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Twitter Makes Global Changes to Comply With Privacy Laws

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Twitter is updating its global privacy policy to give users more information about what data advertisers might receive and is launching a site to provide clarity on its data protection efforts, the company said on Monday. The changes, which will take effect on January 1, 2020, will comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). The California law requires large businesses to give consumers more transparency and control over their personal information, such as allowing them to request that their data be deleted and to opt out of having their data sold to third parties.

Social media companies including Facebook and Alphabet’s Google have come under scrutiny on data privacy issues, fuelled by Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal in which personal data were harvested from millions of users without their consent.

Twitter also announced on Monday that it is moving the accounts of users outside of the United States and European Union which were previously contracted by Twitter International Company in Dublin, Ireland, to the San Francisco-based Twitter Inc.

The company said this move would allow it the flexibility to test different settings and controls with these users, such as additional opt-in or opt-out privacy preferences, that would likely be restricted by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Europe’s landmark digital privacy law.

“We want to be able to experiment without immediately running afoul of the GDPR provisions,” Twitter’s data protection officer Damien Kieran told Reuters in a phone interview.

“The goal is to learn from those experiments and then to provide those same experiences to people all around the world,” he said.

The company, which said it has upped its communications about data and security-related disclosures over the last two years, emphasised in a Monday blog post that it was working to upgrade systems and build privacy into new products.

In October, Twitter announced it had found that phone numbers and email addresses used for two-factor authentication may inadvertently have been used for advertising purposes.

Twitter’s new privacy site, dubbed the ‘Twitter Privacy Center’ is part of the company’s efforts to showcase its work on data protection and will also give users another route to access and download their data.

Twitter joins other Internet companies who have recently staked out their positions ahead of CCPA coming into effect. Last month, Microsoft said it would honour the law throughout the United States and Google told clients that it would let sites and apps using its advertising tools block personalised ads as part of its efforts to comply with CCPA.

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TWITTER

China’s Foreign Ministry adopts a Trumpian tone on its new Twitter account — with insults, typos …

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If you live in China, chances are you aren’t on Twitter — the American tech giant has been blocked by Beijing’s Great Firewall for more than a decade.

But for Chinese diplomats, that doesn’t mean Twitter can’t be a tool to spread their message in the West. And perhaps there’s no need to stay diplomatic on it either.

Late Monday evening in Beijing, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs began tweeting under the handle “MFA_China” and the bio: “Follow us to know more about China’s Diplomacy.”

Just a few days later, it has already made an impact. Although most of the tweets simply share video footage of spokeswoman Hua Chunying’s news conferences, the English text on the tweets often takes a combative, even Trumpian tone.

“Big guy NOT NECESSARILY threat. Unilateralism & hegemony IS,” the account wrote on Thursday, criticizing comments at a NATO summit in London about China.

Another tweet Thursday warned sardonically with an emoji that if the West thinks Chinese tech companies could be a threat, it should worry about clothes and shoes, too.

In earlier tweets, the ministry had written “LOL!” when talking about U.S. investment in China, called the United States a “moral loner” and shared an image of a ballet dancer’s battered foot in apparent criticism of the Canadian detention of Meng Wanzhou of Huawei.

A tweet on Wednesday had suggested that the United States should not criticize China’s harsh treatment of the Uighur minority because of “native Indians’ tears & blood.”

“China’s ethnic policy is more successful!” the tweet said.

Forget native Indians’ tears&blood? US politicians like @SpeakerPelosi so ignorant&hypocritical to talk about “conscience”. Ethnic minorities in China enjoy equal rights and freedom in religion and culture. China’s ethnic policy is more successful! pic.twitter.com/JyYD0pS8Mr

— Spokesperson发言人办公室 (@MFA_China) December 4, 2019

This is far from China’s first foray into English-language social media — Chinese-state-linked entities such as the Global Times and Xinhua have long used Western companies to spread messages that needled Western governments.

But there appears to have been a shift in how Chinese diplomats approach Twitter recently.

Notably, Zhao Lijian, a Chinese diplomat who pioneered combative English-language messages earlier this year, has been promoted to deputy director general of the ministry’s information department.

In July, as China faced international criticism for its crackdown on Uighurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang region, Zhao tweeted a variety of criticism of the United States — highlighting alleged religious intolerance, gun violence, Internet surveillance, income inequality and more.

Zhao, who was at that moment deputy chief of mission at the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, took specific aim at the U.S. capital, arguing that white residents of Washington would never go to Southwest Washington because of racial segregation.

The tweet prompted an argument with Susan E. Rice, who was national security adviser in the Obama administration. Rice dubbed Zhao a “racist disgrace.” The Chinese diplomat responded with his own insult, saying that it was Rice who is a “disgrace” and that the “truth hurts.”

Zhao later said he meant Southeast Washington, deleted both tweets and shortly afterward returned to Beijing, but he was not demoted — he was promoted. He has continued to tweet frequently upon his return to China, using his 220,000 followers to promote pro-China messages and troll the United States.

Out of respect for President Trump, US & its people, on the occasion of thanksgiving day, I pay special thanks to US for squandering trillions of dollars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria… pic.twitter.com/9WMNoHdSML

— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) November 29, 2019

In interviews, Zhao has said that China needed to take to Twitter to combat U.S. influence on the platform.

But whereas Trump and other U.S. officials tweet in English to a largely domestic audience, China’s Foreign Ministry appears to be targeting international audiences with a sometimes crude message. Here it may be emulating not the U.S. president, but Russian diplomats who have used embassy Twitter accounts to mock and belittle Western democracies.

