Facebook touts beefed up hate speech detection ahead of Myanmar election – TechCrunch
Facebook has offered a little detail on extra steps it’s taking to improve its ability to detect and remove hate speech and election disinformation ahead of Myanmar’s election. A general election is scheduled to take place in the country on November 8, 2020.
The announcement comes close to two years after the company admitted a catastrophic failure to prevent its platform from being weaponized to foment division and incite violence against the country’s Rohingya minority.
Facebook says now that it has expanded its misinformation policy with the aim of combating voter suppression and will now remove information “that could lead to voter suppression or damage the integrity of the electoral process” — giving the example of a post that falsely claims a candidate is a Bengali, not a Myanmar citizen, and thus ineligible to stand.
“Working with local partners, between now and November 22, we will remove verifiable misinformation and unverifiable rumors that are assessed as having the potential to suppress the vote or damage the integrity of the electoral process,” it writes.
Facebook says it’s working with three fact-checking organizations in the country — namely: BOOM, AFP Fact Check and Fact Crescendo — after introducing a fact-checking program there in March.
In March 2018 the United Nations warned that Facebook’s platform was being abused to spread hate speech and whip up ethnic violence in Myanmar. By November of that year the tech giant was forced to admit it had not stopped its platform from being repurposed as a tool to drive genocide, after a damning independent investigation slammed its impact on human rights.
On hate speech, which Facebook admits could suppress the vote in addition to leading to what it describes as “imminent, offline harm” (aka violence), the tech giant claims to have invested “significantly” in “proactive detection technologies” that it says help it “catch violating content more quickly”, albeit without quantifying the size of its investment nor providing further details. It only notes that it “also” uses AI to “proactively identify hate speech in 45 languages, including Burmese”.
Facebook’s blog post offers a metric to imply progress — with the company stating that in Q2 2020 it took action against 280,000 pieces of content in Myanmar for violations of its Community Standards prohibiting hate speech, of which 97.8% were detected proactively by its systems before the content was reported to it.
“This is up significantly from Q1 2020, when we took action against 51,000 pieces of content for hate speech violations, detecting 83% proactively,” it adds.
However without greater visibility into the content Facebook’s platform is amplifying, including country-specific factors such as whether hate speech posting is increasing in Myanmar as the election gets closer, it’s not possible to understand what volume of hate speech is passing under the radar of Facebook’s detection systems and reaching local eyeballs.
In a more clearly detailed development, Facebook notes that since August, electoral, issue and political ads in Myanmar have had to display a ‘paid for by’ disclosure label. Such ads are also stored in a searchable Ad Library for seven years — in an expansion of the self-styled ‘political ads transparency measures’ Facebook launched more than two years ago in the US and other western markets.
Facebook also says it’s working with two local partners to verify the official national Facebook Pages of political parties in Myanmar. “So far, more than 40 political parties have been given a verified badge,” it writes. “This provides a blue tick on the Facebook Page of a party and makes it easier for users to differentiate a real, official political party page from unofficial pages, which is important during an election campaign period.”
Another recent change it flags is an ‘image context reshare’ product, which launched in June — which Facebook says alerts a user when they attempt to share a image that’s more than a year old and could be “potentially harmful or misleading” (such as an image that “may come close to violating Facebook’s guidelines on violent content”).
“Out-of-context images are often used to deceive, confuse and cause harm. With this product, users will be shown a message when they attempt to share specific types of images, including photos that are over a year old and that may come close to violating Facebook’s guidelines on violent content. We warn people that the image they are about to share could be harmful or misleading will be triggered using a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and human review,” it writes without offering any specific examples.
Another change it notes is the application of a limit on message forwarding to five recipients which Facebook introduced in Sri Lanka back in June 2019.
“These limits are a proven method of slowing the spread of viral misinformation that has the potential to cause real world harm. This safety feature is available in Myanmar and, over the course of the next few weeks, we will be making it available to Messenger users worldwide,” it writes.
On coordinated election interference, the tech giant has nothing of substance to share — beyond its customary claim that it’s “constantly working to find and stop coordinated campaigns that seek to manipulate public debate across our apps”, including groups seeking to do so ahead of a major election.
“Since 2018, we’ve identified and disrupted six networks engaging in Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior in Myanmar. These networks of accounts, Pages and Groups were masking their identities to mislead people about who they were and what they were doing by manipulating public discourse and misleading people about the origins of content,” it adds.
