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

The best video call apps to use while you're social distancing

The best video call apps to use while you’re social distancing

Apply fun filters or use your Memoji to talk.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

As the coronavirus continues to keep us indoors, the best way to stay in touch with family and friends right now is through a video call. And everyone seems to be doing it. Last Friday, I had a birthday party on Zoom, a work happy hour on Slack and a family video call over Facebook Portal. 

It’s not just me. The top free apps in Apple’s App Store right now include Zoom, TikTok, Houseparty, Google Classroom, Google Hangouts, Squad and others, a sign that many are looking for new ways to connect while locked down. But you may not know which app to use. Often, the best choice is to just pick whatever everyone else is using in the moment.

It seems like there’s now an app for every different situation. Maybe you use Zoom to chat with colleagues and FaceTime for friends and family. It all depends on your situation.

These are some of the best apps for video calls, and the features they include.

Best video call app for iPhone

You can use pretty much any video chat app on an iPhone, but if you’re purely staying in touch with other Mac, iPhone and iPad users, it’s easiest to just stick with Apple‘s FaceTime. It supports up to 32 users at once, has been really reliable for me over the past few weeks and adds fun things like 3D face masks to spice up the chat.

It’s also probably the easiest to use, since it’s built right into all of Apple’s gadgets. For that reason, I think it’s best for staying in touch with seniors, such as grandparents and parents who just want something really simple and safe.

I like how it automatically detects who is speaking and makes their video the largest. Plus, it’s encrypted, which means the calls are totally private. Apple says it doesn’t gather any data about your FaceTime calls. But it’s still a bummer if you just want to add one person who’s on an Android device or Windows PC. You can’t do it.

Best video call apps for Android

Google Duo video chat with 8 people.


Google Duo isn’t usually mentioned as a top video chat app, but I like it for a few reasons when I’m making calls to Android users from an Android phone. First, you can see the caller before you pick up (if they have the feature active) which is a neat touch. It’s also, like FaceTime, built right into the dialer of some phones, like Google Pixels and the latest Samsung phones, so you can just dial a number and hit the video chat button. Google just bumped the maximum up to 12 people on a call, which isn’t as many as FaceTime, but it works on Apple devices, web browsers and Android, so it’s easier to get people using different gadgets together.

Best video call apps for iPhone and Android

Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images

OK, maybe you’re trying to call an Android phone from an iPhone, or vice versa. You could use Google Duo, but there’s an alternative that I like even better: WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook. Google Duo doesn’t have a regular text chat option, but WhatsApp is awesome for massive group chats and it supports video calls with up to 4 people. It’s owned by Facebook but, unlike Facebook Messenger, it supports end-to-end encryption for keeping your video calls private. Plus, it works with the Facebook Portal, which is one of my favorite video calling systems.

Best video call apps for business users

A few video call apps come to mind for business users who need to make conference calls. It really comes down to what your company lets you use and what your IT department pays for. Some of the most popular ones include Cisco Webex, Zoom, Slack, Microsoft’s Skype, Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams.

It’s a personal opinion, but I’ve had the most fun with Zoom, since it lets me customize my backgrounds so I can hide the messy room behind me and put something fun, like the CNBC newsroom, behind me. Like the other apps, it lets you screen share, so you can show colleagues what you’re working on, or host a Powerpoint presentation.

Zoom is free for up to 100 people for 40 minutes. I like that time limit for free calls. It forces people to end the call instead of dragging on forever. Plus, it seems like most people already have it installed, thanks to its recent surge in popularity. 

But Zoom’s rise has also come with some downsides. In recent weeks, the company has faced criticism for its privacy policy, which said it sent some data to Facebook, even if you don’t have a Facebook account. Zoom later updated its mobile apps to remove the data sharing with Facebook.

Best video call apps for hanging out with friends

The Houseparty app icon is seen displayed on phone screen in this illustration photo.

Jakub Porzycki | NurPhoto via Getty Images

There are three apps you might not have heard of: Houseparty, Squad and Discord. They’re totally different, but you should know about them.

Houseparty lets you video chat with up to 12 people across iPhone, Android, Mac and Chrome web browsers. But it’s more than just video chat. You can share your screen, or play games like Heads Up ($0.99), which requires you to guess the word on a card above your head. I haven’t seen this myself, but some folks have suggested other accounts were hacked after using Houseparty. The company is denying that and offering $1 million to anyone who can prove it.

