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Dangerous content and the pursuit of profit: Google and Meta under fire from abuse victims

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From South Korea’s secret sex chats, to conflict in Ethiopia; online abuse survivors want more action

A group of South Korean journalists work overtime to expose a secret group targeting women and girls online.

They find eight group chats on the Telegram messaging platform.

Inside, there are thousands of videos of women and girls showcasing explicit non-consensual sexual content.

The videos are allegedly sold using cryptocurrency to avoid detection.

South Korean police would soon find over 60,000 people took part in these crimes by entering these so-called ‘rooms’, which has become known as the ‘Nth Room’ case.

In October 2021, one of the operators behind the Nth Rooms was sentenced to 42 years behind bars.

It is a small victory for law enforcement agencies who are in a constant war against these criminals, and the social media platforms they occur on.

Cho Ju-bin, the man behind the ‘Nth Rooms” in South Korea.

But digital sex crimes continue around the world. In Australia, one in 10 people have reported someone posting nude, or semi-nude images online without permission.

Recent criminal cases also show perpetrators habitually threaten survivors with existing video content to force them into producing more sexually abusive content.

Jihyun Yoon is the director of Amnesty International Korea, who said technology companies are partly to blame.

“As a wave of digital sex crimes in South Korea causes severe harm to the women and girls who have been targeted, Google’s inadequate system for reporting non-consensual explicit content is making matters even worse.

“Google must do more to prevent the spread of online gender-based violence—not just in Korea, but everywhere,” she said.

In response to the Nth Room case, Amnesty International Korea carried out a survey of 25 survivors and activists.

Eleven said it was difficult to confirm whether their requests had been properly processed by Google.

“This was mainly due to a lack of communication from Google during the reporting process,” Jihyun Yoon said.

“Survivors around the world are forced to use this same flawed reporting system when they try to get harmful content removed, so it is highly likely this issue extends way beyond Korea.”

Jihyun Yoon, amnesty international

When users report sexually explicit content, they must tick a box saying they understand there are punishments if the submission is not true.

Google also refuses to process incomplete complaints or concerns.

One survivor, who has asked to remain anonymous, waited just over a year between receiving a confirmation receipt from Google and being informed of the outcome.

“I submitted it with difficulty, but rather than being convinced that it would be deleted, I became more anxious because I thought that if it didn’t work, it would be my responsibility,” they said.

What responsibility do social media companies have?

In Kenya, Facebook’s parent company, Meta was recently sued for its algorithms, which allegedly promote hatred online.

One Amnesty International staff member said they were targeted because of posts on the social media platform.

“I saw first-hand how the dynamics on Facebook harmed my own human rights work and hope this case will redress the imbalance,” said Fisseha Tekle, who is a legal advisor at Amnesty International.

Meta will answer to Kenya’s High Court over a landmark legal case. Amnesty International believes Facebook’s algorithms fuels ethnic conflict.

Meta has been sued by lawmakers in Kenya.

The legal action claims Meta promoted speech, which ultimately led to a string of ethnic violence and killings in Ethiopia.

Like many parts of the world, in Ethiopia, people often rely on social media for news and information.

But Amnesty International believes the platform’s algorithm prioritises and recommends hateful and violent content.

“Because of the hate and disinformation on Facebook, human rights defenders have also become targets of threats and vitriol,” Mr Tekle said.

Petitioners want to end Facebook’s algorithms from recommending such content.

In addition, they are seeking a create a US$1.6 billion victims’ fund.

Amnesty International’s deputy regional director of East Africa, Flavia Mwangovya, said dangerous content lies at the heart of Meta’s profit-making regime.

“From Ethiopia to Myanmar, Meta knew or should have known that its algorithmic systems were fuelling the spread of harmful content leading to serious real-world harms.”

“Meta has shown itself incapable to act to stem this tsunami of hate.”

Flavia Mwangovya, amnesty international

“Governments need to step up and enforce effective legislation to rein in the surveillance-based business models of tech companies,” she said.

What are governments doing?

In Australia, the e-Safety Commissioner issued legal notices to some of the biggest technology companies in the world last year.

It required them to report on measures to tackle the spread of child sexual exploitation material on their platforms and services.

