All these accounts belong to customers of an obscure American company named Devumi that has collected millions of dollars in a shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud. Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online. Drawing on an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each sold many times over, the company has provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers, a New York Times investigation found.
The Reputation Society (MIT Press, 2012) is a collection of essays discussing the benefits and risks of online reputation. It focuses on asking the right questions today, so that reputation is better used in society tomorrow. Expert contributors offer perspectives ranging from philanthropy and open access to science and law. The 18 chapters are divided into 6 thematic parts. (The Table of Contents, sample chapters, and reviews are on the Reputation Society MIT Press web page.)
Facebook developed its reputation assessments as part of its effort against fake news, Tessa Lyons, the product manager who is in charge of fighting misinformation, said in an interview. The company, like others in tech, has long relied on its users to report problematic content — but as Facebook has given people more options, some users began falsely reporting items as untrue, a new twist on information warfare for which it had to account.
It’s “not uncommon for people to tell us something is false simply because they disagree with the premise of a story or they’re intentionally trying to target a particular publisher,” Lyons said.
A user’s trustworthiness score isn’t meant to be an absolute indicator of a person’s credibility, Lyons said, nor is there is a single unified reputation score that users are assigned. Rather, the score is one measurement among thousands of new behavioral clues that Facebook now takes into account as it seeks to understand risk. Facebook is also monitoring which users have a propensity to flag content published by others as problematic and which publishers are considered trustworthy by users.
It is unclear what other criteria Facebook measures to determine a user’s score, whether all users have a score and in what ways the scores are used.
The reputation assessments come as Silicon Valley, faced with Russian interference, fake news and ideological actors who abuse the company’s policies, is recalibrating its approach to risk — and is finding untested, algorithmically driven ways to understand who poses a threat. Twitter, for example, now factors in the behavior of other accounts in a person’s network as a risk factor in judging whether a person’s tweets should be spread.
“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 email@example.com.
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+).