Google takes aim at fake news ‘bad actors’

Matt Brittin, Google’s head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, believes more needs to be done to tackle the exponential growth of fake news. (Photo courtesy of Google)
Updated 07 November 2017
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Google takes aim at fake news ‘bad actors’

LONDON: Matt Brittin, Google’s head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is used to being in the spotlight. Extremist content, brand safety, corporate tax avoidance — he has publicly faced questioning about it all.
Now, in light of Russian interference in the 2016 US election and the recent Senate committee hearings in Washington, it’s all about politics.
The US-based tech company has admitted that the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency spent $4,700 on advertising as part of a misinformation campaign during the election. It also revealed that 1,108 Russian-linked videos uploaded to YouTube generated 309,000 views in the US.
Although Google has since launched initiatives to provide increased transparency and enhance security in light of the revelations, Brittin told reporters at Google’s European headquarters in Dublin that more needs to be done.
“Any misrepresentation is bad and we have continued to look at how we can improve our policies and transparency,” he said. “Any time there’s (an) electoral process we really want to make sure that our role in that is clean and legitimate and supportive in all of the things that you would expect. And we work hard to do that.”
According to Brittin, who is president of EMEA business and operations at Google, “bad actors” were attempting to use Google’s systems and platforms for “bad purposes”, and had been trying to do so for some time.
“We’ve constantly tried to put in place policies and controls and verifications to try to stop that from happening,” he said. “We’ve made some good progress and we obviously need to do more.”
In light of Russia’s suspected interference in the 2016 presidential election, Google has undergone a deep review of how its ad systems are used. Although some changes have already been made to the company’s policies, a transparency report for election ads to be released in early 2018 should shine more light on the topic.
The furor over political ads, however, is far from Google’s only problem. Concerns over privacy, tax evasion, ad fraud and brand safety have shadowed the company over the past few years. In March, for example, Brittin had to issue an apology to the advertising industry after brands found their ads appearing next to controversial content on YouTube.
All of which goes hand-in-hand with a discernible backlash against the tech industry. While Facebook has received the greatest levels of flack, Google stands accused of being too big and too powerful. It is an accusation that Brittin acknowledges.
“Because of the pace of change in how everyday people are using technology, communicating, accessing information, creating and sharing their own content, that change throws up a whole bunch of new questions for all of us,” said Brittin. “And what I want to make sure that Google does is [be] in the room when there’s a conversation about those things going on and we can explain what we do today. Because quite often that’s misunderstood or not researched that thoroughly.”
Brittin uses fake news as an example.
“Fake news has become a topical term — an umbrella term spanning everything from what people don’t like that’s written about them to genuinely misrepresentative stuff,” said Brittin. “So in a world where 140 websites about US politics come from a Macedonian village, that’s clearly misrepresentative and fake and we need to work hard to tackle that. Bad actors and anyone with a smartphone being able to create content is a challenge.
“We’ve tried to do two things in this category. We try to help quality content thrive, and we have tried to identify and weed out the bad actors. The amount of work we do on weeding out the bad actors is phenomenal and not that widely known.”
Google said it took down 1.7 billion ads for violating its advertising policies in 2016, a figure that represents double the amount taken down in 2015. It also removed over 100,000 publishers from AdSense and expanded its inappropriate content policy to include dangerous and derogatory content. It is also using artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to better detect suspicious content.
Meanwhile, projects such as the Digital News Initiative, a partnership between Google and publishers in Europe, are supporting high-quality journalism through technology and innovation.
“I think about three groups really: users, creators (in the broader sense, whether it’s entrepreneurs or journalists or content creators of videos or app developers), and advertisers,” said Brittin.
“And if we want the next five billion people to come online to have the benefits of the services and the content that we enjoy today, we need to make sure that that ecosystem continues to work well.
“The online world is just like the world. There are complexities and challenges and there are bad actors there too, and what we need to do as an industry is come together to make it as safe as we can do. We can’t always guarantee 100 percent safety, but what we can do is put in place rules and principles and practices and so on that help people to use this and navigate the highway safely.”


Saudi Royal Court adviser confirms tough stance on piracy amid row over Qatar’s World Cup broadcasts

Updated 20 min 51 sec ago
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Saudi Royal Court adviser confirms tough stance on piracy amid row over Qatar’s World Cup broadcasts

  • In an interview with CNN, Saud Al-Qahtani commented on the allegations that Saudi Arabia has supported Beout Q, dismissing claims that it is Saudi Arabia’s responsibility to remove it from the Arabsat satellite.
  • The Royal Court adviser stressed the seriousness with which Saudi Arabia views the issue of piracy.

