Based on our groundbreaking 2018 research on the public’s digital attitudes and understanding, we ran a nationally representative survey just before lockdown and focus groups shortly after it began, benchmarking the public’s appetite, understanding and tolerance towards the impacts of tech on their lives.
This year’s research finds people continue to feel the internet is better for them as individuals than for society as a whole. 81% say the internet has made life a lot or a little better for ‘people like me’ while 58% say it has had a very positive or fairly positive impact on society overall.
Our most recent Dialogues & Debates, on April 28, was titled “Trustworthy Technology in the Time of a Pandemic” and featured Berlin-based Mozilla Fellow Frederike Kaltheuner. As a Mozilla Fellow, Frederike is examining applications of AI systems that classify, judge, and evaluate people’s identities, feelings, and emotions, in order to uncover where and how such technology is currently deployed. Before joining Mozilla, Frederike was a director at Privacy International in London, where she led the organisation’s strategic work on corporate surveillance and emerging technology.
During the virtual Dialogues & Debates, Frederike answered questions on Twitter submitted by our community. Questions and answers addressed contact tracing, whether privacy and public health are a zero sum game, whether face masks thwart facial recognition tech, and far more.
House lawmakers leading an antitrust investigation into Amazon demanded Friday that CEO Jeff Bezos testify about the company’s alleged practice of gleaning financial information from third-party sellers to bolster its own private label business.
Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science at Harvard, has focussed much of her career on examining distrust of science in the United States. In 2010, she and the historian Erik M. Conway published “Merchants of Doubt,” which examined the ways in which politics and big business have helped sow doubt about the scientific consensus. Her most recent book, “Why Trust Science?,” examines how our idea of the scientific method has changed over time, and how different societies went about verifying its accuracy. Her work often addresses climate change and why Americans have rejected climate-change science more than people in other countries have.
The coronavirus pandemic meets Israel at a moment of deep constitutional crises. The current government suffers from fundamental distrust among citizens, and lacks legitimacy after failing to regain power after three election cycles.
Restoring trust in a time of emergency is essential for overcoming national crises. Restoring trust in our social contract requires compliance with the rule of law. Securing fundamental rights is therefore not a luxury in time of crisis. It is a must for successfully winning the fight against the virus. It is also a must for ensuring we wake up in a free society at the other end of the crisis.
Facebook said this week it would be sending all of its contracted human moderators home. The company cannot offer remote working for its moderation staff owing to privacy considerations over the material they handle, and so its moderation work will be done exclusively by permanent employees for the foreseeable future.
Facebook says the absence of human moderators was not related to the spam filter error and it believes it is well prepared for moderating the site with a vastly reduced human workforce.
Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s head of health, said: “We believe the investments we’ve made over the past three years have prepared us for this situation. With fewer people available for human review, we’ll continue to prioritise imminent harm and increase our reliance on proactive detection in other areas to remove violating content. We don’t expect this to impact people using our platform in any noticeable way.”
Facebook is not the only technology firm to have sent home its moderators. YouTube announced on Monday that it would be relying more on AI to moderate videos in the future. Unlike Facebook, the video site did not commit to the change being invisible to users. Instead, it said more videos would be taken down as a result of the lack of human oversight.
Normally, YouTube videos are flagged by an AI and then sent to a human reviewer to confirm they should be taken down. But now videos will far more frequently be removed on the say of an AI alone. The company says it will not be giving creators a permanent black mark, or “strike”, if their videos are taken down without human review, since it accepts that it will inevitably end up taking down “some videos that may not violate policies”.
At first glance, Richard J. Baily’s book, “Coronavirus: Everything You Need to Know About the Wuhan Corona Virus and How to Prevent It,” appears to be an authoritative deep dive on how to prepare for the pandemic.
The book was the top “coronavirus” search result on Amazon for many users Tuesday — and not just in Amazon’s books section. The guidebook appeared before Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer, let alone any book written by a doctor or public health specialist. The first pages are filled with a well-written, useful primer called “What is Coronavirus?”
