Archive for Social Media

Facebook’s New Tool Allows You To Port Your Photos & Videos To Google

Facebook has announced that it is releasing a data portability tool that will enable Facebook users to transfer their Facebook photos and videos directly to other services, starting with Google Photos.

Why?

Facebook acknowledged in its white paper (published back in September) that under GDPR currently, and under the California Consumer Privacy Act rules next year, data portability is a legal requirement. Also, Facebook said that it had also been considering ways to improve people’s ability to transfer their Facebook data to other platforms and services for some time e.g. since 2010 Facebook has offered Download Your Information (“DYI”) to customers so they can share their information with other online services.

In addition to the legal requirements and Facebook’s existing DYI service, Facebook highlights its own belief in the principle of data portability, and how this could give people control and choice while encouraging innovation as the reason for the introduction of its new data portability tool.

What Is It?

Facebook says that its new photo transfer tool (the roll-out has just started) is a tool based on code that has been developed through participation in the open-source Data Transfer Project and can be accessed via Facebook settings within Your Facebook Information.

The tool will enable Facebook users to transfer their Facebook photos and videos directly to other services (Google Photos first).

The first part of the roll-out is in Ireland with worldwide availability planned for the first half of 2020.  Facebook says that the tool is still essentially in testing and that it will be refined based upon feedback from users and from conversations with stakeholders

Help From The Data Transfer Project

One of the key factors in the development of the portability tool was Facebook joining the Data Transfer Project (along with Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Apple, and others) which is an open-source software project that’s designed to help participants develop interoperable systems that will enable users to transfer their data seamlessly between online service providers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Facebook has been offering its DYI service for nearly 10 years, but the new portability tool is something which will enable Facebook to meet its legal requirements under GDPR and the CCPA while helping Facebook to stay competitive with other online services.

Facebook is also acutely aware of the damage done to user trust over the data sharing with Cambridge Analytica, which is why the recent white paper that Facebook published about its portability ideas clearly acknowledged that portability products need to be built in a privacy-protective way.

For Facebook users, this new tool may be one of the many new services that help them to be more trusting of Facebook again by making them feel that they have real options and choices about what they do with their files from Facebook (even though it’s a legal requirement to give people the portability option).

$20 Million Fight Highlights Value of Social Media and PR

The popularity and influence of two YouTube celebrities making their boxing event an all-time global Top 20 pay-per-view phenomenon and splitting a $20 million prize is a reminder of the magnifying value of online PR.

What Happened?

Two of the world’s leading YouTube celebrities and ‘Generation Z’ heroes Logan Paul and Olajide “KSI” Olatunji followed up on their 800,000+ pay-per-view, £2.7 million earning 6-round boxing match from last year at Manchester Arena with the repeat bout at a Los Angeles basketball arena.  This time, after their fight in the early hours of Sunday morning they were able to split $20 million made from 2 million+ pay-per-view purchases generated from their combined 40 million subscriber fan-base.  Neither of these YouTube celebrities is a boxing professional and their fight was in stark contrast to that of two World Champions, fighting on the same bill, who were “only” paid less than $1 million.

Social Media Power & PR

The world’s biggest YouTube celebrities and social influencers, such as PewDiePie (102 million subscribers), Dude Perfect (47.1 million subscribers) and Badabun (43 million subscribers) are mainly young people who have managed to build a relationship with their generation audience by posting YouTube videos.  Generation Z subscribers (born between 1996-2010) who have grown up with the Internet and social media, and Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) make up large parts of the subscriber audiences. Interestingly, in the case of boxing, this represents an opportunity for promoters to tap into a massive new audience who may not be familiar with the sport.

Even though these influencers may appear to be strongly linked to a generation that they have an innate understanding of (by being part of it) what they are essentially doing is leveraging public relations – building relationships with different publics, building their own credibility and raising their own visibility – on a grand scale. YouTube is simply the media and part of the message that allows them to achieve their PR aims.

