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Pegasus and the Threat of Cyberweapons in the Age of Smartphones

Pegasus and the Threat of Cyberweapons in the Age of Smartphones
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Spyware like Pegasus is dangerous not only because it gives hackers complete control over an infected phone, but also because it introduces the skills and knowledge of nation-states into the civilian sphere.

Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology, is haunting the Narendra Modi-led Indian government once again. Seventeen media organizations including the Wire, the Washington Post and the Guardian have spent months examining a possible list of 50,000 phone numbers belonging to individuals from around 50 countries. This list was provided by the French journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. These investigations by the media organizations helped zero in on possible targets of these cyberattacks. The mobile phones of 67 of the people who were on the target list were then forensically examined. The results revealed that 37 of the analyzed phones showed signs of being hacked by the Israeli firm NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware or signs of attempted penetration. Of the remaining 30, the results were inconclusive as either the owners had changed their phones or the phones were Androids, which do not log the kind of information that helps in detecting such penetration.

The possible targets not only include journalists and activists, but also government officials. This includes 14 heads of states and governments: three presidents (France’s Emmanuel Macron, Iraq’s Barham Salih and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa), three sitting and seven former prime ministers, and a king (Morocco’s Mohammed VI). The three sitting prime ministers are Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Egypt’s Mostafa Madbouly and Morocco’s Saad-Eddine El Othmani. Among the seven former prime ministers are Lebanon’s Saad Hariri, France’s Édouard Philippe, Algeria’s Noureddine Bedoui and Belgium’s Charles Michel, according to the Washington Post.

Once the malware is installed on a target’s phone, the spyware not only provides full access to the device’s data but also controls the phone’s microphone and camera. Instead of a device for use by the owner, the phone becomes a device that can be used to spy on them, recording not only telephonic conversations but also in-person conversations, including images of the participants. The collected information and data are then transmitted back to those deploying Pegasus.

Successive information and technology ministers in India—Ravi Shankar Prasad and Ashwini Vaishnaw—have stated that “the government has not indulged in any ‘unauthorized interception’” in the country, according to the Wire. Both the ministers have chosen to duck the questions: Did the government buy NSO’s hacking software and authorize the targeting of Indian citizens? And can the use of Pegasus spyware to infect smartphones and alter its basic functions be considered as legal authorization under the Indian Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009 for “interception, monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource”?

I am going to leave the legal issues for those who are better equipped to handle them. Instead, I am going to examine the new dangers that weaponizing malware by nation-states pose to the world. Pegasus is not the only example of such software; Snowden surveillance revelations showed us what the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States and the Five Eyes governments do and shed light on their all-encompassing surveillance regime. These intelligence agencies and governments have hacked the digital infrastructure of other countries and snooped on their “secure” communications and even spied on their allies. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel was not spared from NSA surveillance.

The key difference between nation-states and cybercriminals developing malware is that the nation-states possess far greater resources when it comes to developing such malware. Take the example of a group called the Shadow Brokers, who dumped a gigabyte of weaponized software exploits of the NSA on the net in 2017. Speaking about this, Matthew Hickey, a well-known security expert, told Ars Technica in 2017, “It is very significant as it effectively puts cyberweapons in the hands of anyone who downloads it.” Ransomware hit big time soon after, with WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware creating havoc by using the exploits in NSA’s toolkit.

Why am I recounting NSA’s malware tools while discussing Pegasus? Because Pegasus belongs to NSO, an Israeli company with very close ties to Unit 8200, the Israeli equivalent of the NSA. NSO, like many other Israeli commercial cyber-intelligence companies, is founded and run by ex-intelligence officers from Unit 8200. It is this element—introducing skills and knowledge of nation-states—into the civilian sphere that makes such spyware so dangerous.

NSO also appears to have played a role in improving Israel’s relations with two Gulf petro-monarchies, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. Israel, therefore, sees the sale of spyware to these countries as an extension of its foreign policy. Pegasus has been used extensively by the UAE and Saudi Arabia to target various domestic dissidents and even foreign critics. The most well-known example, of course, is Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident and the Washington Post’s columnist, who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

NSO’s market capitalization is reported to be in the range of $2 billion, making it perhaps one of the most expensive civilian cyber-intelligence companies. And its tools are frightening, as there does not seem to be any protection against them. Most of these tools are classified as cyberweapons and require the Israeli government’s approval for export, again showing the link between the Israeli state and NSO.

