Big Tech Advances Plans to Track and Control You! Talk Liberation - Your Worldwide INTERNET REPORT (Issue 1, 2021)

Hear the Latest About Twitter, Google, Apple, TikTok and Even the Japanese Olympic Organizing Committee!

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Twitter CEO confronted about company’s censorship of users

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was confronted by a woman in the audience incensed by his company’s censorship of users on the platform, during his appearance at the Bitcoin 2021 event in Miami this week. “Censorship is a human rights violation — you are censoring people, you are interfering in elections,” a woman in the crowd was filmed saying to Dorsey before being pulled away by event staff.

According to Newsweek, the woman in the video is conservative activist Laura Loomer. Loomer herself has been expelled from various social media platforms, and was permanently suspended by Twitter in 2018. Following Loomer’s comments, and after being pressed by Alex Gladstein, Chief Strategy Officer at the Human Rights Foundation who joined Dorsey on stage, the Twitter CEO acknowledged that many users are dissatisfied with Twitter’s policies. “I know there’s a lot of you out there who disagree with our policies and the way we’ve evolved them. I appreciate it. I recognize it.” Dorsey said to the crowd.

This is not the first time Dorsey has been questioned about censorship or his company’s banning of users on the platform. In November 2020, following the suspension of the New York Post’s Twitter account for sharing a link to its story concerning Hunter Biden’s laptop and email scandal, Dorsey was summoned to Capitol Hill for questioning before the US Senate Judiciary Committee concerning Twitter’s moderation practices.

Despite widespread criticism over Big Tech censorship, ever greater numbers of users, including those with verified accounts, are living under a threat of being cast out of their online communities by corporate owners, with more account removals occurring daily.

High profile author, political advisor suspended by Twitter

Dr. Naomi Wolf has become the latest researcher suspended from Twitter following a series of tweets critical of the government's response to Covid-19. Dr. Wolf served as a political advisor to both former President Bill Clinton and Al Gore and has written numerous books on the topics of feminism, free speech, LGBTQ+ rights and more. Ironically, Dr. Wolf, a New York Times best-selling author, recently published a book Outrages, which examines state-sponsored censorship and violations of personal freedoms.

The reaction to Dr. Wolf’s Twitter suspension was mixed. While some users cheered on her removal from Twitter, others were concerned this was a violation of free speech. However, Twitter continues to test additional algorithms to target what it considers disinformation at a time when the platform has suspended the accounts of prominent public figures like Dr. Wolf.

Twitter's war on so-called disinformation heating up

In recent months, social media users began to see an increasing number of warning labels added to content posted on major platforms denoting content Big Tech considers disinformation. For example, one may be familiar with the warning label, “Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and may be misleading” or the more recently added “These materials may have been obtained through hacking” often tacked on to widely circulated content, these messages were frequently met with dismay by users, yet the practice continues to expand. 

Twitter is testing further mechanisms for combating disinformation through a new warning system. According to Gizmodo, tech blogger Jane Manchun Wong discovered a tiered warning label system which places what Twitter considers problematic content into three different categories including “Get the Latest,” “Stay informed” and “Misleading.”

Wong is known for uncovering hidden features on the app and her research demonstrated how this system may operate in real time, by targeting content that Twitter’s artificial intelligence algorithms consider problematic or lacking in context.

The Head of Site Integrity at Twitter, Yoel Roth, confirmed that the new system is being tested, however it is unknown if the system will ever be implemented. Just as Twitter’s automated moderation continually pushes boundaries and expands, so too do the business relationships and new market footprints of “The Big Five” technology giants - Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft.

Apple Wallet to store government ID’s

Each year Apple products become more sophisticated but also more pervasive, with increasing capacity to retain and store user data and Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

Earlier this month, during its Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple announced the introduction of a new feature that would enable the iPhone to store a digital version of a user’s driver’s license and other forms of government issued ID, in a Wallet App on the new iOS 15. Additionally, the company is working with the Transportation Security Administration, TSA, in order to speed up the process of going through airport security. According to NPR, Apple claims that this new feature will provide convenience to users, however privacy advocates are concerned.

The new feature is not only capable of storing various forms of ID, but it can carry digital versions of user’s house keys and hotel room keys. Apple’s website states that with this new feature the “iPhone can also be used to unlock a user’s home, office, or even a hotel room — all through keys stored in Wallet.” The website indicates that the new iOS 15 will include additional “protections” that it refers to as being “privacy features.”

One of the new controls stems from on-device speech recognition advancements, which allows for all Siri requests to be “processed entirely on the iPhone by default.” However, voice recognition technology has long been known to be a threat to user privacy. Apple claims that it is seeking to be transparent in how it collects data. Users will receive an App Privacy Report, which shows the array of private information their apps access including your location, photos, contacts and more. 