PR Often Overlooked By Businesses

The power of PR to business is often overlooked in favour of apparently easier to understand advertising and measuring of responses, and rather than dismissing the kind of influence that some young people have via social media as a generational mystery that doesn’t apply to you, recognising that the value-adding use of PR is within the reach of all businesses is important.  So, what can PR do for your business/campaign/cause/event?

  • As YouTube celebrities show, influence is something that PR can achieve. Your own expertise and inside knowledge of your business and industry can be a valuable and persuasive asset in your messages that can make you appear to be a trusted and objective source.
  • Finding or creating an interesting and compelling story with a link to your products, services and brand can mean that the ‘reach’ of your message is increased as different outlets and channels pick up on it and share it.
  • The cost-effectiveness of your advertising can be dramatically increased when combined with PR.
  • The search engine optimisation (SEO) of your website can get a real boost from PR as you receive more visitors to your website and more shares of your story on social media and on other websites, and more links to your website thereby giving your rankings a boost for important key phrases.
  • Getting your own feature in an important publication can be a great way to attract investors and new customers as it strengthens your credibility.
  • Talented people such as potential employees and businesses as potential strategic alliances can also be attracted by good PR about your organisation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The boxing event was not a demonstration of sporting expertise and prowess, but of the power of influence gained through social media and PR.  This event showed that business (and something that’s arguably greater than the sum of its parts) can be generated through paying attention to the building personal brands and online relationships with specific audiences which, over time, can generate its own momentum. One of the key messages for businesses to take away from this is that PR opportunities already exist all around and tapping into them could be a cost-effective way of boosting the power and reach of your messages.  This may be something that has been overlooked in your promotional mix but could make all the difference.

Tough Questions About Libra Cryptocurrency

Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg faced a grilling from the US Congress last week over his company’s ‘Libra’ cryptocurrency plans.

Libra

‘Libra’ is Facebook’s new cryptocurrency and global payment system that’s due to be launched in 2020.  Unlike other cryptocurrencies, Libra is backed by a reserve of cash and other liquid assets.  The idea of Libra is that spending the new currency could be as easy and fast as texting as payments can be made by a special phone app and by messaging services such as WhatsApp.  Also, Libra is intended to be of particular value to the one billion+ people around the world (including 14 million in the US) with no access to a bank account, but who could use a mobile phone-based payment system.

Management of the currency, units of which can be purchased via Libra’s platforms and stored it in a digital wallet called “Calibra” will be the responsibility of an independent group of 21 companies and non-profit organisations called the Libra Association, of which Facebook’s subsidiary ‘Calibra’ is a member.

Problems and Criticism

Facebook has, however, found itself coming in for some tough criticism over its involvement with Libra. This includes:

  • Worries about whether Facebook can be trusted with peoples’ financial details in the light of its part in the personal data-sharing scandal with Cambridge Analytica.
  • Concerns from ‘Group of Seven’ democracies finance chiefs about whether Libra could address “serious regulatory and systemic concerns”.
  • President Trump Tweeting that he’s not a fan of Libra, and bank chiefs like Mark Carney also expressing concerns about Libra.
  • Worries that Libra could be used as a means to bypass rules relating to money laundering and tax evasion (which is believed to have led to PayPal leaving the Libra Association recently).
  • Warnings that Libra could be blocked in Europe (especially in France) unless concerns over risks to consumers and to the monetary systems of countries can be addressed.

Congress Grilling

The grilling of Mark Zuckerberg at the US Congress last week at the top of the House Financial Service Committee’s hearing focused on many of the key concerns.  For example:

  • Republican Nydia Velázquez asked Mark Zuckerberg why Facebook should be trusted after the recent privacy scandals and data breaches/data sharing relating to the Cambridge Analytica affair.
  • Republican Joyce Beatty criticised Mark Zuckerberg over an apparent lack of knowledge of diversity and housing advertisement issues and alleged that Zuckerberg hadn’t read her reports.
  • Republican Patrick McHenry criticised the technology industry and highlighted the current anger towards it.

