Hillicon Valley: Microsoft offers free election security software | Senators urge FTC to go tough on Facebook | Activists launch campaign to oust Zuckerberg | Instagram 'pop-ups' to counter vaccine misinformation

Hillicon Valley: Microsoft offers free election security software | Senators urge FTC to go tough on Facebook | Activists launch campaign to oust Zuckerberg | Instagram 'pop-ups' to counter vaccine misinformation
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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).

 

WELCOME TO ELECTIONS, BY MICROSOFT: Microsoft on Monday said it will soon offer free software to help make voting more secure in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The ElectionGuard tool, which will be available this summer to election officials and election technology suppliers through GitHub, aims to build voting systems with enhanced security through new encryption techniques. The program would also enable election audits and let both voters and third-party organizations verify the results.

When? Microsoft said "early prototypes" will be ready for pilot programs during the 2020 elections in the U.S. The tech giant added that it is prepared for "significant deployments" of the tool in future elections.

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Microsoft is partnering with election tech companies -- Democracy Live, BPro, MicroVote, Voting Works, Election Systems & Software and Hart InterCivic -- to integrate the ElectionGuard tool into their systems.

Read more here.

 

ACTIVISTS WANT ZUCK OUT: Two activist groups on Monday launched a campaign to oust CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach Social media never intended to be in the news business — but just wait till AI takes over Facebook exploring deals with media outlets for news section: report MORE from Facebook's board of directors, arguing his "sweeping" control of the company presents a barrier to civil rights and privacy reform.

Digital civil rights group Color of Change and Majority Action, a corporate accountability organization, told the Securities and Exchange Commission that they will be urging Facebook shareholders to withhold their support for nominating Zuckerberg to the board.

The two groups argue that Facebook's corporate structure gives Zuckerberg "control without adequate checks," pointing out that he is CEO and holds 57.7 percent of voting rights in the company.

"Facebook's tiered governance structure is a threat to the civil rights of its Black users and to the financial interests of its shareholders," Color Of Change President Rashad Robinson said in a statement. "Lasting change to address the misinformation, discrimination, violent movements and data breaches that put users, especially Black users, at risk cannot subject to the whims of a single person."

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

What's next: The campaign's launch comes just weeks before a May 30 meeting, when shareholders will vote on whether Zuckerberg should be reelected to the board of directors.

Color of Change and Majority Action will now begin approaching investors with their proposal.

"Facebook's insufficient response to cascading risks, including civil rights violations, requires checking the sweeping control that Zuckerberg holds in his joint role of CEO and Chairman with 10-1 voting power," Color of Change said in a statement.

Last year, 35 percent of outside shareholders -- including Vanguard, Facebook's largest shareholder -- withheld votes from reelecting Zuckerberg.

Read more on the campaign here.

 

GANGING UP ON ZUCK: A bipartisan pair of senators is calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to wrap up its long-running investigation into Facebook by imposing tight restrictions on its handling of user data and by holding the company's leaders accountable for a string of privacy scandals.

Two of the company's biggest critics in Congress, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyGovernment regulation of social media would kill the internet — and free speech Juan Williams: We need a backlash against Big Tech Twitter unlocks McConnell's campaign account after GOP boycott MORE (R-Mo.), sent a letter to the FTC on Monday arguing that the agency should go beyond just imposing a fine -- even a record multibillion-dollar one -- in order to rein in the social media giant.

"The public is rightly asking whether Facebook is too big to be held accountable," the lawmakers wrote. "The FTC must set a resounding precedent that is heard by Facebook and any other tech company that disregards the law in a rapacious quest for growth."

Both Facebook and the FTC declined to comment on the letter.

The investigation: Facebook told investors last month that it expects to pay as much as $5 billion in penalties to the FTC to settle a privacy probe that was launched last year after it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a right-wing political consulting agency, obtained data on millions of Facebook users without their knowledge.

