Monthly Archives: November 2018

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Facebook Partnerships with Fact Checkers to Curb the Spread of Fake News in Africa

After announcing its partnership with two third-party fact checkers in Kenya to curb the spread of fake news, Facebook has now announced a partnership with Africa Check and AFP to do the same in South Africa. The firms will work to help assess the accuracy of news spread on Facebook in both Kenya and South Africa.

How will the fact checkers work?

Africa Check is the first independent fact checking organization based in Africa, and AFP or Agence France-Presse is a popular international news organization headquartered in Paris, France.

Facebook relies on feedback from users to help find false stories, which are then passed on to fact checkers for further review. The local stories are checked by fact checkers, along with the videos and photos. If the fact checking partners find any story to be false, Facebook will show that story lower down in the News Feed. This will decrease the distribution of fake news.

Ebele Okobi, Facebook’s Public Policy Director, said that the company can reduce the future views of a piece of content by an average of 80 per cent if a public fact checker rates that content as false.

In addition to this, the tech company has started using a new tool that rates users on the basis of their trustworthiness. Facebook continues to trust its massive user base to assist it with flagging false news stories, but the company understands that people can provide false information—either intentionally or unintentionally– which is why it is starting the use of this new tool.

Protecting democracy is an arms race: Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently compared protecting democracy to an arms race, and emphasized the need for both private and public sectors to work together to combat outside interference. The CEO acknowledged that Facebook was very late in discovering that foreign actors used coordinated campaigns to interfere with the 2016 United States presidential elections.

He wrote that “Free and fair elections are the heart of every democracy. During the 2016 election, we were actively looking for traditional cyberattacks, and we found them. What we didn’t find until later were foreign actors running coordinated campaigns to interfere with America’s democratic process. Since then, we’ve focused on improving our defenses and making it much harder for anyone to interfere in elections.”

As a part of its new program, the company will also show articles written by third party checkers under its Related Articles section, located below the story. People and page admins on the social network will also be notified by Facebook if they try to share a share a story that has been determined to be fake.

Twitter Investigated for Link Shortening

Privacy regulators in Ireland have started an investigation on the data Twitter collects from its URL-, or link shortening system, called t.co .

How and where did it all start?

A privacy researcher named Michael Veale – who works at University College London – asked Twitter to provide more information about the data it collects when users use its URL-shortening system. The company, however, refused to give information to the UK professor, who in turn called for quick investigative action by European privacy authorities.

The investigation request was made under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which gives EU citizens right to request any data collected on them from any company. GDPR is a comprehensive European privacy law that protects the privacy of European users and aims to give the individuals control over their data.

Under the law, business processes that manage personal data must be built and designed in such a way that they follow the principles and use the best-possible privacy settings by default, as well as provide safeguards to protect data. Additionally, data should not be available publicly without informed, explicit consent and no personal information should be processed unless it is done with a lawful basis.

Privacy researcher Veale suspected that the company gets more than the requisite information when users click on t.co links. According to Twitter, it applies its own link-shortening service (t.co) to links when users put them into tweets. This allows the company to measure the number of times a link has been clicked and helps the platform fight the spread of harmful viruses through unreliable links.

The Irish Data Protection Commission initiates a formal statutory inquiry into the link shortening

When the researcher received a negative response, he complained to the Irish DPC (Data Protection Commission), which promptly started an investigation. Veale complained in Ireland because the European operations of the company are headquartered in Dublin.

The Commission said in a letter to Veale, “The DPC has initiated a formal statutory inquiry in respect of your complaint. The inquiry will examine whether or not Twitter has discharged its obligations in connection with the subject matter of your complaint and determine whether or not any provisions of the GDPR or the [Irish Data Protection] Act have been contravened by Twitter in this respect.”

The letter further said that the new European Data Protection Board will handle the complaint as the complaint involves cross-border processing. This is the first GDPR investigation opened against Twitter. Veale, who has made a similar request for investigation against Facebook, said Twitter was recording the times the users clicked on links and the kind of devices users were using.

