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Last Week Online #50 – You don't have to exist to spread misinformation online

Anna Loverus
Anna Loverus
2 min read

I wish for 2020 to be less about Facebook. It won't.

Fake Facebook accounts used AI-generated profile photos when spreading pro-Trump misinformation

On Friday, Facebook removed a "global network" of fake assets who were using false narratives to push pro-Trump content to roughly 55 million users, spending 9 million US dollars on advertising.

The network included 610 Facebook accounts, 156 groups, 89 pages, and 72 Instagram accounts related to the digital news outlet "The Beauty of Life". A dozen of the accounts used AI-generated profile images, created with a neural network known as a generative adversarial network (or GAN), to appear more legitimate. It is the first known use of AI-generated photos at scale in a misinformation campaign.

"Operation Fake Face Swarm" was a joint effort by Facebook, Graphika and DFRLab. Their investigations report that "The Beauty of Life" is a branch of the Epoch Media Group, parent company of The Epoch Times, a conservative media outlet with ties to Falun Gong who have shown vigorous support for Donald Trump.

You can read the full report here.

Majority of facial recognition vendors showed inconsistent accuracy between demographic groups

This week, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published a report where they had tested 189 software algorithms from 99 developers. The majority of face recognition algorithms show differences in their accuracy of matching between demographic groups – often by a factor of 10 to 100 times, depending on the algorithm.

The face recognition algorithms were evaluated when performing two of facial recognitions most common appliances. The first task, known as "one-to-one" matching, asked the algorithm to find the person in the picture in a database. (This is the same method as when you unlock your smartphone.) The second, known as "one-to-many" matching, determine whether the person in the photo has any match in a database. This is the method used when the police want to identify a person of interest.

"While we do not explore what might cause these differentials, this data will be valuable to policymakers, developers and end-users in thinking about the limitations and appropriate use of these algorithms," said Patrick Grother, a NIST computer scientist and the report's primary author.

Facebook confirms tracking your location even when you've opted out from sharing it

In a letter from December 12 (released Tuesday), Facebook explained how it determines users' locations to target ads – even when the users have turned off location tracking on their smartphones. Facebook was responding to Republican Senator Josh Hawley and Democratic Senator Chris Coons, who last month demanded Facebook to "respect" users' who wish to keep their locations private.

Facebook said it can figure out users' locations from IP-addresses and location tags they use for photos. While less precise than when location tracking is enabled, Facebook uses the information for multiple features, including ads targeting. However, there's no way for users can't opt-out of location-based ads.

While Facebook explicitly wrote in a blog post earlier this fall that they "may still understand your location using things like check-ins, events and information about your internet connection" the practice is problematic. Facebook is already questioned concerning how it deals with its user data, and what information is shared with third parties.

With the Federal Trade Commission recently completing its Cambridge Analytica investigation, it looks like it might be time for another one...

A Holiday-themed long read:

The art of imperfection: People are turning to robots to write their 'handwritten' cards

Washington Post

Tool of the week: Mailmeteor

Have you ever wished you could send personalised emails en masse directly from Gmail? With Mailmeteor, you can. Perfect for all the "happy holidays" or "end of the year" emails you wish you had time to make more personal.

You put in all the information about recipients in a Google Sheet, makes a template with Mailmeteor, you can preview the result, and then you click send. It's dead simple. Give it a try; your relatives will be impressed.

Last Week Online

Anna Loverus Twitter

Thinker and doer. Loves running, wine, and human behaviour.

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