“The essence of the DLT infrastructure is that no single party should be trusted enough, but don’t we just trust a central bank to maintain the integrity of the global ledger?” said Harro Boven, policy adviser in the payments policy department of the Dutch central bank. Scott Hendry, senior special director of fintech at Bank of Canada, which piloted its Jasper project (built on R3’s Corda DLT platform) last year, agreed that “you don’t need a DLT to make a central bank digital currency.” “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of benefits if you look at a DLT system and the current efficient centralized system for the sole purpose of interbank payments,” Hendry said, adding that in the back office he leads, “they wouldn’t change anything” in the technology stack currently in use. No speaker ruled out using DLT for a CBDC in principle, but none showed much enthusiasm about the tech.
The French cybersecurity company Nigma Conseil and the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) have revealed to have collaborated on developing a new blockchain forensics tool. The agreement was signed on Feb. 25 to work on e-Nigma, a proposed compliance tool.E-Nigma provides its users with a way of conducting due diligence investigations in response to Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulation. Like other similar tools, it monitors and organizes blockchain transactions.The platform provides several advanced features such as risk scoring and wallet clustering. It is able to identify addresses with real-life identities by scraping through both the clear and dark web. It builds on the open-source cryptocurrency forensics platform provided by AIT, GraphSense. AIT is a government-owned research institute headquartered in Vienna. The technology was built as part of an AIT-led program called TITANIUM, which was formed to investigate transactions in “underground markets.” The program was awarded a 5 million euro ($5.4 million) grant by the European Union to mitigate cryptocurrency crime.Fabien Tabarly, CEO of NIGMA Conseil, commented on the collaboration: “The synergy between a leading European academic research institute and our team of developers has been instrumental in implementing the most innovative tools to fight financial crime in virtual currencies.”Blockchain forensicsE-Nigma is working in a competitive field, with similar solutions being provided by companies like Chainalysis, Elliptic and CipherTrace. As money laundering regulations around the world turn more stringent, many companies in the cryptocurrency and traditional finance sectors are turning to blockchain forensics tools. Chainalysis recently announced its collaboration with both Bitfinex and Tether, helping the service provider maintain compliance.Elliptic has turned its focus on banks, with a compliance tool letting them understand the true risk from cryptocurrency exchange transactions.
WhatsApp has become the standard tool for international negotiations. As early as 2016, the Guardian talked about the „rise and rise of diplomacy by WhatsApp“.
WhatsApp’s popularity with diplomats comes from the fact that it is encrypted and has a large base of users, says Corneliu Bjola. „Almost everyone has a WhatsApp account“, he notes.
Bjola teaches Diplomatic Studies at the University of Oxford. He also advises officials on digital diplomacy. Bjola says WhatsApp is used in multilateral settings such as the UN, as well as within foreign ministries.
Tricky security questions
WhatsApp’s popularity among diplomats could take a serious hit after the Cryptoleaks scandal. Investigative journalists revealed that German and US intelligence used faulty encryption to spy on allies across the globe.
US spying has caused trouble for WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook since revelations by whistle-blower Edward Snowden about the NSA in 2013.
The widespread use of surveillance casts doubts on whether free services by US firms can guarantee adequate protection for their users.
Europe has to ask itself – is WhatsApp safe enough for its diplomats?
One of the new research threads of the Lab is technology mediated trust. It concerns the following simple questions:
- how do we use technologies to produce trust and mitigate distrust in interpersonal and institutional contexts?
- can we trust these trust technologies?
These questions are laid out in more details in a paper currently under review at New Media and Society. The draft version is available here: Mediated Trust – A Theoretical Framework to Address the Trustworthiness of Technological Trust Mediators
There is also a talk version. See and download the slides below.
If you have a voice assistant in your home or on your phone, have you ever been concerned that someone from the company could listen to your voice recordings?
Recent news coverage confirms that suspicion.
At the end of July, The Guardian reported that people at Apple were regularly listening to recordings of deeply personal events such as conversations with doctors, sexual encounters, and other moments. While the effort was designed as a quality control measure, users likely had no idea that some of their utterances were being recorded and reviewed by humans.
Since then, Apple has temporarily suspended its human review program. Google has been forced to pause its own review program in the EU and Amazon is now giving users the ability to opt-out.
Mozilla has put together a guide for you to change your privacy settings on voice assistants.
The dating app Tinder has faced increasing scrutiny over abusive interactions on the service. In November 2019, an Auckland man was convicted of murdering British woman Grace Millane after they met on Tinder. Incidents such as these have brought attention to the potential for serious violence facilitated by dating apps.
