Hillicon Valley: Google ad report reveal | SolarWinds fallout raises pressure on Biden | UK Uber drivers get some solace

Hillicon Valley: Google ad report reveal | SolarWinds fallout raises pressure on Biden | UK Uber drivers get some solace
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Google released its yearly ad transparency report Wednesday, revealing the action it took on both misleading coronavirus ads and political ads during the 2020 election season. On the cyber front, the Biden administration is facing pressure to act on vulnerabilities in the wake of the SolarWinds hack.



AD CHECK: Google blocked 99 million ads worldwide related to the coronavirus pandemic that would have violated its policies in 2020, according to a transparency report released by the company Wednesday.

The advertisements included attempts to sell fabricated cures, N95 masks when there was a shortage early in the pandemic and fake vaccines.

“As we learned more about the virus and health organizations issued new guidance, we evolved our enforcement strategy to start allowing medical providers, health organizations, local governments and trusted businesses to surface critical updates and authoritative content, while still preventing opportunistic abuse,” Google’s vice president of ad privacy and safety Scott Spencer said in a blog post.

Overall, Google blocked or removed 3.1 billion ads during 2020. More than 850 million of those were sanctioned for abusing the company’s ad network. 

The platform also restricted another 6.4 billion ads, limiting their reach or requiring advertisers to meet some requirements.

Read more.



UNDER PRESSURE: The Biden administration is coming under increasing pressure to address U.S. cybersecurity vulnerabilities following the Microsoft breach that has quickly been viewed as a massive threat to the U.S.

Officials are still trying to wrap their heads around the extent of the cyberattack more than two weeks after the U.S. tech giant announced it was hit.

Complicating matters is the fact that the administration is also still trying to gauge the widening fallout of what has become known as the SolarWinds hack. The two incidents, likely linked to nation-state activity, are painting a grim picture of the cybersecurity threats facing U.S. businesses and the federal government.

“I am incredibly concerned that our infrastructure is at huge risk, and that is not just the technology, but the people who protect and defend the infrastructure,” said Theresa Payton, White House chief information officer during the George W. Bush administration who’s now CEO of the cybersecurity consultancy group Fortalice.

Read more about the two breaches here.

The Biden administration formally set up a “unified coordination group” consisting of multiple federal agencies to respond to the breach on Wednesday, with private sector companies set to be a major part of response efforts. 

Read more about the efforts here.


QUESTIONS REMAIN: The bipartisan leaders of a House panel on Wednesday drilled multiple agencies for updates on the SolarWinds hack, a mass cyber campaign that compromised at least nine federal agencies and 100 private sector groups.

Members of the Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters demanding answers to the leaders of the departments of Commerce, Energy and Health and Human Services, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The lawmakers, led by Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and ranking member Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersColonial Pipeline attack underscores US energy's vulnerability Hillicon Valley: US, UK authorities say Russian hackers exploited Microsoft vulnerabilities | Lawmakers push for more cyber funds in annual appropriations | Google child care workers ask for transportation stipend Lawmakers push for increased cybersecurity funds in annual appropriations MORE (R-Wash.), drilled the agencies — several of which were reportedly compromised by the breach — on the impact of the hack, how they are responding to it and how they hope to prevent similar cyberattacks in the future.

“Over the past several years, the Committee on Energy and Commerce has done extensive work on cyber threats, including hearings and investigations examining the information security programs and controls over key computer systems and networks at multiple agencies under the Committee’s jurisdiction,” the lawmakers wrote. 

Read more about the lawmaker concerns here.



UBER, DRIVERS WIN AND LOSE: Uber announced Tuesday it would reclassify more than 70,000 drivers in the United Kingdom as “workers” who will receive a minimum wage while completing trips as well as holiday time and eligibility for a pension plan.

The designation crucially does not make the Uber drivers full employees, as they will not be paid for idle time between trip requests. The minimum wage in the U.K. is roughly the equivalent of $12 an hour.

