Spotify - the Catch-22 between Misinformation and Censorship (Issue 18, 2022)

Also: Who has been profiting from sensitive data gathered by a crisis helpline?

TALK LIBERATION: Your Worldwide Internet Report

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In this edition:

Data on children exposed in MoD data breach

It has been revealed that more than 4,000 children of serving UK armed forces personnel were victims of a data breach in February 2021 when an email address affiliated with Ministry of Defense (MoD) schools was compromised for 72-hours. The breach was revealed in the MoD’s Annual Report and Accounts 2020-2021 document, which is presented to the House of Commons each year.

MoD schools are located in military bases overseas and educate the children of service members, MoD-entitled civilians and contractors. According to the report in Computer Weekly, the breach is related to the MoD school in Belgium, where the account was compromised sending spam emails to contacts.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) was notified and provided assistance to the MoD. However, this is just one of seven instances of data breaches related to the MoD that was reported to the ICO. In May 2020, 147 MoD personnel had their home addresses emailed to external entities including journalists.

According to an investigation by the MoD, there was no evidence of data exfiltration associated with the latest event.

FBI considered purchasing spyware to hack into Americans’ phones

The spyware system “Phantom” was offered to the US government by Israeli cyber-weapons distributor NSO Group for a two-year period, according to a report in New York Times Magazine. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considered purchasing the software to spy on Americans’ phones because Pegasus will not work on US telephone numbers.

However, it was not only the FBI that seriously considered purchasing spyware from the controversial cyber-weapons distributor. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Secret Service also expressed in interest in targeting US citizens via their cell phones.

In an interview with Talk Liberation, security researcher Esther Onfroy emphasized that "Spyware used by state actors can infect smartphones by stealth and stay hidden for a long period of time inside your purse or pocket.” Onfroy is an expert in detecting Pegasus and described the danger of cyber-weapons, saying, “Messages, phone calls, and photos are collected on demand. Even your microphone and camera can be remotely turned on for an ‘immersive experience.’”

The US government only declined a potential purchasing agreement after NSO Group came under global scrutiny following revelations in summer 2021 in which Pegasus spyware was being used to hack world leaders, journalists and human rights personnel. Despite this, some US officials ‘maintained an interest’ in NSO Group. The Washington Post reported the company has close ties to officials in Washington and in particular is associated with members of the Obama, Trump and Biden Administrations.

NSO Group remains the subject of a series of investigations and controversies in spanning several countries.

Crisis hotline shares data with AI company

One of the best-known international mental health support hotlines, Crisis Text Line, is under fire for sharing the data of customers during their most painful moments to an artificial intelligence technology company. According to the report in Politico, the company is a ‘tech-driven non-profit that uses big data and artificial intelligence to help people cope.’ The data collected by Crisis Text Line was sent to the organization’s for-profit partner company, Loris.ai, to market service software to customers.

Crisis Text Line claims that the data sent to Loris is anonymized and any details that could identify the origin of the data is removed. However, privacy experts raise serious concerns of this practice as Crisis Text Line has received funding from powerful Big Tech companies and entities thus placing a large mental health data set potentially in the hands of Silicon Valley.

Furthermore, this situation reveals a disconnect between measures such as privacy audits and real-world implementation of AI. As Albert Fox Cahn, Executive Director of Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), told Talk Liberation:

"When people reach out for help in their darkest hours, they shouldn’t fear that their words will be scrutinized, monetized, and used to train AI. This type of arrangement should never have been allowed. But it also shows the failure of corporate self-regulation of AI and privacy. Companies keep telling us that they should be the ones to set the rules, and then they keep violating our trust to use our data in ways that truly shock the conscience. I am increasingly worried that we will see companies using the rhetoric of audits and accountability to hide practices that the public would never tolerate.”

CEO Dena Trujillo originally defended Crisis Text Line’s relationship with Loris, but following the controversy, the mental health hotline has ended the partnership.

Big Tech increases funds to US foreign policy institutes

Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook are increasing their funding of American foreign policy think tanks and research groups including Brookings, the Hudson Institute, the Center for a New American Security and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. According to the Financial Times, total donations from Big Tech have increased from nearly $625,000 in 2017-2018 to $1.2 million in 2019-2020. Figures for 2020-2021 have not yet been disclosed by all institutes.

