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Australian Think Tank Accuses TikTok of Wide-Scale Censorship in New Report

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  • TikTok is being accused of censoring content worldwide, despite its past claims that it doesn’t.
  • In a 75-page report, an Australian defense-ministry think tank claimed that LGTBQ+ issues, issues relating to U.S. protests, and criticisms of certain governments are all repressed on the platform.
  • TikTok is accused of approaching censorship from a variety of angles, either by wholesale banning a phrase, or shadow banning the phrase behind certain languages.
  • On top of this, TikTok’s sale to a U.S. company ran into a major speed bump after China made it clear that it ould block the sale over concerns about selling off artificial intelligence

TikTok Still Censoring?

A new report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) accuses TikTok of continued censorship and shadow banning.

The platform has previously denied similar accusations of censorship, but this report details multiple methods the app allegedly used to restrict content, whether through blatantly banning certain phrases, to more subtly banning shadow banning other content.

For example, TikTok seems to be avoiding Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté laws that prohibit any speech that could possibly be negative about the monarchy. To that end, across the platform, #สมเด็จพระเจ้าลูกเธอเจ้าฟ้าสิริวัณณวรีนารีรัตนราชกัญญา (#PrincessSirivannavariNariratanaRajakanya) comes up empty.

Other hashtags, like #กษัตริย์มีไว้ทําไม (#WhyDoWeNeedAKing), were confirmed by Rogue Rocket to come up empty across the platform, despite it being widely popular with Thai activists on other platforms like Twitter.

The platform, in general, seems wary of laws that prohibit criticism of governments. Other than Thailand, Russia passed a controversial law in 2019 that also bans negative speech about the government. Despite this, #путинвор (“Putin is a thief”) is prevalent on Twitter. Twitter is still available in Russia, yet on TikTok, no results appear.

More Than Just Lèse-Majesté

This censorship isn’t just limited to TikTok trying to avoid running afoul of laws in certain countries. TikTok is also accused of censoring topics that are U.S.-based. For example, #acab (All Cops Are Bastards) was suppressed in the early days of the George Floyd protest. It wasn’t until May 29 that TikTok finally allowed protest-based content.

However, according to ASPI, #acab was censored again after more anti-racism and anti-police protests erupted in response to the situation in Kenosha. Although after checking the tag, Rogue Rocket found that it seems to work.

TikTok has also taken another approach to censoring content: by language. LGBTQ+ issues seem to be the issues primarily censored this way. This is in stark contrast to recent history, when TikTok seemingly reversed course and allowed LGBTQ+ content after a public outcry in 2019.

ASPI found that typing “gay” in other scripts, such as the cryllic scripts used by Russian, Ukrainian, and other former Soviet states, yields no easily accesible results.

The same is true when typing the word and other LGTBQ+ topics in Arabic, Estonian, and Bosnian, as well as other LGBTQ+ topics.

Source: ASPI ICPC pg. 10

The report bashes TikTok for this approach in particular, because it doesn’t just affect people within countries that may have laws prohibiting this speech, but anyone in the world who speaks a particular language.

However, the reports does clarify that even though the tag “gay” can’t easily appear in search results, a motivated user could post their own video, use the tag, then click it to find videos with 130 million views.

When double-checking this, Rogue Rocket found that #гей works as any other uncensored tag would.

Screenshot taken September 9, 2020

Among other things, ASPI also accuses TikTok of acting as a front for Chinese propaganda. Tags relating to Xinjiang and the malreatment of Uyghurs by the Chinese government used to be censored as late as November 2019, but following a Vice Germany report, that decision was reversed.

The ASPI report found that as of early August 2020, there were 444 publicly visible videos using the tag #Xinjiang, but despite how controversial the situation is, only 5.6% of the videos were critical of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) policies.

The report states this is “an unusually small number, given the debate over the topic on other platforms. Of the top 20videos with the highest ranking on the hashtag, only one is critical of the CCP. Seven are either denialist videos or videos promoting conspiracy theories about Beijing’s extrajudicial incarceration of more than a million Uyghurs and members of other Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.”

ASPI figure detailing the breakdown of the top 100 #Xinjiang videos.

These issues also largely apply to WeChat, the Chinese messaging platform. Frankly, WeChat has been known to be censored worldwide and the app doesn’t really try to say otherwise, often warning users if they are breaking certain censorship rules.

Future of TikTok

This report likely won’t help TikTok gain much sympathy from the Trump administration and could be used by officials as further ‘proof’ that TikTok is dangerous, but TikTok might have bigger fish to fry.

