Twitter Suspends 2 Accounts in Mueller Indictments

All, News, Technology

Social networking site Twitter Saturday suspended two accounts linked to 12 Russian spies indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

On Friday, a federal grand jury charged the 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic computer networks in 2016 in the most detailed U.S. accusation yet that Moscow meddled in the election to help Republican Donald Trump.

Twitter said Saturday it had suspended the accounts @DCLeaks_ and @Guccifer_2 that were named in the indictment, which alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy involving sophisticated hacking and staged release of documents.

The indictment alleges that from around June 2016 the conspirators released tens of thousands of stolen emails and documents “using fictitious online personas, including ‘DCLeaks’ and ‘Guccifer 2.0.’”

In a statement Saturday, a Twitter spokesman said: “The accounts have been suspended for being connected to a network of accounts previously suspended for operating in violation of our rules.”

Twitter in recent months has purged suspicious user accounts in a bid to prevent the dissemination of fake news and “encourage healthy conversation,” the company said this month.

Friday’s indictment was the first by Mueller that directly charges the Russian government with meddling in the election. The Kremlin denies it interfered.

Speaking at a cybersecurity conference in Philadelphia on Saturday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the indictments proved that the United States “will not tolerate interference with our democratic processes and that there will be consequences for foreign meddling.”

Technology Enhances Soccer Watching Experience

All, News, Technology

Football fans are watching the World Cup on multiple screens in bars, on their phones while they should be working, on TVs at home with their friends. One day, they could be following the action in 3D. Researchers at the University of Washington are developing a way to watch soccer games and other sporting matches as if you were in the stadium, by using augmented reality devices. Faiza Elmasry takes a look at the new technology in this report, narrated by Faith Lapidus.

Rising Greenhouse Gases Making Food Less Nutritious

All, News, Technology

Temperatures around the world are rising as humans burn coal, oil and other fossil fuels for energy. Burning those fuels releases heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But it does more than that. CO2 is vital for plant growth. While having more of it sounds like a good thing, scientists are finding it is not always that simple. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Fingerprinting Technology Could Save Endangered Pangolins

All, News, Technology

Pangolins are the world’s most illegally trafficked animal. Eight species of the elusive mammals are found in Africa and Southeast Asia, but as many as 300 are poached every day, destined for markets in Vietnam and China, where their meat is considered a delicacy and their scales believed to have medicinal properties. Researchers in the UK are hoping to deter pangolin poaching with fingerprint technology that’s designed to identify poachers and bring them to justice. VOA’s Julie Taboh explains.

First Test-Tube Baby Born 40 Years Ago This Month

All, News, Technology

Forty years ago this month, the first test-tube baby was born in what is now called in vitro fertilization. British baby Louise Brown was born July 25, 1978. She’s married now with two children who were born naturally. A new exhibition at the Science Museum in London is showcasing the anniversary and the technological advances achieved through in vitro fertilization. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.

Pacific Leaders Sign on to Australian Internet Cabling Scheme, Shutting Out China

All, News, Technology

Pacific nations Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands have signed on to a joint undersea internet cable project, funded mostly by Australia, that forestalls plans by Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd to lay the links itself.

Wednesday’s pact comes as China pushes for influence in a region Australia views as its backyard, amid souring ties after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last year accused Beijing of meddling in Canberra’s affairs.

Australia will pay two-thirds of the project cost of A$136.6 million ($100 million) under the deal, signed on a visit to Brisbane by Solomon Islands Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela and Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

“We spend billions of dollars a year on foreign aid and this is a very practical way of investing in the future economic growth of our neighbors in the Pacific,” Turnbull told reporters about the deal.

The project, for which Australian telecom firm Vocus Group Ltd is building the cable, will link the two nations to the Australian mainland, besides connecting the Solomons capital Honiara with the archipelago’s outer islands.

For years, Western intelligence agencies have worried over Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government and the possibility that its equipment could be used for espionage.

Australia, which is poised to ban Huawei from its domestic 5G mobile network on the advice of its intelligence services, raised “concerns” that scuppered a Huawei offer for cabling to the Solomons, Houenipwela has previously told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Huawei has said it was never informed of any security problems with its planned cables for the Solomons, where Chinese activity has attracted additional attention, as it is one of six countries in the Pacific to maintain ties with Taiwan. 

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring under its control what it sees as a wayward province.

