Trump Signs Order to Try to Tighten Social Media Controls

U.S. President Donald Trump President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order aimed at curbing protections for social media giants, in the Oval Office of the White House, May 28, 2020.The order requires the Federal Communication Commission to clarify a section of the Communications Decency Act that largely exempts online companies from any legal liability concerning users’ content. It also directs the White House Office of Digital Strategy to redouble its efforts to collect complaints of online censorship and submit them to the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department.The president, in the Oval Office, decried social media companies as monopolies that have become more influential than newspapers and broadcasters.”We can’t let this continue to happen. It’s very, very unfair,” Trump said.The president’s ire is aimed in particular at Twitter, which earlier this week placed a fact-check warning on two of his tweets.”If it were able to be legally shut down, I would do it,” Trump said of Twitter.When Twitter, Google, Facebook and other platforms choose to fact check or choose to ignore certain posts that is “political activism,” according to the president. “I’m sure they’ll be doing a lawsuit,” he said.”If you weren’t fake,” Trump said in reply to a reporter’s question about why he just does not delete his personal Twitter account. “If we had a fair press in this country, I’d do that in a heartbeat.”The order’s interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act “is not expected to hold up in court, but it has the effect of giving political permission to attack social media companies if they apply content moderation or fact-checking rules to Trump’s statements or those of his supporters and allies,” Rebecca MacKinnon, director of Ranking Digital Rights, told VOA.President Donald Trump listens as Attorney General William Barr speaks before Trump signs an executive order in the Oval Office of the White House, May 28, 2020.Trump said he was directing U.S. Attorney General William Barr to cooperate with the states to enforce their own laws against deceptive practices by social media companies, who now have what the president characterized as power “tantamount to monopoly. Tantamount to taking over the airwaves.”The president added: “We’re fed up with it. It’s unfair.”Barr, in the Oval Office with Trump for the signing of the executive order, said the administration is preparing legislative proposals regarding social media companies and also will pursue litigation.Senator Ron Wyden, the highest-ranking Democrat on the finance committee, said he had long been warning the Trump administration might make such a move “in order to chill speech and bully companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter into giving him favorable treatment. Today, Trump proved me right. I expect those companies, and every American who participates in online speech, to resist this illegal act by all possible means. Giving in to bullying by this president may be the single most unpatriotic act an American could undertake.”House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the order “outrageous” and meant as a distraction from the coronavirus crisis.On Tuesday, an unprecedented alert on the @realDonaldTrump tweets about mail-in balloting prompted the president to accuse Twitter of interference in this year’s election and of “completely stifling” free speech.When those viewing Trump’s flagged tweets on Tuesday clicked on the warning placed by Twitter, they were taken to a notification titled: Trump makes unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud.FILE – Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey leaves the Elysee Palace in Paris, June 7, 2019.The alert, linked to stories from CNN and The Washington Post, also included a fact box citing what Twitter called false claims by the president about mail-in ballots.Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said Trump’s tweets “may mislead people into thinking they don’t need to register to get a ballot. Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves.”Before Thursday’s executive order was issued, Facebook Chief Executive Office Mark Zuckerberg, appearing on the CNBC business channel, said he did not think “Facebook or internet platforms in general should be arbiters of truth.”The White House press secretary was asked by a reporter during Thursday’s briefing whether Trump’s focus on alleged widespread fraud involving mail-in balloting is laying the groundwork to cast doubt on the outcome of November’s presidential election.”No, he’s certainly not doing that,” Kayleigh McEnany said.  
 

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Democratic Lawmakers Raise Concerns Over TikTok Privacy Regulations