DUBAI: An adviser to Saudi Arabia’s Royal Court has underlined the Kingdom’s tough stance on piracy, following allegations that the country had supported a channel broadcasting World Cup games illegally.
The pirate channel, called “Beout Q,” has broadcast games for which the rights are held by Qatar’s BeIN Sports network, which is itself embroiled in a row over its coverage of the football tournament.
In an interview with CNN Arabic, Saudi Royal Court adviser Saud Al-Qahtani commented on the allegations that Saudi Arabia has supported Beout Q, dismissing claims that it is the Kingdom’s responsibility to remove it from the Arabsat satellite.
He told CNN: “First of all, who said that the ‘pirated’ broadcast is from Arabsat? And do we even how the piracy was done? From my side, I have not read (anything) but accusations about the matter. Anyway, this is question that should be asked to Arabsat and not to me.”
He pointed out that Arabsat is affiliated with all members of the Arab League, and so questions over the Beout Q channel should not be addressed to Saudi Arabia alone.
The Royal Court adviser stressed the seriousness with which Saudi Arabia views the issue of piracy.
“The Kingdom respects the protection of intellectual rights and is committed to the international agreements in the context. It has also been known about the Kingdom how unforgiving it is about piracy,” he said.
“The piracy problem is an international one. There are many other states that took similar actions and confiscated piracy devices, like Kuwait and Oman. We cannot forget that there is a similar problem in several Asian and European countries as well. Above of all that, some videos show that Beout Q is diffused in Doha, even in public places.”
Regarding the Kingdom’s intention to launch a network of channels to compete with the Qatar-owned stations, Al-Qahtani said: “In Saudi Arabia, we do not take decisions based on reactions to what others do. Currently, what matters to us is for the broadcast rights of international sports competitions to be given fairly, ensuring that no state exploits the broadcast of games to pass political agendas on the account of Olympic protocols, as Qatar is currently doing.”
Al-Qahtani confirmed that Saudi Arabia is taking legal measures against the Qatar-owned BeIN Sports network for mixing sport with politics in its coverage of the ongoing football tournament.
Numerous comments by hosts and pundits aired on BeIN’s Arabic station prompted the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) to complain to FIFA earlier this week, saying the Qatar-owned broadcaster was using the football tournament to spread political messages aimed at insulting Saudi Arabia and its leaders.
“The Qatari channel’s comments are a massive abuse against my country and the Saudi people,” Al-Qahtani told CNN Arabic.
“The Qatari monopoly has become a disaster to football fans. We are demanding an intervention to break the monopoly of BeIN Sports to avoid further aggravation.”
One BeIN commentator accused Riyadh of “selling the Palestinian cause,” while others called for an end of the diplomatic boycott of Qatar by the Anti-Terror Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain.
Experts in the field of sports media earlier confirmed to Arab News that BeIN’s World Cup commentary was a breach of the rules and that Saudi Arabia will have a “case” in the complaint filed to FIFA.
“The ball is in the court of FIFA,” Al-Qahtani told CNN.
“We also demand the activation of Olympics protocols forbidding (BeIN) to use sports to pass its political agenda, as this has provoked the great anger of Saudi citizens and their Arab brothers who did not want the political differences to break into the world of sports.”
Many famous Arab sports players, media presenters, intellectuals and lawyers have signed a petition to protest against BeIN’s politicization of World Cup coverage, urging FIFA President Gianni Infantino to investigate.
More than 115,000 people have signed the petition — available at www.sports4everyone.org — in the past few days.
The website presents several examples of BeIN’s politicization of sports during the 2018 World Cup, with many during the opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Comments made during that game have been referred to international law firms to take legal action against those involved.
The SAFF demanded FIFA take vigorous action against the Qatari government, which owns the beIN Sports channels.
BeIN holds the rights to broadcast the World Cup across the Middle East and North Africa, but its channels are not available in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Qahtani said that his tweets criticizing Doha’s policies are directed at the Qatari rulers, and not the Qatari people, whom he considers as “victims” of the regime.
In the interview with CNN, Al-Qahtani noted that the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs was responsible for handling the Qatari issue, and that his statements are an expression of his own personal view.