In Purge, Twitter Removing ‘Suspicious’ Followers

All, News, Technology

Social networking platform Twitter announced Wednesday it will be removing accounts it had deemed suspicious from user’s follower counts, as part of a recent push to promote accuracy on the website. This could reduce the number of “followers” of some of the website’s most popular users, including politicians and celebrities.

The website had locked accounts of users where Twitter “detected sudden changes in account behavior,” such as sharing misleading links, being blocked by a large number of accounts that account had interacted with, or a large number of unsolicited replies to other users’ tweets, Twitter general counsel Vijaya Gadde wrote. The accounts are locked, preventing one from logging in and using the account until the account’s owner verified their use.

Wednesday’s change will remove these locked accounts from users’ follower counts, which are visible on a user’s account page and often are used as a barometer of an individual’s sway on the website, which 336 million users log into every month, according to USA Today.

Gadde wrote that while the average Twitter user will see their follower count drop only by about four, popular accounts could see a more dramatic drop in the number of their followers.

In the wake of reports that Russia had used fake accounts platform to help sow discord in the American public in the lead-up and aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pledged in March 2018 to help clean up the website.

And on Friday, The Washington Post reported that Twitter had suspended more than a million accounts a day in recent months — upward of 70 million in the months of May and June 2018 alone.

“I wish Twitter had been more proactive sooner,” Sen. Mark Warner [D-Virginia] the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Post. “I’m glad that — after months of focus on this issue — Twitter appears to be cracking down on the use of bots and other fake accounts, though there is still much work to do.”

Following the Post’s report, U.S. President Donald Trump, who often was the recipient of support from Russian-linked accounts, posted this tweet:

One such Twitter account suspended in 2017, @TEN_GOP, purporting to be related to the Tennessee Republican Party, had its tweets shared on the platform by Trump White House officials such as Kellyanne Conway and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

In February 2018, special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian influence in the Trump campaign and the 2016 election, named the account in an indictment, alleging it was one of many on social media that “primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.”

Facebook Faces First Fine in Data Scandal Involving Cambridge Analytica

All, News, Technology

Facebook will be facing its first fine in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the social media platform allowed the data mining firm to access the private information of millions of users without their consent or knowledge.

A British government investigative office, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), fined Facebook 500,000 pounds, or $663,000 – the maximum amount that can be levied for the violation of British data privacy laws. In a report, the ICO found Facebook had broken the law in failing to protect the data of the estimated 87 million users affected by the security breach.

The ICO’s investigation concluded that Facebook “contravened the law by failing to safeguard people’s information,” the report read. It also found that the company failed to be transparent about how people’s data was harvested by others on its platform.

Cambridge Analytica, a London firm that shuttered its doors in May following a report by The New York Times and The Observer chronicling its dealings, offered “tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior,” according to a March Times report.

“New technologies that use data analytics to micro-target people give campaign groups the ability to connect with individual voters,” Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in a statement. “But this cannot be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law.”

The firm, which U.S. President Donald Trump employed during his successful 2016 election campaign, was heavily funded by American businessman Robert Mercer, who is also a major donor to the U.S. Republican Party. Former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon was also employed by the firm and has said he coined the company’s name.

Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower within the firm, told the Times in March that the firm aimed to create psychological profiles of  American voters and use those profiles to target them via advertising.

“[Cambridge Analytica’s leaders] want to fight a culture war in America,” Wylie told the Times. “Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.”

While this is the first financial penalty Facebook will be facing in the scandal, the fine will not make a dent in the company’s profits. The social media giant generated $11.97 billion in revenue in the first quarter, and generates the revenue needed to pay the fine about every 10 minutes.

Denham said the company will have an opportunity to respond to the fine before a final decision is made. Facebook has said it will respond to the ICO report soon.

“As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and taken action in 2015,” said Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, in a statement. “We have been working closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the U.S. and other countries.”

The statement from the ICO also announced that the office would seek to criminally prosecute SCL Elections Ltd., Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, for failing to comply with a legal request from a U.S. professor to disclose what data the company had on him. SCL Elections also shut down in May.

“Your data is yours and you have a right to control its use,” wrote David Carroll, the professor.

The ICO said it would also be asking 11 political parties to conduct audits of their data protection processes, and compel SCL Elections to comply with Carroll’s request.

Further investigations by agencies such as the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, and Securities and Exchange Commission, the SEC, are under way. In April, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before a U.S. Senate committee to testify on the company’s actions in the scandal.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” Zuckerberg told U.S. lawmakers in prepared remarks in April. He also said, “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry.”