Prepared Statement Covered Many Concerns

Mark Zuckerberg’s prepared statement for the hearing appears have anticipated and answered the main concerns.  For example, as well as stressing how Facebook is committed to strong consumer protections for the financial information they receive, Mark Zuckerberg addressed three main concerns, saying that:

  1. Where people are concerned that Facebook is moving too fast on the Libra project, Facebook is committed to taking the time to get this right.
  2. Where it has been suggested that Facebook could circumvent regulators and regulations with Libra, Facebook won’t actually be a part of launching the Libra payments system anywhere in the world unless all US regulators approve it.
  3. Libra is not an attempt to create a sovereign currency but, like existing online payment systems, it’s simply intended to be a way for people to transfer money.

So What?

Despite the grilling, many commentators have pointed out that the House Financial Service Committee and Congress don’t actually have the power to do much about the introduction of Libra.  Some commentators have also suggested that the hearing was as much about political grandstanding as it was about Libra and that politicians are finding it hard to stay up to speed with information about cryptocurrencies.

No Regulatory Approval = Facebook Leaves the Association

Mr Zuckerberg stressed just how much he intends to play by the rules with Libra by saying that if the Libra Association moved forward without regulatory approval, Facebook “would be forced to leave the Association.”

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Banks and governments are unlikely to adopt a favourable attitude to a new type of currency that could potentially unbalance monetary systems, and could potentially get around regulations, scrutiny and control, and could even be used for money laundering and tax evasion. That said, the blockchain-anchored Libra is unlikely to suffer many of the huge fluctuations and problems that other cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have because Libra is backed by real assets.  Also, many of the big financial players are part of the Libra Association e.g. Mastercard and Visa, although it’s clear that Facebook needs to make sure that Libra can meet all regulatory requirements and is squeaky clean if the Association wants to keep these important members.

If, as Mr Zuckerberg says, Libra is simply and innocently another way of paying for things that could lead to a more inclusive society e.g. by helping those without bank accounts, this could benefit not just society but whole economies too.  It looks as though Facebook still has some way to go, however, to convince governments, finance chiefs and other critics that it is the right company to be trusted with a new currency and the financial data of those who use it.

Facebook ‘News’ Tab on Mobile App

Facebook has launched the ‘News’ tab on its mobile app which directs users to unbiased, curated articles from credible sources in a bid to publicly combat fake news and help restore trust in its own brand.

Large US Cities For Now

The ‘News’ tab on the Facebook mobile app, which will initially only be available to an estimated 200,000 people in select, large US cities, is expected by Facebook to become so popular that it could attract millions of users.

What?

The News tab will attempt to show users stories from local publishers as well as the big national news sources.  The full list of publishers who will contribute to the News tab stories has not yet been confirmed, although online speculation points to the likes of (U.S. publishers initially) Time, The Washington Post, CBS News, Bloomberg, Fox News and Politico.  It has not yet been announced when the service will be available to UK Facebook users. It has been reported that Facebook is also prepared to pay many millions for some of the content included in the tab.

Why?

Facebook has been working hard to restore some of the trust lost in the company when it was found to be the medium by which influential fake news stories were distributed during the UK Brexit referendum, the 2017 UK general election, and the U.S. presidential election.  There is also the not-so-small matter of 50 million Facebook profiles being shared/harvested (in conjunction with Cambridge Analytica) back 2014 in order to build a software program that was used to predict and generate personalised political adverts to influence choices at the ballot box in the last U.S. election.

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was made to appear before the U.S. Congress in April to talk about how Facebook is tackling false reports, and even recently a video that was shared via Facebook (which had 4 million views before being taken down) falsely suggested that smart meters emit radiation levels that are harmful to health. The information in the video was believed by many even though it was false.