During all of this, there is still TikTok’s lawsuit against President Donald Trump’s executive order which would ban it. There’s also the potential sale of many parts of the app to an American company in order to skirt US accusations that the app reports to CCP officials and overly tracks user data for the benefit of Chinese authorities. That last point actually ran into an issue recently.

Last week, China announced new export rules that would allow it to effectively block the sale of TikTok. The new rules are meant to protect Chinese artificial intelligence technology, and “cover such computing and data-processing technologies as text analysis, content recommendation, speech modeling and voice-recognition.”

“Content Recommendation” is extremely important to TikTok’s success, which features an algorithm that has been great at pushing forward fresh and relevant content to users.

The company may end up in a situation where it finds a U.S. buyer, but then the Chinese government and says “sorry, you can’t sell this tech to an American company.”

This isn’t completely unheard of. The U.S. government did something similar when it forced a Shanghai-based company to sell the U.S.-based Grindr.

See What Others Are Saying: (Wall Street Journal) (Bloomberg) (Business Insider)

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Supply Chain Issues Trigger Price Hikes, School Lunch Shortages, and More

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Many news outlets have cited experts warning of supply chain issues affecting holiday spending, but the consequences of ongoing bottlenecks are already being felt across the country.


Schools Struggle for Food 

A host of supply chain bottlenecks are affecting products and businesses throughout the U.S., forcing prices of goods and services to rise. 

In Colorado, the ​​Denver Public Schools system said it’s struggling to make sure it has enough milk for students on a daily basis, Insider reported Sunday. In fact, the schools are so short on milk cartons they’ve now resorted to asking students to bring refillable water bottles instead.

“When the milk is available, we are prioritizing serving milk at breakfast at all schools and at our elementary schools for lunch,” Theresa Hafner, DPS executive director of Food Services, told Insider in an email.

Meanwhile, other schools are struggling to find additional lunch-related supplies including meats, orange juice, meal trays, and plastic cutlery.

According to NBC News, Shonia Hall, director of school nutrition services for Oklahoma City Public Schools, even found herself needing to make a run to a local Sam’s Club to purchase 60,000 spoons and forks each just “to get us through for a few days in hopes the truck would show up.”

“It’s an additional cost to your budget, to your program,” she added.

Zillow Pauses House Buying

The issues also extend to the housing market, as both labor and supply shortages have led to operational backlogs for renovations and closings.

Zillow cited those issues Sunday when announcing that it would stop buying homes at least through December. Instead, the company said it plans to first prioritize the selling of its current catalog of homes. 

“We’re operating within a labor- and supply-constrained economy inside a competitive real estate market, especially in the construction, renovation and closing spaces,” Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow’s chief operating officer, said in a statement cited by Yahoo! Finance.

Zillow’s share price fell as much as 11% from around $94 to around $84 early Monday as investors pulled out of the company.  

What’s Causing the Issues?

U.S. companies are having a hard time stocking their shelves with certain products and keeping prices from rising largely because of factors induced by the pandemic.

The first and most basic issue is that last year, most consumer spending halted amid COVID-19 lockdowns in March. Around that same time, many companies were forced to scale back production and lay off workers.

However, more people are now returning to the outside world, and with that comes a boost in shopping. Still, several businesses have found themselves unable to ramp up production to meet the increased and arguably unprecedented demand.

In addition to production issues, there are numerous transportation challenges. For example, a large wave of businesses have struggled for months to fill open positions. One such industry where that’s being acutely felt is trucking.

In fact, the country is so stressed for drivers to haul freight that at least one high school in California has now launched a program to train seniors to drive big rigs

Meanwhile, Walmart, UPS, and FedEx all made 24/7 transportation commitments last week. 

The supply chains problems don’t stop with ground transportation. One of the most pressing situations seen so far involves the problems at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California, where container ships are backed up. 

Pre-pandemic, it was fairly unusual for any cargo ship to be seen waiting off the coast to get into one of the two ports, which process 40% of all shipping containers entering the U.S. Now, dozens of ships have been waiting weeks to get in. 

Even once they unload, there’s another major backlog involving shipping containers at the ports. Because of those combined issues, Long Beach extended its operational hours in September.

President Joe Biden later announced on Oct. 13 that L.A.’s port will “operat[e] around the clock 24/7” as part of a “90-day sprint” to clear a path for cargo.

Supply chain issues are expected to impact holiday shoppers, but many analysts expect the problems to extend well into 2022. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg echoed that prediction on Sunday during an appearance on CNN. 