The other reason why Pegasus spyware is so dangerous is that it does not need any action on the part of the owner of a phone for the device to be hacked by the spyware. Most infections of devices take place when people click on a link sent to them through email/SMS, or when they go to a site and click on something there. Pegasus exploited a security problem with WhatsApp and was able to hack into a phone through just a missed call. Just a ring was enough for the Pegasus spyware to be installed on the phone. This has now been extended to using other vulnerabilities that exist within iMessage, WhatsApp, FaceTime, WeChat, Telegram, and various other apps that receive data from unknown sources. That means Pegasus can compromise a phone without the user having to click on a single link. These are called zero-click exploits in the cyber community.

Once installed, Pegasus can read the user’s messages, emails, and call logs; it can capture screenshots, log pressed keys, and collect browser history and contacts. It exfiltrates—meaning sends files—back to its server. Basically, it can spy on every aspect of a target’s life. Encrypting emails or using encryption services such as Signal won’t deter Pegasus, which can read what an infected phone’s user reads or capture what they type.

Many people use iPhones in the belief that they are safer. The sad truth is that the iPhone is as vulnerable to Pegasus attacks as Android phones, though in different ways. It is easier to find out if an iPhone is infected, as it logs what the phone is doing. As the Android systems do not maintain such logs, Pegasus can hide its traces better.

In an interview with the Guardian published on July 19, “after the first revelations from the Pegasus Project,” Snowden described for-profit malware developers as “an industry that should not exist… If you don’t do anything to stop the sale of this technology, it’s not just going to be 50,000 targets. It’s going to be 50 million targets, and it’s going to happen much more quickly than any of us expect.” He called for an immediate global ban on the international spyware trade.

Snowden’s answer of banning the sale of such spyware is not enough. We need instead to look at deweaponizing all of cyberspace, including spyware. The spate of recent cyberattacks—estimated to be tens of thousands a day—is a risk to the cyberinfrastructure of all countries on which all their institutions depend. After the leak of NSA and CIA cyberweapons, and now with NSO’s indiscriminate use of Pegasus, we should be asking whether nation-states can really be trusted to develop such weapons.

In 2017, Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft and no peacenik or leftist, wrote, “Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage.” It is this concern that certain leading companies within the industry—Microsoft, Deutsche Telekom and others—had raised in 2017, calling for a new digital Geneva Convention banning cyberweapons. Russia and China have also made similar demands in the past. It was rejected by the United States, who believed that it had a military advantage in cyberspace, which is something it should not squander.

Pegasus is one more reminder of the danger of nation-states developing cyberweapons. Though here, it is not a leak but deliberate use of a dangerous technology for private profit that poses a risk to journalists, activists, opposition parties and finally to democracy. It is a matter of time before the smartphones that we carry become attack vectors for attacks on the very cyberinfrastructure on which we all depend.


By Prabir Purkayastha/Globetrotter for Telegraf
This article was produced in partnership by Newsclick and Globetrotter. Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.

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S Korea parliament committee votes to curb Google, Apple commission dominance

S Korea parliament committee votes to curb Google, Apple commission dominance
PHOTO by REUTERS

A South Korean parliamentary committee voted early on Wednesday to recommend amending a law, a key step toward banning Google and Apple from forcibly charging software developers commissions on in-app purchases, the first such curb by a major economy.

After the vote from the legislation and judiciary committee to amend the Telecommunications Business Act, dubbed the “Anti-Google law,” the amendment will come to a final vote in parliament.

That vote could come on Wednesday https://www.reuters.com/technology/skorea-set-curb-google-apple-commission-dominance-2021-08-24, although South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that parliament would act at a later date.

A parliament official told Reuters the office had not yet received an official request not to hold the meeting on Wednesday.

Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google have both faced global criticism because they require software developers using their app stores to use proprietary payment systems that charge commissions of up to 30per cent.

In a statement on Tuesday, Apple said the bill “will put users who purchase digital goods from other sources at risk of fraud, undermine their privacy protections”, hurt user trust in App Store purchases and lead to fewer opportunities for South Korean developers.