Several media outlets have also reported that the two sides are exploring a settlement that would also impose greater oversight of Facebook by requiring the company to establish privacy compliance officials. The talks could reportedly conclude as early as this week.

Lawmakers like Hawley and Blumenthal have grown increasingly frustrated with Facebook over the mounting scandals and the lack of progress from the FTC. The two argued that it's time for regulators to impose sweeping constraints on Facebook and even potentially hold individual executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, accountable.

"As important as remedies on Facebook as a company are, the FTC should impose tough accountability measures and penalties for individual executives and management responsible for violations of the consent order and for privacy failures," Hawley and Blumenthal wrote. "Personal responsibility must be recognized from the top of the corporate board down to the product development teams."

Read more here.

 

ANOTHER KIND OF FACEBOOK PURGE: Facebook on Monday said it has removed dozens of accounts that were part of a Russian disinformation campaign aimed at Ukraine and other European countries.

"They frequently posted about local and political news including topics like the military conflict in Eastern Ukraine, Russian politics, political news in Europe, politics in Ukraine and the Syrian civil war," the company said in a blog post.

Facebook said the pages were removed because they engaged in "coordinated inauthentic behavior" and not because of the content they were posting.

Sixty-two accounts, 10 pages and 25 groups were removed in the crackdown. Facebook said that those behind the campaign spent just $1 in advertising.

The accounts had about 34,000 followers and the groups counted 86,000 members.

Facebook said it also removed a smaller network of fake accounts originating from Russia that targeted countries including Austria, Germany, Spain, Ukraine and the U.K. Those accounts had 1,100 followers.

Read more on the removals here.

 

JUST POPPING IN: Instagram said it is taking further steps to crack down on the spread of medically inaccurate content by developing a "pop-up" that would appear on content containing vaccine-related misinformation.

An Instagram spokesperson told The Hill that the company has been working on a message that would appear when people search for vaccine misinformation, adding that the feature is still in the works.

Details about what the pop-up will say were not immediately available, but it is likely the feature will be similar to other pop-ups the app already employs. In recent months, the photo-sharing platform has created features to provide resources and support to users searching for content related to opioids and self-harm.

Anti-vaccine content has continued to flourish on Instagram. The platform has been blocking hashtags that promote unambiguous misinformation -- including "#vaccinescauseautism," "#vaccinesarepoison," and "#vaccinescauseaids."

But much of the anti-vaccine community on the platform gathers in communities with less straightforward labels, such as "#vaccinetruth" and "#vaccinesuncovered." And they have continued to create groups with hashtags that sidestep the new content moderation system.

Read more here.

 

AREN'T WE ALL MONITORING SOCIAL MEDIA?: President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE on Friday lamented that social media is "getting worse" for conservatives, and writing that he was "continuing to monitor" alleged censorship on online platforms.

"I am continuing to monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms. This is the United States of America -- and we have what's known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH! We are monitoring and watching, closely!!" Trump tweeted Friday.

"The wonderful Diamond and Silk have been treated so horribly by Facebook," he added in a second tweet, referencing the conservative vloggers. "They work so hard and what has been done to them is very sad - and we're looking into. It's getting worse and worse for Conservatives on social media!"

Trump's comments came one day after Facebook announced that it had permanently banned a host of prominent figures it described as "dangerous" from its platform.

Facebook banned right-wing commentator and former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and neo-Nazi Paul Nehlen, who previously ran for the House in Wisconsin. The platform also removed far-right activist Laura Loomer and conservative YouTuber Paul Joseph Watson as it continues to crack down on hate speech on its platform.

Read more here.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Russia's sudden change of heart on AI.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: I dub thee "hateful."

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Alexa has been eavesdropping on you this whole time. (The Washington Post)

Facebook invites journalists to see new 'war room,' won't let them ask workers questions. (Gizmodo)

'They would go absolutely nuts': How a Mark Cuban-backed facial recognition firm tried to work with cops. (Motherboard)

App stores remove three dating apps after FTC warns operator about potential COPPA, FTC Act violations. (FTC)