Prop 22 puts the ‘future of labor’ at stake – TechCrunch

Welcome back to Human Capital, where we look at the latest in tech labor and diversity and inclusion.

Because election day is quickly approaching and given that California’s Prop 22 puts the “future of labor” at stake, as Instacart worker and co-organizer at Gig Workers Collective Vanessa Bain told TechCrunch this week, we’re paying close attention to this ballot measure. Gig companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart have put more than $180 million into Prop 22, which seeks to keep their drivers and delivery workers classified as independent contractors.

Before we jump in, friendly reminder that Human Capital will soon be a newsletter…starting next week! Sign up here so you don’t miss it.


Gig Work


Instacart began asking workers to pass out Yes on Prop 22 propaganda to customers

Vanessa Bain, Instacart shopper and co-founder of Gig Workers Collective, tweeted about how some shoppers were instructed to pass out Yes on 22 stickers to customers. The inserts and stickers were available at a store in the Bay Area over the weekend, but Instacart says there are no plans to expand that to other stores.

Many people, including Bain, questioned whether it was legal or not. 

Instacart, however, told CNN the initiative was allowed under campaign finance rules. Additionally, I reached out to the Fair Political Practices Commission, but was told by Communications Director Jay Wierenga that “only an investigation by FPPC Enforcement (or a DA or the AG’s Office) determines whether someone or group violated the Political Reform Act.” 

What is clear, however, is that it goes against what many workers want. We actually caught up with Bain ahead of the relaunch of TechCrunch Mixtape, where she discussed why she’s anti Prop 22. The episode goes live next week, but here’s a bit of a teaser from our conversation:

“The future of labor is at stake,” Bain told us earlier this week. “I would argue the future of our democracy, as well. The reality is that, you know, it establishes a dangerous precedent to allow companies to write their own labor laws…This policy was created to unilaterally benefit companies at the detriment of workers.”

Hundreds took to SF’s streets in protest of Prop 22

In San Francisco, there was a massive protest against Prop 22. While Prop 22 would provide more benefits than workers currently have, many drivers and delivery workers say that’s not enough. For example, Prop 22 would institute healthcare subsidies, but it falls short of complete healthcare.

Speaking of SF, 76% of app-based workers in the city are people of color

And 39% are immigrants, according to the latest survey of gig workers conducted by the Local Agency Formation Commission and UC Santa Cruz Professor Chris Benner.

This study surveyed 259 workers who drive or deliver for DoorDash, Instacart or Amazon Fresh. Other findings were:

  • 71% of workers get at least 3/4 of monthly income from gig work
  • 57% of workers completely rely on gig work for their monthly income
  • On average, workers make $450 per week. After expenses, that averages drops to $270 per week.

California appeals court heard arguments in the Uber, Lyft gig worker classification case

California 1st District Court of Appeal judges heard arguments from Uber and Lyft about why they should be able to continue classifying their drivers as independent contractors. The hearing was a result of a district judge granting a preliminary injunction that would force Uber and Lyft to immediately reclassify their workers as employees. Uber and Lyft, however, appealed the ruling and now here we are.

As Uber and Lyft have argued drivers would lose flexibility if forced to be employees, an appeals court judge asked what part of AB 5 would require companies to take away that flexibility. Spoiler alert: there’s nothing in AB 5 that requires such a thing.

But a lawyer for Lyft, which has said it would leave California if forced to reclassify its workers, said he doesn’t “want the court to think that if the injunction is affirmed, that these people will continue to have these earnings opportunities because they won’t.”

Uber’s survey of workers on Prop 22 shows strong support for the ballot measure

But it’s important to note that of the more than 200,000 Uber drivers in California, only 461 workers participated in the study. Uber conducted this survey from September 23 through October 5 to see how drivers felt about Prop 22 and being an independent contractor. In that survey, 54% of respondents said they would definitely vote yes on 22 if the election were today while 13% said they would definitely vote no.

Image Credits: Uber

Those surveyed also weighed in on whether they prefer to be independent contractors; 54% of those surveyed said they strongly prefer being an independent contractor while 9% said they strongly prefer being an employee.

Image Credits: Uber

This week, Uber also encouraged riders to talk to their drivers about Prop 22 to see how they feel about it.