Wilson White, senior director of public policy at Google, said “the rushed process hasn’t allowed for enough analysis of the negative impact of this legislation on Korean consumers and app developers”.

Legal experts said app store operators could work with developers and other companies to create secure payment methods other than the ones they provide.

“Google and Apple aren’t the only ones that can create a secure payment system,” said Lee Hwang, a Korea University School of Law professor specialising in competition law. “I think it’s a problem to try to inspire excessive fear by talking about safety or security about using different payment methods.”

Based on South Korean parliament records, the amendment bans app store operators with dominant market positions from forcing payment systems on content providers and “inappropriately” delaying the review of, or deleting, mobile contents from app markets.

It also allows the South Korean government to require an app market operator to “prevent damage to users and protect the rights and interests of users”, probe app market operators, and mediate disputes regarding payment, cancellations or refunds in the app market.

This month in the United States, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would rein in app stores of companies that they said exert too much market control, including Apple and Google. REUTERS

 

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US and Chinese tech juggernauts battle over ASEAN clouds

US and Chinese tech juggernauts battle over ASEAN clouds
Alibaba Cloud’s rapid growth slowed in the last quarter. (Photo by Tada Images/Shutterstock)

Amid the great U.S.-China tech divide, Southeast Asia and its fast-growing digital markets have become a main battleground for the digital behemoths of both superpowers.

There, Amazon.com, Microsoft, Google, Alibaba Group Holding and other players are investing heavily in cloud computing — services that provide processing power and data storage to all sizes of corporations and government institutions.

A massive 170,000-sq.-meter structure is going up in Tanjong Kling, about a 20-minute drive from Singapore’s city center. The 11-story building is taking on the appearance of a vast logistics center or warehouse. However, strict security teams and surveillance cameras around the site betray a much more critical piece of infrastructure. As a reporter pulled out his smartphone to take a photograph of the construction site, a security guard rushed up and warned, “This is private property. No photos allowed.”

Once completed, the “private property” facility will be filled by rows and rows of servers hosting hundreds of millions of internet users’ sensitive personal information. It will be Facebook’s first custom-built data center in Asia. The company has announced it will invest 1.4 billion Singapore dollars (US$1 billion) in the project.

It is one of many data centers that global tech giants are building in Southeast Asia. With a stable political system, an abundance of skilled tech workers and its connection to an undersea communications cable that links to the rest of the world, Singapore has become a prime spot for the big players of tech vying for slices of Southeast Asia’s swelling need for cloud services.

US and Chinese tech juggernauts battle over ASEAN clouds

According to real estate service company Cushman & Wakefield, Singapore data centers have 410 megawatts of capacity, with another 170 megawatts on the way, making the city-state a global hub for data, matching the likes of Frankfurt and Chicago.

But Singapore stands out in that it is also a strategic foothold for Chinese tech companies such as Alibaba and Tencent, who are competing for the same clients.

Amazon is the global leader among cloud service providers. Its Amazon Web Services (AWS) controlled more than 30% of the worldwide market in the second quarter of 2021, according to research company Canalys. It is currently adding infrastructure in Jakarta, Indonesia, which is expected to be operational by the end of 2021 or early 2022.

The data centers will be AWS’ second location in Southeast Asia. AWS centers have been operating in Singapore since 2010.

“AWS sees tremendous potential in Southeast Asia,” Conor McNamara, AWS’ managing director for ASEAN operations, said via email. “Across the board, we see all segments, including startups, enterprises, and small and medium-sized businesses, continuing to drive cloud adoption.”

Microsoft, the world’s second-largest cloud service provider, early this year announced it would establish data centers in Indonesia and Malaysia. It is bullish on the region’s growth potential.

“If you look at Southeast Asia, [there are] 650 million people, that makes it [almost] 50% bigger than in the European Union [446 million],” Microsoft Asia President Ahmed Mazhari said. And the region’s “mobile penetration and mobile-first approach that is unparalleled in the world.”

Mazhari also sees ambition. “We continue to see growth traction from somebody that wants to go from idea to building a unicorn, to micro SMEs, to the biggest enterprise of the world,” he said.