 

Hackers Stole Around $60 Million in Cryptocurrency Exchange Hack

Hackers recently stole cryptocurrency worth about $60 million  from Zaif, a Japanese digital currency exchange.

Hacks of cryptocurrency exchanges grab good deal of attention because the exchanges are easy targets. Through some of the most popular cryptocurrency hacks, hackers stole more than 980,000 bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies from unregulated and uninsured cryptocurrency exchanges.  The cryptocurrency was worth over $15 billion USD at current exchange rates.

Storing money on a centralized exchange is risky

This recent hack and the many previous hacks from digital currency exchanges highlight the risks of storing cryptocurrency on centralized exchanges.

Some of the major recent hacks of exchanges include:  BitGrail Exchange in February (hackers stole 17,000,000 NANO worth $195,000,000). CoinSecure Exchange in April (hackers stole over 438 BTC worth $3,300,000). Coinrail Exchange in June (hackers stole several tokens worth $40,000,000 ). And Coincheck Exchange in January (hackers stole 523,000,000 Asian crypto NEM worth $534,800,000).

Hackers previously attacked the Zaif exchange before for two hours as well.  They illegally relayed several digital currencies from its “hot wallet.”  A hot wallet is the place where all digital coins are stored at such cryptocurrency exchanges.

The news site Tech Bureau said that the Japanese exchange went offline until it could get solid information related to the damage and it could see success in its efforts to get it working again.

Zaif – a government-registered exchange

Zaif Exchange also made news earlier when it let seven customers buy Bitcoin with no Yen value. A system bug at the Japan-based exchange allowed users to obtain a theoretical $20 trillion USD worth of the cryptocurrency for free.  One user bought Bitcoin valued at 2,200 Trillion Yen and tried to cash in on it.  The company subsequently invalidated all of the transactions.

Japanese police received reports of almost 670 cases of suspected money laundering linked to digital currencies between April and December.

 

Possible Success of Facebook’s Efforts to Limit Fake News

Success!

A new working paper from Stanford and NYU researchers suggests that Facebook’s efforts to get misinformation and fake news out of its users’ feeds seem to be working. The overall magnitude of the fake news problem may have lessened– at least temporarily – and Facebook’s efforts after 2016 election to control “diffusion of misinformation may have had a meaningful response,” says the paper.

Facebook having more success than Twitter in preventing misinformation

The researchers, who compared the spread of stories from legitimate sites to the spread of stories from fake sites, discovered that interactions have been comparatively stable over time. This further indicates that it’s the fake news sites that are being targeted and affected. Meanwhile, on Twitter, engagements with fake sites have continued to increase.

The researchers wrote that from the beginning of 2015 up to the 2016 election, fake news interactions rose steadily on both platforms, but following the election, Facebook engagements fell sharply, by almost 60%, while fake news shares on Twitter continued to increase.

The authors assembled a list of around 570 sites for the study which have been identified as news sites that publish false stories. The authors measured the engagements for several publishers, including niche business culture sites, small mainstream ones, and big mainstream ones, alongside the fake news sites.

They wrote: “Both platforms show a modest upward trend for major news and small news sites, and a modest downward trend for business and culture sites.” When it comes to trends in the ratio of Facebook engagements to Twitter shares, the ratios have been comparatively stable for small news, major news and business and culture sites but for the fake news sites, the ratio has declined sharply, from over “45:1 during the election to around 15:1 two years later.”

Quantity of fake news interactions still large in both Facebook and Twitter

The working paper found that the absolute quantity of fake news interactions on both social networking sites is still significant. In particular, Facebook, simply because it is so much bigger, has played a larger role in the diffusion of misinformation. The study stated that Facebook engagements declined from roughly 200 million per month at the end of 2016 to around 70 million per month at the end of the study’s sample period. This is an optimistic result and shows that the tech giant – contrary to what many think – is actually doing things to limit misinformation and fake news.

Fake news shares on Twitter have been in the 4-6 million per month range and 20 million per month for the major news sites since the end of 2016.

In sum, Facebook’s success in its efforts to reduce fake news shares have seemingly shown some results, but there still remains a long road ahead.