Whistleblower: China, India had agents working for Twitter

Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, former head of security at Twitter, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on data security at Twitter, on Capitol Hill, September 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, former head of security at Twitter, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on data security at Twitter, on Capitol Hill, September 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. (AFP)
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Updated 14 September 2022

Whistleblower: China, India had agents working for Twitter

Whistleblower: China, India had agents working for Twitter
  • Zatko said he spoke with “high confidence” about a foreign agent that the government of India placed at Twitter to “understand the negotiations” between India’s ruling party and Twitter about new social media restrictions

WASHINGTON: Twitter’s former security chief told Congress Tuesday there was “at least one agent” from China’s intelligence service on Twitter’s payroll and that the company knowingly allowed India to add agents to the company roster as well, potentially giving those nations access to sensitive data about users.
These were some of the troubling revelations from Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, a respected cybersecurity expert and Twitter whistleblower who appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to lay out his allegations against the company.
Zatko told lawmakers that the social media platform is plagued by weak cyber defenses that make it vulnerable to exploitation by ” teenagers, thieves and spies” and put the privacy of its users at risk.
“I am here today because Twitter leadership is misleading the public, lawmakers, regulators and even its own board of directors,” Zatko said as he began his sworn testimony.
“They don’t know what data they have, where it lives and where it came from and so, unsurprisingly, they can’t protect it,” Zatko said. “It doesn’t matter who has keys if there are no locks.”
“Twitter leadership ignored its engineers,” he said, in part because “their executive incentives led them to prioritize profit over security.”
In a statement, Twitter said its hiring process is “independent of any foreign influence” and access to data is managed through a host of measures, including background checks, access controls, and monitoring and detection systems and processes.
One issue that didn’t come up in the hearing was the question of whether Twitter is accurately counting its active users, an important metric for its advertisers. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who is trying to get out of a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter, has argued without evidence that many of Twitter’s roughly 238 million daily users are fake or malicious accounts, aka “spam bots.”
Even so, “that doesn’t mean that Musk won’t use Zatko’s allegation that Twitter was disinterested in removing bots to try to bolster his argument for walking away from the deal,” said Insider Intelligence analyst Jasmine Enberg.
The Delaware judge overseeing the case ruled last week that Musk can include new evidence related to Zatko’s allegations in the high-stakes trial, which is set to start Oct. 17. During the hearing, Musk tweeted a popcorn emoji, often used to suggest that one is sitting back in anticipation of unfolding drama.
Separately on Tuesday, Twitter’s shareholders voted overwhelmingly to approve the deal, according to multiple media reports. Shareholders have been voting remotely on the issue for weeks. The vote was largely a formality, particularly given Musk’s efforts to nullify the deal, although it does clear a legal hurdle to closing the sale.
Zatko’s message echoed one brought to Congress against another social media giant last year. But unlike that Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, Zatko hasn’t brought troves of internal documents to back up his claims.
Zatko was the head of security for the influential platform until he was fired early this year. He filed a whistleblower complaint in July with Congress, the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Among his most serious accusations is that Twitter violated the terms of a 2011 FTC settlement by falsely claiming that it had put stronger measures in place to protect the security and privacy of its users.
Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who heads the Judiciary Committee, said Zatko has detailed flaws “that may pose a direct threat to Twitter’s hundreds of millions of users as well as to American democracy.”
“Twitter is an immensely powerful platform and can’t afford gaping vulnerabilities,” he said.
Unknown to Twitter users, there’s far more of their personal information disclosed than they — or sometimes even Twitter itself — realize, Zatko testified. He said Twitter did not address “basic systemic failures” brought forward by company engineers.
The FTC has been “a little over its head”, and far behind European counterparts, in policing the sort of privacy violations that have occurred at Twitter, Zatko said.
Zatko’s allegation that Twitter was more concerned about foreign regulators than the FTC, Enberg said, “could be a wakeup call for US lawmakers,” who have been unable to pass meaningful regulation on social media companies.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said one positive result that could come out of Zatko’s findings would be bipartisan legislation to set up a tighter system of regulation of tech platforms.
“We need to up our game in this country,” he said.
Many of Zatko’s claims are uncorroborated and appear to have little documentary support. Twitter has called Zatko’s description of events “a false narrative ... riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies” and lacking important context.
Still, Zatko came off as a convincing whistleblower who has “a lot of credibility in this space,” said Ari Lightman, professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University. But he said many of the problems he raised can likely be found at many other digital technology platforms
“They avoid security protocols in a sense of innovating and running really fast,” Lightman said. “We gave digital platforms so much autonomy at the beginning to grow and develop. Now we’re at a point where we’re, ‘Wait a minute ... This has gotten out of hand.’
Among the assertions from Zatko that drew lawmaker attention was Twitter’s apparent negligence in dealing with governments that sought to get spies a job inside the company. Twitter’s inability to log how employees accessed user accounts made it hard for the company to detect when employees were abusing their access, Zatko said.
Zatko said he spoke with “high confidence” about a foreign agent that the government of India placed at Twitter to “understand the negotiations” between India’s ruling party and Twitter about new social media restrictions and how well those negotiations were going.
Zatko also revealed Tuesday that he was told about a week before his firing that “at least one agent” from the Chinese intelligence service MSS, or the Ministry of State Security, was “on the payroll” at Twitter.
He said he was similarly “surprised and shocked” by an exchange with current Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal about Russia — in which Twitter’s current CEO, who was chief technology officer at the time, asked if it would be possible to “punt” content moderation and surveillance to the Russian government, since Twitter doesn’t really “have the ability and tools to do things correctly.”
“And since they have elections, doesn’t that make them a democracy?” Zatko recalled Agrawal saying.
Sen. Charles Grassley, the committee’s ranking Republican, said Tuesday that Agrawal declined to testify at the hearing, citing the ongoing legal proceedings with Musk. But the hearing is “more important than Twitter’s civil litigation in Delaware,” Grassley said. Twitter declined to comment on Grassley’s remarks.
In his complaint, Zatko accused Agrawal as well as other senior executives and board members of numerous violations, including making “false and misleading statements to users and the FTC about the Twitter platform’s security, privacy and integrity.”
Zatko, 51, first gained prominence in the 1990s as a pioneer in the ethical hacking movement and later worked in senior positions at an elite Defense Department research unit and at Google. He joined Twitter in late 2020 at the urging of then-CEO Jack Dorsey.
 