Alibaba, No. 4 in the global cloud service market, behind Amazon, Microsoft and Google, in June announced it would invest up to $1 billion over the next three years to nurture developers and support Asia-Pacific startups. “We are seeing a strong demand for cloud-native technologies in emerging verticals across the region, from e-commerce and logistics platforms to fintech and online entertainment,” Jeff Zhang, president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, said in a news release.

The company’s cloud division launched its third data center in Indonesia and plans to launch one in the Philippines this year.

Cloud services are becoming a revenue pillar. In the second quarter of this year, the global market was worth $47 billion, up 36% from the year-earlier period, according to Canalys.

AWS’ net sales grew to $14.8 billion in the same quarter, up 37% from the year-earlier period, with AWS accounting for more than half of Amazon’s consolidated operating income.

Microsoft’s Azure revenue grew 51% during the quarter ended June.

Until recently, the global market has been bifurcated.

US and Chinese tech juggernauts battle over ASEAN clouds

In China, Alibaba and Tencent have been able to dominate mainly due to restrictions imposed upon foreign tech companies. In the West, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and other players rigorously compete.

In recent years, however, Alibaba has been pushing into the West, including the United States. However, this ambition is dimming as Washington is increasingly concerned over possible security risks for companies that avail themselves to Chinese cloud services.

Amid this global dichotomy, Southeast Asia has emerged as a battleground where Chinese and Western companies “can compete with each other,” said Kevin Imboden, senior research manager of Data Center Insights, Global Research, at Cushman & Wakefield.

The cloud service providers’ intertwined customer lists in the region reflect intense competition.

Amazon and Microsoft provide cloud services to Singapore-based supper app Grab, according to both companies. Alibaba on its website boasts of having Indonesian e-commerce leader Tokopedia as a key cloud customer, and Amazon says AWS also provides services to Tokopedia.

Among the region’s unicorns, startups with valuations of $1 billion or more, Carsome, a Malaysia-based used car marketplace, and Carro, a Singapore online car sales platform, use AWS. Bukalapak, one of Indonesia’s largest e-commerce platforms and Tokopedia competitor, uses Microsoft’s Azure. Alibaba is one of Tokopedia’s largest shareholders, and Microsoft has stakes in Grab and Bukalapak.

U.S. and Chinese cloud companies “are very focused on acquiring market share,” Imboden said, even “at the expense of profit.”

According to Google, Temasek Holdings, and Bain & Co., the gross merchandise value of the region’s internet economy is expected to grow threefold, to $300 billion, by 2025 from 2020. Cloud services, which serve as the infrastructure of this burgeoning ecosystem, will surely expand, too.

However, geopolitical risks are also emerging.

According to a report by China’s Caixin news service, Chinese internet technology company ByteDance, which owns TikTok, has stopped using Alibaba’s cloud for its businesses outside China.

Last year, the Trump administration attempted to ban the popular social media app in the U.S., citing security risks. In June, U.S. President Joe Biden withdrew a series of executive orders related to the banning of TikTok but ordered a broad security review of apps connected to “foreign adversaries,” including China.

Alibaba on Aug. 3 announced cloud computing revenue of 16.05 billion yuan ($2.48 billion) for the quarter through June, up 29% from a year earlier. However, the company’s earnings release states that the cloud computing division’s “year-on-year revenue growth began to moderate since the last quarter primarily because of revenue decline from a top cloud customer in the Internet industry that has stopped using our overseas cloud services with respect to their international business due to non-product related requirements.”

Eric Schmidt, a former Google CEO and the chair of the U.S. National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, wonders if Alibaba can attract clients in the West. “Alibaba Cloud and so forth are good enough that you could build on the Chinese side, but you are not going to use them in the West. Similarly, American clouds are very, very good, but you can’t use them in China,” he recently told Nikkei Asia.

“As an entrepreneur, you would prefer to have one [cloud provider] but you live with two [one in China and one everywhere else].”

While well-funded unicorns and large corporations can minimize risks by dividing their cloud needs between Western and Chinese companies, many small and mid-size companies, as well as startups, lack the wherewithal to follow suit.

With American and Chinese players competing for slices of Southeast Asia, businesses in the region “need a geopolitical strategy” and might even have to “pick sides,” said Abishur Prakash, a geopolitical futurist at Toronto-based consultancy Center for Innovating the Future.