Fourteen Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee are requesting that Federal Trade Commission regulators investigate the popular video app TikTok for violations of children’s privacy.The Energy and Commerce Committee conducts oversight on the FTC’s privacy unit. The lawsuit filed Thursday follows claims submitted by the Center for Digital Democracy, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and others that TikTok failed to remove videos posted by children under the age of 13, which it had previously agreed to do in a 2019 agreement with the FTC.The FTC fined TikTok $5.7 million in February 2019 over lax enforcement of measures designed to ensure children’s privacy.In addition to removing videos of underage children, the FTC also required the company to comply with all aspects of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the future.The 2019 case alleged that TikTok neglected to implement blocks against the collection of tweens’ personal data and did not permit parents to request that their child’s data be deleted — if the parents were even aware that personal data was being collected in the first place.After the FTC ruling, TikTok introduced an under-13 section of the app that does not permit the dissemination of personal information. Last month, the Family Pairing feature was announced, which provides parents with a way to implement restrictions on all teenage accounts, not just those under 13.The Democratic lawmakers say that failure to comply with the FTC’s mandate violates COPPA.”The blatant disregard for the consent decree could encourage other websites to fail to adhere to settlements made with your agency, thereby weakening protections for all Americans,” the letter to the FTC said.The Chinese-owned app has been downloaded 1.9 billion times internationally, including 172 million times in the United States, The New York Times reported. Its popularity has soared since the onset the coronavirus pandemic and worldwide shelter-in-place orders, achieving record first-quarter growth.Suspicions over data collectionThe U.S. government has previously expressed doubts regarding the trustworthiness of the app, citing its Chinese origins. Several branches of the U.S. military, for example, have prohibited personnel from creating an account, and at least one senator has proposed legislation to ban use for federal employees.The lawmakers’ letter to the FTC comes after two Republican members of the Energy and Commerce Committee wrote a letter to the CEO of TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance.Representatives Greg Walden and Cathy McMorris Rodgers requested that the company disclose its data-collection practices for Americans and how that data is shared with the Chinese Communist Party or other Chinese state entities.According to The Hill, TikTok has previously stated it stores American user data in Singapore and denies that it shares information with the Chinese government.

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What is Section 230 of Communications Decency Act?

QUESTION: What is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act?ANSWER: Section 230 “is one of the most valuable tools for protecting freedom of expression and innovation” on the internet, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a U.S.-based global nonprofit digital rights group.The original purpose of the 1996 Communications Decency Act was to restrict free speech on the internet, the EFF said. The Supreme Court, however, struck down anti-free speech provisions after objections from the internet community, including the EFF.Section 230 says, in part, that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”Q: What is an interactive computer service?A: An interactive computer service is partially described in the CDA as “any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the internet.”This means internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are subject to CDA regulations.A variety of interactive computer service providers that generally include any online service that publishes third-party content are also required to comply with CDA regulations. Examples are Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo.Q: Does the CDA provide protections for online intermediaries? If so, what are they?A: Section 230 protects them from civil liability. It says, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph.”In summary, Section 230 protects online intermediaries against multiple laws that could otherwise hold them legally accountable for the content and actions of others. Regular ISPs are protected, as are essentially any online services that publish third-party content.While the measure protects them from some of their users’ content, it does not completely do so, as they must still comply with certain intellectual property and criminal laws.Q: Do other countries offer legal protections to interactive computer services, as Section 230 of the CDA does in the U.S.?A: Many other countries do not have similar laws, according to the EFF. While Canada, European countries and Japan provide high levels of internet access, most major online services are U.S.-based.”This is in part because CDA 230 makes the U.S. a safe haven for websites that want to provide a platform for controversial or political speech and a legal environment favorable to free expression,” the EFF says.Source: https://www.eff.org/issues/cda230

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Trump to Sign Executive Order Aimed at Reining in Twitter