Squad is similar to Houseparty. It lets you chat, make video calls and share your screen. But you can also shop with friends in any app, or easily watch TikTok and YouTube videos at the same time. It’s free and supports up to nine people at a time.

The new online PC game sales business designed by Discord offers a select menu of games curated by human staffers, as well as a subscription service. Other gaming sites offer thousands of games with algorithms making recommendations to users. 


Discord is popular app primarily used by video game players to talk about the games. It lets you chat with a bunch of other people and host video calls with up to 10 folks. If you’re into gaming, you can team up friends and play the same game with video chat.

COVID-19 and the Bleak Outlook for the Tech Supply Chain | Technology

Ad Makers Use Deepfakes to ‘Refresh’ Old Content | Emerging Tech

By John P. Mello Jr.

Apr 28, 2020 11:05 AM PT

With measures to stem the spread of COVID-19 putting a chokehold on their filming capabilities, advertising agencies are enhancing old content with new tech, including deepfakes.

Deepfakes typically blend one person’s likeness, or parts thereof, with the image of another person. For example, a recent commercial for State Farm insurance blended the mouth of 2020 ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne over the image of 1998 Mayne to make it appear as if the younger Mayne was predicting events in 2020.

Ad agencies are so restricted in how they can generate content, they’ll explore anything that can be computer-generated, suggested a New York Times
article last week.

“Effective advertising is built on novelty and surprise,” noted Josh Crandall,
CEO of NetPop Research, a market research and strategy consulting firm in San Francisco.

“Deepfakes allows creative people to come up with the seemingly unbelievable right in front of the audience,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It’s very powerful.”

Building Buzz

Creating the unbelievable by mixing the old and new in advertising isn’t new. Campaigns in the past have found ways to sneak post-mortem appearances of stars in commercials. For example, a Diet Coke ad paired Paula Abdul with Gene Kelly, Cary Grant and Groucho Marx.

“It’s not entirely new, but the technology is much better than it used to be,” observed
John Carroll, a media analyst for WBUR in Boston.

The conditions are a little different now than they were when Abdul and Kelly were hoofing it for Coke.

“We have a sort of recycling situation now because of the inability to create new ads. We need to repurpose existing material,” Carroll told TechNewsWorld.

“Part of the appeal of this kind of creative approach is the buzz that it creates. State Farm was all over Twitter as soon as its deepfake ad ran. That gives your ad an extra bump. it expands the universe of people exposed to your commercial,” he said.

“In a situation like State Farm’s, there’s no harm and virtually no downside to it,” Carroll added, “but when you translate that technology to political advertising or public policy advertising, that certainly is a more fraught situation than what you had with State Farm.”

When Fakery Leads to Deception

Advertising is just the beginning for deepfakes, said Crandall.

“Political operators, strategists and lobbyists often leverage advertising and marketing tactics for their own objectives. Online video and social media platforms are relatively inexpensive and easy targets for these groups to distribute their deepfakes and influence the social dialogue,” he explained.

There are legitimate uses for deepfake technology, including in advertising, maintained Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a research and public policy organization in Washington, D.C.

“Many companies already use CGI when producing video, as well as other editing tools,” he old TechNewsWorld. “Deepfake technology is a way of automating some of this process.”

Deepfakes become a problem when they’re used to deceive people — to make them believe something happened that did not happen, or that someone said something that they did not say, Castro said.

Another concern is the use of deepfakes to create media resembling someone’s likeness without their permission — or permission from their estate, if the individual is deceased, he added.

Difficult to Detect

The primary issue is one of intent and impact, Castro argued. Are people being manipulated or deceived?

A number of projects have been launched to detect deepfakes. Some states, notably Texas and California, have passed laws to regulate their use in elections, he pointed out.

“But detecting deepfakes may be difficult over the long term,” Castro said. “In that case, the focus will likely be on authenticating legitimate content — this will require both technical solutions, such as digital watermarking, and non-technical solutions, such as digital literacy campaigns.”

Deepfakes are creating issues for social networking platforms, Carroll added.

“Facebook, Twitter, Instagramv– all of them have to come up with some kind of policy to deal with this — either some kind of labeling system or guidelines to remove ads that are particularly deceptive,” he said.

“Those platforms are always reluctant to get into something like that,” Carroll added.

Corporate Threats

Advertising and public policy aren’t the only areas where deepfakes will make an impact. Information security pros are concerned about the technology, too.

