Twitter: Censorship, disinformation and verifying fake accounts - Just another day at the office? Talk Liberation - Your Worldwide INTERNET REPORT (Issue 13, 2021)

Also: Germany supporting EU moves to ban facial recognition and mass surveillance

Episode 13, 2021

Twitter verifies fake government account 

A fake account impersonating Norway’s new Minister of Finance received a blue verification badge on Twitter. This is yet another inauthentic account to receive verification following Twitter’s reopening of the application program. The incident was first revealed in the Norwegian tech site NKRBeta, which reported that the Prime Minister’s Office and Norway’s Security Authority passed on the fake account for verification. 

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Norway’s Minister of Finance Trygve Slagsvold Vedum never had a Twitter account. However, following his election into office, a number of fake accounts under Vedum’s name were created. The situation continued to grow out of control and eventually the Ministry of Finance of Norway tweeted a warning that these were not the accounts of the Finance Minister.

The head of communications at the Prime Minister’s Office, Anne Kristin Hjuske, told NRKbeta, “Unfortunately, there was an error in the reporting that caused a fake account to be verified... Furthermore, we are currently reviewing our reporting routines to ensure that this does not happen again.”

Entities within the Norwegian government take responsibility for the verification of the fake account, but interestingly, the impersonator was able to fool not only two government entities, but a large social media corporation — Twitter. The fake account purporting to be that of Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum has since been removed from the platform.

Twitter suspends 500k follower account reporting on Epstein-related trial

The account @trackertrial or Maxwell Trial Tracker, dedicated to providing regular updates on the trial of Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, was suspended by Twitter. At the time of suspension, the account had more than 520 thousand followers. The account bio read, “We are tracking the Ghislaine Maxwell trial. All major media outlets are silent on it. Big-named politicians are using their power to silence the truth.”

The suspension comes just days after Twitter Safety posted an announcement to the platform revealing it had partnered with Australian disinformation specialists ASPI, which is funded by Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, BAE Systems and the US Department of Defense.

The suspension of the account was met with a strong reaction of disapproval and outrage among Twitter users. One user expressed frustration claiming the account was suspended because it reported on a case that the mainstream media “refuses” to cover. Another user called the suspension “blatant corruption.” Several accounts claiming to be the new @trackertrial account have appeared on the platform. The official reason for the suspension remains unclear.

Tesla drivers locked out of cars

Hundreds of Tesla drivers were locked out of their vehicles while attempting to connect to the Tesla Model 3 via the iPhone App. Multiple Tesla owners went to Twitter to express their frustration indicating that they were unable to open their vehicles via the app and had to use their keycards. 

According to the report in Metro, one driver tweeted, “I’m stuck an hour away from home because I normally use my phone to start car.” Another Tesla driver wrote, “Thousands of Tesla-owners are locked out of their vehicles because Tesla servers went down over two hours ago.” However, it remains unclear exactly how many drivers were affected by the app error.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded to one of the complaints on the social media site stating, “Should be coming back online now. Looks like we may have accidentally increased verbosity of network traffic.” Musk went on to assure that this will never happen again and apologized.

The cause of the outage remains unknown, and it is unclear if it is related to Tesla’s recent app update. The outage appears to have been widespread and impacted people in various parts of the world.

Germany vows to ban mass surveillance and facial recognition

Contrary to the policies of the previous government, Germany’s “traffic light” coalition has reached an agreement to ban the use of biometric facial recognition and limit the use of mass surveillance tools. The German Social Democratic Party, the Green Party and the Liberal Free Democratic Party have agreed to ban facial recognition in public places and keep mass surveillance tools to a “minimum.”

According to the report, the agreement states, “We reject comprehensive video surveillance and the use of biometric recognition for surveillance purposes. The right to anonymity, both in public spaces and on the internet, must be guaranteed.” Additionally, the agreement includes that the three parties will encourage a ban on facial recognition technology throughout all of Europe. This latest move aligns with the European Union’s current efforts, which is being supported by the European Parliament. The EU has proposed the AI Act, which would restrict the use of facial recognition technology. The European Parliament has also proposed a resolution in October this year to ban facial recognition technology in public spaces. 

Various civil liberties groups are applauding Germany for its efforts to protect citizens’ privacy. According to the report, Matthias Marx, spokesperson of the Chaos Computer Club, said in a statement, “It is a great achievement for the Reclaim Your Face campaign that our demand for a Europe without biometric surveillance was included in the German government coalition agreement.”