However, changing international attitudes via tweet may be an uphill battle for China. A Pew Research Center survey of 34 countries released on Thursday found considerable negative sentiment toward China worldwide, with unfavorable views of the country increasing sharply in the United States and Canada in 2019.

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Artists attempt to pit art-stealing Twitter bots against trigger-happy corporate lawyers

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Photo: Peter Power (Getty Images)

While the internet has obviously been a major boon for artists—what with the ability to show off their work to far wider audiences than humanity could have ever once dreamed—it’s also been a pretty massive benefit for art thieves, too. After all: Once upon a time, stealing someone’s artwork involved grappling hooks, inside men, and one of those little circle-knife things that lets you cut glass and hold it tight with a suction cup; now you just need a bot, and a decent set of Twitter keyword search terms.

Terms like “T-shirt,” say, or “that would look great on a T-shirt,” or anything else that might clue Twitter-trawling robots in to images they could slap on unauthorized articles of clothing (a T-shirt, possibly), which would then be purchased by unsuspecting shoppers.

But as our ancestors always used to say: Where there’s an algorithm, there’s a way to fuck with that algorithm for our own collective amusement. And so people on Twitter have begun encouraging these art-scraping bots to focus their interest on, well…non-traditional forms of art.

Some, as in the first of the above images, are just outright admissions of the theft-to-come. But others go even further, attempting to pick a fight between the thieves and the rabid forces of corporate copyright law. And while it seems unlikely that any of these companies in question will actually get sued out of existence by the wrathful Disney gods—alas—it is possible that they’ll be forced to tune their art-lifting algorithms to be more discriminating, and thus less widespread in their larcenous habits. (Although it also seems possible that people will buy these shirts when they do pop up on stores in order to be part of the moment, or to engage in some standard-issue internet irony, because truly, humanity is a paradoxical beast.)

In the meantime, always remember: Mickey Mouse smells like farts.

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Targeting Xinjiang?

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Is Harry Potter’s Ginny Weasley tweeting you about how great life is in China’s western region of Xinjiang? She might be a bot

It looks like there’s another Twitter bot campaign in the making, but it’s not targeting US elections this time. Instead, it’s primarily focused on the region of Xinjiang in western China, where UN experts say that over a million people are being held in detention camps.

A researcher from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) says she found a “massive spambot network in the making” that’s trying to influence Twitter discussions on the issue. And strangely, they appear inclined to represent themselves as celebrities.

The accounts discovered last week have surfaced at a crucial time for China. On Tuesday, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would require the US administration to identify and sanction officials responsible for the mass internment of Uygurs and other members of ethnic minorities in the country’s Xinjiang autonomous region.

Beijing opposes the bill and says the camps exist to prevent terrorism and separatism.

Twitter is no stranger to pro-Beijing campaigns on its platform. In August, Twitter suspended 936 accounts originating from China for what it said was a “coordinated state-backed operation” to sow political discord in Hong Kong. The social network shared a list of the accounts, saying it represents the most active portion of a larger “spammy network” of 200,000 accounts sharing content against the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. The other accounts were suspended before they were substantially active, Twitter said.

But unlike the Hong Kong campaign, the newly discovered accounts were created this year rather than having been repurposed. Earlier research from the ASPI on anti-protest bots showed that many of the accounts have been around for years, sometimes tweeting about things completely unrelated to China, like bacon, K-pop and hot tubs.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the new accounts is that they seem to have a thing for Western celebrities. Many of the more than 375 accounts use profile pictures of actresses like Kiera Knightley and Bonnie Wright, known for starring as Ginny Weasley in Harry Potter.

It’s part of the reason why the accounts weren’t hard to spot. They were identified based on a combination of their attributes and their behavior, ASPI researcher Elise Thomas told Abacus. In addition to pictures of celebrities, things like consistent naming patterns, tweeting random quotes or saying hello to themselves are all signs that the person retweeting you might not be real.

Compulsively sharing quotes from Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to be another sign of a potential bot. (Picture: Screenshot from Twitter)

Another dead giveaway? These new accounts seem obsessed with retweeting the Chinese state-owned tabloid Global Times, which has been using Twitter to staunchly deny abuses in Xinjiang.

The media outlet rose to prominence in China for its nationalist views and sharp attacks on critics of the Chinese government. Recent articles have accused scholars researching Xinjiang of working for US intelligence agencies and called reporters liars. The website has also been sharing glowing reports of life in the autonomous region under the Communist Party.

Global Times also sought to amplify its message through legitimate means by paying for ads. In June and August, Twitter had more than 50 promoted tweets from the media outlet, an investigation from The Intercept showed. As part of its wide sweep of pro-Beijing bots in August, Twitter said that it would no longer accept advertising from state-controlled media.

We reached out to the Global Times but didn’t receive a response.

So far, the origin of the accounts discovered by ASPI is unknown, and there’s no evidence that the campaign was state-sponsored. It also appears that their activity has been limited and they haven’t picked up a large number of followers.

In addition to the Global Times, the accounts have been sharing posts from other Chinese state media outlets, as well as statements from Chinese government bodies and diplomats. The Hong Kong protests were another favorite topic for the accounts.

Some of the accounts highlighted by ASPI’s Thomas seem to have already been removed. In response to our inquiry, Twitter said it takes action against millions of accounts each week for violating policies in this area.

“Improving the collective health of public conversation is a top priority for our company,” the company said in a statement. “Platform manipulation, including spam and other attempts to undermine the public conversation, is a clear violation of the Twitter Rules.”

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