“First and foremost, the conversation about Proposition 22 should be about what gig workers actually want,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “That’s why we are encouraging everyone who uses Uber or Uber Eats to ask their driver or delivery person how they really feel about Prop 22.”

Based on the wording of the in-app message, Uber seems confident most drivers do support Prop 22.

Image Credits: Uber


Stay woke


Facebook and Twitter ban Holocaust-denial posts 

Both Facebook and Twitter took a step in their ongoing battles against hate this week by removing posts that deny the Holocaust, the systematic and state-sponsored mass murder of around 6 million Jewish people. On Monday, Facebook announced it would block posts that deny the Holocaust. Facebook said its decision was driven by the rise in anti-Semitism and “the alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people.” On Wednesday, Twitter announced a similar stance.

BLCK VC launches Black Venture Institute

In partnership with Operator Collective, Salesforce Ventures and UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, BLCK VC’s Black Venture Institute wants to help more Black entrepreneurs become angel investors. The goal is to train 300 students over the next three years to be in a position of writing checks. 

“It is these closed networks that have helped contribute to the lack of access for the Black community over the years,” BLCK VC co-founder Frederik Groce told TC’s Ron Miller. “Black Venture Institute is a structural attempt to create access for Black operators — from engineers to product marketing managers.”

GV finally has a Black female partner, Terri Burns

Terri Burns recently made partner at GV, formerly known as Google Ventures. Burns is now the only Black female partner at GV, which is wild. But, you know, progress, not perfection. 

Throwback to when Burns spoke a bit about racial justice in tech and venture capital. 

“Venture capital certainly plays a role,” Burns, then a principal at GV, told TechCrunch about the overall lack of diversity in tech. “VC is a tool that can enable businesses to scale greatly and quickly, and historically, this tool hasn’t been equally distributed. For example, VC has traditionally focused on founders from a small number of institutions and pedigrees that are not particularly diverse (in 2016 we learned from Richard Kerby, general partner at Equal Ventures, that 40% of VCs went to either Harvard or Stanford). With more equal distribution of funds across backgrounds, underrepresented people will have a greater chance at success.”

The Wing co-founder admits her mistakes 

Audrey Gelman, the former CEO of The Wing who resigned in June, posted a letter she sent to former employees of The Wing last week. In it, Gelman apologized for not taking action to combat mistreatment of women of color at The Wing. She also acknowledged that her drive for success and scaling quickly “came at the expense of a healthy and sustainable culture that matched our projected values, and workplace practices that made our team feel valued and respected.”

That meant, Gelman said, The Wing “had not subverted the historical oppression and racist roots of the hospitality industry; we had dressed it up as a kindler [sic], gentler version.”

Here are some other highlights from her letter:

  • “Members’ needs came first, and those members were often white, and affluent enough to afford The Wing’s membership dues.”
  • “White privilege and power trips were rewarded with acquiescence, as opposed to us doubling down on our projected values.”
  • “When the realization set in that The Wing wasn’t institutionally different in the ways it had proclaimed, it hurt more because the space we claimed was different reinforced the age-old patterns of women of color and especially Black women being disappointed by white women and our limited feminist values.”

Human Capital launches as a newsletter next Friday. Sign up here to get this delivered straight to your inbox. 



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Pakistan un-bans TikTok – TechCrunch

TikTok returns to Pakistan, Apple launches a music-focused streaming station and SpaceX launches more Starlink satellites. This is your Daily Crunch for October 19, 2020.

The big story: Pakistan un-bans TikTok

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority blocked the video app 11 days ago, over what it described as “immoral,” “obscene” and “vulgar” videos. The authority said today that it’s lifting the ban after negotiating with TikTok management.

“The restoration of TikTok is strictly subject to the condition that the platform will not be used for the spread of vulgarity/indecent content & societal values will not be abused,” it continued.

This isn’t the first time this year the country tried to crack down on digital content. Pakistan announced new internet censorship rules this year, but rescinded them after Facebook, Google and Twitter threatened to leave the country.

The tech giants

Apple launches a US-only music video station, Apple Music TV —  The new music video station offers a free, 24-hour live stream of popular music videos and other music content.