 


Iconic Arabic current affairs magazine Al-Majalla relaunches combining critical analysis with a new revamped digital product

Iconic Arabic current affairs magazine Al-Majalla relaunches combining critical analysis with a new revamped digital product
Updated 59 min 31 sec ago

Iconic Arabic current affairs magazine Al-Majalla relaunches combining critical analysis with a new revamped digital product

Iconic Arabic current affairs magazine Al-Majalla relaunches combining critical analysis with a new revamped digital product
  • Guided by its commitment to quality content, Al Majalla relaunches today to continue to provide insightful analysis into the world's most crucial topics through exclusive interviews and detailed reports
  • World-leading Arabic writers, global journalists, and contributors will continue to feature in Al Majalla to ensure it remains the leading magazine for global opinion formers, offering in-depth analysis, in print and online in Arabic and English

LONDON: Today, Al Majalla, one of SRMG’s key brands and the leading magazine for current and political affairs in the Arab world has re-launched its print edition in Arabic with a new design, accompanied by cutting-edge digital platforms in both Arabic and English. The relaunch encompasses a revitalization of all aspects of the brand, including a new editorial content strategy focusing on premium news, data and analysis, a modern aesthetic, and state-of-the-art technology. The first phase of the revamp is a soft launch with plans to continually enhance the magazine’s editorial and product offerings, in line with evolving consumer habits.

Al Majalla’s new offering will build on its reputation and honor the legacy of the magazine. For more than forty years, Al Majalla has been a trusted voice for its objective journalism. It is known for landmark coverage, insightful interviews and analysis by renowned writers, opinion formers, politicians, and decision-makers from the Middle East and across the globe.

Previously led by renowned figures such as Othman Al-Omair, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, and H.E. Dr. Adel Al Toraifi, the magazine's archives boast a wealth of distinguished and exclusive interviews with noteworthy figures, including UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, US President Ronald Reagan, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, boxer Muhammad Ali, and poet Nizar Qabbani.

As part of the new editorial strategy, Al Majalla will place a premium on rigorous journalism and address global issues with credibility through exclusive interviews and meticulous reporting. The magazine will delve into events through in-depth analysis, backed by data, offering fresh perspectives, with a commitment to being a reliable source of information in an era of widespread misinformation.

