UK lawmakers question tech attempts to stem coronavirus conspiracies

UK lawmakers question tech attempts to stem coronavirus conspiracies

UK lawmakers question tech attempts to stem coronavirus conspiracies

UK lawmakers questioned whether social media giants are doing enough to stop the spread of false information, after a conspiracy theory that 5G technology is contributing to the Covid-19 pandemic led to a spate of attacks on telecom masts and engineers.

Representatives from Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Twitter Inc were asked to appear before the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee on Thursday to explain how their companies are tackling disinformation. It didn’t go well.

“We will be writing to all of your organisations with a series of questions and, frankly, we will be expressing our displeasure at the quality of the answers – well, the lack of answers – we received today,” chairman Julian Knight concluded after more than an hour of questioning via conference call.

The Silicon Valley giants outlined measures they’ve taken to combat fake news, such as Facebook’s move to restrict WhatsApp message forwarding and promote official guidance on the pandemic. But the panel of British lawmakers often interjected bluntly and deemed the testimony unsatisfactory.

Legislators demanded to know how Twitter was cracking down on world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, if they spread misinformation. The company’s UK head of government relations, Katy Minshall, was also grilled about the prevalence of bots on the site, which are automated accounts that perform repetitive tasks, such as sharing fake news stories.

“We’re really proud of the progress we’ve made over the past couple of years,” said Minshall, responding to a question about online abuse.

“Well I don’t know why,” interrupted member of Parliament John Nicolson.

Google public policy manager Alina Dimofte was asked why YouTube didn’t tackle 5G conspiracy videos earlier. It banned such videos on April 7 after a spate of attacks on towers and telecom engineers.


MP Steve Brine said that, during the session, he found a Facebook post from his district inciting the destruction of a 5G mast, which has been baselessly linked to the spread of Covid-19.

More than 60 telecom masts have been attacked in the UK in the past few weeks as the theory has gained traction and even made it onto mainstream TV shows.

Brine added that he was “astonished” that Facebook’s UK Public Policy Manager Richard Earley had not personally discussed the issues with chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg or its vice president for global affairs and communication, Nick Clegg. Clegg is also the former UK deputy prime minister.

TikTok, the most downloaded app in the world outside of China during the crisis, avoided questioning. The relatively new social media site was not asked to appear despite also hosting conspiracy theories. – Bloomberg

4 tips for improving your Wi-Fi signal

4 tips for improving your Wi-Fi signal

Stay connected  in all ways when working from home

With Wi-Fi, the line between “want” and “need” can be fuzzy.

For some of us, it’s a source of entertainment; for others, it’s an essential connection to the world. For most, it’s both. One way or another, we’re dependent on a high-quality internet connection. According to a one survey, 75% of Americans said a week without Wi-Fi would leave them grumpier than a week without coffee.

Oh, the horror.

To help prevent breakdowns in connections and users alike, Network Engineering Technology instructor Guy Mitchell (Computer Systems Technology ’89) has four tips to help improve residential Wi-Fi networks.

1. Use the right router

new wifi router

A wireless router is the heart of a Wi-Fi network. It pumps information between devices, printers, other gadgets and the web through the modem. Some modems have routers built in, but not all. 

Not all routers are created equal. Wireless A, Wireless B and Wireless G routers are out-of-date and slow. If you’re planning an eight-hour online videogame marathon, go with Wireless N or Wireless AC, which offers the fastest speed.

2. Use the latest gadgets

new smartphones

“If you are still on the older technologies, then you are going to run into problems,” says Mitchell.

Having the latest gadgets will also improve your Wi-Fi connection and speed. Routers funnel the internet to devices through a variety of frequencies. Older gadgets – early generation iPhones, iPads, Google tablets, etc. – are capable of using only a few of those frequencies.

Having the latest gadgets will improve your Wi-Fi connection and speed.

If everyone in the house uses older devices, they’ll “saturate” those frequencies, says Mitchell, slowing the connection.

3. Eliminate “neighbour net”

password graphic

Protect your speed with a password that’s hard to hack. “It’s important to have a good password that isn’t easy to crack,” says Mitchell.

This is how you can ensure you don’t end up sharing your bandwidth. A neighbour – especially in condos (where “neighbour net” can be common) – can overload your router with downloads and Netflix marathons.

Choose a central location

router in a living room

Basements aren’t always the best place to install internet hardware, says Mitchell. Since Wi-Fi signals struggle to pass through metal, don’t put a router below furnace ducts. Other structures like walls and floors can slightly degrade signals, Mitchell adds. And never place one next to a microwave. The electromagnetic interference can wreak havoc on a Wi-Fi signal.

Never place a router next to a microwave.

Instead, try to find a central location. Sometimes a signal from the best router on the market can’t reach the odd room. A Wi-Fi range extender, repeater or booster – which sell from $15 to $300 – can help keep the outer limits of your home connected.

Virgin Media down: Internet stops working as users complain WiFi and TV services not loading

Virgin Media down: Internet stops working as users complain WiFi and TV services not loading

Virgin Media‘s broadband and TV service appears to have stopped working properly.

The outage comes as huge numbers of people across the country rely on their internet connections to help them study and work from home.

Affected users complained on Twitter and other social networking sites that their broadband connections had gone down or they were unable to watch television.

Outage tracking website Down Detector saw a huge surge in reports of people struggling to use their TV and internet connections.

The problems appeared to be affecting users all across the UK, the site showed.

Virgin Media responded to some affected users – including broadcaster India Willoughby – on Twitter. It apologised for any problems users were having, but did not make clear whether all affected users were being hit by the same problem.

Some users also reported they were unable to get onto Virgin Media’s service status checker website. That site allows customers to check whether their service is offline, and when it might come back.

The company did not respond to a request for comment from The Independent.

