Below: Twitter reveals a dismantling of China-based operations aimed at influencing US policy and the FTC accuses an education technology company of having weak cybersecurity practices. First:
If Meta’s dream of the Metaverse comes true, regulators will be faced with a whole new set of privacy concerns
Recently Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has painted a rosy picture of the future success of his company’s big bet on transforming human communication through immersive virtual worlds known as the Metaverse. In response to last quarter’s dismal financial results, Zuckerberg told investors that the company’s new $1,500 virtual reality headset, Quest Pro, would help employees do their jobs better than they ever could with ordinary computers.
“I think our work will be historic and will lay the foundation for a whole new way in which we interact with each other and integrate technology into our lives, as well as a foundation for the long-term future of our business,” Zuckerberg told investors.
What Zuckerberg didn’t say was that political observers and industry figures are already grappling with thorny ethical and regulatory issues that would arise as services like Quest Pro gain popularity.
One of the toughest questions facing Meta and other companies is what to do with the intimate information they gather about users and their interactions in these immersive virtual spaces. The Quest Pro improved on previous iterations of VR headsets by tracking the wearer’s eyeballs and facial muscles to help them express emotions through a virtual avatar.
According to Meta, face and eye tracking features are entirely optional and disabled by default, and that the images captured by the cameras are processed on the device and then thrown away. But as my colleague Geoffrey A Fowler has reported, Meta will continue to convert users’ facial reactions into data, which they will send to some app makers who have asked for permission.
The XR Association, which counts Meta, Microsoft and Google among its members, has said manufacturers should build privacy controls into their devices and ensure the public is aware of how that information is being used. Companies could control where they process the data they collect, or hide the images of people simply standing near someone wearing AR or VR glasses or a headset, XRA’s CEO said Elizabeth Hyman.
“Our fundamental approach to this is privacy by design. Make sure the consumer understands what the technology is doing,” Hyman said. “And give that consumer or user control” over how that data is used.
However, Samir Jain, director of policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, argues that the traditional model of tech companies informing users how they will use the information they collect and giving them a choice to opt out is in the virtual reality may not work. For starters, Jain said the data these devices could collect is simply far more intimate than information collected through text- and video-based social media services.
“This model becomes especially challenging when you’re talking about behaviors like heart rate or dilation of the pupils, which are involuntary, which you may not be aware of, and which can make your emotions quite revealing,” he said. “It can be quite revealing about inner feelings that you don’t otherwise express or that you may not even be fully aware of. I mean, you can even imagine someone being outed by eye tracking.”
Aside from some legislative efforts to explore virtual and augmented reality, the issue has yet to climb to the top of the Congressional legislative agenda. But both Jain and Hyman acknowledged that if Zuckerberg manages to make his Metaverse dreams a reality, eventually regulators will have to step in.
Twitter is cracking down on China-based operations to influence US politics
The three China-based operations sought to covertly influence US politics ahead of the midterm elections by amplifying divisive issues. Jeremy B. Merrill, Joseph Menn and I report. The operations involved nearly 2,000 accounts, some allegedly located in the United States, and addressed red-hot issues such as election-rigging in 2020 and criticism of the transgender community.
“Twitter’s shutdown of networks, which operated mainly between April and October, came at a tumultuous time for the social media giant as it prepared to be sold to a billionaire Elon Musk and faced constant scrutiny over how misinformation is policed ahead of next week’s midterms when it comes to political control of Congress,” my colleagues write. Twitter did not respond to a request for further comment.
FTC goes after education tech company Chegg for ‘sloppy security’
The Federal Trade Commission accused the company, a leading provider of educational software, of lax cybersecurity practices that led to data breaches that exposed personal information of tens of millions of its users, according to the New York Times Natasha Singer reports. Chegg has agreed to implement a comprehensive data security program to pay off the charges, the FTC said.
“The FTC’s enforcement action against Chegg comes as a warning to the US educational technology industry,” writes Singer.
It comes months after the FTC unanimously warned education technology companies about illegal student surveillance and weak cybersecurity programs. A Human Rights Watch investigation in May found that many educational tools were designed to send data to advertisers, and few told parents how they would use the data.
US politicians’ use of TikTok raises questions about the app’s readiness for misinformation
The increased presence of politicians on the app signals that it could play a bigger role in future elections. It also worries social media and national security experts, who worry the app isn’t as well prepared as other social networks to identify misinformation. Cat Zakrzewski, Naomi Nix and Taylor Lorenz Report.
“Nearly 30 percent of all major-party candidates in the Senate election have TikTok accounts, and one-fifth of all major-party candidates in the House of Representatives have an account on the platform, according to new analysis by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a US-based organization. non-profit group founded to investigate efforts by foreign nations to interfere in democratic institutions,” write my colleagues.
- Democrats are more likely to embrace TikTok as 34 percent of candidates for Senate, House of Representatives, Governor and Secretary of State have TikTok accounts, according to the report. Around 12 percent of Republican candidates in these races have accounts.
- According to a Post review of these accounts, politicians are still learning how best to use the app. “Some clips attack their opponents or feature cameos from celebrity supporters,” write my colleagues. “Others encourage young people to vote.”
TikTok has announced new policies and initiatives ahead of the midterms, including adding labels for political content and directing users to a voting hub. TikTok “takes our responsibility to protect the integrity of our platform and elections with the utmost seriousness,” spokesman Ben Rathe said. “We continue to invest in our policy and security teams to address election misinformation and review reports from politicians across the United States.”
Elon Musk has reached out to EU industry boss to promise content monitoring compliance (Reuters)
Delhi police raid The Wire’s offices and the homes of three of its editors (Scroll)
Instagram Users Report Randomly Banned Accounts, App Crashes (Bloomberg News)
EU launches advanced Microsoft Activision investigation (Politico Europe)
Democratic US senator wants to investigate Saudi company’s involvement in Twitter (Reuters)
Nibel gave Twitter back a lot for a little (Gene Park)
- Senior FTC officials, researchers and academics are speaking at the Federal Trade Commission’s PrivacyCon event today.
- The American Enterprise Institute is hosting an event on disinformation in online elections at 10:00 a.m. Friday
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