Experts Call for Online Fake News to Be Addressed as #COVID19 Vaccine Emerges

There need to be better steps taken by politicians and social media platforms to deal with fake news, especially as the COVID-19 vaccine is created.

Speaking during the Westminster Forum Conference on tackling fake news and online misinformation, event chair Khalid Mahmood MP, shadow defense minister for procurement, said, as we have seen throughout the pandemic, certain misinformation has been passed around and it is effective in getting to people. “That is just in terms of the pandemic that we are seeing at the moment,” he added, pointing out that fake news is published about politicians too.

He said an issue is how responsibility “is totally negated from platforms where someone can put whatever they want and move forward” and trying to trace that back and address that is becoming increasingly difficult as platforms take time to deal with it.

Admitting that this is a very difficult issue to deal with, he said we need to look at some sort of level footing on this before it is out of control.

Commenting on the role of platform providers, Katie O’Donovan, head of public policy at Google UK, said there is a challenge around freedom of speech where the meaning around the words can vary, depending on how things are said.

She said: “So you cannot regulate words and sentences, you have to understand the context of how they were made, and ask what is the context and hyperbole and is it a threat made to an individual or a group of people?”

Asked by Infosecurity if social media platforms are doing enough to prevent fake news whilst enabling free speech, O’Donovan said there is a need for more legislation and regulation. She argued that the government is doing a good job of addressing a broad range of harms, whilst offering the opportunity to engage and to “have a vibrant online debate.” However, platforms have a responsibility not to wait for that regulation, and over the years, that has grown very steadily.

Michael Wendling, editor of the Trending and Anti-Disinformation Unit at BBC News, said there is going to be a massive wave of vaccine disinformation, which is ramping up now, and as the vaccine becomes available for COVID-19 “that will make what happened over the 5G masts look like a minor skirmish.” He said if measures by platforms are effective, there will be a larger take-up of the vaccine, and if not, there will be less take-up, and the pandemic may continue.

Also speaking was Oscar Tapp-Scotting, deputy director for security and international at DCMS, who confirmed it has been working with platforms to address disinformation and has seen platforms take steps to reduce “misleading narratives.”

He said: “Each of the platforms is different; each has a different user base and provides information in different ways, so how they tackle this will vary by platform.” He also said that in a recent meeting with social media platforms, they would agree to work with healthcare organizations to publish correct information, so users have the ability to make the right choice.

Mahmood said there is a need for politicians to look at social media and how it deals with fake news, “and this has to be the way for all of us in how we deal with fake news, as ultimately there has to be some sort of responsibility between both us and the platforms and how we get the motion across and how we get them to work together.”

How to Reduce Fake News in Online Advertising

Steps can be taken to reduce the threat of fake news infiltrating online advertising.

Speaking during the Westminster Forum Conference about tackling fake news and online misinformation, Konrad Shek, deputy director, policy and regulation at the Advertising Association, said the advent of disinformation has had an “enormous impact on trust in the media and politics.”

He said within commercial advertising there have been cases of false claims and promoted stories, and manipulated content, which can appear on social media and news feeds, while some websites that do “propagate false information are supported by adverts and legitimate ads can find themselves on these dubious websites.”

He also explained that there are online fraudsters that use tactics to better promote adverts, including adding clicks for misattribution, which can divert advertisers’ money to the fraudulent actor. “I’d refrain from saying that restricting adverts is a solution, as you have to think about the consequences of an approach and the impact it would have on the free internet,” he said. This calls for four options, he continued:

  1. Try and choke the funds to fake news websites, as brands are already sensitive about the impact of being associated with these websites and this is a good incentive to work towards being placed on such websites. However, he pointed out that the speed of ads in the supply chain means it may not always be possible to know where the ad has been published
  2. The use of standards and technology to reduce ad fraud and reduce advertising money in the supply chain. “There are already several industry standards that have anti-fraud certification processes,” he said, with technology that can aid in the fight against ad fraud with an ever-increasing number of detection and prevention tools. “To that end, it is really important that the ASA is properly funded and it can continue to invest in technology to help it spot non-compliant ads online”
  3. Aiding the general public to build resistance and encourage critical thinking skills. “We need to invest more in digital literacy to help people inoculate themselves against scams and misinformation,” he said. “With society as a whole, we need to look at media more critically – look at ads with a more critical eye and ask what the motivation behind it is, and is it too good to be true?”
  4. Address political advertising, as this is not regulated by the ASA. “Politicians and political parties need to come together to figure out an appropriate solution soon, as, in the meantime, unregulated political advertising erodes trust in all advertising”

“There is obviously a lot more to be done,” Shek said. “Economic gain is a significant factor in why disinformation exists as advertising plays a core part in it, but we need to realize there are other factors in play.”

He claimed a solution requires a holistic and proper multi-disciplinary approach, and work needs to be done to ensure like-minded countries are allied on this, as it is hard to discern what is real and what is not.

MasterChef Producer Hit by Double Extortion Ransomware

A multibillion-dollar TV production company has become the latest big corporate name caught out by ransomware, it emerged late last week.

French multinational firm Banijay SAS owns over 120 production firms around the world, delivering TV shows ranging from MasterChef and Big Brother to Black Mirror and The Island with Bear Grylls.

In a short update last Thursday, it claimed to be managing a “cyber-incident” affecting the networks of Endemol Shine Group and Endemol Shine International, Dutch firms it acquired in a $2.2bn deal in July.

Although ransomware isn’t named in the notice, previous reports suggest the firm is being extorted.

It admitted that data may have been taken, in what would be a classic “double extortion” attack.

“The business has reason to believe certain personal data of current and ex-employees may have been compromised, as well as commercially sensitive information,” it said.

“We are continuing to take the appropriate steps and remain committed to protecting our employees, past and present, so if we do identify any cases of data being taken or misused, we will contact the affected individuals directly.”

In the meantime, the firm said it is investigating the attack with “independent specialists” and has notified the relevant authorities in the Netherlands and the UK: the two countries affected by the incident.

Banijay would do well not to engage with the extortionists. A recent Coveware report warned that “paying a threat actor not to leak stolen data provides almost no benefit to the victim.”

The vendor claimed that several ransomware groups still publicly dox companies even after payment, while others may demand a second payment to remove any data they may have stolen.

Victim organizations should, in any case, assume that it has been or will be either sold to other threat actors or used in a future extortion attempt, Coveware claimed.

Company Director Disqualified After Nuisance Calls

The director of a marketing company that made tens of thousands of nuisance calls has been banned from running a business for six years.

Elia Bols was director of AMS Marketing Limited, a firm founded in 2016 which was the subject of scores of complaints between October that year and October 2017.

UK regulator the Information Commissioner’s Office handed Bols a fine of £100,000 after judging that, under his direction, the firm had made over 75,000 nuisance calls. It should first have used the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) list of individuals who choose not to receive unsolicited contact, the ICO said.

AMS Marketing was wound-up in 2019, with the fine still outstanding, and Bols now lives in Australia. However, in his absence, the government has ruled that AMS Marketing broke Regulation 21 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

As a result, he is now disqualified from acting as a director or becoming directly or indirectly involved with running or promoting a company.

“Our work with the Insolvency Service has seen the successful disqualification of 17 directors who have shut their business down to try and avoid paying a fine for illegal marketing activity,” explained Andy Curry, head of investigations at the ICO.

“Nuisance calls, emails, and texts can be a huge problem and often cause people real distress. By taking unscrupulous directors out of action, we can help protect the public and their privacy.”

However, despite these successes, the ICO has been found wanting in terms of its collection of outstanding fines from such offenders.

An FOI request last month revealed that £6.6m, or over 39% of total fines, are still outstanding. Just 13% of nuisance calls fines were collected, versus 54% of data breach penalties.