Helping Smaller Publishers Too

Also, Facebook acknowledges that smaller news outlets have struggled to gain exposure with its algorithms, and that there is an opportunity to deliver more local news, personalised news experiences, and more modern digital-age, independent news.  It is also likely that, knowing that young people get most of their news from online sources but have been moving away to other platforms, this could be a good way for Facebook to retain younger users.

Working With Fact-Checkers

Back in January, for example, Facebook tried to help restore trust in its brand and publicly show that it was trying to combat fake news by announcing that it was working with London-based, registered charity ‘Full Fact’ who would be reviewing stories, images and videos, in an attempt to tackle misinformation that could “damage people’s health or safety or undermine democratic processes”.

Personalisation

The News tab will also allow users to see a personalised selection of articles, the choice of which is based upon the news they read. This personalisation will also include the ability to hide articles, topics and publishers that users choose not to see.

The Human Element

One of the key aspects of the News tab service that Facebook sees as adding value, keeping quality standards high, and providing a further safeguard against fake news is that many stories will be reviewed and chosen by experienced journalists acting as impartial and independent curators.  For example, Facebook says that “Unlike Google News, which is controlled by algorithms, Facebook News works more like Apple News, with human editors making decisions.”

Not The First Time

This is not the first time that Facebook has tried offering a news section, and it will hopefully be more successful and well-received than the ‘Trending News’ section that was criticised for bias in the 2016 presidential election and has since been phased out.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Only last week, Mark Zuckerberg found himself in front of the U.S. Congress answering questions about whether Facebook can be trusted to run a new cryptocurrency, and it is clear that the erosion of trust caused by how Facebook shared user data with Cambridge Analytica and how the platform was used to spread fake news in the U.S. election have cast a long shadow over the company.  Facebook has since tried many ways to regain trust e.g. working with fact-checkers, adding the ‘Why am I seeing this post?’ tool, and launching new rules for political ad transparency.

Users of social networks clearly don’t want to see fake news, the influences of which can have a damaging knock-on effect on the economic and trade environment which, in turn, affects businesses.

The launch of this News service with its human curation and fact-checking could, therefore, help Facebook kill several birds with one stone. For example, as well as going some way to helping to restore trust, it could increase the credibility of Facebook as a go-to trusted source of quality content, enable Facebook to compete with its rivals e.g. Google News, show Facebook to be a company that also cares about smaller news publishers, and act as a means to help retain younger users on its platform.

AI and the Fake News War

In a “post-truth” era, AI is one of the many protective tools and weapons involved in the battles that male up the current, ongoing “fake news” war.

Fake News

Fake news has become widespread in recent years, most prominently with the UK Brexit referendum, the 2017 UK general election, and the U.S. presidential election, all of which suffered interference in the form of so-called ‘fake news’ / misinformation spread via Facebook which appears to have affected the outcomes by influencing voters. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, where over 50 million Facebook profiles were illegally shared and harvested to build a software program to generate personalised political adverts led to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg appearing before the U.S. Congress to discuss how Facebook is tackling false reports. A video that was shared via Facebook, for example (which had 4 million views before being taken down), falsely suggested that smart meters emit radiation levels that are harmful to health. The information in the video was believed by many even though it was false.

Government Efforts

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has published a report (in February) on Disinformation and ‘fake news’ highlighting how “Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms”.  The UK government has, therefore, been calling for a shift in the balance of power between “platforms and people” and for tech companies to adhere to a code of conduct written into law by Parliament and overseen by an independent regulator.

Fact-Checking

One way that social media companies have sought to tackle the concerns of governments and users is to buy-in fact-checking services to weed out fake news from their platforms.  For example, back in January London-based, registered charity ‘Full Fact’ announced that it would be working for Facebook, reviewing stories, images and videos to tackle misinformation that could “damage people’s health or safety or undermine democratic processes”.