“What is your long-term strategy? What geographies do you plan to operate in? Which consumers do you want to access the most?” he asks. “Those should be the vectors that you [use to] decide whose cloud computing infrastructures to use.” NIKKEI

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Authorities warn of scammers impersonating officers from government agencies, police

Authorities warn of scammers impersonating officers from government agencies, police
An unsolicited call is the first red flag for a scam, experts say. GETTY IMAGES

Scammers have been targeting members of the public by calling them and claiming to be officers from government agencies, said the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) on Friday (Aug 13).

In an advisory, ICA said members of the public have received calls from +65 6812 5555, similar to its SafeTravel Enquiries Helpline (6812 5555).
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“They accused the recipients of either spreading fake news related to COVID-19 or breaking COVID-19 rules, further saying that a report would be made against them or they had to pay a penalty,” said the authority. “This is a scam.”

ICA added that the calls were not made by ICA officers or officers from any other government agencies, and that it “does not call members of the public to request money in any form over the phone”.

The public is advised to ignore the calls and the caller’s instructions should they receive them.

No government agency will request for personal details or transfer of money over the phone or through automated voice machines, said ICA.

“Scammers may use caller ID spoofing technology to mask the actual phone number and display a different number. Calls that appear to be from a local number may not actually be made from Singapore,” said ICA.

“Do not provide your personal information such as name, identification number, passport details, contact details, bank account or credit card details to suspicious or unknown parties.”

The authority said it takes “a serious view of such scam calls as it undermines public trust in ICA”, adding that a police report has been made.

SCAMMERS IMPERSONATING POLICE OFFICERS

Separately on Friday, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) said there have been at least 200 reports of banking-related phishing scams where police officers were impersonated.

In a news release, SPF said scammers have been posing as police officers on messaging apps by using publicly available pictures of officers to validate their identity so that the victims would provide their banking details.

The victims received WhatsApp calls from an account with a profile picture showing police officers. During the conversation, the scammer would also provide an SPF name card as proof of identity.

“The victims would be informed that their bank accounts had been found to be involved in criminal activity and were frozen,” said SPF.

The scammer would instruct victims to provide their banking details under the pretext of facilitating the release of their bank accounts.

“Victims only realised that they had fallen prey to a scam when they received notifications informing them that money had been transferred from their bank accounts to bank accounts unfamiliar to them or when they discovered unknown transactions made using their credit or debit card,” said the police. CNA

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Three Australian publishers accuse Facebook of unfairly taking their content

Three Australian publishers accuse Facebook of unfairly taking their content
The Facebook app is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Photo

Three Australian publishers of lifestyle content say Facebook Inc used their articles on its just-launched news service after refusing to negotiate licensing deals, and that the country’s tough new internet law has failed to protect them.

Australia this year passed a law that pressured Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google to sign deals with some of the country’s biggest news companies by threatening government intervention.

The dispute highlights possible shortcomings in the controversial law. While most of Australia’s main media firms have signed deals, some smaller outlets say the law has not stopped their content generating clicks and advertising revenue for Facebook without compensation.

Broadsheet Media, Urban List and Concrete Playground, websites which publish entertainment news, reviews and listings, say that after the law was passed in February they approached the social media giant about payment for their content.

Facebook knocked them back, calling their content unsuitable for its Facebook News platform and recommending they apply for grants it was offering from a A$15 million (US$11 million) fund for Australian regional and digital newsrooms, the three companies told Reuters in a joint call.

“They told me that, ‘oh well, you’re not going to be included in News tab and that’s what we’re paying for’,” said Nick Shelton, founder of Broadsheet Media.

“To our surprise, we woke one morning last week and all of our content was there.”

Facebook News went live in Australia on Aug 4.

Facebook declined to comment directly on the three companies but said it created value for publishers by sending viewers to their sites.

Under the law, Facebook and Google must negotiate payment deals with outlets or a government-appointed arbitrator will do it for them, but a publisher must first prove its primary purpose is producing news and that it has been unfairly disqualified.

The three publishers said they want Facebook to come to the table to talk but if it declined they may seek government intervention.