Google Cloud launches Lending DocAI, its first dedicated mortgage industry tool — The tool is meant to help mortgage companies speed up the process of evaluating a borrower’s income and asset documents.

Facebook introduces a new Messenger API with support for Instagram — The update means businesses will be able to integrate Instagram messaging into the applications and workflows they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations.

Startups, funding and venture capital

SpaceX successfully launches 60 more Starlink satellites, bringing total delivered to orbit to more than 800 — That makes 835 Starlink satellites launched thus far, though not all of those are operational.

Singapore tech-based real estate agency Propseller raises $1.2M seed round — Propseller combines a tech platform with in-house agents to close transactions more quickly.

Ready Set Raise, an accelerator for women built by women, announces third class — Ready Set Raise has changed its programming to be more focused on a “realistic fundraising process” vetted by hundreds of women.

Advice and analysis for Extra Crunch

Are VCs cutting checks in the closing days of the 2020 election? — Several investors told TechCrunch they were split about how they’re making these decisions.

Disney+ UX teardown: Wins, fails and fixes — With the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of the things Disney+ gets right and things that should be fixed.

Late-stage deals made Q3 2020 a standout VC quarter for US-based startups — Investors backed a record 88 megarounds of $100 million or more.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

US charges Russian hackers blamed for Ukraine power outages and the NotPetya ransomware attack — Prosecutors said the group of hackers, who work for the Russian GRU, are behind the “most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group.”

Stitcher’s podcasts arrive on Pandora with acquisition’s completion — SiriusXM today completed its previously announced $325 million acquisition of podcast platform Stitcher from E.W. Scripps, and has now launched Stitcher’s podcasts on Pandora.

Original Content podcast: It’s hard to resist the silliness of ‘Emily in Paris’ — The show’s Paris is a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy that we’re happy to visit.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Most prolific Twitter users tend to be Democrats, but majority of users still rarely tweet – TechCrunch

A new study from Pew Research Center, released today, digs into the different ways that U.S. Democrats and Republicans use Twitter. Based on data collected between November 11, 2019 and September 14, 2020, the study finds that members of both parties tweet fairly infrequently, but a majority of Twitter’s most prolific users tend to swing left.

The report updates Pew’s 2019 study with similar findings. At that time, Pew found that 10% of U.S. adults on Twitter were responsible for 80% of all tweets from U.S. adults.

Today, those figures have changed. During the study period, the most active 10% of users produced 92% of all tweets by U.S. adults.

And of these highly active users, 69% identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents.

In addition, the 10% most active Democrats typically produce roughly twice the number of tweets per month (157) compared with the most active Republicans (79).

Image Credits: Pew Research Center

These highly active users don’t represent how most Twitter users tweet, however.

Regardless of party affiliation, the majority of Twitter users post very infrequently, Pew found.

The median U.S. adult Twitter user posted just once per month during the time of the study. The median Democrat posts just once per month, while the median Republican posts even less often than that.

The typical adult also has very few followers, with the median Democrat having 32 followers while the median Republican has 21. Democrats, however, tend to follow more accounts than Republicans, at 126 versus 71, respectively.

Image Credits: Pew Research Center

The new study additionally examined other differences in how members of the two parties use the platforms, beyond frequency of tweeting.

For starters, it found 60% of the Democrats on Twitter would describe themselves as very or somewhat liberal, compared with 43% of Democrats who don’t use Twitter. Self-identified conservatives on Twitter versus conservatives not on the platform had closer shares, at 60% and 62%, respectively.

Pew also found that the two Twitter accounts followed by the largest share of U.S. adults were those belonging to former President Barack Obama (@BarackObama) and President Donald Trump
(@RealDonaldTrump).

Not surprisingly, more Democrats followed Obama — 42% of Democrats did, versus just 12% of Republicans. Trump, meanwhile, was followed by 35% of Republicans and just 13% of Democrats.

Other top political accounts saw similar trends. For instance, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) is followed by 16% of Democrats and 3% of Republicans. Fox News personalities Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) and Sean Hannity (@seanhannity), meanwhile, are both followed by 12% of Republicans but just 1% of Democrats.