U.S. President Donald Trump will sign an executive order Thursday regarding social media platforms, after Twitter tagged a pair of his tweets with a fact-check warning.Sources close to the White House say the president’s executive order would require the Federal Communication Commission to clarify a section of the Communications Decency Act that largely exempts online companies like Twitter and Facebook from any legal liability from any content posted by their users.The order also directs the White House Office of Digital Strategy to redouble its efforts to collect complaints of online censorship and submit them to the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department.Trump Threatens Action Against TwitterPresident lashes out at social media platform after it put fact-check alert on pair of his tweets about mail-in ballotsTrump on Wednesday threatened to “strongly regulate” or shut down social media platforms.  He said that Republicans feel that “Social Media Platforms totally silence conservative voices.” He alleged that social media sites attempted — and failed — during the 2016 election to stifle conservatives’ voices. “We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that happen again,” Trump wrote on Twitter.On Tuesday, an unprecedented alert on the @realDonaldTrump tweets about mail-in balloting prompted the president to accuse Twitter of interference in this year’s election and of “completely stifling” free speech.“I, as President, will not allow it to happen,” he concluded..@Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election. They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post….— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020When those viewing Trump’s flagged tweets on Tuesday clicked on the warning placed by Twitter, they were taken to a notification titled: Trump makes unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud.The alert, linked to stories from CNN and The Washington Post, and also included a fact box:What you need to know- Trump falsely claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to “a Rigged Election.” However, fact-checkers say there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud. – Trump falsely claimed that California will send mail-in ballots to “anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there.” In fact, only registered voters will receive ballots. – Though Trump targeted California, mail-in ballots are already used in some states, including Oregon, Utah and Nebraska.”Social media companies have been struggling with the spread of misinformation and the need for fact checking for years, most prominently in the last presidential election,” said Marcus Messner, the director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.“Twitter is right to flag incorrect information even when it involves tweets by President Trump,” Messner told VOA.The journalism professor noted the action “walks the fine line between fact checking and being accused of censoring political speech through more drastic measures such as deleting posts and suspending accounts. But the question remains whether the fact tags with links to news articles will even be recognized by supporters of President Trump, who regularly dismiss all reporting from mainstream media. The effect of the fact tags in this heated partisan environment might be limited.”It is unclear what legal leverage Trump has over Twitter, which does not need any government licenses to operate as do radio or television stations.A Twitter spokesperson said the company took the unprecedented action, based on its new policy announced earlier this month, because Trump’s tweets “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots.”Twitter has also been facing calls to remove Trump’s tweets that push an old conspiracy theory about the death of a congressional staffer.The president has stopped short of directly accusing Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, who hosts a morning program on the MSNBC cable channel of killing a woman in 2001 even though the politician was 1,300 kilometers away at the time and authorities ruled her death an accident.Scarborough was once friendly with Trump but has become a fierce on-air critic of the president.Timothy Klausutis, widower of Lori Klausutis, has written to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey claiming the president has violated the social media company’s terms of service and “has taken something that does not belong to him-the memory of my dead wife-and perverted it for perceived political gain.”

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Why Vietnam’s ‘Silicon Valley’ Won’t Be Like California’s

Vietnam’s financial hub is setting aside land to develop what locals call a new “Silicon Valley,” a reference to the area of California where a lot of new technology is developed, but with not-so-California characteristics, such as state planning and a lack of venture capital. The Home Affairs Department of Ho Chi Minh City filed a plan this month to the city’s Communist Party committee for merging three districts into a single zone for development as a tech center, domestic media outlet VnExpress International says. The plan followed a meeting May 8 between city officials and Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the news outlet says.   City leaders had begun in 2017 planning a 22,000-hectare (54,300-acre) zone to monetize scientific and technical research, the news outlet says. More than 1 million people already live along the flat swathe of land along the Saigon River. The zone will appeal foremost to internet and software developers, including an estimated 40 financial technology firms, as well as their employees who hope to live near work, analysts on the ground say. The zone is taking shape as tech-educated Vietnamese in their 20s start companies. “Vietnamese are very entrepreneurial,” said Jack Nguyen, a partner at the business advisory firm Mazars in Ho Chi Minh City. “They see something work in other countries, or in the U.S., they’ll give it a shot here in Vietnam.” Vietnamese entrepreneurs, some educated overseas, are taking advantage of a largely “mobile” culture in the Southeast Asian country as well as low-paid local engineers to build up their bases in Ho Chi Minh City, Nguyen added.   Ho Chi Minh City’s tech zone includes a slice of its financial center, modern apartment tracts and a nearby polytechnic university. Those perks should make the zone more attractive for techies, said Phuong Hong, a native of the city who lives in the zone.   “These three districts have the level of living, and transportation is also very, very convenient,” she said, referring to the three administrative tracts to be merged. Tech workers are likely to take advantage of that convenience, said Frederick Burke, Ho Chi Minh City-based partner with the law firm Baker McKenzie.    “The fact that they give extra incentives to locate there creates an ecosystem where some employees live in the neighborhood,” Burke said. “Therefore, an engineer can jump from one job to another more easily.”   Central government leaders have tried over the past decade to steer Vietnam’s export-led economy Electricity needs are rising as Vietnam’s economy grows, adding challenges for the state power utility, EVN, as it tries to balance free markets and central planning. (Ha Nguyen/VOA)National-level and city government planning will probably lead the tech zone’s formation – a key difference compared to the more organic development of Silicon Valley of California – analysts say. “What we’ll likely see as key differences between the two is the Ho Chi Minh City project will be a cluster that heavily recruits global and regional companies and (where) entrepreneurial behaviors are likely commissioned by the government, whereas Silicon Valley is more locally grown and has been driven by industry trends and technology innovations,” said Lam Nguyen, managing director with the tech market research firm IDC Indochina in Ho Chi Minh City.  State planning to date has offered internet bandwidth. Growth of the zone will require local officials to build out infrastructure, the IDC managing director said. The zone will need tax incentives, better business licensing processes and ideal locations to draw newcomers, he added.   Tech investors will favor Vietnam’s relatively lower costs, Lam Nguyen said. Vietnam’s tech zone will face a lack of venture capital, buyouts and failures followed by restarts, country observers say. A lot of startup founders have ideas but lack capital, Jack Nguyen said. They look overseas for funding, he said. The area south of San Francisco known as “Silicon Valley” first became a hub of technology development in the 1950s, when a dean of Stanford University’s engineering school encouraged faculty members to start their own companies. Silicon Valley output has been estimated at an unusually high $275 billion per year and it’s one of the most expensive parts of the United States. 