The expansion of data gathering by Big Tech is not limited to Apple… 

Google to Expand Reach into Private Healthcare Information 

The Wall Street Journal reported that Google recently struck a deal with HCA Healthcare Inc., broadening the company’s reach into the healthcare sector. The deal allows Google access to patient medical records to create healthcare algorithms. The modern day shift from paper to digital health records has been significant and thus created a new market opportunity for Big Tech.

According to Health Tech, Google will gather anonymous patient data, but there are still privacy concerns. It is worth noting that US health privacy laws allow hospitals to share patient data and information with contractors and researchers without the patient’s consent. The Terms of Use of third party partners accessing this data includes for commercial gain. 

This is a continuation of Big Tech moving to integrate with the healthcare industry. In 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported on “Project Nightingale,” which at the time was the largest initiative by Big Tech to broaden its horizons by engaging with the healthcare industry to gain access to patient health data. This data, initially obtained in secret by Google, included hospital records, lab results, diagnoses and more. 

Tracking Journalists to Control the Spread of Covid-19

The Japanese Olympic Organizing Committee, OOC, is implementing a system in which journalists covering the Olympics will be tracked with a GPS device on their cell phones. The GPS monitoring system is intended to track journalists movements to ensure that they follow the 14 day quarantine on arriving in Japan. Those who choose not to comply will have their Olympic Access Pass revoked.

Through their cell phones, journalists will be required to keep the location function on and the data will be sent to the organizers if necessary. The International Federation of Journalists strongly condemns this practice.

In response to the OOC’s new regulation, The IFJ stated “The implementation of such precaution denies journalists their right to privacy and limits the freedom of the press.” Additionally, it calls for the OOC to abandon this measure and seek other ways of maintaining safety for journalists and attendees.

Popular Gen Z App Collecting Data on Your Kids?

TikTok, the popular social media app among Gen Z, had a significant change to its US Privacy Policy.

The policy update comes three months after TikTok settled a lawsuit for $92 million for violating data gathering laws in the US state of Illinois. According to the Daily Mail, the privacy update may be in response to the lawsuit. 

The app will now notify users that it may gather data including face prints and voice prints but would request permission from the user if required to do so by law. TechCrunch reported that apps may collect biometric data to improve accessibility features, however this data can also be used for a variety of other purposes. In the US, privacy laws vary state to state. For example, only California, Illinois, Texas and Washington have passed legislation which limits the collection and use of biometric data. Therefore, this means that unless the user is located in one of those four states, they will not be asked permission for the collection of their biometric data while using the TikTok app.

And while this Privacy Policy is specific to users in the US, it is important to examine the laws elsewhere. A June 6th report from the website of European Defense contractor Thales Group, states that 28 countries in addition to the UK have regulations about biometric data collection in place. But achieving accountability or redress when a privacy violation occurs can be difficult. In addition, when major publications including Business Insider and the Daily Mail contacted TikTok for a comment, it did not respond. And when contacted by TechCrunch in particular, TikTok provided a vague response.

TechCrunch reported, "TikTok could not confirm what product developments necessitated the addition of biometric data to its list of disclosures about the information it automatically collects from users, but said it would ask for consent in the case such data collection practices began.”

White House to expand intelligence agencies’ data collection practices

The White House has released its National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism document, which some are calling the Patriot Act 2.0. Significantly, it was announced that additional resources and spending will be put toward data collection and analysis as well as intelligence sharing on groups and individuals of interest.

The Washington Post reported that the Biden administration strategy document featured an unprecedented focus on homegrown threats. The Department of Homeland Security and other entities are funding digitally based programs to enhance media literacy to strengthen “user resilience against disinformation and misinformation online.” The US Government already works in collaboration with online platforms to assist with enforcing their Terms of Service — a practice that will seemingly continue.

According to the White House, domestic terrorism is becoming increasingly more difficult for law enforcement to manage in part due to Internet-based online communication platforms and end-to-end encrypted messaging services. Near the conclusion of the document it states:

“These efforts speak to a broader priority: enhancing faith in government and addressing the extreme polarization, fueled by a crisis of disinformation and misinformation often channeled through social media platforms, which can tear Americans apart and lead some to violence.”

Healthcare through a national security lens

Former head of the FDA Dr. Scott Gottlieb told Bloomberg columnist Michael R. Strain during an interview that intelligence agencies need to have a more prominent role in combating future public health crises. During the interview, Gottlieb reveals that historically the national security agencies would avoid matters related to public health, but “Covid-19 showed us that the intelligence agencies need to be involved in gathering information about emerging infections around the world.” Gottlieb states that this crisis has led to nations being less likely to share information in the future and expressed concern that information gathering would be more difficult in the post-Covid era. Additionally, Gottlieb predicts that in the future the US Government will have to not only rely on the CDC but also the private sector to contain the outbreak of a new pathogen. 

That concludes Your Worldwide INTERNET REPORT for this week! 

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This issue of Your Worldwide INTERNET REPORT was written by Taylor Hudak; Edited by Suzie Dawson and Sean O’Brien; Graphics by Kimber Maddox; with production support by David Sutton and Kitty Hundal.

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