Building on the magazine’s rich legacy, the new Al Majalla will meet the growing demand to deliver in-depth coverage and analysis to its audience of opinion formers, politicians, business leaders, and decisions makers. This readership encompasses not only the Gulf and the Middle East, but people all over the globe in leading capitals and areas of business in Asia, Europe, America, and beyond.

Commenting on the re-launch of the magazine and its digitalization, Jomana R. Al-Rashid, CEO of SRMG, said: "The essence of modern journalism extends beyond platform development or technology advancements, involving continuous research about – and engagement with – target audiences, fostering a commitment to editorial principles that align with global standards. This includes everything from crafting press materials and selecting the means of presentation, to evaluating and continuously refining the content and honing media and journalistic talent.

Al-Rashid added: “Given the legacy of Al Majalla, we have a responsibility to ensure that credibility remains at our core. SRMG continues to champion journalistic integrity to provide audiences with the depth of information they need to make informed decisions. Over the past four decades, Al-Majalla has been a reliable media and knowledge source in the political, economic, social, and cultural spheres. Today we are proud to deliver the new Al Majalla and we hope that the magazine will continue to be held in high esteem by its readers around the world.”

Al Majalla dedicates the cover story of its first print edition to the events as they unfold in Iran, unpacking the impact of change in Tehran on the region. The first issue also includes interviews with Arab and international opinion leaders

and intellectuals and features official historical documents and reports on the latest economic and technological trends as well as cultural news from the region and the world.

SRMG has a network of more than 30 media outlets including Asharq Al-Awsat, Asharq News Network, Arab News, Independent Arabia, Sayidaty, Hia, and Al Eqtisadiah. SRMG has transformed its portfolio with new platforms, investments in innovative media start-ups, and long-term partnerships with prominent, international brands such as Bloomberg Media and Warner Bros. Discovery.


Israeli filmmakers call for boycott of film fund

Israeli filmmakers call for boycott of film fund
Updated 07 February 2023

Israeli filmmakers call for boycott of film fund

Israeli filmmakers call for boycott of film fund
  • Director Noam Sheizaf wrote an op-ed for The New York Times called “Israel’s Government Is Trying to Turn the Film Industry into a Propaganda Arm”
  • More than 100 artists and filmmakers have signed a petition calling for an industry boycott of the Rabinovich fund until the foundation stops requiring the loyalty oath

DUBAI: Israel’s efforts to reserve state funding for films that propagate the nation’s far-right agenda has resulted in several filmmakers calling for a boycott of the country’s film funds.

Culture Minister Makhlouf Zohar, who took office in December, has pushed for new requirements that force filmmakers and artists into guaranteeing that their work will not smear the reputation of Israel or its military.

Zohar is also considering revoking funding for two documentaries, “H2: The Occupation Lab” and “Two Kids a Day.”

The former looks at the impact of Jewish settlers and military occupation on the Palestinian city of Hebron, while the latter explores the systematic daily arrests of children by the Israeli army.

“[Zohar] might think what he wants about our film, but we object to the whole notion of the minister having a committee in his office to review documents,” Noam Sheizaf, co-director of “H2: The Occupation Lab,” told Variety magazine. “We think it’s crazy.”

Sheizaf, who wrote an op-ed on this topic for The New York Times called “Israel’s Government Is Trying to Turn the Film Industry into a Propaganda Arm,” added: “It’s a small market, so without this support [film funds] it’s basically impossible, unless you’re very rich, to make documentaries.”

Zohar has argued for additional requirements to funding regulations that would force artists to sign a loyalty agreement stating they will not tarnish the country if they receive state funding.

The proposed pledge is similar to the “Nakba Law,” a 2011 amendment to the Foundations of the Budget Law, which allows the government to cut state funding to institutions for any activity that denies Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, or that incites racism, violence, or terror.

The Rabinovich Foundation’s Israel Cinema Project, the country’s largest film fund, already requires applicants to sign off on that pledge.

The ministry is now aiming to expand the Nakba Law requirements to all the film funds and to add further articles that would prohibit funding to films that harm the country or its military, Sheizaf said.