“Some of the most harmful material online today involves the sexual exploitation of children and, frighteningly, this activity is no longer confined to hidden corners of the dark web but is prevalent on the mainstream platforms we and our children use every day,” said eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.

In Europe, the Netherlands once hosted 41 per cent of the world’s online child sexual abuse material. By March 2022, the figure had dropped to 13 per cent.

The Dutch Government made the removal of such content a priority. In 2020, it named and shamed internet hosting providers who failed to remove the material within 24 hours.

In South Korea, Google did not offer an official response to Amnesty International’s concerns.

But in a private meeting, the search engine technology reportedly said it wants to improve the way in which these concerns are managed.

However, Amnesty believes Google is failing to respect human rights.

“It must adopt a survivor-centered reporting system that prevents re-traumatization and is easy to access, navigate and check on,” Jihyun Yoon said.

Costa is a news producer at ticker NEWS. He has previously worked as a regional journalist at the Southern Highlands Express newspaper. He also has several years' experience in the fire and emergency services sector, where he has worked with researchers, policymakers and local communities. He has also worked at the Seven Network during their Olympic Games coverage and in the ABC Melbourne newsroom. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts (Professional), with expertise in journalism, politics and international relations. His other interests include colonial legacies in the Pacific, counter-terrorism, aviation and travel.

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OpenAI to offer premium ChatGPT service

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OpenAI has announced a monthly plan that will give you priority access to the ChatGPT bot

ChatGPT Plus is set to cost $20/month, and allow a user the ability to use the chatbot even during peak times, where free users would have to wait.

The company also says the plan will give you “faster response times” and “priority access to new features and improvements.”

OpenAI will be sending out invitations for the service to people in the U.S. over the next few weeks, before expanding to other regions around the world.

This comes amid the company revealing that a mobile phone version of the chatbot is being developed.

Currently, it is only available as a computer program.

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Meta stocks soar in ‘Year of Efficiency’

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Meta Platforms has announced a better-than-expected sales quarter, as well as a USD$40 billion stock buyback.

The parent of Instagram and Facebook cut its cost outlook for 2023 by $5 billion, and projected first-quarter sales that could beat Wall Street estimates.

Meta stock surged nearly 19% in after-hours trade.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg described the focus on efficiency as part of the natural evolution of the company, calling it a “phase change” for an organisation that once lived by the motto “move fast and break things.”

“We just grew so quickly for like the first 18 years,” Zuckerberg said in a conference call. “It’s very hard to really crank on efficiency while you’re growing that quickly. I just think we’re in a different environment now.”

The cost cuts reflect Meta’s updated plans for lower data centre construction expenses this year.

In November, the company cut more than 11,000 jobs in response, a precursor to the tens of thousands of layoffs in the tech industry that followed.

“Our management theme for 2023 is the ‘Year of Efficiency’ and we are focused on becoming a stronger and more nimble organisation,” Zuckerberg said in a statement.

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U.S. Fed Reserve hikes interest rates by 25 basis points

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The U.S. Federal Reserve has announced its latest interest rate hike

 
The 25 basis-point increase comes after a half-point hike in December, and a three-quarter-point increase the month before that.

And it came with the forecast that the Fed isn’t finished.

“We will need substantially more evidence to be confident that inflation is on a sustained downward path,” U.S. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said in a press conference.

Powell noted positive signs that inflation was beginning to abate.

“We can now say I think for the first time that the disinflationary process has started, and we see it in goods prices, so far…but it is insufficient to signal an end to the rate hikes, though it would be stepping down from last year’s rapid pace of increases.”

Future rate increases would be in quarter-percentage-point increments.

“We will continue to make our decisions meeting by meeting, taking into account the totality of incoming data and their implications for the outlook for economic activity and inflation,” Powell added.

The decision lifted the benchmark overnight interest rate to a range between 4.50% and 4.75% – a move widely anticipated by investors and flagged by U.S. central bankers ahead of this week’s two-day policy session.

Inflation, based on the Fed’s preferred measure, slowed to a 5% annual rate in December.

The Fed hopes it can continue nudging inflation lower to its 2% target without triggering a deep recession or causing a substantial rise in the unemployment rate from the current 3.5%, a level rarely seen in recent decades.

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