Image Credits: Pew Research Center

This is perhaps a more important point than Pew’s study indicates, as it demonstrates that even though Twitter’s original goal was to build a “public town square” of sorts, where conversations could take place in the open, Twitter users have built the same isolated bubbles around themselves as they have elsewhere on social media.

Because Twitter’s main timeline only shows tweets and retweets from people you follow, users are only hearing their side of the conversation amplified back to them.

This problem is not unique to Twitter, of course. Facebook, for years, has been heavily criticized for delivering two different versions of reality to its users. An article from The WSJ in 2016 demonstrated how stark this contrast could be, when it showed a “blue” feed and “red” feed, side-by-side.

The problem is being exacerbated even more in recent months, as users from both parties are now exiting mainstream platforms, like Twitter, and isolating themselves even more. On the conservative side, users fled to free speech-favoring and fact check-eschewing platforms like Gab and Parler. The new social network Telepath, on the other hand, favors left-leaning users by aggressively blocking misinformation — often that from conservative news outlets — and banning identity-based attacks.

One other area Pew’s new study examined was the two parties’ use of hashtags on Twitter.

It found that no one hashtag was used by more than 5% of U.S. adults on Twitter during the study period. But there was a bigger difference when it came to the use of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, which was tweeted by 4% of Democrats on Twitter and just 1% of Republicans.

Other common hashtags used across both parties included #covid10, #coronavirus, @mytwitteranniversary, #newprofilepic, #sweepstakes, #contest and #giveaway.

Image Credits: Pew Research Center

It’s somewhat concerning, too, that hashtags were used in such a small percentage of tweets.

While their use has fallen out of favor somewhat — using a hashtag can seem “uncool” — the idea with hashtags was to allow users a quick way to tap into the global conversation around a given topic. But this decline in user adoption indicates there are now fewer tweets that can connect users to an expanded array of views.

Twitter today somewhat addresses this problem through its “Explore” section, highlighting trends, and users can investigate tweets using its keyword search tools. But if Twitter really wants to burst users’ bubbles, it may need to develop a new product — one that offers a different way to connect users to the variety of conversations taking place around a term, whether hashtagged or not.

 

 

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Twitter changes its hacked materials policy in wake of New York Post controversy – TechCrunch

Twitter has announced an update to its hacked materials policy — saying it will no longer remove hacked content unless it’s directly shared by hackers or those “acting in concert with them”.

Instead of blocking such content/links from being shared on its service it says it will label tweets to “provide context”.

Wider Twitter rules against posting private information, synthetic and manipulated media and non-consensual nudity all still apply — so it could still, for example, remove links to hacked material if the content being linked to violates other policies. But just tweeting a link to hacked materials isn’t an automatic takedown anymore.

The move comes hard on the heels of the company’s decision to restrict sharing of a New York Post article this week — which reported on claims that laptop hardware left at a repair shop contained emails and other data belonging to Hunter Biden, the son of U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden.

The decision by Twitter to restrict sharing of the Post article attracted vicious criticism from high-profile Republican voices — with the likes of Senator Josh Hawley tweeting that the company is “now censoring journalists”.

Twitter’s hacked materials policy explicitly allows “reporting on a hack, or sharing press coverage of hacking” but the company subsequently clarified that it had acted because the Post article contained “personal and private information — like email addresses and phone numbers — which violate our rules”. (Plus the Post wasn’t reporting on a hack; but rather on the claim of the discovery of a cache of emails and the emails themselves.)

At the same time the Post article itself is highly controversial. The scenario of how the data came to be in the hands of a random laptop repair shop, which then chose to hand it over to a key Trump ally, stretches credibility — bearing the hallmarks of an election-targeting disops operation, as we explained on Wednesday.

Given questions over the quality of the Post’s fact-checking and journalistic standards in this case, Twitter’s decision to restrict sharing of the article actually appears to have helped reduce the spread of disinformation — even as it attracted flak to the company for censoring “journalism”.

(It has also since emerged that the hard drive in question was manufactured shortly before the laptop was claimed to have been dropped off at the shop. So the most likely scenario is Hunter Biden’s iCloud was hacked and doctored emails planted on the drive where the data could be “discovered” and leaked to the press in a ham-fisted attempt to influence the U.S. presidential election. But Twitter is clearly uncomfortable that enforcing its policy led to accusations of censoring journalists.)