“As deepfakes become more convincing and easier for attackers to make with commodity hardware, it’s likely we’ll see a whole new category of social engineering attack emerge,” predicted Chris Clements, vice president of solutions architecture at
Cerberus Sentinel, a cybersecurity consulting and penetration testing company located in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“Imagine getting an ’emergency call’ from someone who sounds exactly like your CEO by a deepfake voice trained from her frequent public speaking engagements — or a technical support department receiving a Zoom video call with a deepfake constructed to look identical to a CFO asking to reset their password,” he suggested.

“The potential damage of a convincing deepfake could have a devastating impact on organizations that fall victim to the attack,” Clements added.

One of the most significant threats in modern information security is social engineering
— pretending to be someone else to trick people into making poor decisions or performing actions that are detrimental to their organization, noted Erich Kron, security awareness advocate at
KnowBe4, a security awareness training provider located in Clearwater, Florida.

“Deep fakes are a powerful tool that can make it tougher for employees to determine whether a request to transfer a large amount of money or to make purchases of goods through the company are legitimately from their leadership,” he told TechNewsWorld.

No Truth, No Consensus

“Our society is being bombarded by fake — fake news, fake likes, fake realities,” observed Crandall. “We are seeing an erosion of what people consider to be a shared truth.”

“As deepfake technology is used by more companies and organizations, private and public, a person’s ability to decipher fact from fiction will be severely hampered,” he continued. “The results will increase interpersonal friction and political difficulty in building consensus to address the looming problems of climate change, future pandemics, and other global crises.”

Meanwhile, advertisers may reap rewards from deepfakes now, but the technology could have diminishing returns for them in the future, Carroll pointed out.

“It’s possible deepfakes will make people suspicious of everything,” he said. “Then the innate suspicion of advertising will be magnified. That will hurt the whole industry.”

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter
since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the
Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government
Security News
. Email John.

Round table: Can social media provide the real-world evidence medtech needs? - Med-Tech Innovation

Round table: Can social media provide the real-world evidence medtech needs? – Med-Tech Innovation

Ian Bolland spoke to Dr Simon Rudland, GP and Digital RWE advisor, and Peter Brady CEO at Orbital Research about Digital Real World evidence (RWE). They discuss research techniques and the findings of a white paper based on sourcing responses from social media: ‘Social Media-sourced Real-world Evidence – A Novel, Cheap, Effective Method, published in IPI Technology’.

The Social Media process – how much do you feel it has to evolve? Have there been any issues you’ve had to overcome e.g. sampling? And if so, how?

SR: With any research technique, the more specific you can be regarding your questions and sample group then the more likely it is that you’re going to yield information, which will help address your study questions. The use of social media enables a large number of real-world individuals to be reached, one of the great strengths of this methodology. However, it’s really vital that the questions are structured in such a way that you understand who you are sampling.

PB: Orbital Research offers a unique, robust and comprehensive Digital Real World Evidence

methodology for generating credible healthcare research. The innovation of the methodology has centred upon developing product claims for existing general sales list medicines and medical devices, at a tiny fraction of an RCT’s cost. This has been referenced by many within the healthcare industry as a “game changer” worth billions of pounds.

Further to this, the Digital Real World Evidence methodology can be deployed for a wide variety of other uses, such as label comprehension studies, ingredient defence studies or medical device, post marketing data collection compliance. Moving forward, the methodologies evolution will focus on streamlining and developing its multitude of healthcare research uses. As with its original development, the key challenges will be to ensure that we align with the highest standards of medical research, whilst ensuring that the data capture process via digital technologies is as frictionless as possible.

How much of an effect do you think the cost saving potential of such an approach can have on medtech companies?

SR: I think there are really exciting opportunities to reduce costs but there is a caveat here. You pay for what you get, and if you want real world methodologies to be delivered effectively and professionally then the right budget is required.

PB: I think the implications for medtech companies could be substantial. Providing cost effective, robust, real-world evidence, to support an innovative product in the marketplace, could be transformative for the industry.

The white paper refers to clinical trials as a snapshot in time – does this method allow more snapshots or more of a real-time offering?

SR: Real-world evidence will always be gathered over a period of time. However, depending on the access to the users of a product through a social media platform, it is possible to capture views from large numbers of individuals, hundreds or even thousands, quite quickly – over a matter of weeks, which would be quite difficult with conventional research techniques.

PB: Digital Real World Evidence allows the collection and evaluation of data captures over finite periods of time, from large cohorts. These real-world data captures can be repeated if required.

Do you feel this method involves patients more in the information supply chain?