The US version of the app added a panic button which alerts law enforcement to provide emergency assistance, in partnership with the safety app Noonlight. There is also a photo verification feature that will allow users to verify images they upload to their profiles, in an effort to prevent catfishing.
“Does This Bother You?” is another new feature, which automatically detects offensive messages in the app’s instant messaging service, and asks the user whether they’d like to report it. Finally, a Safety Center will give users a more visible space to see resources and tools that can keep them safe on the app.
The dating app Tinder has faced increasing scrutiny over abusive interactions on the service. In November 2019, an Auckland man was convicted of murdering British woman Grace Millane after they met on Tinder. Incidents such as these have brought attention to the potential for serious violence facilitated by dating apps.Amid ongoing pressure to better protect its users, Tinder recently unveiled some new safety features.The US version of the app added a panic button which alerts law enforcement to provide emergency assistance, in partnership with the safety app Noonlight. There is also a photo verification feature that will allow users to verify images they upload to their profiles, in an effort to prevent catfishing.“Does This Bother You?” is another new feature, which automatically detects offensive messages in the app’s instant messaging service, and asks the user whether they’d like to report it. Finally, a Safety Center will give users a more visible space to see resources and tools that can keep them safe on the app.
Millions of Amazon customers are at risk of being duped by unscrupulous sellers gaming the Amazon’s Choice endorsement, new research from Which? reveals.
Our exclusive investigation shows the Amazon’s Choice badge recommends potentially poor quality products that appear to have been artificially boosted by incentivised and fake reviews.
We believe Amazon’s recommendation system is inherently flawed and easily gamed by unscrupulous sellers, despite evidence suggesting that many consumers trust the Amazon’s Choice badge as a mark of quality.
Video: why you shouldn’t trust Amazon’s Choice
We ask members of the public how they view Amazon’s Choice, and reveal the key details of our investigation.
Is Amazon’s Choice a ‘mark of quality’?
Shoppers use Amazon’s Choice to help them make decisions. New Which? research found four in ten (44%) Amazon customers – people who have been on the website in the last six months and have spotted an Amazon’s Choice logo – believe it means a product has been quality checked by Amazon, and a third (35%) believe it means it has been checked for safety.
And when people notice the logo, 45% of shoppers said they were more likely to purchase a product from Amazon with the badge than without.
Amazon’s Choice suspicious reviews
Which? looked at five popular product categories on Amazon.co.uk and found dozens of Amazon’s Choice-recommended products with the hallmarks of suspicious reviews.
Amazon’s Choice recommends ‘highly rated, well-priced products available to dispatch immediately’ and it is trusted by nearly half of all Amazon shoppers.
But our investigation suggests online sellers are secretly incentivising customers to leave five star reviews – potentially boosting their rankings on the website and making them more likely to be attributed the Amazon’s Choice badge.
Amazon’s Choice and unknown brands
We looked at the top 50 bestselling items on Amazon.co.uk in five popular product categories – dash cameras, action cameras, headphones/earphones, surveillance video equipment and smart watches.
While we found the Amazon’s Choice recommendation used for household names such as Apple, Panasonic and Sony; we also found it commonly used to recommend unknown brands brands – those our experts had never heard of outside of Amazon’s listings. This happened in nearly two thirds (63%) of cases.
Amazon’s ‘best-sellers’ list for five popular tech categories
The chart below shows the proportion of known and unknown brand products on the Amazon top 50 best-sellers page for five popular tech categories.
In nearly a quarter (23%) of cases, these unknown tech brands with Amazon’s Choice recommendations didn’t even appear to have a website. Not only surprising for an electronics website in 2020, but potentially leaves customers with limited or no product support if they have issues.
Products with evidence of incentivised reviews
All of the suspicious or fake review activity we found in the course of this investigation was on product listings from unknown brands.
Among these ‘bestselling’ Amazon’s Choice products we found:
- The AKASO EK7000 4K Sport action camera. It had 3,968 reviews – more than any other of the top 50 action cameras on Amazon – and an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. But several people claimed they had been incentivised to write good reviews, with one sharing a photo of a leaflet offering free accessories in exchange for reviews underneath a big image of five stars.
One said: “The camera quality is awful on every setting, as is the audio. In the package came a leaflet… it explains that if you leave a five star review you can get free accessories. So the chances are that most of these five star reviews are not genuine. Don’t be fooled.”
Another said: “The reason for the high review ratings is because they offer you free accessories if you leave a favourable review! So how can you trust the reviews to be sincere and genuine?… The whole thing stinks! Disappointed in Amazon.”
