Internet giants unveil new rules to secure sites

Tuesday May 15 2018

Posters depicting Cambridge Analytica’s CEO

Posters depicting Cambridge Analytica’s CEO Alexander Nix behind bars, at the entrance of the company’s offices in central London on March 20, 2018. AFP PHOTO | DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS 

By VICTOR KIPROP
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In the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, Internet and social Media giants are effecting a raft of measures to protect users from possible data breach and increase transparency.

Last week, Google introduced stricter rules on buying election advertisements in the US. Advertisers will now be required to first prove they are US citizens or permanent residents in the country before making purchases.

Google said advertisers will have to provide a government-issued ID and other key information, “to help people better understand who is paying for an election ad.”

“We’re investing heavily in keeping our platforms secure and working with campaigns, elections officials, journalists and others to help ensure the security of the online platforms that they depend on,” said Google senior vice-president Kent Walker.

Although the announcement by Google affects only US-based advertisers, the move highlights the desperate attempts by Internet-based companies to re-assure users of their safety and regain their trust, amid growing fears that the firms are breaching clients’ data for political yields.

Verifying identity

Facebook, which is reeling from revelations that data belonging to 87 million of its users was illegally obtained and used by the embattled British company Cambridge Analytica to influence political outcomes, has also announced fresh updates to its elections ads regulations, as it tries to dig itself out of its current predicament.

According to the rules announced by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in April, the social media giant will require political advertisers and pages to verify their identity, location and who paid for the advertisements in order to increase transparency in political ads.

“We’re starting in the US and expanding to the rest of the world in the coming months,” said Mr Zuckerberg.

Cambridge Analytica allegedly used the information it obtained from Facebook to sway the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum. It has also been accused of meddling in elections in Kenya, Nigeria, Czech Republic and Argentina.

The data analytics company shut down last week due to what it said was “negative media coverage” driving it out of business.

Some 126 million Americans are also believed to have been exposed by propaganda generated by a shadowy Russian firm to which Facebook admitted to have sold about 3,000 advertisements which mainly focused on divisive issues including immigration, ahead of the 2016 US presidential election.

Twitter passwords

Twitter has also asked its more than 300 million users to change their passwords as a precaution after it found out that a bug had unintentionally “unmasked” their passwords, a few months after it also introduced measure to increase transparency in political ads.

According to the October 2017 updates, Twitter will disclose the amount spent by advertisers on each political ad, the party paying for it and its affiliations with political parties, and  also allow users to see why they are being targeted.