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Google: Mitigating disinformation and foreign influence through social media a joint effort – ZDNet



Google Australia believes long term success in mitigating disinformation and foreign influence through social media rests on the development of a culture of online safety across society, including through ongoing “collaboration” between the likes of industry, the technical community, and government.

According to Google, such efforts must be partnered with efforts to educate users and organisations, from school students through to senior citizens and company employees on how to secure their online presence and to “apply critical thinking to the information they see and consume”. 

The remarks were made in the company’s submission [PDF] to the Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media, which also contained an overview of the work its parent company has done to counter coordinated influence operations and other government-backed attacks.

In its submission to the committee looking into the risk posed by foreign interference through social media, the local arm of the search giant said it takes its responsibility “very seriously”.

“How companies like Google address these concerns has an impact on society and on the trust users place in our services,” it wrote.

“We believe that meeting it begins with providing transparency into our policies, inviting feedback, enabling users to understand and control their online engagement, and collaborating with policymakers, civil society, and academics around the world in the development of sensible, effective policies, and processes.”

In its submission, Google said algorithms cannot determine whether a piece of content on current events is true or false, nor can they assess the intent of its creator just by reading what’s on a page. It said, however, there are clear cases of intent to manipulate or deceive users.

“For instance, a news website that alleges it contains ‘Reporting from Canberra, Australia’ but whose account activity indicates that it is operated out of Eastern Europe is likely not being transparent with users about its operations or what they can trust it to know firsthand,” Google wrote.

It said the policies across Google Search, Google News, YouTube, and its advertising products outline behaviours that are prohibited to address such situations.

Google said its Threat Analysis Group (TAG) reported disabling influence campaigns originating from groups in Iran, Egypt, India, Serbia, and Indonesia in the first quarter of 2020. It also removed more than a thousand YouTube channels that were apparently part of a large campaign and that were “behaving in a coordinated manner”.

“On any given day, Google’s Threat Analysis Group is tracking more than 270 targeted or government-backed attacker groups from more than 50 countries,” it wrote.

Since the beginning of 2020, Google said it had seen a rising number of attackers, including those from Iran and North Korea, impersonating news outlets or journalists. In April this year, Google sent 1,755 warnings to users whose accounts were targets of government-backed attackers.

“We intentionally send warnings in timed batches to all users who may be at risk, rather than at the moment we detect the threat itself, so that attackers cannot track some of our defence strategies,” the submission said. “We also notify law enforcement about what we’re seeing, as they have additional tools to investigate these attacks.”

The search giant also said it detected 18 million malware and phishing Gmail messages per day related to COVID-19, in addition to more than 240 million COVID-related daily spam messages.

“Our machine learning models have evolved to understand and filter these threats, and we continue to block more than 99.9% of spam, phishing, and malware from reaching our users.

“Google’s TAG has specifically identified over a dozen government-backed attacker groups using COVID-19 themes as lure for phishing and malware attempts — trying to get their targets to click malicious links and download files, including in Australia,” it added.

“We have an important responsibility to our users and to the societies in which we operate to curb the efforts of those who aim to propagate false information on our platforms.”


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Evening Update: Israel and UAE make historic pact; Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai speaks out – The Globe and Mail



Good evening, let’s start with today’s top stories:

Israel and the United Arab Emirates reach historic deal to normalize relations

Israel and the United Arab Emirates have announced that they will normalize diplomatic ties and forge a new relationship, a move that reshapes the order of Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to Iran.

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Under the accord, which U.S. President Donald Trump helped broker, Israel has agreed to suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank. The agreement also firms up opposition to Iran, which the UAE, Israel and the United States view as the main threat in the Middle East.

Israel had previously signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. But the UAE, along with most other Arab countries, did not recognize Israel and had no formal diplomatic or economic relations with it until now.

This is the daily Evening Update newsletter. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was sent to you as a forward, you can sign up for Evening Update and more than 20 more Globe newsletters here. If you like what you see, please share it with your friends.

Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai speaks out after arrest

The tightening legal regime in Hong Kong is suffocating the city, says publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, who was arrested this week under a national security law imposed by Beijing. But in an online discussion a day after he was released on bail, he remained defiant.

“The oxygen is getting thin and we are all choking,” he said. “But when we are choking, we are still taking care of each other – and keep resisting and keep fighting for our rule of law and freedom.”

His arrest has raised concerns at Next Digital, the publishing firm he founded, that he could be sent to mainland China for prosecution – and almost certain imprisonment. On the day of his arrest, the police also raided tabloid Apple Daily, one of Next Digital’s most important holdings.

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Canada’s international pandemic alert back in operation

Canada’s international pandemic surveillance and alert system is active again, more than a year after Ottawa effectively shut it down.

Late last week, the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) began issuing alerts about serious disease outbreaks for the first time since May 24, 2019. The Globe obtained a copy of the alert, which warns of a potentially deadly tick-borne illness in China that is showing signs of human-to-human transmission.

It comes after a recent Globe and Mail investigation reported the GPHIN system, which had been lauded around the world for its ability to detect potentially dangerous outbreaks at their earliest stages, had been shelved amid shifting government priorities.


BoC mortgage rate cut: The Bank of Canada has cut its benchmark five-year mortgage rate to 4.79 per cent from 4.94 per cent, the second cut in three months. As part of the financial stress test calculation, the reduced benchmark will make it easier for borrowers to get a bigger loan, which would add more fuel to overheated housing markets.

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Less of WE: WE Charity is scaling back its operations, laying off dozens in Canada and Britain, and looking to sell some of its real estate holdings in Toronto. The charity has been embroiled in a political controversy since the Trudeau government chose it to run the since-cancelled youth volunteer program.

Apple bundles: Apple is reportedly readying a series of subscription bundles that will let customers sign in for several of its digital services at a lower monthly price, and could launch as early as October. Reports say the company is also developing a new subscription for virtual fitness classes that can be accessed through apps and will be offered in a higher-end bundle with the rest of its services.

Canadiens coach hospitalized: Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien suffered chest problems after last night’s loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, was taken by ambulance to a Toronto hospital and is expected to be out the remainder of his team’s first-round playoff series. Associate coach Kirk Muller will serve as interim head coach.

Andreescu pull out of U.S. Open: Canada’s Bianca Andreescu will not be defending her U.S. Open tennis title later this summer, she announced today. She hasn’t played a match since suffering a knee injury last October, and says the COVID-19 pandemic has compromised her ability to prepare for to return.

Elephants on the rise: Kenya’s elephant numbers more than doubled from 1989 to 2018 – to more than 34,000 from just 16,000 – thanks to increased antipoaching efforts, its tourism minister said.


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Canada’s main stock index closed lower today, weighed down by energy stocks as crude prices weakened. The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index fell 45.22 points or 0.27 per cent to 16,530.06.

Wall Street trading was mixed amid concern over a stalled U.S. economic relief deal. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 80.12 points or 0.29 per cent to 27,896.72, the S&P 500 lost 6.92 points or 0.20 per cent to end at 3,373.43 and the Nasdaq Composite 30.26 points or 0.27 per cent to 11,042.50.

Stocks seeing action today include Apple and AMC Entertainment, which closed higher after announcing the start of its first phase of opening theatres in the U.S. starting Aug. 20. On the downside were Brookfield Asset Management and Cisco Systems, which dropped after forecasting first-quarter revenue and profit below Wall Street estimates and outlining a restructuring plan.

Read more: Today’s analyst upgrades and downgrades

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop.


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Leafs president Shanahan takes the blame as doomsday clock begins to tick for GM Dubas

“Forty minutes is not a long time. Forty minutes answering questions about the Toronto Maple Leafs when you are the person who runs the team is – and I’m just going off facial expressions here – an eternity in hell.” Cathal Kelly

Task force proves ex-OSC head right about diversity. Now, Doug Ford must toughen the rules

“Diversity is not a frill, it’s an essential component of corporate governance and risk management. Companies that flout the rules should be named, shamed and fined.” Rita Trichur

Has COVID-19 quietly killed Canadian Confederation?

