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



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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“TikTok represents two national risks to Australians”: should you delete the app?



Democracies continue to ban popular video-sharing app TikTok over national security concerns

Australia recently banned TikTok from all federal government owned devices over security concerns.

Canberra is the latest in a string of U.S.-backed allies to take action against the popular video-sharing app.

The ban centres around concerns China could use the app to trace users’ data, and undermine democratic values.

Senator James Paterson is the Australian Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security, who said TikTok poses a risk to Australians.

“They can get access to awful amount of information on your phone.

“Because it’s beholden to the Chinese Communist Party, there’s no guarantee it won’t fall into their hands,” he said.

Senator Paterson said there are “six or seven million Australians who use the app.”

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Cyber attacks are on the rise, so what is being done to combat them?



Australia experienced two of its worst cyber attacks on record last year, as the world braces for cyber warfare to rise

Ukraine has suffered a threefold growth in cyber-attacks over the past year.

Viktor Zhora is leading Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection agency, who said cyber attacks are occurring at the same time as missile strikes at the hands of Russia.

Mr Zhora said in some cases, the cyber-attacks are “supportive to kinetic effects”.

On the other side of the planet, Russian hackers were responsible for Australia’s Medibank scandal.

“This is a crime that has the potential to impact on millions of Australians and damage a significant Australian business,” said Reece Kershaw, who is the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police.

Australian Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security is James Paterson, who said Australia can learn from cyber warfare in Ukraine.

“Ukraine is a lesson for the world.

“They are fighting a hybrid war, one on the ground and one online. If there is to be future conflict including in our own region, in the Indo-Pacific, it’s highly likely that the first shots in that war will occur cyber domain not in the physical world,” Senator Paterson said.

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Amazon employees walk out to protest office policies



Staff at warehousing giant Amazon have walked off the job to protest the company’s return-to-office program

Over 1,900 Amazon employees pledged to protest globally over proposed changes to the company’s climate policy, layoffs and a return-to-office mandate.

The activist group behind the rally is known as Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), who are seeking a greater voice for employees.

“Our goal is to change Amazon’s cost/benefit analysis on making harmful, unilateral decisions that are having an outsized impact on people of color, women, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable people,” organisers said.

Over 100 people gathered at the heart of Amazon’s Seattle headquarters on Wednesday. The company said it had not witnessed any other demonstrations.

AECJ said the walkout comes after Amazon made moves “in the wrong direction”.

The company recently has recently overturned a desire to make all Amazon shipments net zero for carbon emissions by 2030.

The company maintains a pledge on climate change.

Amazon spokesperson Brad Glasser told Reuters the company is pursuing a strategy to cut carbon emissions.

“For companies like ours who consume a lot of power, and have very substantial transportation, packaging, and physical building assets, it’ll take time to accomplish.”

AECJ protesters also sought support for the 27,000 staff, who had lost their jobs in recent months —around 9 per cent of Amazon’s global workforce.

The company has also mandated a return-to-office program.

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