The shift comes on the heels of a landmark British Supreme Court decision that the ride-hailing giant should provide some basic worker’s rights.

The two lead claimants in that challenge say the new worker designation does not meet legal requirements.

“The Supreme Court ruled that drivers are to be recognized as workers with entitlements to the minimum wage and holiday pay to accrue on working time from log on to log off whereas Uber is committing only to these entitlements to accrue from time of trip acceptance to drop off,” James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam said in a statement through the App Drivers & Couriers Union.

Read more.



FACEBOOK’S LATEST UPDATE: Facebook on Wednesday announced updates aimed at reducing the reach of groups that violate platform standards amid scrutiny over its handling of misinformation and hate speech.

The update will include notifying users before they join a group if the group has allowed posts that violate Facebook's community standards. Users will be prompted with the notification and can choose to “review” the group or join anyway. 

Facebook will also expand its policies around not recommending certain groups. Now, when a group starts to violate Facebook’s rules, the platform will start showing them “lower in recommendations,” Facebook’s VP of engineering, Tom Alison, said in a blog post

The change “means it’s less likely that people will discover” those groups, Alison wrote. 

The update comes just one week before Zuckerberg will testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee at a hearing centered on misinformation. 

Read more about the update.



REJECTED: A French watchdog on Wednesday rejected a challenge from advertising groups over Apple’s plan to launch a privacy update that will require apps to gain user consent before tracking their online behavior. 

The French competition watchdog said Apple’s impending launch of its App Tracking Transparency feature “did not appear as an abusive practice.” 

Apple has said the feature is set to be released in early spring. It will require apps to ask users to opt in before allowing the apps to track them across different websites, limiting the reach of targeted ads. 

Read more about the decision


EXPANDING BROADBAND: A pair of House Democrats on Tuesday introduced legislation that seeks to provide affordable broadband access to millions in the country who live in federally subsidized housing.

The bill from Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) would require the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Treasury Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to revise utility allowance definitions to add broadband to the list of subsidized utilities.

The legislation is the latest by lawmakers in Congress that seeks to expand internet access for Americans in impoverished communities as the ongoing pandemic has forced many across the nation to shift to virtual learning and remote work over the past year.

Read more about the legislation


‘FALLING SHORT’: Hundreds of policy changes from top social media platforms in the past year and a half have failed to adequately address issues of disinformation, according to a report released Wednesday. 

The analysis released by Decode Democracy, a campaign about political deception launched by the nonprofit research organization Maplight, deems the tech companies’ self-regulation practices insufficient and urges lawmakers to take action.

“This haphazard and reactionary pattern of behavior from large technology and social media companies makes it clear self-regulation is falling short and that we need stronger laws and regulations to limit disinformation and hold social media platforms accountable,” the report states.

Read more about the report.


EXTENDING PAID LEAVE: Facebook will offer paid leave to workers who face domestic violence or sexual assault, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said this week in announcing an expansion of the company's paid leave policy.

Sandberg explained in an interview with Bloomberg published Wednesday that the company is still working out the most effective way to implement the policy.

For now, employees can ask for time off without specifying a reason and then can later report the reason in a confidential system operated by Facebook's human resources department, the company told Bloomberg.

“This is brand-new and I think this is going to be a tricky thing with this policy. So we’ll have to see how it unfolds,” Sandberg said.

Read more here


Lighter click: The Holy (and very cute) Dog

An op-ed to chew on: For US cyber defense, helpful hackers are only half the battle 



Learning Apps Have Boomed in the Pandemic. Now Comes the Real Test. (The New York Times / Natasha Singer)

More than $4 billion in cybercrime losses reported to the FBI in 2020 (CyberScoop / Jeff Stone) 

Misinformation and online extremism contribute to the rise in anti-Asian attacks since the election (Washington Post / Drew Harwell, Craig Timberg, Razzan Nakhlawi and Andrew Ba Tran)