While the increase in funds is small for the companies involved, it is worth noting that Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook ‘each have market capitalizations of more than $1 trillion.’ Additionally, the increase in funding comes at a time when tech companies are investing in the oil and gas industries.

The trend of Big Tech meshing with other industries, particularly in Washington, is not new. As senators and congressmen and women urge greater regulation of the companies, their presence in American political affairs has increased.

Since this latest increase in funding, some individuals associated with foreign policy think tanks and institutions have been strongly defending Big Tech companies. In September 2021, 12 former top security officials including former US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Leon Panetta signed a letter ‘urging Congress to stop working on bills designed to toughen antitrust enforcement.’ Those involved claim competition regulation bills provide advantages to Chinese tech companies.

Bruce Freed, President of the Center for Political Accountability based in Washington, said in a statement to the Financial Times, “Funding think tanks is a great way to influence experts and help shape the political conversation in a way that helps you.”

Spotify to add advisories to podcasts covering Covid-19

The popular audio streaming and media platform Spotify announces that it will add content advisories to podcasts discussing Covid-19. The decision comes after several musicians including Neil Young threatened to pull their music from Spotify if they failed to remove The Joe Rogan Experience podcast from the platform. Young and others protested Rogan’s podcasts featuring guests who provided a perspective on Covid-19 that runs contrary to the mainstream narrative.

Spotify updated its Platform Rules and Approach to COVID-19 page on its website stating, “We are working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19. This advisory will direct listeners to our dedicated COVID-19 Hub...”

Joe Rogan issued a response to the controversy in a video posted to Instagram. “I’m not interested in talking only to people who have one perspective... I’m interested in finding out how people come to these conclusions and what the facts are,” he said. Additionally, Rogan went on to praise Spotify’s decision to add advisories to podcasts discussing COVID-19. “Sure, have that on there. I’m very happy with that.”

Spotify has announced that it will not remove the podcaster from the platform, yet several JRE episodes unrelated to COVID-19 have been removed from the platform, which sparked controversy after the deletions were highlighted by a new website called JREMissing.com. Simultaneously, the White House encouraged Spotify to do more to restrict content.

According to Neilsen 2021 media ratings, The JRE podcast is the number one rated show on Spotify - with an average of 11 million viewers per episode, exponentially outperforming mainstream media.

Net neutrality law upheld by federal appeals court

California’s net neutrality law will remain in effect after a federal appeals court upheld a lower court decision.

According to the report, the 2018 net neutrality law in California is the toughest in the United States and ‘was signed into law a year after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed the federal Open Internet Order,’ which had prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or manipulating applications and websites and favoring paid content.

The 2018 net neutrality law ‘bars throttling and speed lanes,’ and was met with significant push back to prevent it from passing in California. The broadband industry including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon even sued the State of California in 2018 to prevent the bill from passing.

However, in late January this year, in a 3-0 vote, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law claiming the FCC does not have the authority to regulate broadband internet services due to their reclassification from ‘information' to ‘telecommunication’ services.

Apple introduces FaceID biometrics with a mask

Mega corporation Apple has introduced a new feature with its iOS 15.4 beta, which enables FaceID to work for users wearing masks and without requiring an Apple Watch for authentication. FaceID can now identify unique features around the eyes enabling facial biometrics to be used with a mask on. However, the technology is less accurate than a full facial ID.

Additionally, Apple has included a feature for those who are wearing glasses in addition to a mask to ensure greater accuracy. The new software is available only on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models. Users will be prompted to rescan their faces for FaceID and then can enable the option in Settings.

Panquake Update

The next-generation social media site panquake.com released its January 2022 delivery meeting presentation hosted by CPO Suzie Dawson and CSO Sean O’Brien.

The up-and-coming social media site announced significant advancements to the development of its customizable user interface, which will allow Panquake users to rearrange their screen however they choose, including moving, resizing and reshaping each panel. In an effort to combat social media mass surveillance, Panquake-sponsored Talk Liberation Investigates is releasing its WLDragnet app code as Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). The codebase has been security and peer reviewed by top security experts in the field.

Panquake.com is now in its final round of funding. The platform is still accepting BETA applications, where social media users can apply to join the Panquake Team of 5,000. The next delivery meeting will be held near the end of February 2022.


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.

Talk Liberation - Your Worldwide INTERNET REPORT was brought to you by Panquake.com. We Don’t Hope, We Build! 

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