Moderation

A moderator-led response to fake news is one option, but its reliance upon humans means that this approach has faced criticism over its vulnerability to personal biases and perspectives.

Automation and AI

Many now consider automation and AI to be an approach and a technology that are ‘intelligent’, fast, and scalable enough to start to tackle the vast amount of fake news that is being produced and circulated.  For example, Google and Microsoft have been using AI to automatically assess the truth of articles.  Also, initiatives like the Fake News Challenge (http://www.fakenewschallenge.org/) seeks to explore how AI technologies, particularly machine learning and natural language processing, can be leveraged to combat fake news, and supports the idea that AI technologies hold promise for significantly automating parts of the procedure human fact-checkers use to determine if a story is real or a hoax.

However, the human-written rules underpinning AI, and how AI is ‘trained’ can also lead to bias.

Deepfake Videos

Deepfake videos are an example of how AI can be used to create fake news in the first place.  Deepfake videos use deep learning technology and manipulated images of target individuals (found online), often celebrities, politicians, and other well-known people to create an embarrassing or scandalous video. Deepfake audio can also be manipulated in a similar way.  Deepfake videos aren’t just used to create fake news sources, but they can also be used by cyber-criminals for extortion.

AI Voice

There has also been a case in March this year, where a group of hackers were able to use AI software to mimic an energy company CEO’s voice in order to steal £201,000.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Fake news is a real and growing threat, as has been demonstrated in the use of Facebook to disseminate fake news during the UK referendum, the 2017 UK general election, and the U.S. presidential election. State-sponsored politically targeted campaigns can have a massive influence on an entire economy, whereas other fake news campaigns can affect public attitudes to ideas and people and can lead to many other complex problems.

Moderation and automated AI may both suffer from bias, but at least they are both ways in which fake news can be tackled, to an extent.  Through adding fact-checking services, other monitoring, and software-based approaches e.g. through browsers, social media and other tech companies can take responsibility for weeding out and guarding against fake news.

Governments can also help in the fight by putting pressure on social media companies and by collaborating with them to keep the momentum going and to help develop and monitor ways to keep tackling fake news.

That said, it’s still a big problem, no solution is infallible, and all of us as individuals would do well to remember that, especially today, you really can’t believe everything you read and an eye to source and bias of news coupled with a degree of scepticism can often be healthy.

Video Labelling Causes Problems

Google has already been criticised by some for not calling out China over disinformation about Hong Kong, but despite disabling 210 YouTube channels with suspected Chinese state links, Google’s new move to label Hong Kong YouTube videos hasn’t gone down well.

Big Social Media Platforms Act

Facebook and Twitter recently announced that they have banned a number accounts on their platforms due to what the popular social media platforms are calling “coordinated influence operations”. In other words, Chinese state-sponsored communications designed to influence opinion (pro-Beijing viewpoints) and to spread disinformation.  Twitter and Facebook are both blocked in mainland China anyway by the country’s notorious firewall but both platforms can be accessed in Hong King and Twitter recently suspended over 900 accounts believed to originate in China. The reasons for the suspensions included spam, fake accounts and ban evasion.

Google Labels Videos

Google’s response, which some critics have seen as being late anyway has been to add information panels to videos on its Hong Kong-facing site saying whether the video has been uploaded by media organisations that receive government funding or public funding.  The panels, which are live in 10 regions, were intended to give viewers an insight into whether the videos are state-funded or not.

Problem

Unfortunately, Google did not consider the fact that some media receives government funding, but are editorially independent, and the labelling has effectively put them in the same category as media that purely spreads government information.

Google and China

Many commentators have noted an apparent reluctance by Google to distance itself from the more repressive side of the Chinese state.  For example, Google has been criticised for not publicly criticising China over the state’s disinformation campaign about the Hong Kong protests.  Also, Google was recently reported to have a secret plan (Project Dragonfly) to develop a censored search engine for the Chinese market and it’s been reported that Google has an A.I research division in China.