In response, Israeli filmmakers have launched a counter-campaign calling for the Rabinovich fund to remove the requirements. More than 100 artists and filmmakers have signed a petition calling for an industry boycott of the Rabinovich fund until the foundation stops requiring the loyalty oath.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel last year called on all film institutions, including international festivals, cinemas and distributors, to boycott films funded by the Rabinovich fund since 2017, which is when the legal requirements were included in the foundation’s agreements.

“The law regulates all institutions funded by the State of Israel — including all Israeli film funds — and not only the Rabinovich Foundation,” the foundation told Variety in a statement.

“We believe that if the filmmakers do not agree with this law, a law that compels all Israeli film funds, their fight should be a fight to change the law itself — in the Israeli Knesset,” the statement added.

Israel’s Ministry of Communications earlier this month announced that plans to defund and shut down public broadcaster KAN had been shelved “until further notice” so that the government could focus its efforts on passing the much-disputed legal reforms instead, reported The Jerusalem Post.

However, Sheizaf and co-director of “H2: The Occupation Lab,” Idit Avrahami, who have both signed the boycott petition, said that was not enough.

Sheizaf said that the channel would still have to fight to stay on air as the government is expected to resume its defunding plans once it has implemented the legal reforms to strengthen its overall position.

Avrahami said: “The film industry is being attacked, as is public television, and specifically documentaries.”


Kenya labor court rules that Facebook can be sued

Kenya labor court rules that Facebook can be sued
Updated 07 February 2023

Kenya labor court rules that Facebook can be sued

Kenya labor court rules that Facebook can be sued
  • A former Facebook moderator in Kenya is suing Meta over harmful work environment
  • The lawsuit claims Meta content moderation teams were understaffed and no mental health support provided

NAIROBI: A judge in Kenya has ruled that Facebook’s parent company, Meta, can be sued in the East African country.
Meta tried to have the case dropped, arguing that Kenyan courts do not have jurisdiction over their operations, but the labor court judge dismissed that in a ruling on Monday.
A former Facebook moderator in Kenya, Daniel Motaung, is suing the company claiming poor working conditions.
Motaung said that while working as a moderator he was exposed to gruesome content such as rape, torture, and beheadings that risked his and his colleagues’ mental health.
He said Meta did not offer mental health support to employees, required unreasonably long working hours, and offered minimal pay. Motaung worked in Facebook’s African hub in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, which is operated by Samasource Ltd.
Following the judge's decision that Meta can be sued in Kenya, the next step in the case will be considered by the court on Mar. 8.
Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director Irungu Houghton termed the ruling as “historic.”
“This is a significant step that ensures the authority of Kenyan courts to protect and enforce fundamental human rights… The social media platforms have serious impacts on people’s lives and societies. They must be more accountable,” he said in a statement.
Meta is facing a separate court case in which two Ethiopians say hate speech was allowed and even promoted on Facebook amid heated rhetoric over their country’s deadly Tigray conflict.
That lawsuit alleges that Meta hasn’t hired enough content moderators to adequately monitor posts, that it uses an algorithm that prioritizes hateful content, and that it responds more slowly to crises in Africa than elsewhere in the world.
The Associated Press and more than a dozen other media outlets last year reported that Facebook had failed to quickly and effectively moderate hate speech in several places around the world, including in Ethiopia. The reports were based on internal Facebook documents leaked by former employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen.


Report: 74% of Saudi shoppers use Google Search to research products before buying

Report: 74% of Saudi shoppers use Google Search to research products before buying
Updated 07 February 2023

Report: 74% of Saudi shoppers use Google Search to research products before buying

Report: 74% of Saudi shoppers use Google Search to research products before buying
  • Google and Kantar study sheds light on Saudis’ shopping habits during Ramadan

The year’s biggest shopping season, Ramadan, is coming up next month and brands are already planning their marketing activities.

In order to help brands better understand their audiences, Google partnered with data analytics and consulting company Kantar to study Saudi consumers’ shopping behaviors across five product categories during Ramadan — consumer electronics, home and garden, fashion, food and groceries, and beauty.

“The shift we’ve seen in consumer behavior has given retailers the opportunity to deepen their relationships with consumers through digital solutions,” Charbel Sarkis, director, Saudi Arabia and Retail at Google MENA, told Arab News.

“Our goal will continue to empower the retail sector in Saudi and the region to accelerate their digital transformation journey and offer tools and solutions to harness their data to achieve business results and enhance customer relationships,” he added.

