Following the Google antitrust lawsuit launched in October, Facebook will likely be the next technology giant to face antitrust charges by state and federal departments of justice. According to state and federal investigators, the charges will challenge Facebook’s anti-competitive behavior and domination of the social networking market. Facebook’s acquisition of two rivals, Instagram and WhatsApp, may have left users with worse services and fewer privacy protections.
This lawsuit is likely to be the toughest regulatory challenge that Facebook has faced in years. In anticipation of upcoming legal battles, Facebook has lobbied against the claims that the company threatens competition, pitching millions of dollars into political-advocacy groups to the disapproval of watchdog organizations. After multiple congressional hearings on Capitol Hill this year, the investigations into Facebook mark a growing trend in the scrutiny of big tech.
Top weekly tech headlines curated for you:
Global Tech Policy:
- The German Marshall Fund has published its #Tech2021 Ideas for Digital Democracy report, which provides strategic reforms for leveraging technology so that individuals and society can thrive in the midst of rapid change. The expert recommendations emphasize the importance of government investment to spur infrastructure that enables technological potential for both societies and economies, the need for privacy protections and addressing systemic inequality in technology, and the value of working with democratic allies to ensure that new technology will strengthen democratic values.
- China has published a draft antitrust guideline to rein in the country's tech giants, such as Alibaba and Tencent, as well as food delivery company Meituan.
- Irish lawmakers promised to tackle digital violence against women online head on, after thousands of personal photos of women were disseminated without consent across online forums and private messaging platforms. Many of the photos were shared on messaging platform Discord, which permanently banned the server where the photos were discovered and banned over 500 users who were involved.
- Research from the Association for Progressive Communications has found that Indonesia is slipping back on its protection of citizens' rights to free expression online. Laws on hate speech originally passed to protect vulnerable and minority groups have been used to silence those who dissent or criticize the government.
- The Dynamic Coalition on the Sustainability of Journalism and News Media has released its 2020 report, which examines case studies where internet governance impacted local and digital journalism through content moderation and labels.
- India's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has centralized regulation of online news media and streaming platforms like Netflix. Many are concerned that this act is a prelude to stricter censorship of news and entertainment media.
- An Information Controls Fellow at the Open Technology Fund has released a report analyzing online censorship and surveillance in Myanmar. The research found that the overwhelming majority of activists and human rights defenders in Myanmar do not feel safe online due to surveillance and physical intimidation by authorities, and that Myanmar's online environment leads women to self-censor almost three times as often than men.
- The government of Vietnam has threatened to shut down Facebook's operations in the country if the company does not comply with its requests for censorship of political content. The company has come under fire from human rights groups for its prior compliance with censorship demands in Vietnam.
- Russia's communications watchdog Roskomnadzor has opened an inquiry against Google for failing to remove banned content from its search engine results. The court proceedings could lead to a fine of 5 million rubles for the tech giant, after previously suing Google 1.5 million rubles for failure to remove content back in August.
- A year after Iran's internet blackout and crackdown on protesters, Amnesty International published an in-depth analysis on the internet shutdown and deaths that occurred at the hands of security forces while there was no way to document protest footage online.
- New research from Filterwatch and rights group Taraaz examines the role of Iranian private-sector tech companies in upholding digital rights, with a focus on the data privacy policies of domestic messaging apps.
- Last week, lawmakers in the Russian Duma introduced legislation to restrict internet access to American social media companies accused of discriminating against Russian media outlets. This comes after Facebook, Twitter, and others began labeling some Russian media as "state-affiliated" to alert users to potential foreign influence and disinformation operations.
- In an article for The Globe and Mail, Citizen Lab's Ron Deibert explores the problems with invasive exam-proctoring softwares that have become the norm for universities conducting remote learning due to COVID-19. He argues that the more we adapt our lives to invasive data surveillance technologies for school and work, the harder it will be to let go of them when the pandemic is over.
- The New York Times ran a story on a virologist from Hong Kong whose claims that the Chinese Communist Party was responsible for the creation of COVID-19 were given an audience in the U.S., thanks to joint efforts of exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and right-wing media figure Steve Bannon. The story highlights how domestic and foreign disinformation operations can work in tandem to produce content that gains traction in the media ecosystem.
- Leading up to Myanmar's 2020 elections in early November, Facebook rolled out a more active approach to limit the spread of misinformation and hate speech on the platform in the country. These changes in Myanmar represent the first time Facebook has made country-specific community standards, and civil society organizations found their complaints taken more seriously.
- A recent plan by the Spanish government to identify and address disinformation has raised concerns from the media and the opposition that it could lead to censorship rather than guaranteeing truth.
- Voting-related misinformation on Facebook and Twitter can be traced back to a handful of "super-spreaders" who have an outsize impact on shaping discourse. Researchers identified 33 out of over 95,000 posts about voter fraud in the U.S. elections that were responsible for 13 million out of 60 million total interactions with such content.
- Twitter announced Monday that the warning prompts in place to notify users trying to retweet a tweet that is labeled for potentially including misleading information decreased quote tweets of misleading information by 29 percent. This week, the company will expand that warning functionality to likes on labeled tweets.
- Facebook announced that it plans to leverage AI for its moderation queue, which determines which posts the company's 15,000 human content moderators should prioritize for review. The company's algorithms will prioritize posts based on their virality, their severity, and the likelihood that they violate the platform's rules. Previously, human moderators reviewed posts simply in the order they were reported.
- In a blog post for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Erica Pepe identifies challenges and opportunities for NATO on developing common approaches and standards to AI for defense and security. Recruiting and retaining AI experts and software specialists is a central challenge the Alliance must address to maintain this technological edge.
- Malicious browser extensions have begun to impact Microsoft Edge users, as participants in a Reddit discussion identified browser add-ons disguised to look like legitimate extensions that were redirecting users' searches.
- VICE Motherboard reported that leaked internal emails from Amazon's Global Security Operations Center show how closely analysts track and surveil labor organizing activity and social movements across its European market through social media, particularly around the peak holiday season. A coalition of labor unions in the EU has demanded that the European Commission investigate Amazon's worker surveillance tactics.
Other Tech News:
- The Marshall Project reported on the rise of at-home incarceration in the United States, where electronic monitoring is used to surveil those on house arrest. Critics have raised concerns that because this type of monitoring is more humane than jail, authorities are surveilling more people than they ever would have imprisoned, disproportionately impacting black communities.
- While Facebook allows friends and family options to memorialize or delete accounts after a user is deceased, Twitter has yet to address this issue. Twitter's announcement that it would delete inactive accounts last year faced pushback from many who still viewed their loved ones' Tweets, leaving accounts open has led to trolls leaving replies on high-profile accounts long after the people who owned them are gone.
- New research from Oxford found that people who reported playing Animal Crossing for four hours a day were happier than those who did not.