In a tweet thread explaining the change to its policy, Twitter’s legal, policy and trust & safety lead, Vijaya Gadde, writes: “We want to address the concerns that there could be many unintended consequences to journalists, whistleblowers and others in ways that are contrary to Twitter’s purpose of serving the public conversation.”

She also notes that when the hacked materials policy was first introduced, in 2018, Twitter had fewer tools for policy enforcement than it does now, saying: “We’ve recently added new product capabilities, such as labels to provide people with additional context. We are no longer limited to Tweet removal as an enforcement action.”

Twitter began adding contextual labels to policy-breaching tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this year, rather than remove his tweets altogether. It has continued to expand usage of these contextual signals — such as by adding fact-checking labels to certain conspiracy theory tweets — giving itself a “more speech to counteract bad speech” enforcement tool versus the blunt instrument of tweet takedowns/account bans (which it has also applied recently to the toxic conspiracy theory group, QAnon).

“We believe that labeling Tweets and empowering people to assess content for themselves better serves the public interest and public conversation. The Hacked Material Policy is being updated to reflect these new enforcement capabilities,” Gadde also says, adding: “Content moderation is incredibly difficult, especially in the critical context of an election. We are trying to act responsibly & quickly to prevent harms, but we’re still learning along the way.”

The updated policy is clearly not a free-for-all, given all other Twitter Rules against hacked material apply (such as doxxing). Though there’s a question of whether tweets linking to the Post article would still be taken down under the updated policy if the story did indeed contain personal info (which remains against Twitter’s policy).

At the same time, the new “third way” policy for hacked materials does leave Twitter’s platform to be a conduit for the spread of political disinformation (just with a little contextual friction) — in instances where it’s been credulously laundered by the press. (Albeit, Twitter can justifiably point the finger of blame at poor journalist standards at that point.)

The new policy also raises the question of how Twitter will determine whether or not a person is working “in concert” with hackers? Just spitballing here, but if — say — on the poll’s eve, Trump were to share some highly dubious information that smeared his key political rival and which he said he’d been handed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, would Twitter step in and remove it?

We can only hope we don’t have to find out.



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Twitter is now allowing users to share that controversial New York Post story – TechCrunch

Twitter has taken another step back from its initial decision to block users from sharing links to or images of a New York Post story reporting on emails and other data supposedly originating on a laptop belonging to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

The story, which alleged that Hunter Biden had set up a meeting between a Ukrainian energy firm and his father back when Biden was vice president, looked shaky from the start, and more holes have emerged over time. Both Facebook and Twitter took action to slow its spread — but Twitter seemed to take the more aggressive stance, not just limiting reach but actually blocking links.

These moves have drawn a range of criticism. There have been predictable cries of censorship from Republican politicians and pundits, but there have also been suggestions that Facebook and Twitter inadvertently drew more attention to the story. And even Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey suggested that it was “unacceptable” to block links in DMs without an explanation.

Casey Newton, on the other hand, argued that the platforms had successfully slowed the story’s spread: “The truth had time to put its shoes on before Rudy Giuliani’s shaggy-dog story about a laptop of dubious origin made it all the way around the world.”

Twitter initially justified its approach by citing its hacked materials policy, then later said it was blocking the Post article for including “personal and private information — like email addresses and phone numbers — which violate our rules.”

The controversy did prompt Twitter to revise its hacked materials policy, so that content and links obtained through dubious means will now come with a label, rather than being removed entirely, unless it’s being shared directly by hackers or those “acting in concert with them.”

And now, as first reported by The New York Times, Twitter is also allowing users to share links to the Post story itself (something I’ve confirmed through my own Twitter account).

Why the reversal? Again, the official justification for blocking the link was to prevent the spread of private information, so the company said that the story has now spread so widely, online and in the press, that the information can no longer be considered private.



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Twitter walks back New York Post decision – TechCrunch

A New York Post story forces social platforms to make (and in Twitter’s case, reverse) some difficult choices, Sony announces a new 3D display and fitness startup Future raises $24 million. This is your Daily Crunch for October 16, 2020.