Though home internet companies are seeing huge traffic over their broadband and TV connections, they have largely stayed online through the coronavirus lockdown.

Many companies such as YouTube and PlayStation have made changes to their internet infrastructure to help alleviate the load on internet connections, reducing the default quality of videos and speed of downloads.

WhatsApp: Facebook submits detailed proof of NSO Group's alleged WhatsApp hacking - Latest News

WhatsApp: Facebook submits detailed proof of NSO Group’s alleged WhatsApp hacking – Latest News

Facebook has submitted detailed proof in the court about the Israeli company NSO Group and its allegedly hacking into at least 1,400 WhatsApp users last year via its controversial surveillance software Pegasus.

According to The Jerusalem Post, Facebook’s legal brief said “it was exposing a massive NSO attack infrastructure operating in the US, in direct contradiction of NSO’s defenses, under the guise of third parties”.

According to Facebook, its attacks on WhatsApp users “were hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS) in the US and by the Californian company QuadraNet (with a German provider)”.

Facebook asserted that NSO had a contract with QuadraNet, using its server “more than 700 times during the attack to direct NSO’s malware to WhatsApp user devices in April and May 2019.”

Moreover, the legal brief listed “subdomains which were all allegedly hosted on Amazon servers covering the dates of the attacks”.

According to the report on Sunday, new revelations could make it harder for NSO Group to continue to deny any US operations.

NSO responded to the new Facebook legal brief, saying that “Our products are used to stop terrorism, curb violent crime, and save lives.

“NSO Group does not operate the Pegasus software for its clients, nor can it be used against US mobile phone numbers, or against a device within the geographic bounds of the United States.”

NSO has denied the allegations on WhatsApp hacking in the past.

In counter allegations, the CEO of NSO Group has claimed that Facebook proposed to buy its malicious software Pegasus in 2017 to snoop on Apple iOS users.

In court documents filed during an ongoing lawsuit in which Facebook has sued the NSO Group for snooping on WhatsApp users last year including in India, NSO CEO Shalev Hulio claimed that “two Facebook representatives approached NSO in October 2017 and asked to purchase the right to use certain capabilities of Pegasus”.

A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement that the NSO CEO is misrepresenting conversations between the company and Facebook employees.

“NSO is trying to distract from the facts Facebook and WhatsApp filed in court over six months ago. Their attempt to avoid responsibility includes inaccurate representations about both their spyware and a discussion with people who work at Facebook,” the spokesperson said.

NSO has maintained that it sells Pegasus only to intelligence and law enforcement agency clients.

Facebook has even blamed Apple’s operating system for the hacking of Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’ phone.

Investigators believe that Bezos’s iPhone was compromised after he received a 4.4MB video file containing malware via WhatsApp — in the same way when phones of 1,400 select people including journalists and human rights activists were broken into by Pegasus software from NSO Group last year.

In an interview to the BBC, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications, Nick Clegg, has said it wasn’t WhatsApp’s fault because end-to-end encryption is unhackable and blamed Apple’s operating system for Bezos’ episode.

The NSO Group has denied it was part of Bezos’ hacking.

How to control women’s sexual health with tech

How to control women’s sexual health with tech

LONDON: From fake websites to location tracking, anti-abortion groups are using data and technology to curtail women’s access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, privacy activists say.

As coronavirus lockdowns close family planning clinics and threaten abortion rights worldwide, a report by charity Privacy International calls for safeguards against data exploitation that interferes with a woman’s body and reproductive choices.

Anti-abortion groups named in the report could not be reached for comment by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Here are some highlights from this week’s report.

Who is using what technology?

Anti-abortion groups target women to mine and exploit their data, the report says, sharing information with like-minded organisations and spreading misleading information online.

Through chat boxes – embedded in clinic websites and fake websites – the groups gather personal data, including opinions on abortion, from users seeking pregnancy advice online.

They access location data through geo-fencing, a widely available tracking technology, and sex or menstruation data by funding contraception apps, according to the report.

This information is then shared with a network of family planning clinics that discourage abortion, including in some countries where abortion is banned.

What is the impact on women’s health?

Anti-abortion groups find women who are already inside clinics using location tracking technology then send messages designed to sow doubts about their decision, the report says.

They also target young women on social media with anti-abortion adverts, including ones for medically dubious “abortion reversal” pills that flood a woman’s body with hormones aimed at countering the effects of an abortion pill.

In the report, Monica McLemore, an associate professor at the University of California, calls the product “scientifically inaccurate” and “not known to be safe or efficacious”.

The groups spread misinformation, hoping to delay a woman considering abortion until it is too late to act, often under the guise of offering objective or official government advice.

“The level of organisation and determination of these anti-abortion groups is terrifying,” said a spokesperson for Abortion Support Network, a charity that supports access to abortion.

“The way they are able to replicate their websites, processes, language and imagery, seeking to intimidate, scare and delay abortion-seekers, is worrying.”

Has the coronavirus changed the situation?

Increased reliance on online tools in the global lockdown expands the opportunity for exploitation, experts say.

“We know that more women will be seeking information and support online because of the closure of GP surgeries and clinics,” said the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

“This gives anti-choice organisations more opportunities to intercept and redirect women seeking abortion care.”

What can be done?

Health experts say the onus should not fall on women to police their own privacy. Instead, organisations should be held accountable when they breach rules.

“Those seeking reproductive health information, services, and care… should not have to become technical experts in order to protect themselves from data exploitative technologies being developed to delay or curtail their access,” Privacy International’s head of reproductive rights and privacy project, Sara Nelson, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A spokesman for Facebook said they were investigating the social media adverts flagged in the report but “don’t allow advertisers to make misleading or deceptive claims about services they provide, including in relation to abortions”. – Thomson Reuters Foundation