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Insider) (Wall Street Journal)

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Facebook Is Reviewing More Than 2,200 Hours of Footage for Next-Gen AI 

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The project, which could prove to be revolutionary, is already raising some big privacy concerns. 


Facebook’s Next-Gen AI

Facebook announced Thursday that it has captured more than 2,200 hours of first-person video that it will use to train next-gen AI models.

The company said it aims to make the AI, called Ego4D, capable of understanding and identifying both real and virtual objects through a first-person perspective using smart glasses or VR headsets. In effect, that could potentially help users do everything from remembering where they placed forgotten items to recording others in secret. 

Facebook listed five key scenarios the project aims to tackle and gave real-world examples of how each may look for people who will eventually use the AI.

  • “What happened when?” With that scenario, Facebook gave the example, “Where did I leave my keys?”
  • “What am I likely to do next?” There, Facebook gave the example, “Wait, you’ve already added salt to this recipe.”
  • “What am I doing?” For example, “What was the main topic during class?”
  • “Who said what when?” For example, “What was the main topic during class?”
  • “Who is interacting with whom?” For example, “Help me better hear the person talking to me at this noisy restaurant.”

Facebook said the amount of footage it has collected is 20 times greater than any other data set used by the company.

Privacy Concerns

In the wake of recent controversy surrounding Facebook, it’s important to note that the footage wasn’t reaped from users. Instead, the company said it, and 13 university partners, compiled the footage from more than 700 participants around the world.

Still, that hasn’t alleviated all privacy concerns. 

In an article titled, “Facebook is researching AI systems that see, hear, and remember everything you do,” The Verge writer James Vincent said that although the project’s guidelines seem practical, “the company’s interest in this area will worry many.”

In addition to the recent testimony and data leaks from whistleblower Frances Haugen, Facebook has also faced other privacy issues, as well as billions in fines

Vincent pointe out that the AI announcement doesn’t mention anything in the way of privacy or removing data for people who may not want to be recorded.

A Facebook spokesperson later assured Vincent that privacy safeguards will be introduced to the public in the future.

“For example, before AR glasses can enhance someone’s voice, there could be a protocol in place that they follow to ask someone else’s glasses for permission, or they could limit the range of the device so it can only pick up sounds from the people with whom I am already having a conversation or who are in my immediate vicinity,” the spokesperson said.

Among positive reception, some believe the tech could be revolutionary for helping people around the house, as well as for teaching robots to more rapidly learn about their surroundings.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (CNBC) (Axios)

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FDA Issues Its First E-Cigarette Authorization Ever

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The authorization only applies to tobacco-flavored products, as the FDA simultaneously rejected several sweet and fruit-flavored e-cigarette cartridges. 


FDA Approves E-Cigarette

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an e-cigarette pen sold under the brand name Vuse on Tuesday, as well as two tobacco-flavored cartridges that can be used with the pen.

This marks the first time the FDA has ever authorized the use of vaping products. In a news release, the agency said it made the decision because “the authorized products’ aerosols are significantly less toxic than combusted cigarettes based on available data.”

“The manufacturer’s data demonstrates its tobacco-flavored products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products — either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption — by reducing their exposure to harmful chemicals,” the agency added. 

The company that owns Vuse, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company, also submitted several sweet and fruit-flavored pods for review; however, those were all rejected. While the FDA did not specify which flavors it rejected, it did note that it has yet to make a decision on whether to allow menthol-flavored e-cigarettes, including ones sold under Vuse.

FDA Is Reviewing All Vape Products Still on the Market

In January 2020, the FDA banned pre-filled pods with sweet and fruity flavors from being sold. While other e-cigarette related products, including some forms of flavored vapes, were allowed to stay on the market for the time being, they were only able to do so if they were submitted for FDA review.

The FDA’s primary issue with fruity cartridges stems from statistics showing that those pods more easily hook new smokers, particularly underage smokers.

In fact, in its approval of the Vuse products, the FDA said it only authorized them because it “determined that the potential benefit to smokers who switch completely or significantly reduce their cigarette use, would outweigh the risk to youth, provided the applicant follows post-marketing requirements aimed at reducing youth exposure and access to the products.”

While some have cheered the FDA’s decision, not everyone was enthusiastic. Many critics cited a joint FDA-CDC study in which nearly 11% of teens who said they vape also indicated regularly using Vuse products. 

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Wall Street Journal) (The Washington Post)

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