The big story: Twitter walks back New York Post decision

A recent New York Post story about a cache of emails and other data supposedly originating from a laptop belonging to Joe Biden’s son Hunter looked suspect from the start, and more holes have emerged over time. But it’s also put the big social media platform in an awkward position, as both Facebook and Twitter took steps to limit the ability of users to share the story.

Twitter, in particular, took a more aggressive stance, blocking links to and images of the Post story because it supposedly violated the platform’s “hacked materials policy.” This led to predictable complaints from Republican politicians, and even Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey said that blocking links in direct messages without an explanation was “unacceptable.”

As a result, the company said it’s changing the aforementioned hacked materials policy. It will no longer remove hacked content unless it’s been shared directly by hackers or those “acting in direct concert with them.” Otherwise, it will label tweets to provide context. As of today, it’s also allowing users to share links to the Post story.

The tech giants

Sony’s $5,000 3D display (probably) isn’t for you — The company is targeting creative professionals with its new Spatial Reality Display.

EU’s Google-Fitbit antitrust decision deadline pushed into 2021 — EU regulators now have until January 8, 2021 to take a decision.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Elon Musk’s Las Vegas Loop might only carry a fraction of the passengers it promised — Planning files reviewed by TechCrunch seem to show that The Boring Company’s Loop system will not be able to move anywhere near the number of people the company agreed to.

Future raises $24M Series B for its $150/mo workout coaching app amid at-home fitness boom — Future offers a pricey subscription that virtually teams users with a real-life fitness coach.

Lawmatics raises $2.5M to help lawyers market themselves — The San Diego startup is building marketing and CRM software for lawyers.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

How COVID-19 and the resulting recession are impacting female founders — The sharp decline in available capital is slowing the pace at which women are founding new companies in the COVID-19 era.

Startup founders set up hacker homes to recreate Silicon Valley synergy — Hacker homes feel like a nostalgic attempt to recreate some of the synergies COVID-19 wiped out.

Private equity firms can offer enterprise startups a viable exit option — The IPO-or-acquisition question isn’t always an either/or proposition.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

FAA streamlines commercial launch rules to keep the rockets flying — With rockets launching in greater numbers and variety, and from more providers, it makes sense to get a bit of the red tape out of the way.

We need universal digital ad transparency now — Fifteen researchers propose a new standard for advertising disclosures.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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We need universal digital ad transparency now – TechCrunch

15 researchers propose a new standard for advertising disclosures

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg, Mr. Dorsey, Mr. Pichai and Mr. Spiegel: We need universal digital ad transparency now!

The negative social impacts of discriminatory ad targeting and delivery are well-known, as are the social costs of disinformation and exploitative ad content. The prevalence of these harms has been demonstrated repeatedly by our research. At the same time, the vast majority of digital advertisers are responsible actors who are only seeking to connect with their customers and grow their businesses.

Many advertising platforms acknowledge the seriousness of the problems with digital ads, but they have taken different approaches to confronting those problems. While we believe that platforms need to continue to strengthen their vetting procedures for advertisers and ads, it is clear that this is not a problem advertising platforms can solve by themselves, as they themselves acknowledge. The vetting being done by the platforms alone is not working; public transparency of all ads, including ad spend and targeting information, is needed so that advertisers can be held accountable when they mislead or manipulate users.

Our research has shown:

  • Advertising platform system design allows advertisers to discriminate against users based on their gender, race and other sensitive attributes.
  • Platform ad delivery optimization can be discriminatory, regardless of whether advertisers attempt to set inclusive ad audience preferences.
  • Ad delivery algorithms may be causing polarization and make it difficult for political campaigns to reach voters with diverse political views.
  • Sponsors spent more than $1.3 billion dollars on digital political ads, yet disclosure is vastly inadequate. Current voluntary archives do not prevent intentional or accidental deception of users.

While it doesn’t take the place of strong policies and rigorous enforcement, we believe transparency of ad content, targeting and delivery can effectively mitigate many of the potential harms of digital ads. Many of the largest advertising platforms agree; Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snapchat all have some form of an ad archive. The problem is that many of these archives are incomplete, poorly implemented, hard to access by researchers and have very different formats and modes of access. We propose a new standard for universal ad disclosure that should be met by every platform that publishes digital ads. If all platforms commit to the universal ad transparency standard we propose, it will mean a level playing field for platforms and advertisers, data for researchers and a safer internet for everyone.