“To be sure, advising me against Toronto-to-St. John’s travel is one thing. Legally barring my entry is another. When powerful regional feelings are ignited by laws dividing us from ‘them,’ Canada is balkanized for the worse.” Michael Bryant, executive director, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

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Deferred payments have been a popular way to help Canadian cope with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. But now those deferrals are starting to filter through the credit reporting system. Deferred payments don’t harm borrowers’ credit scores, but the payments must be reported in a certain way, according to Equifax. It’s important to check to make sure they are reported correctly to credit bureaus. If you notice something might be wrong on your credit score – such as a deferred payment being counted as “late” – the lender is your first stop.

Read more: What you need to know about managing your finances during the pandemic


For former set and costume designer Drew Facey, it’s exit stage left

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver set and costume designer Drew Facey is a fixture of the local theatre community, designing shows here and beyond for theatre and opera productions, winning 18 Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards along the way. Now Facey is leaving Vancouver – and theatre. COVID-19 has claimed another professional casualty.

“In one week in March I lost 14 months’ worth of contracts,” Facey says in his nearly empty East Vancouver condominium, the one he and his partner decided to sell after the pandemic hit (his partner works in hospitality, which has also been hard hit). “I obviously went through a difficult, dark time emotionally.”

His departure is a huge loss for the theatre scene, and a scary sign of what may be to come. Because of COVID-19, performing arts companies have cancelled their upcoming seasons – and the contracts that came with them. There is no indication of when it will be safe – or legal – to gather in theatres again. Read Marsha Lederman’s full story here.

Evening Update is presented by S.R. Slobodian. If you’d like to receive this newsletter by e-mail every weekday evening, go here to sign up. If you have any feedback, send us a note.

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Kamala Harris's Indian Connections Spark a Social Media Frenzy – BNN



(Bloomberg) — When Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris to be his running mate, it sparked a frenzy on the other side of the globe to track down her connections to Chennai, the southern Indian city where her mother was born.

On Twitter and Facebook, a flurry of users chronicled every minute link including her grandparents’ home in the Besant Nagar neighborhood, from where her mother Shyamala Gopalan set off as a teenager to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of California Berkeley. Undated photos surfaced of Kamala and younger sibling Maya in saris, smilingly posing with their grandparents during a visit. Many saw Harris a step away from the White House, and the de facto Democratic Party front-runner in four or eight years.

Writer Cauvery Madhavan captured the hysteria in a tweet: “If you’re wondering what that loud windy up sound is – it’s all of Chennai cranking the #SixDegreesOfSeparation machine!! Any moment now my mother is going to triumphantly reveal that her pharmacist’s father was @KamalaHarris’s grandma’s preferred tailor.” Another Twitter user, Priya Ravichandran, jested, “I was asked to Google and find which relative lives in besant nagar. People are this close to renting party bus and do drive by near their house and celebrate kamala.”Senator Harris is the first person of Indian descent and the first Black woman on a major ticket in a U.S. presidential election. Indian media outlets vied with American newspapers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to analyze the geopolitical impact of her rise and what a Biden-Harris win could mean for U.S.-India relations. Local outlets and TV crews raced to hunt down an assortment of Harris’s aunts and even a great-uncle who detailed her visits to the sprawling metropolis and her strolls on its humid beaches discussing democracy and equality with her grandfather, a retired government official.

A prominent local newspaper, The Hindu BusinessLine, carried the headline: “Kamala Devi Harris and the destiny-changing coconuts from Chennai.” The story described Harris’s aunt praying for her victory in the California Senate elections nine years ago by breaking 108 coconuts, a popular religious ritual, at the local temple. The paper quoted Harris phoning her aunt to say, “Chithi (aunt), please pray for me and break coconuts at the temple.”

Twitter users highlighted her Indianness beginning with the name Kamala, which means lotus in several Indian languages. CNN’s local partner tweeted that “Kamala Harris loves idlis. And, sambhar” — fluffy rice cakes and spicy lentil stew often eaten for breakfast in India.