Disinformation By Bot? Not

There have been fears that just as bots can be a time and cost-saving way of writing and distributing information, they could also be used to write disinformation and could even reach the point soon where they are equal in ability to human writers.  For example, the text generator, built by the research firm OpenAI, has (until recently) been considered to be too dangerous to make (the ‘trained’ version) public because of the potential for abuse in terms of using it to write disinformation.  In tests (the BBC, AI experts, and a Sheffield University professor) however, it proved to be relatively ineffective at generating meaningful text from input headlines, although it did appear able to reflect news bias in its writing.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The influence via social media in the last US presidential election campaign and the UK referendum (with the help of Cambridge Analytica) brought the whole subject of disinformation into sharp focus, and the Chinese state media’s response to the Hong King demonstrations has given more fuel to the narrative coming from the current US administration (Huawei accusations and trade war) that China should be considered a threat.  Google’s apparent lack of public criticism of Chinese state media disinformation efforts is in contrast to the response of social media giants Facebook and Twitter, and this coupled with reports of the company trying to develop a censored search engine for China to allow it to get back into the market over there means that Google is likely to be scrutinised and criticised by US state voices.

It is difficult for many users of social media channels to spot bias and disinformation, and although Google may have tried to do the right thing by labelling videos, its failure to take account of the media structure in China has meant more criticism for Google.  As an advertising platform for businesses, Google needs to take care of its public image, and this kind of bad publicity is unlikely to help.

Facebook Launches Martin Lewis Anti-Scam Service

Facebook has launched a new anti-scam service using the £3m that it agreed to donate to the development of the programme in return for TV consumer money champion Martin Lewis dropping his legal action over scam ads.

What Legal Action?

Back in September 2018, MoneySavingExpert’s (MSE) founder Martin Lewis (OBE) took Facebook to the UK High Court to sue the tech giant for defamation over a series of fake adverts bearing his name.  Many of the approximately 1000 fake ads, bearing Mr Lewis’ name appeared on the Facebook social media platform over the space of a year, could and did (in some cases) direct consumers to scammer sites containing false information, which Mr Lewis argued may have caused serious damage to his reputation, and caused some people to lose money.

In January 2019, Mr Lewis Facebook came to an agreement with Facebook whereby he would drop his lawsuit if Facebook donated £3 million to Citizens Advice to create a new UK Scams Action project (launched in May 2019) and if Facebook agreed to launch a UK-focused scam ad reporting tool supported by a dedicated complaints-handling team.

How The New Anti-Scam Service Works

Facebook users in the UK will be able to access the service by clicking on the three dots (top right) of any advert to see ‘more options’ and “report ad”.  The list of reasons for reporting the ad now includes a “misleading or scam ad” option.

Also, the Citizens Advice charity has set up a phone line to help give advice to victims of online and offline scams.  The “Scams Action Service” advisers can be called on 0300 330 3003 Monday to Friday, and the advisers also offer help via live online chat.  In serious cases, face-to-face consultations can also be offered.

What To Do

If you’ve been scammed, the Citizens Advice charity recommends that you tell your bank immediately, reset your passwords, make sure that your anti-virus software has been updated, report the incident to Action Fraud, and contact the new Citizens Advice Scams Action service: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scamsaction/

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It is a shame that it has taken the threat of a lawsuit over damaging scam ads spread through its own platform to galvanize Facebook into putting some of its profits into setting up a service that can tackle the huge and growing problem of online Fraud.  Facebook and other ad platforms may also need to take more proactive steps with their advertising systems to make it more difficult for scammers to set up adverts in the first place.

Having a Scams Action service now in place using a trusted UK charity will also mean that awareness can be raised, and information given about known scams, and victims will have a place to go where they get clear advice and help.

US Visa Applicants Now Asked For Social Media Details and More

New rules from the US State Department will mean that US visa applicants will have to submit social media names and five years’ worth of email addresses and phone numbers.