“If at the end of the day we don’t get included in a commercial agreement, then absolutely they need a stick,” said Shelton. “We are three prime examples of publishers and media businesses which should be included as part of this framework.”

To be covered by the law, publishers must register as a news provider with the Australian Communications and Media Authority “based on criteria including the levels of ‘core news’ (essentially public interest journalism) that they produce”, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which drafted the law, said in an email.

Urban List has registered on the list. Broadsheet and Concrete Playground have yet to register, saying they want to hold out for a private deal.

Tama Leaver, a professor of internet studies at Australia’s Curtin University, said that while Facebook had not broken the law as the matter was not yet before arbitration, its apparent treatment of the three publishers was “extremely poor practice, disingenuous and further disadvantages the smaller players in the news business arena”.

In a separate dispute, the ACCC has said it would look into a claim by The Conversation, which publishes current affairs commentary by academics, that Facebook has refused to negotiate a licensing deal. The Conversation has secured a deal with Google. REUTERS

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Twitter Suspends pro Trump US Lawmaker for Covid Misinformation

Twitter Suspends pro Trump US Lawmaker for Covid Misinformation
U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) wears a mask reading "Censored" as she walks to the House floor during debate on the second impeachment of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. January 13, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Twitter said Tuesday it had suspended the account of controversial US lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene, a staunch supporter of former Republican president Donald Trump, for a week over a “misleading” tweet on coronavirus vaccines.

The tweet in question, sent on Monday, said the US Food and Drug Administration should not give final approval to anti-coronavirus vaccines, with Greene saying they were “failing” and did not curb the spread of the virus.

Twitter labeled the message “misleading” and suggested that users consult information provided by US health authorities about vaccines and mask-wearing.

“The tweet you referenced was labeled in line with our Covid-19 misleading information policy,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to AFP.

“The account will be in read-only mode for a week due to repeated violations of the Twitter rules.”

The platform’s rules on Covid misinformation state that a seven-day suspension comes with a fourth violation of the site’s terms of use.

If the first-term Georgia congresswoman were to break the rules again, she could face a permanent ban.

Greene accused Twitter of suspending her for “speaking the truth, and tweeting what so many people are saying.”

The lawmaker has been a staunch defender of Trump and his unsubstantiated claims that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election.

In February, she apologized for her past support for QAnon conspiracy theories but was stripped of her two committee assignments.

Then in May, she courted controversy by repeatedly equating mask mandates with Nazis forcing Jews to wear yellow stars in wartime Germany. AFP

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New Child Safety Features for Google, YouTube

New Child Safety Features for Google, YouTube
Google is unveiling new measures aiming at protecting children and teens from being tracked or exposed to mature content. AFP

Google on Tuesday unveiled a series of online safety measures for children including a private setting for videos uploaded by teens and safeguard for ads shown to users under 18.

The new features, which come amid heightened concerns about online child exploitation and safety at a time of growing internet usage during the global pandemic, affect Google’s YouTube video platform as well its online services such as search and Google Assistant.

“As kids and teens spend more time online, parents, educators, child safety and privacy experts, and policy makers are rightly concerned about how to keep them safe,” said Google product and user experience director Mindy Brooks.

“We engage with these groups regularly, and share these concerns.”

Google’s “safe search” — which excludes sensitive or mature content — will be the default setting for users under 18, which up to now had been the case only for under-13 users.

On the massively popular YouTube platform, content from 13- to 17-year-olds will be private by default, the tech giant said.

“With private uploads, content can only be seen by the user and whomever they choose,” said a blog post by James Beser, head of product management for YouTube Kids and Family.

“We want to help younger users make informed decisions about their online footprint and digital privacy… If the user would like to make their content public, they can change the default upload visibility setting and we’ll provide reminders indicating who can see their video.”

Google will also make it easier for families to request removal of a child’s photos from image search requests.

“Of course, removing an image from search doesn’t remove it from the web, but we believe this change will help give young people more control of their images online,” Brooks said.

In another safety move, Google will turn off location history for all users under 18 globally, without an option to turn it back on. This is already in place for those under 13.

Google will also make changes in how it shows ads to minors, blocking any “age-sensitive” categories and banning targeting based on the age, gender or interests of people under 18. AFP

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