- The Victure 1080P FHD WiFi IP Camera baby monitor. Again this jointly had the most reviews for any of the top 50 bestselling surveillance video equipment products on Amazon and an average 4.4 star rating.
One reviewer criticised its wi-fi connection, playback and viewing capabilities. He said: “After seeing my review [someone] from Victure contacted me directly via email (ie outside of the Amazon messaging system) and asked me to change to five stars in exchange for a new free camera. I declined.”
Another added he was sent a card offering a new camera for a five-star review and wrote: “They know their product is faulty already so they lure customers to write good reviews and rate them five stars.”
- An ANCwear fitness tracker with an average 4.2 star rating. One reviewer actually posted a photo of the card used to offer the incentive, and wrote: “Don’t believe the five star reviews, the watch looks and feels very cheap… only reason it is getting good reviews is the £15 bribe.”
Other suspicious products
It wasn’t just Amazon’s bestselling items where we found Amazon’s Choice logos used to promote products that appeared to be suspicious. During the course of the investigation, each of the following items had an Amazon’s Choice logo:
A 2TB USB flash drive for just £18. Legitimate flash drives this size are rare, and cost over £1,000. Multiple users commented that the drive didn’t work or was a fake.
A pair of AMYEA wireless headphones with close to 2,000 reviews, the majority of which were about completely different products, including Acne cream, a ceiling light shade, prescription goggles and even razor blades.
A security camera by Elite Security, which we reported to Amazon in November 2019 after it failed our security tests, was still listed as an Amazon’s Choice product.
Amazon removes Amazon’s Choice badges
Amazon told us it had removed the Amazon’s Choice logo from a number of products and taken action against some sellers following our investigation.
A spokesman said: “We know that customer trust is hard to earn and easy to lose, so we strive to protect customer trust in products Amazon’s Choice highlights. We don’t tolerate Amazon policy violations, such as review abuse, incentivised reviews, counterfeits or unsafe products. When deciding to badge a product as Amazon’s Choice, we proactively incorporate a number of factors that are designed to protect customers from those policy violations. When we identify a product that may not meet our high bar for products we highlight for customers, we remove the badge.”
He added that Amazon used advanced technology, coupled with regular human audits, to make sure Amazon’s Choice products were a high standard.
ANCWear told Which?: “Only those who are satisfied with our products and are willing to leave feedback will [get] a coupon.” None of the other brands responded when we asked them for comment.
Amazon “must be more transparent”
Which? believes that Amazon must carefully scrutinise the use of its Amazon’s Choice branding to ensure that it is an effective tool for recommending products. It must also be more transparent about how such endorsements are attributed, so that consumers can make informed decisions on purchases that don’t involve assumptions or guesswork.
Which? is calling on the CMA to investigate the way in which fake reviews and endorsements awarded by online platforms are potentially misleading people. Sign our petition to stop fake reviews to demand action. We’re also interested in your stories. If you’ve seen evidence of fake or incentivised reviews, or if you have any other experience with endorsements on other websites then email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you trust Amazon’s Choice recommendations? Have your say now.
*Which? surveyed 2,042 GB adults between 21 and 22 January 2020; 896 had seen the Amazon’s Choice logo on a visit to the website in the previous six months. Fieldwork was carried out online by YouGov and data have been weighted to be representative of the GB population (aged 18+).
Facebook on Tuesday unveiled more details about the likely workings of a new independent that’ll oversee content-moderation decisions, outlining a new appeals process users would go through to request an additional review of takedowns. Users of Facebook and its Instagram photo service can ask the board to review their case after appealing to the social network first. You’ll have 15 days to fill out a form on the board’s website after Facebook’s decision.
Requesting a review by the board doesn’t mean the body will automatically hear your case. You’ll have to explain why you think Facebook made the wrong call and why the board should weigh in. You’ll also have to spell out why you posted the content and explain why Facebook’s decision could affect other users.
Facebook will also get to refer cases to the board. Users will receive a notice explaining whether the board decided to review a given case. The company explained this process in proposed bylaws that still need to be approved by the board.
The creation of the independent content-moderation board could help clarify how Facebook decides what posts it leaves up or pulls down and lead to policy changes. The additional appeals process might also help Facebook fend off critics, some of whom have alleged the company censorsand other groups. Facebook also faces criticism for allowing politicians to spread false information in .