Extended To All

Under the new rules, first proposed by the Trump administration back in February 2017, whereas previously the only visa applicants who had needed such vetting were those from parts of the world known to be controlled by terrorist groups, all applicants travelling to the US to work or to study will now be required to give those details to the immigration authorities. The only exemptions will be for some diplomatic and official visa applicants.

Delivering on Election Immigration Message

The new stringent rules follow on from the proposed crackdown on immigration that was an important part of now US President Donald Trump’s message during the 2016 election campaign.

Back in July 2016, the Federal Register of the U.S. government published a proposed change to travel and entry forms which indicated that the studying of social media accounts of those travelling to the U.S. would be added to the vetting process for entry to the country. It was suggested that the proposed change would apply to the I-94 travel form, and to the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa. The reason(s) given at the time was that the “social identifiers” would be: “used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information. Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional toolset which analysts and investigators may use to better analyse and investigate the case.”

There had already been reports that some U.S. border officials had actually been asking travellers to voluntarily surrender social media information since December 2016.

2017

In February 2017, the Trump administration indicated that it was about to introduce an immigration policy that would require foreign travellers to the U.S. to divulge their social media profiles, contacts and browsing history and that visitors could be denied entry if they refused to comply. At that time, the administration had already barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.

Criticism

Critics of the idea that social media details should be obtained from entrants to the US include civil rights group the American Civil Liberties Union which pointed out that there is no evidence it would be effective and that it could lead to self-censorship online.  Also, back in 2017, Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group was quoted online media as describing the proposed as “excessive and insulting”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although they may sound a little extreme, these rules have now become a reality and need to be considered by those needing a US visa.  Given the opposition to President Trump and his some of his thoughts and policies and the resulting large volume of Trump-related content that is shared and reacted to by many people, these new rules could be a real source of concern for those needing to work or to study in the US.  It is really unknown what content, and what social media activity could cause problems at immigration for travellers, and what the full consequences could be.

People may also be very uncomfortable being asked to give such personal and private details as social media names and a massive five years’ worth of email addresses and phone numbers, and about how those personal details will be stored and safeguarded (and how long for), and by whom they will be scrutinised and even shared.  The measure may, along with other reported policies and announcements from the Trump administration even discourage some people from travelling to, let alone working or studying in the US at this time. This could have a knock-on negative effect on the economy of the US, and for those companies wanting to get into the US marketplace with products or services.

Surveillance Attack on WhatsApp

It has been reported that it was a surveillance attack on Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging app that caused the company to urge all of its 1.5bn users to update their apps as an extra precaution recently.

What Kind of Attack?

Technical commentators have identified the attack on WhatsApp as a ‘zero-day’ exploit that is used to load spyware onto the victim’s phone.  Once the victim’s WhatsApp has been hijacked and the spyware loaded onto the phone, it can, for example, access encrypted chats, access photos, contacts and other information, as well as being able to eavesdrop on calls, and even turn on the microphone and camera.  It has been reported that the exploit can also alter the call logs and hide the method of infection.

How?

The attack is reported to be able to use the WhatsApp’s voice calling function to ring a target’s device. Even if the target person doesn’t pick the call up the surveillance software can be installed, and the call can be wiped from the device’s call log.  The exploit can happen by using a buffer overflow weakness in the WhatsApp VOIP stack which enables an overwriting of other parts of the app’s memory.

It has been reported that the vulnerability is present in the Google Android, Apple iOS, and Microsoft Windows Phone builds of WhatsApp.

Who?

According to reports in the Financial Times which broke the story of the WhatsApp attack (which was first discovered earlier this month), Facebook had identified the likely attackers as a private Israeli company, The NSO Group, that is part-owned by the London-based private equity firm Novalpina Capital.  According to reports, The NSO Group are known to work with governments to deliver spyware, and one of their main products called Pegasus can collect intimate data from a targeted device.  This can include capturing data through the microphone and camera and also gathering location data.