Nearly 100 percent of consumers in the Kingdom research products online before purchasing. In their online journey, Google Search is the top destination with 74 percent of Saudi shoppers using it to research product information.

The growth in video is also reflected in shoppers’ search journey with 52 percent of Saudi shoppers using YouTube specifically to research product information.

The platform became the top-used video app in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan last year, with the highest number of active users at 18.1 million, marking an increase of 190,000 users from the previous year.

Consumers use YouTube for more than just research with over 11 million people streaming YouTube on their TV in Saudi Arabia last year and the platform reaching more than 20 million people over the age of 18 in the Kingdom in the same period.

The study identified three distinct shopping behaviors among consumers in the Kingdom. People buy different things for different reasons during the holy month. The majority (41 percent) of consumers said that they shop during Ramadan because they want something new — especially for home and garden products, and consumer electronics.

However, when it comes to beauty, 43 percent said they shop for personal reward, 36 percent prioritize sustainability, and 30 percent of fashion buyers want brands to respect diversity and inclusion.

The second behavior is the need for and the shift toward a hassle-free shopping experience. Around two-thirds of Saudi consumers experience various issues with online shopping during the holy month.

For example, 25 percent of consumer electronics shoppers and 23 percent of beauty shoppers said that independent product reviews are hard to find, while 20 percent of consumers buying consumer electronics and 21 percent of people purchasing products in the home and garden category experience online registration or log-in issues.

The need for a smooth shopping experience is not restricted to online channels. Sixty-three percent of Saudi consumers found offline shopping challenging, specifically when buying food and groceries, with the main issues being limited time to research products, not being able to access online information from inside the store, and unavailability of products.

The third behavior, according to the study, is loyalty or the lack of it. Typically, most Saudi shoppers (84 percent) buy from only one or a few retailers during Ramadan, but an inconvenient shopping experience can change that.

Forty-two percent said they would try a new brand, retailer, or platform if they offer faster shipping; 36 percent would do the same if an item is available elsewhere first, and 33 percent would do so if a product is less expensive.

I

Based on these findings, the study suggests that marketers should include detailed information about what they are selling in the advertisement, and create an optimized online experience, especially on mobile.

The report also advises brands to ensure product information is easily available online and accessible from inside the store, with regular updates on stock availability, and to remind consumers of the benefits and conveniences of shopping from their brand by targeting customers who have visited their site before.


Blue tick Twitter accounts spread fake news over Turkiye earthquake

Blue tick Twitter accounts spread fake news over Turkiye earthquake
Updated 07 February 2023

Blue tick Twitter accounts spread fake news over Turkiye earthquake

Blue tick Twitter accounts spread fake news over Turkiye earthquake
  • One misleading video links 2020 Beirut port blast footage to quake destruction
  • ‘So-called news accounts’ should be ‘thoroughly ashamed,’ one user says

LONDON: A blue tick account on Twitter with more than 11,000 followers was accused of spreading fake news after linking a video of the 2020 Beirut port blast to Monday’s 7.5-magnitude earthquake that devastated parts of Syria and Turkiye.

Self-described media and news company CBKNEWS on Monday published a video showing the explosion of ammonium nitrate stored in the Lebanese capital, claiming that the footage showed a nuclear plant that exploded due to the earthquake in Turkiye.

Turkiye has no operational reactors and authorities confirmed that the Akkuyu nuclear site under construction did not suffer any damage during the quakes.

The post was promptly mass reported and Twitter flagged the video to let users know about the misleading content.

CBKNEWS was also reported to have published another video that was also labeled as misleading by the platform.

The page subsequently acknowledged the claims by adding a message about the origin of the video, but it has yet to delete the post.

Since its publication, the video has been retweeted 712 times, including by other blue tick accounts.

The post has sparked anger among users, who called on the channel to take down the post and avoid spreading misleading information.

“This tweet has been reported for misinformation. I suggest everyone else do the same,” one user said.

 

Another described the post as “distatesful,” adding that the “so-called news account” should be “thoroughly ashamed” for posting the content.

 

On Tuesday, Turkish police said that they had detained four people over “provocative” social media posts following the earthquake.

A larger investigation into social media accounts was continuing, police said, without providing further information about the misleading content.