SR: I think the answer to this has to be yes. This technique does not select out cohorts from the user groups to the extent that a traditional randomised controlled study might, which in turn, hopefully provides you with information from the true user group.

PB: Yes, I think that is absolutely correct. The capturing of real-world experiences via digital can only enrich the amount of information at our disposal. It allows us to capture a broad range of representative, patient subsets, which would not typically be achievable through an RCT.

In your opinion, does social media allow you to find more ‘real’ patients?

SR: Yes, because we are using a much more inclusive methodology, we are more likely to gather evidence that reflects real world use.

PB: Yes, digital and social media allows us to target and engage a wide range of patients in the real world. The proprietary digital technologies we have developed are then key to ensuring that we capture data quickly and efficiently from our target patients. Without this unique capability, that we have developed over twenty years of working in digital healthcare, the methodology would not be viable.

Which particular area of research are you particularly excited about that DWE can delve into that conventional research can’t?

SR: There exists a real tension between self-care advice given on the one hand by NHS choices and organisations such as the PAGB and the scepticism within the medical literature published in leading journals, such as the British Medical Journal and The British Journal of General Practice. A good example is cough mixtures, where from a Public Health perspective we want to advocate self-care, however clinicians don’t have an evidence base to back up any recommendations. It’s highly unlikely that pharmaceutical companies would be prepared to invest in a costly randomised control study, however, a well-structured real-world evidence study could provide compelling evidence regarding the efficacy of an over-the-counter product, so facilitating its use through professional recommendation.

PB: The opportunities are wide and significant. If we can provide a greater depth of research, so that patients and healthcare professionals can make better, more informed decisions about products, treatments or medtech, that will be a tremendously exciting transformation to the healthcare industry, that our team at Orbital Research can be truly proud of.

Data collection isn’t governed by clinical trial regulations – what do you feel are the pros and cons?

SR: It boils down to those designing real-world evidence studies needing to behave very professionally, and to use expert panels in the design stage of a study to mitigate risk and promote high-quality research.

PB: The unique Digital Real World Evidence service that we have pioneered, is delivered to the highest medical research standards. Peer review ensures that any research findings are robust and credible. It is our intention that all research conducted in this way, will be held to the highest possible standards.

The white paper in IPI Technology says: “The method of real-world data collection using social media is ideally suited for consumer brands…” Is it well suited for B2B medtech/life science manufacturers?

SR: I attended the Wearable Technology show in London recently. I was inspired by the technology discussed, and the passion and inventiveness of the presenters. This needs to be matched with evidence relating to the impact of these technologies. Good evidence leads to good choices for those designing health systems and consumers wanting to purchase the most effective products.

PB: Yes. I believe that the Digital Real World Evidence methodology will find many invaluable uses, in these areas.

TikTok finally finds favour with India's social media elite, Technology News, ETtech

TikTok finally finds favour with India’s social media elite, Technology News, ETtech

Illustration: Rahul Awasthi
Illustration: Rahul Awasthi

In an unintended consequence of the lockdown courtesy Covid-19, India’s social media elite has taken to TikTok to combat boredom and anxiety.

Until recently, this section of online users frowned upon TikTok’s content and labelled it “cringe-worthy” even as users from tier-II and -III cities gained rewards and recognition through the platform, turning India into the biggest market for the Chinese video-sharing social network.

Advertising executives tracking TikTok note something unprecedented about the current spike in user downloads after the entire country went into lockdown. It is the trend of “India 1” suddenly embracing ByteDance’s flagship product with open arms. “India 1 is softening towards TikTok. It is accepting the platform’s idiosyncrasies instead of labelling it cringe-worthy,” says Ishtaarth Dalmia, a qualified anthropologist and AVP strategy at digital agency Webchutney.

One of the reasons TikTok has been able to catch on with India’s social media elite is due to a surge in its visibility on other popular platforms.

“People are seeing more and more intellectuals and influencers share TikTok videos on Twitter and Instagram,” says Nikhil Chinnari, an advertising executive at ad agency BBH India. “This is subconsciously removing the barrier for users who thought the platform is for the masses and not the classes.”

From global music sensation, Drake, to popular Indian actors like Shilpa Shetty, TikTok now boasts a long list of celebrities who have taken to the platform in recent times to post goofy videos while confined in their homes.