The fuss over Harris’s political elevation this week far outstripped the excitement over the rise of other Chennai-connected personalities such as actor Mindy Kaling and Alphabet Inc. Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai.While hundreds of Twitter users in India posted laudatory messages, some rued that Harris’s nomination would inflate the already lofty expectations of Indian parents for their kids. Indian lawmaker and prominent opposition Congress Party member Shashi Tharoor tweeted, “‘Beta (son) what are you doing these days? Oh, just a Harvard Professor? Not even Mayor yet?’”

Harris, whose father is of Jamaican ancestry, has downplayed her family’s India ties although she has spoken of how the deep conversations with her grandfather during India visits helped shaped her political views. But social media users were quick to appropriate her as completely Indian. A video from last year in which she’s seen with Mindy Kaling cooking a masala dosa, a south Indian savory crepe filled with spicy potatoes, is circulating wildly on WhatsApp groups in India.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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Paul Willcocks on Legacy Media: 'If Everyone Thinks We Are in Crisis, I Will Be Happy' –



Paul Willcocks had run four daily papers, an experience he captured in a blog series “How I Killed Newspapers,” before joining The Tyee as a senior editor in 2016. From reporter at the Red Deer Advocate to publisher of the Times Colonist, he’s had a front row seat to the changing media landscape over the years.

Willcocks was the latest guest on Three Things, a livestream chat show hosted by Tyee outreach manager Emma Cooper where readers get a chance to meet the folks who work at the site.

Willcocks watched the collapse of legacy news media but has yet to see alternatives emerge. “The biggest concern for me is that the traditional media used to play a really important role in the way our democracy and society works, but we haven’t thought or talked much about how to come up with models to replace them.”

He lamented the loss of the role media used to play for communities as a provider of information and a host of dialogue and debate around the topics that mattered most.

“It used to be that people could at least agree on the problems. They might come up with really different solutions, but you could at least have that kind of a dialogue, which we have now really lost as those media have disappeared,” he said.

In addition to seeing an increased fracturing around what issues even matter, Willcocks has observed a decline in the number of journalists covering and gathering news. “Newsrooms are half the size they were 15 or 20 years ago,” he noted.

He worries about people’s access to information, remembering the days when newspapers were cheap, and radio and television were free. But today is an age of information inequality, with news organizations implementing paywalls, he said.

“Increasingly through paywalls and subscriptions, you get information if you can pay for it. And the more you can pay, the more specialized and valuable information you get. We are creating yet another form of information inequality.”

Willcocks feels paywalls and advertisements torque coverage and cited The Tyee’s voluntary subscription model as an example of a way forward.

Part of the problem is media ownership, he said. Working with corporate owners, Willcocks saw an inability to look beyond the next financial quarter. He observes this in Postmedia ownership, for example, noting there has been no significant investment in those papers or its journalists over the past decade.

The loss of legacy media has created a social and democratic crisis, Willcocks said, though he reckons media’s role is more important than ever. But “the media has done a really bad job for a long time in explaining their role and consistently demonstrating that they understand their role,” he said.

This trend continues as larger media corporations, especially newspapers, continue to wring profits out of what’s left of their business model. All of this has meant less quality news and less investigative journalism, he said.

In these times, Willcocks finds government support for media to be a “necessary evil.” But he wants it done in a fair manner that doesn’t harm the independence of journalism or compromise transparency. “These are really tough times and to preserve what we have unless new models emerge, government support for some media is useful,” he said.

In spite of the industry’s many financial difficulties, Willcocks is heartened by some of the great journalism coming out of independent organizations and journalists. He wants us to understand that the decreasing number of journalists holding government and companies to account is a crisis.

If the media’s watchdog function diminishes, powerful people can create their own myths, he said. “Wealth and inequality are inevitable in Canada, and if journalists aren’t challenging those myths, things are going to get worse and worse for more and more of us. If everyone thinks we are in crisis, I will be happy.”  [Tyee]

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