executive order comes after the White House held a meeting on AI in May with more than 30 major companies including Ford Motor Co., Boeing Co., Amazon.com, Inc., and Microsoft Corp.

Personally, this makes me feel uncomfortable. I’ve no idea what these companies (and others like them) will spend on replacing their current systems with AI – but I suspect it will cost them less than paying a human worker to do the same job. Robots and AI systems don’t need sick days, or health insurance coverage, or raises.

The executive order appears to require grants for training programs in high school, undergraduate programs, graduate fellowship, and alternative education. It does not include any AI training for people who are currently working in industries that are likely to invest in AI.

American workers now have to worry not only about robots coming to take their jobs, but also being replaced by AI.


Is Huawei Finished in America? #1346



Huawei is about to be banned from doing business with American companies and countries we consider partners. If the President really brings the hammer down one has to wonder what the government really has on Huawei. It has to be something major as this would be beyond anything ever done to a company before.

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Paris is Suing Airbnb for Illegal Advertisements



The city of Paris is suing Airbnb for violating a French law that requires advertisements about short term rentals to include a registration number.

Under French law, home owners in Paris can rent out their places on short-term rental platforms for up to 120 days a year. Advertisements must include a registration number to help ensure properties are not rented out for longer. This law was passed in 2018.

Paris is suing Airbnb for publishing 1,000 illegal rental adverts. Those who break this law can be punished by fines of 12,500 euros per illegal posting. This means Airbnb could end up paying 12.5 million euros, which comes to $14.2 million.

Reuters reported that France is Airbnb’s second-largest market after the United States. Paris, one of the most visited cities in the world, is its biggest single market, with around 65,000 homes listed.

Paris is absolutely serious about the 2018 law. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, “The goal is to send a shot across the bows to get it over with unauthorized rentals spoil some Parisian neighborhoods.” It appears that Airbnb may have to pay the fine if it wants to continue it’s business in Paris.

A spokeswoman for Airbnb told Reuters that the company implemented measures to help Paris users of its website comply with European rules. The spokeswoman said the rules in Paris were “inefficient, disproportionate and in contravention of European rules.”

This problem could have been entirely prevented if Airbnb paid attention to the Paris rule regarding short-term rentals and advertisements. I think Airbnb will have difficulty convincing a court that it did not break the Paris law.

If Airbnb ends up not being allowed to continue its business in Paris – it could potentially result in good things for the people who live in the city. CityLab reported about a study that found that spikes in Airbnb listings were strongly linked to rent increases in some of the largest US metro areas. Rent increases tend to make it very hard for low-income people to find affordable housing.

Perhaps this was what the mayor of Paris meant when she said that unauthorized rentals spoil some Parisian neighborhoods.