The book, however, isn’t what it appears to be. Each of the book’s chapters were directly plagiarized from other parts of the web. The first two chapters were lifted verbatim from NBC News stories by Erika Edwards and Sara Miller published in late January. The third chapter, which is dedicated to cleaning tips, was ripped from the website for Nancy’s Cleaning Services, a housekeeping company based in California. The remainder of the book is plagiarized verbatim from articles on ChinaLawBlog.com and The Guardian, according to a copy seen by NBC News.
Other books that appeared high on Amazon search results had similar issues, as well as authors whose identities could not be verified. The listings highlight the challenge that Amazon has faced as consumers have turned to the company for a variety of goods and information related to the new coronavirus.
Amazon has taken action to limit price gouging and removed more than 1 million products for making misleading claims.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company uses a combination of automated and human moderation tools to find and remove content that violates its guidelines.
“Amazon maintains content guidelines for the books it sells, and we continue to evaluate our catalog, listening to customer feedback. We have always required sellers, authors and publishers to provide accurate information on product detail pages, and we remove those that violate our policies,” an Amazon spokesperson said.
“In addition, at the top of relevant search results pages we are linking to CDC advice where customers can learn more about the virus and protective measures.”
Plagiarized books by nonexistent authors clogging the top of Amazon search results have become a familiar problem to real, independent authors who try to sell books on Amazon. Fake e-books, frequently plagiarized from original works, often crowd out authentic books and products at the top of Amazon pages.
During a mass health emergency, the plagiarized e-books could be filled with unreliable information, and drown out higher ranking products that could better safeguard the public. But Nate Hoffelder, the founder and editor of the e-reader site The Digital Reader, said similar scams have been going on at Amazon for years.
“Most of Amazon’s e-book competitors have a content approval process in place that keeps the worst content out,” Hoffelder said. “After 10 years of watching the internet grow and change, I have come to the conclusion that the platform is the issue. Internet companies try to run huge automated systems with little human oversight, and scammers can take advantage of the algorithms.”
Other platforms, like YouTube, have taken steps to prohibit users from profiting from coronavirus content. While creators are still allowed to upload coronavirus videos to YouTube, running ads along with them was disallowed, though the company said Wednesday it would begin allowing ads for some partners and creators.
Hoffelder said that the first time he remembered fake books being uploaded to Amazon’s store was in 2015, when users were creating short books and putting them on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription platform. Scammers were paid every time one of the books was loaned out using the program. Each of the plagiarized coronavirus books NBC News noticed in the first page of search results were eligible for a loan using Kindle Unlimited.
“I don’t know if it’s a case of can’t or won’t,” Hoffelder said. “What I do know is that Amazon is the only retailer with this problem. They have the lion’s share of the e-book market revenue, and could easily afford to use the same quality assurance processes as their competitors, and yet they still have this problem.”
Baily and Wang are not the only pseudonymous or nonexistent authors to take over the first page of results about the coronavirus on Amazon. “Dr. Kashif Saeed’s” book shares an almost identical description to Baily’s, except for several grammatical errors. “Coronavirus is that the word that’s one everyone’s lips immediately,“ the typo-ridden first line of the book’s description reads. “Saeed’s” other books alternately claim he is a veterinarian and a social media marketing and SEO expert.
Other books, like “Ramond Moroe’s” 38-page e-book “Sheild (sic) Against Corona-Virus: The Best Guide Ever (2020)” are littered with typos when they’re not directly plagiarizing news articles.
“In this book you will found a natural way to stay safe, all you needs to do is ..CLICK add to cart,” the description reads. The book frequently appears in the first page of search results when users query “coronavirus.” It was the eighth-ranked product on a sitewide Amazon search for “coronavirus” at publication time.
Some of the plagiarized books are filled with unintelligible 5-star reviews, which can help boost their rankings in search results.
“This book extremely extraordinary, in the wake of perusing this book I am so intrigued,” reads one review of Baily’s top-ranked e-book. “On account of the writer and would prescribed for this book to anybody. Many thanks to the author for giving us such a beautiful book.”
Hoffelder said scammers always appear to be “one step ahead of Amazon’s changing rules.”
“It seems like there’s a new con every other year or so, and that every time Amazon swats one, the cheaters invent a new one,” he said. “The problem with scammers in the Kindle Store was the Kindle Store.”
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.