November 18, 2016
Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:
1. Disinformation. Disinformation everywhere. Since Donald Trump’s election, the “fake news” phenomenon has received enormous attention and pressure has been building on Facebook, Google, and others to crack down on the spread of hoaxes masquerading as news. In the final weeks of the U.S. election, fake news was more widely shared than real news on Facebook, and pro-Trump chatbots drowned out organic conversations on Twitter. The spread of fake news to influence elections might be new to a U.S. audience, but the technique has been widely used in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Eastern Europe, and is expected to be used in the upcoming elections in France and Germany. In response, Google and Facebook have announced measures to combat disinformation. Google will no longer allow fake news sites to collect revenue from AdSense and Facebook will no longer display ads on websites that distribute “misleading or illegal content.” That may stop those who distribute fake news from making a quick buck but not actors looking to influence online debate. For that, Vox’s Timothy B. Lee argues that Facebook and Google should consider altering their algorithms so that they favor news from reputable sources like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal over fake outlets like the Denver Guardian.
2. Cyber confidence building measures in action. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the White House had sent a “hotline” message to Russia on October 31 warning against further interference during the U.S. election. The cyber hotline was established in 2013 and is designed “to make formal inquiries about cybersecurity incidents of national concern,” with a view of preventing escalation and misperception. A few weeks ago, I questioned why the hotline was not used to de-escalate the cyber activity. Turns out that it was. Russia toned down its activity as a result of the hotline message according to high-level anonymous sources quoted in the Washington Post.
3. LinkedIn is the first casualty of Russian data localization laws. Russia blocked access to LinkedIn after the country’s internet regulator deemed in out of compliance with a 2015 law that requires Russian users’ data to be stored on servers in Russia. Blocking the website, which has over 6 million Russian users, has already proven controversial, with the Kremlin dismissing concerns over online censorship. According to TechCrunch, Apple and Google have reportedly complied with the data localization law, whereas Facebook and Twitter have not yet and still remain accessible. The move comes at the same time that Russia is mulling a law that would create a “Digital Home” program, which the Register has described as a “walled garden” for online Russian conversations.
4. Odds and ends. James Clapper announced his resignation as Director of National Intelligence, effective Jan. 20, 2017. Newly released statistics show that environmental and resource management agencies are the target of almost half of all hacks on the Canadian federal government. The UK’s controversial Investigatory Powers Bill, known to critics as the Snooper’s Charter, will receive the Queen’s approval by the end of the year. And finally, the Trade in Services Agreement, which would have governed trade in digital services between 23 countries including the United States and European Union, now seems unlikely to move forward.
(Editor’s note: There will be no week in review on Friday, November 25 due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.)
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