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Technology 19 July 2021

The Week in Internet News: U.S. Health Official Warns of COVID Misinformation Online

Grant Gross
By Grant GrossTechnology Reporter

Bad information: The U.S. surgeon general, the nation’s top public health spokesman, is calling on social media outlets to crack down on misinformation about COVID-19 and the safety of vaccines, The New York Times reports. Misinformation about the pandemic and the vaccines available is “an urgent threat to public health,” Dr. Vivek Murthy said. “Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment, with little accountability to their users.”

Attacking misinformation: About the same time that Murthy was calling out social media companies for not doing enough to weed out misinformation about COVID vaccines, a report from Twitter noted that the company had removed about 3,800 pieces of misinformation about the pandemic in a six-month period, The Sydney Morning Herald says. That’s a small number of removals, but Twitter also said it was accelerating its efforts, assisted by automated tools, to remove misinformation about the disease and vaccines.

Warning for big tech: The former mayor of Chongqing, the huge municipality in China, warned big tech companies that their collection of personal data, along with their ability to take advantages of human weaknesses, will be met with major regulations in China in the coming years, the South China Morning Post reports. “Taking advantage of weaknesses in human nature to entice purchases is actually unscrupulous or even against the law,” said Huang Qifan. “Companies that design their products targeting human weakness will have a hard time surviving in the long term.”

Big fines: France’s antitrust agency has fined Google parent company Alphabet US$593 million over copyright complaints from news publishers there, Reuters says. News publishers APIG, SEPM, and AFP have accused Google of failing to hold talks in good faith to find common ground on the payment for news content online.

Selling hacking: Microsoft and human rights group Citizen Lab have accused Israeli technology vendor Candiru of selling tools that allow users to hack into Windows, Reuters reports through The Jerusalem Post. The company’s surveillance tools are being used against people in several countries, including Iran, Lebanon, Spain, and the U.K., Citizen Lab says.

How will a policy, technology, or trend impact the foundation that makes the Internet work for everyone? The Internet Impact Assessment Toolkit starts with five questions.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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