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WSJ: Amazon in Advanced Talks to Buy Self-Driving Startup Zoox

Amazon.com Inc is in advanced talks to buy self-driving startup Zoox Inc, in a move that would expand the e-commerce giant’s reach in autonomous-vehicle technology, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.The deal will value Zoox at less than the $3.2 billion it achieved in a funding round in 2018, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.An agreement may be weeks away and the discussions could still fall apart, the report added.Amazon has stepped up its investment in the car sector, participating in a $530 million funding round early last year in self-driving car startup Aurora Innovation Inc.Both Amazon and Zoox declined a Reuters request for comment. 
 

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Italy’s New COVID-19 App Tracks Contacts and Protects Privacy

Italy’s new contact tracing app for the coronavirus is about to be launched in a number of pilot regions. It will be available to everyone in the country on a voluntary basis and will guarantee the privacy of users, officials who commissioned its development say.
 
Italians will be able to download the contact tracing app on their mobile phones that will help combat the spread of the coronavirus, starting May 29.  “Immuni” was developed at the request of Italy’s Ministry of Innovation Technology and Digital Transformation. Paolo de Rosa, its chief technology officer, says the app can speed up the process of finding people who have had contact with the coronavirus.
    
“The app is able to do that in a privacy-preserving way so it is not like the traditional approach where you need to identify people. In this case there is only an alerting of people that have been in contact with someone that result positive,” de Rosa said.
    How contract tracing apps work
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Those alerted they have come close to someone that has tested positive for the coronavirus can quickly take action and contact health authorities or their personal physician.
 
De Rosa stressed that privacy is guaranteed as special measures have been taken and it would be extremely difficult to identify anyone using the app. The only data that a user must provide is the territorial province to which he or she belongs.
 
For the app to be fully effective, de Rosa said, there needs to be a significant amount of people using it, up to 60 percent, but that is only if one does not take into consideration other factors like social distancing. In any case, de Rosa is convinced that it will be a useful tool to have on one’s phone. “This is a very bleeding edge technology, very few countries in the world have used it,” he said.
    
Creating the app was no easy matter, de Rosa said, adding trade-offs had to be made between the requirements of health authorities and privacy. Knowledge was shared with many other countries as well, but no one really knew what the best app needed to look like. With such a highly infectious virus, the need for a tool that would help speed up contact tracing was considered essential to break the chain of the contagion.

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Cyberattacks Spike Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Cyberattacks have been flying fast and furious around the world during these days of global uncertainty because of the coronavirus. Countries accuse each other of engaging in cyber warfare, and each of the accused also claims to be a cyber victim. International organizations dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic have also been targeted. Linda Gradstein reports for VOA from Tel Aviv, Israel. 
Camera: Ricki Rosen    Video editor: Marcus Harton

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