TikTok may owe US users money

US residents using TikTok prior to October 1, 2021, may be eligible to receive a portion of the company’s $92 million settlement as a result of a class action privacy lawsuit. An in-app notification alerted users that they may be eligible, who were then prompted to visit a site for more information about the settlement. 

The popular video sharing platform was sued for allegedly violating user privacy by collecting data and sharing it with third parties without consent. TikTok agreed a large financial settlement to the lawsuit without conceding the allegation.

Business Insider reports that the decision applies to approximately 89 million users in the US and is the result of 21 federal lawsuits with the majority being filed on behalf of minors. According to court documents published by NPR, the plaintiffs allege that TikTok was in breach of state and federal law for collecting and sharing ‘private legally protected data.’ 

In addition, the lawsuit addresses TikTok’s advertising targeting methods. Namely, that the company “extracts” data and uses the information “to track and profile TikTok users” for advertisements. Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges TikTok violated the Biometric Information Privacy Act of Illinois.

In the settlement agreement, TikTok must not collect, store or share biometric data on users via its app unless it is “explicitly” stated in its privacy policy. The company has also agreed to delete all “pre-uploaded user-generated content,” or draft posts which have not been uploaded.

Eligible users impacted by the settlement must submit a claim by March 1, 2022, in order to receive compensation for privacy violations while using the TikTok app.

Apple patents biometric facial recognition technology

Big Tech giant Apple received a patent for a lenticular screen, which can display multiple videos at once and conduct facial analysis of the viewer/s to determine how best to deliver each item of content. The system displays multiple pieces of content simultaneously, but each viewer only sees one item of content. The intent is to isolate what each viewer can see on the screen to allow for multiple people to watch different content on the same screen.

While using the technology, viewers would be tracked while in front of the screen “to ensure the content is directed towards the correct person.” Audio is not addressed in the patent, but according to the report, through a biometric approach it is possible to ‘detect a user’ and ‘beam the correct sound’ without the use of headphones.

The UK to ban universal default passwords

UK lawmakers introduced legislation before the UK Parliament that would ban universal default passwords. The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill (PSTI) would require unique passwords for any internet-connected device and would not allow for those passwords to be reset to universal factory defaults. The PSTI would require companies to become more transparent with their products’ security updates. Refusing to comply with the new security standards could result in a £10 million fine or a reduction in four-percent of “the company's global revenue.”

According to a press release by the British government, the bill also seeks to enhance “digital connectivity.” The press release states:

The Bill will also speed up the roll-out of faster and more reliable broadband and mobile networks by making it easier for operators to upgrade and share infrastructure. The reforms will encourage quicker and more collaborative negotiations with landowners hosting the equipment, to reduce instances of lengthy court action which are holding up improvements in digital connectivity.

The proposal comes at a time when at home smart devices are becoming increasingly popular, according to Gizmodo. Additionally, the “new cyber security regime,” as referred to in the press release, will be overseen by a regulator. The regulator will “issue notices to companies requiring that they comply with the security requirements.”

Apple and Google face multi-million dollar fines

Italy’s competition and marketing authority (AGCM) issued €10 million fines to mega-corporations Apple and Google for violating the country’s consumer code. The AGCM found that both companies were not transparent enough with users regarding their commercial uses of user data. Additionally, the regulator claims Apple and Google implemented “aggressive” practices coercing users into accepting their “commercial processing.”

Google allegedly omitted pertinent information during the account creation phase, which notifies users how their data will be used for commercial purposes. Similarly, Apple is accused of failing to immediately inform users on how it will use their data for commercial purposes when a user creates an Apple ID or accesses the App store. According to TechCrunch, the press release issued by the Italian regulator indicates that each company was “especially aggressive in pushing self-serving commercial terms on their respective users, especially at the account creation phase.”

Apple and Google reject the findings of the AGCM and will appeal the decision.

Panquake Update

The new social media site Panquake released its monthly delivery meeting for November, hosted by CPO Suzie Dawson and CSO Sean O’Brien. The ground breaking next generation social media site has reached 98% of its funding goal for Phase 2 funding and is nearing its third and final phase — the Panquake delivery phase.

During the month of November, developers progressed the security, cryptography and scalability of the platform to ensure multiple Panquake users can share devices if they choose. Additionally, developers implemented account deactivation, reactivation and restoration features and were able to achieve more than a dozen new program improvements and added key libraries for configuration extensibility. 

The platform is continuing to accept BETA users. You can apply to join the BETA Team of 5,000 here. The next delivery meeting will be held at the end of December 2021.

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.

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