The public deserves full transparency of all digital advertising. We want to acknowledge that what we propose will be a major undertaking for platforms and advertisers. However, we believe that the social harms currently being borne by users everywhere vastly outweigh the burden universal ad transparency would place on ad platforms and advertisers. Users deserve real transparency about all ads they are bombarded with every day. We have created a detailed description of what data should be made transparent that you can find here.

We researchers stand ready to do our part. The time for universal ad transparency is now.

Signed by:

Jason Chuang, Mozilla
Kate Dommett, University of Sheffield
Laura Edelson, New York University
Erika Franklin Fowler, Wesleyan University
Michael Franz, Bowdoin College
Archon Fung, Harvard University
Sheila Krumholz, Center for Responsive Politics
Ben Lyons, University of Utah
Gregory Martin, Stanford University
Brendan Nyhan, Dartmouth College
Nate Persily, Stanford University
Travis Ridout, Washington State University
Kathleen Searles, Louisiana State University
Rebekah Tromble, George Washington University
Abby Wood, University of Southern California

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Twitter is investigating widespread outage reports – TechCrunch

If you’re reading this, you probably didn’t get here from Twitter . The service has been experiencing widespread reports of outages for at least an hour. The issue has impacted a range of different activities on the site, ranging from newsfeeds to the ability to tweet. The company has acknowledged the ongoing problem, noting on its official status page that it is investigating things:

Update – We are continuing to monitor as our teams investigate. More updates to come.
Oct 15, 22:31 UTC
Investigating – We are currently investigating this issue. More updates to come.
Oct 15, 21:56 UTC

Twitter responded to our request for comment, stating, “We know people are having trouble Tweeting and using Twitter. We’re working to fix this issue as quickly as possible. We’ll share more when we have it and Tweet from @TwitterSupport when we can – stay tuned.”

We’ll update as we hear more.

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YouTube bans videos promoting conspiracy theories like QAnon that target individuals – TechCrunch

YouTube today joined social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter in taking more direct action to prohibit the distribution of conspiracy theories like QAnon.

The company announced that it is expanding its hate and harassment policies to ban videos “that [target] an individual or group with conspiracy theories that have been used to justify real-world violence,” according to a statement.

YouTube specifically pointed to videos that harass or threaten someone by claiming they are complicit in the false conspiracy theories promulgated by adherents to QAnon.

YouTube isn’t going as far as either of the other major social media outlets in an establishing an outright ban on videos or articles that promote the outlandish conspiracies, instead focusing on the material that targets individuals.

“As always, context matters, so news coverage on these issues or content discussing them without targeting individuals or protected groups may stay up,” the company said in a statement. “We will begin enforcing this updated policy today, and will ramp up in the weeks to come.”

It’s the latest step in social media platforms efforts to combat the spread of disinformation and conspiracy theories that are increasingly linked to violence and terrorism in the real world.

In 2019, the FBI for the first time identified fringe conspiracy theories like QAnon as a domestic terrorist threat and adherents to the conspiracy theory that falsely claims famous celebrities and Democratic politicians are part of a secret, Satanic, child-molesting cabal plotting to undermine Donald Trump.

In July, Twitter banned 7,000 accounts associated with the conspiracy theory, and last week Facebook announced a ban on the distribution of QAnon related materials or propaganda across its platforms.

These actions by the social media platforms may be too little, too late, considering how widely the conspiracy theories have spread… and the damage they’ve already done thanks to incidents like the attack on a pizza parlor in Washington DC that landed the gunman in prison.

The recent steps at YouTube followed earlier efforts to stem the distribution of conspiracy theories by making changes to its recommendation algorithm to avoid promoting conspiracy related materials.

However as TechCrunch noted previously, it was over the course of 2018 and the last year that QAnon conspiracies really took root.

As TechCrunch noted previously, it’s now a shockingly mainstream political belief system that has its own Congressional candidates.