“This board we’re creating is a means to hold ourselves accountable and provide for oversight on whether or not we’re making decisions that are principled according to the set of standards and values that we’ve set out,” Brent Harris, Facebook’s director of governance and global affairs, said during a conference call Tuesday.
The social network has rules about barring content, including hate speech, nudity and human trafficking. But users sometimes disagree with how those rules are applied. Facebook has reversed some of its decisions in the past, especially amid public scrutiny. In 2016, the company removed an iconic Vietnam War photo of a girl fleeing a napalm attack because it violated the social network’s rules on nudity. It reinstated the image amid an outcry, citing the image’s historical importance.
Facebook users typically receive a notification that includes an option to appeal when the company removes their content. If the appeal isn’t successful, users will now be able to ask the new board to review their case. Facebook will be required to reinstate removed content If the board sides with the user.
Users who submit an appeal will receive a reference identification number if their content is eligible for review by the board. Eligible content includes Facebook and Instagram posts, videos, photos and comments that the company took down. The process will eventually be expanded to groups, ads, events and other content, including information rated “false” by fact-checkers and content left up on the platform. Facebook didn’t specify when this would happen.
Facebook expects the board to make a decision and for the company to take action on the ruling in roughly 90 days.
Harris said he expects the board to initially review dozens of cases every year but noted that the decisions could impact Facebook’s 2.4 billion users, especially if the social network ends up changing its policies.
Users will also be able to choose if they want to include details that could identify them in the board’s final decision. On Tuesday, Ranking Digital Rights, a nonprofit that promotes freedom of expression and privacy, called on Facebook to provide more clarity, including how it’ll protect the privacy of users who don’t consent to releasing identifiable information. The board’s decision will be published on its website if approved for release.
Fay Johnson, a Facebook product manager who focuses on transparency and oversight, said the company is trying to make it clear to users that the board’s decisions will be public. “There really will be a value added to what the board speaks to, even if the specific information about the person who’s posting the content is not included in the draft decision,” she said.
Facebook also named Thomas Hughes, former executive director at Article 19, a nonprofit focused on freedom of expression and digital rights, to lead the board’s administrative staff. When Hughes led Article 19 in 2018, he called on Facebook to be more transparent about the content it removed and improve the appeals process for users.
“This is, as it goes without saying, an enormous undertaking and it will take us a few months before we are ready,” Hughes said.
The board is expected to be made up of 40 members and will likely start hearing cases this summer. Facebook announced in 2018 its plans to create a content oversight board
An Avast antivirus subsidiary sells ‘Every search. Every click. Every buy. On every site.’ Its clients have included Home Depot, Google, Microsoft, Pepsi, and McKinsey.
When you buy a product on Amazon, there’s little guarantee that what you’re getting has been expertly vetted for safety. The Wall Street Journal reported this year that more than 4,000 banned, unsafe, and mislabeled products were on the company’s platform, ranging from faulty motorcycle helmets to magnetic toys labeled as choking hazards.
Those faulty products have resulted in serious, sometimes fatal, injuries, setting loose a tidal wave of liability claims. According to court records viewed by The Verge, Amazon has faced more than 60 federal lawsuits over product liability in the past decade. The suits are a grim catalog of disaster: some allege that hoverboards purchased through the company burned down properties. A vape pen purchased through the company exploded in a pocket, according to another suit, leaving a 17-year-old with severe burns.
The list goes on: an allegedly faulty ladder bought on Amazon is blamed for a death. Two days after Christmas in 2014, a fire started at a Wyoming home, blamed on holiday lights purchased through the company. Firefighters found a man inside, facedown and unconscious, according to court filings. He died that night. The results of the suits have been mixed: Amazon has settled some cases, and successfully defended itself in others, depending on the circumstances. (The company declined to comment for this article.)
Throughout the cases, Amazon has taken advantage of its unusual legal status as half-platform, half-store. If Home Depot sells a defective bandsaw, the store can be sued alongside the company that made the product. That liability means conventional retailers have to be careful about the products they stock, making sure every item on store shelves has passed at least the most basic product safety requirements. States have passed different versions of product liability laws, but they all put the burden of fault on more than just the original manufacturer.
But Amazon is more complex: it acts as a direct seller of products, while also providing a platform, called Marketplace, for third parties to sell their products. Tightly integrated into Amazon’s own sales, Marketplace products are often cheaper for consumers, less controlled, and sometimes less reliable than other products — and because Amazon is usually seen as a platform for those sales rather than a seller, the company has far less liability for anything that goes wrong. But because the Marketplace is so intertwined with Amazon’s main “retail” store, it’s easy for customers to miss the difference.