Denial

The NSO Group have denied responsibility.  NSO has said that their technology is only licensed to authorised government intelligence and law enforcement agencies for the sole purpose of fighting crime and terror, and that NSO wouldn’t or couldn’t use the technology in its own right to target any person or organisation.

Past Problems

WhatsApp has been in the news before for less than positive reasons.  For example, back in November 2017, WhatsApp was used by ‘phishing’ fraudsters to circulate convincing links for supermarket vouchers in order to obtain bank details.

Fix?

As a result of the attack, as well as urging all of its 1.5bn users to update their apps, engineers at Facebook have created a patch for the vulnerability (CVE-2019-3568).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many of us think of WhatsApp as being an encrypted message app, and therefore somehow more secure. This story shows that WhatsApp vulnerabilities are likely to have existed for some time.  Although it is not clear how many users have been affected by this attack, many tech and security commentators think that it may have been a focused attack, perhaps of a select group of people.

It is interesting that we are now hearing about the dangers of many attacks being perhaps linked in some way to states and state-sponsored groups rather than individual actors, and the pressure is now on big tech companies to be able to find ways to guard against these more sophisticated and evolving kinds of attacks and threats that are potentially on a large scale.  It is also interesting how individuals could be targeted by malware loaded in a call that the recipient doesn’t even pick up, and it perhaps opens up the potential for new kinds of industrial espionage and surveillance.

Slack Builds Email Bridge

Chat App and collaborative working tool Slack appears to have given up the fight to eliminate email by allowing the introduction of new tools that enable Slack collaboration features inside Gmail and Outlook, thereby building a more inclusive ‘email bridge’.

What Is Slack?

Slack, launched ‘way back’ in 2013, is a cloud-based set of proprietary team collaboration tools and services. It provides mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and is available for the Apple Watch, enabling users to send direct messages, see mentions, and send replies.

Slack teams enable users (communities, groups, or teams) to join through a URL or invitation sent by a team admin or owner. It was intended as an organisational communication tool, but it has gradually been morphing into a community platform i.e. it is a business technology that has crossed-over into personal use.

Email Bridge

After having a five-year battle against email, Slack is building an “email bridge” into its platform that will allow those who only have email to communicate with Slack users.

Aim

The change is aimed at getting those members of an organisation on board who have signed up to the Slack app but are not willing to switch entirely from email to Slack. The acceptance that not everyone wants to give up using their email altogether has made way for a belief by Slack that something at least needs to be built-in to the app to allow companies and organisations to be able to leverage the strengths of all their workers, and at least allow those organisation and team members who are separated because of their Slack vs email situation to be connected to the important conversations within Slack. It will also now mean that companies and organisations have time to make the transition in working practices at their own pace (or not ) i.e. migrate (or not migrate) entirely to Slack.

How?

The change supports Slack’s current Outlook and Gmail functionality, which enables users to forward emails into a channel where members can view and discuss the content and plan responses from inside Slack. It also allows anything set within the Outlook or Gmail Calendar to be automatically synced to Slack.

The new changes will allow team members who have email but have not committed to Slack to receive an email notification when they’re mentioned by their username in channels or are sent a direct message.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Slack appears to have listened to Slack users who’d like a way to keep connected with their e-mail only / waiting to receive credentials colleagues, and the email bridge is likely to meet with their approval in this respect.  For Slack, it also presents the opportunity gently for those people who are more resistant to change into eventually making the move to Slack.

This change is one of several announced by Slack, such as the ‘Actions’ feature last year, and the two new toolkits (announced in February this year) that will allow non-coders to build apps within Slack.

Slack knows that there are open source and other alternatives in the market, and the addition of more features and more alliances will help Slack to provide more valuable tools to users, thereby helping it to gain and retain loyalty and compete in a rapidly evolving market.