So much for YouTube’s vaunted 70% drop in views coming from the company’s search and discovery systems. The company said that when it looked at QAnon content, it saw the number of views coming from non-subscribed recommendations dropping by over 80% since January 2019.

YouTube noted that it may take additional steps going forward as it loowks to combat conspiracy theories that lead to real-world violence.

“Due to the evolving nature and shifting tactics of groups promoting these conspiracy theories, we’ll continue to adapt our policies to stay current and remain committed to taking the steps needed to live up to this responsibility,” the company said.

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Twitter hack probe leads to call for cybersecurity rules for social media giants – TechCrunch

An investigation into this summer’s Twitter hack by the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYSDFS) has ended with a stinging rebuke for how easily Twitter let itself be duped by a “simple” social engineering technique — and with a wider call for key social media platforms to be regulated on security.

In the report, the NYSDFS points, by way of contrasting example, to how quickly regulated cryptocurrency companies acted to prevent the Twitter hackers scamming even more people — arguing this demonstrates that tech innovation and regulation aren’t mutually exclusive.

Its point is that the biggest social media platforms have huge societal power (with all the associated consumer risk) but no regulated responsibilities to protect users.

The report concludes this is a problem U.S. lawmakers need to get on and tackle stat — recommending that an oversight council be established (to “designate systemically important social media companies”) and an “appropriate” regulator appointed to ‘monitor and supervise’ the security practices of mainstream social media platforms.

“Social media companies have evolved into an indispensable means of communications: more than half of Americans use social media to get news, and connect with colleagues, family, and friends. This evolution calls for a regulatory regime that reflects social media as critical infrastructure,” the NYSDFS writes, before going on to point out there is still “no dedicated state or federal regulator empowered to ensure adequate cybersecurity practices to prevent fraud, disinformation, and other systemic threats to social media giants”.

“The Twitter Hack demonstrates, more than anything, the risk to society when systemically important institutions are left to regulate themselves,” it adds. “Protecting systemically important social media against misuse is crucial for all of us — consumers, voters, government, and industry. The time for government action is now.”

We’ve reached out to Twitter for comment on the report

Among the key findings from the Department’s investigation are that the hackers broke into Twitter’s systems by calling employees and claiming to be from Twitter’s IT department — through which simple social engineering method they were able to trick four employees into handing over their log-in credentials. From there they were able to access the Twitter accounts of high profile politicians, celebrities, and entrepreneurs, including Barack Obama, Kim Kardashian West, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and a number of cryptocurrency companies — using the hijacked accounts to tweet out a crypto scam to millions of users.

Twitter has previously confirmed that a “phone spear phishing” attack was used to gain credentials.

Per the report, the hackers’ “double your bitcoin” scam messages, which contained links to make a payment in bitcoins, enabled them to steal more than $118,000 worth of bitcoins from Twitter users.

Although a considerably larger sum was prevented from being stolen as a result of swift action taken by regulated crypto companies — namely: Coinbase, Square, Gemini Trust Company and Bitstamp — who the Department said blocked scores of attempted transfers by the fraudsters.

“This swift action blocked over 6,000 attempted transfers worth approximately $1.5 million to the Hackers’ bitcoin addresses,” the report notes.

Twitter is also called out for not having a cybersecurity chief in post at the time of the hack — after failing to replace Mike Convertino, who left in December 2019 to join cyber resilience firm Arceo.

Last month it announced Rinki Sethi had been hired as CISO.

“Despite being a global social media platform boasting over 330 million average monthly users in 2019, Twitter lacked adequate cybersecurity protection,” the NYSDFS writes. “At the time of the attack, Twitter did not have a chief information security officer, adequate access controls and identity management, and adequate security monitoring — some of the core measures required by the Department’s first-in-the-nation cybersecurity regulation.”

European Union data protection law already bakes in security requirements as part of a comprehensive privacy and security framework (with major penalties possible for security breaches). However an investigation by the Irish DPC of a 2018 Twitter security incident is still yet to conclude after a draft decision failed to gain the backing of the other EU data watchdogs this August — triggering a further delay to the pan-EU regulatory process.

This story was updated with a correction: Twitter had failed to replace Mike Convertino as CISO rather than Michael Coates, who was also in the post but left Twitter in March 2019, rather than in March 2020 as we originally stated

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