Graphic: Rahul Awasthi
Graphic: Rahul Awasthi

While TikTok declined to comment on its recent user growth, an App Annie report released earlier this April states that it was the most downloaded app in India in the social media category as the country went into a lockdown. As of March 12, 2020, the app had an estimated 500 million downloads in India as against 180 million in China and 120 million in the US, according to a Sensor Tower report.

At a time when most other social media platforms—like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp—are saddled with negative or fake news, homebound urbanites are finding an escape from their anxieties in TikTok videos that feature catchy audio-visual filters. “It is helping my mental health in these trying times,” says Pankaj Sinha, a 30-year-old automobile engineer from Delhi, who recently downloaded the app after spotting several TikTok videos on Twitter and WhatsApp.

TikTok finally finds favour with India's social media elite
Until recently, Aashana Agarwal, a 25-year-old Mumbaikar working at an e-commerce company, thought TikTok was not meant for her “kind of people”. But these days she spends 3-4 hours at a stretch on the platform, not only scrolling through videos but also uploading a few comic clips using effects like stop-motion and time-lapse. “It’s pure fun and that’s what we desperately need right now,” she says.

A friend coaxed Agarwal into joining the platform shortly after lockdown, she tells ET. Chinnari from BBH says his 25-year-old sister, Nikhita, has also recently signed up on TikTok on a friend’s insistence. “She never downloaded it when I tried to pitch the app to her,” he adds.

These friend-led converts create a domino effect within their circles. Malathi Jogi, a 27-year-old instructional designer from Mumbai, signed up because a “relentless friend” wanted her to check some videos that could not be shared outside the platform—TikTokers can disable downloading option for their videos. The two eventually convinced another common friend to install the app. Besides the cringe-attack, Jogi was wary of the problematic content she had heard TikTok was infamous for. What has been a revelation to her and many like her is the option to upvote and downvote content on their homepage to help their algorithm suggest videos as per their taste.

From aversion, Jogi is on the path to addiction now as she often communicates with her two friends in popular TikTok audio formats like “Bored in the house, I’m in the house bored,” and “Thanks for checking in, I’m still a piece of garbage.” Since the audio clips mirror the reality of these times, “they automatically seep into our vocabulary,” she says.

Many urban dwellers don’t aspire to become Tiktok creators even as they spend hours scrolling through videos on the app right now. Unlike most social media platforms, TikTok allows such users a sense of anonymity, too. “If you create an account on Instagram, your Facebook friends are likely to get notified of your presence. That baggage doesn’t exist on TikTok,” says Dalmia of Dentsu Webchutney. One can easily lurk through the app without feeling the pressure to create or contribute, says Jogi who enjoys watching TikTokers from different countries post funny content around their quarantine life.

Even upmarket influencers are finding value in the Chinese video-sharing social network. Fashion blogger Malvika Billa, with over 100,000 followers on her Instagram account, started TikToking during her self-quarantine period last month.

TikTok finally finds favour with India's social media elite
Billa, 24, lives in Paris but caters to India’s premium fashion-conscious segment through her blogging. She joined TikTok looking for ideas to create content in these times when most creators in her field are struggling to come up with new ideas and resources. On TikTok, she found useful hashtags like #FashionHacks and #ClothingHacks to create videos that she then shared with her Instagram followers, leading to a rapid rise in her follower count to 100,000 even when Covid-19 has dampened lifestyle bloggers’ spirit.

39-year-old Priyanka Lahiri is also a recent addict. A Bengaluru-based marketing professional and a fitness enthusiast, she finds fitness-themed videos of TikTokers from tier-II and -III cities both amazing and entertaining. “Earlier, I thought the content on TikTok was below me. Now, I feel you require courage to pull off this kind of stuff.”

Does this mean India-1 and TikTok are BFFs (Best Friends Forever) now? Perhaps not. Besides Billa and Lahiri, who have found utility in TikTok’s content that goes far beyond their entertainment needs, most others doubt if they’ll stick around once the lockdown is over.

“The nature of videos gets repetitive after a point,” says Chinnari’s sister Nikhita who studies in Switzerland but flew back to India before the lockdown began. The excitement is wearing off even for Rangoli Kute, the friend who got Nikhita onboard TikTok in the first place. “It feels like following several meme accounts for now. But once work resumes, I’m more likely to find Instagram’s lifestyle trends more useful,” says the 26-year-old who runs her family’s hotel business in Nashik.

Mumbai’s Agarwal says she will stay back if more of her friends willingly migrate to the app soon. “Right now, we are all at home so it’s easy to make fun videos. Otherwise, it’s always easier to put photos with filters than use filters to make videos.”