Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:
1. Reading between the lines. Ministers responsible for foreign affairs and homeland security from G7 countries met in Toronto, Canada, and cyber issues were a prominent part of the discussions. In their communiqué, foreign ministers reiterated their commitment to an "accessible, open, interoperable, reliable, and secure cyberspace," underpinned by the applicability of international law to state actions in cyberspace. G7 cyber experts released a separate document that noted the need for "coordinated responses to malicious cyber acts ... in light of the growing cyber threat to liberal democracies." Over the last few months, the United States, UK, and others have sought to publicly attribute state-sponsored cyber activity and impose costs on states they view as having violated international cyber norms agreed to at the UN in 2010, 2013, and 2015. Interestingly, however, G7 cyber experts did not collectively call out Russia over NotPetya or North Korea over WannaCry, only noting the recent "national statements by some G7 and other partners." In a joint statement presumably aimed at Russia, foreign and security ministers expressed concern with "foreign actors seeking to undermine democratic institutions," specifically pointing out the cyber threat to electoral systems and cyber means that manipulate "public discourse" or undermine independent media.
2. #MeToo and blockchain unite in China, rage against the CCP and tech bros. The #MeToo activism, which has taken China by storm, spilled over into the digital domain this week. On Monday, a student at China’s elite Peking University posted an open letter about unanswered rape allegations involving a former university professor that went viral on Chinese social media. As censors scrubbed her letter from the web, netizens settled on an novel form of resistance: uploading the student’s letter on the Ethereum blockchain network, thereby making it, at least in theory, impossible to censor. The letter came around the same time Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a hard-hitting report on entrenched sexism at China’s largest tech firms. HRW analyzed 36,000 job advertisements, many of which objectified women or stated a clear preference for male candidates. Chinese firms like Baidu and Tencent have previously courted controversy for misogynistic public displays, but as the report and a complementary piece in the New York Times on female “programmer motivators” demonstrate, the problem is not merely cosmetic but deeply rooted in Chinese tech culture.
3. Opening up the black box of content moderation. In a first, Facebook publicly released the internal guidelines it uses to determine what content it removes from the platform. The company also announced that it will be establishing an appeals process for users who believe their content has been erroneously removed, and the review will be conducted by a human within twenty-four hours. For years, critics have been calling for these measures given the seeming inconsistency with which Facebook removes posts—sometimes keeping hate speech up but removing iconic pictures that include nudity—and an over-reliance on artificial intelligence to remove rule-violating content. A slide deck describing Facebook's approach to content take-downs was leaked to ProPublica last year, and generated significant controversy because it allowed, for example, hate messages against specific minorities (e.g. radical Muslims) but banned them against larger groups (e.g. all white men). Facebook described the release as an effort to improve transparency on the platform, and committed to working with experts to help them perfect the guidelines.
4. China doubles down on independent innovation. At a two-day conclave last weekend, Chinese President Xi Jinping doubled down on China’s cyber strategy amid growing tensions with the United States. In the landmark speech, Xi said his country would pursue the strategy of “indigenous innovation” to build China into a “cyber superpower.” Xi’s rhetoric reflects China’s sensitivity towards its continued reliance on the United States for hi-tech components. Just last week, the U.S. Department of Commerce crippled ZTE’s ability to buy U.S. hardware and software, after blacklisting the company for violating U.S. sanctions and throwing the Chinese tech giant’s future into limbo. Commerce officials also are reportedly investigating Huawei for similar infractions. Rather than making nice with the United States, Xi has signaled that China is prepared to go it alone.