In summing up the changes, Facebook says it’s “built a team that is dedicated to Myanmar”, which it notes includes people “who spend significant time on the ground working with civil society partners who are advocating on a range of human and digital rights issues across Myanmar’s diverse, multi-ethnic society” — though clearly this team is not operating out of Myanmar.
It further claims engagement with key regional stakeholders will ensure Facebook’s business is “responsive to local needs” — something the company demonstrably failed on back in 2018.
“We remain committed to advancing the social and economic benefits of Facebook in Myanmar. Although we know that this work will continue beyond November, we acknowledge that Myanmar’s 2020 general election will be an important marker along the journey,” Facebook adds.
There’s no mention in its blog post of accusations that Facebook is actively obstructing an investigation into genocide in Myanmar.
Earlier this month, Time reported that Facebook is using US law to try to block a request for information related to Myanmar military officials’ use of its platforms by the West African nation, The Gambia.
“Facebook said the request is ‘extraordinarily broad’, as well as ‘unduly intrusive or burdensome’. Calling on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to reject the application, the social media giant says The Gambia fails to ‘identify accounts with sufficient specificity’,” Time reported.
“The Gambia was actually quite specific, going so far as to name 17 officials, two military units and dozens of pages and accounts,” it added.
“Facebook also takes issue with the fact that The Gambia is seeking information dating back to 2012, evidently failing to recognize two similar waves of atrocities against Rohingya that year, and that genocidal intent isn’t spontaneous, but builds over time.”
In another recent development, Facebook has been accused of bending its hate speech policies to ignore inflammatory posts made against Rohingya Muslim immigrants by Hindu nationalist individuals and groups.
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Facebook’s top public-policy executive in India, Ankhi Das, opposed applying its hate speech rules to T. Raja Singh, a member of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, along with at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence — citing sourcing from current and former Facebook employees.
Cymulate snaps up $70M to help cybersecurity teams stress test their networks with attack simulations – TechCrunch
The cost of cybercrime has been growing at an alarming rate of 15% per year, projected to reach $10.5 trillion by 2025. To cope with the challenges that this poses, organizations are turning to a growing range of AI-powered tools to supplement their existing security software and the work of their security teams. Today, a startup called Cymulate — which has built a platform to help those teams automatically and continuously stress test their networks against potential attacks with simulations, and provide guidance on how to improve their systems to ward off real attacks — is announcing a significant round of growth funding after seeing strong demand for its tools.
The startup — founded in Tel Aviv, with a second base in New York — has raised $70 million, a Series D that it will be using to continue expanding globally and investing in expanding its technology (both organically and potentially through acquisitions).
Today, Cymulate’s platform covers both on-premise and cloud networks, providing breach and attack simulations for endpoints, email and web gateways and more; automated “red teaming”; and a “purple teaming” facility to create and launch different security breach scenarios for organizations that lack the resources to dedicate people to a live red team — in all, a “holistic” solution for companies looking to make sure they are getting the most out of the network security architecture that they already have in place, in the worlds of Eyal Wachsman, Cymulate’s CEO.
“We are providing our customers with a different approach for how to do cybersecurity and get insights [on] all the products already implemented in a network,” he said in an interview. The resulting platform has found particular traction in the current market climate. Although companies continue to invest in their security architecture, security teams are also feeling the market squeeze, which is impacting IT budgets, and sometimes headcount in an industry that was already facing a shortage of expertise. (Cymulate cites figures from the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology that estimate a shortfall of 2.72 million security professionals in the workforce globally.)
The idea with Cymulate is that it’s built something that helps organizations get the most out of what they already have. “And at the end, we provide our customers the ability to prioritize where they need to invest, in terms of closing gaps in their environment,” Wachsman said.
The round is being led by One Peak, with Susquehanna Growth Equity (SGE), Vertex Ventures Israel, Vertex Growth and strategic backer Dell Technologies Capital also participating. (All five also backed Cymulate in its $45 million Series C last year.) Relatively speaking, this is a big round for Cymulate, doubling its total raised to $141 million, and while the startup is not disclosing its valuation, I understand from sources that it is around the $500 million mark.
Wachsman noted that the funding is coming on the heels of a big year for the startup (the irony being that the constantly escalating issue of cybersecurity and growing threat landscape spells good news for companies built to combat that). Revenues have doubled, although it’s not disclosing any numbers today, and the company is now at over 200 employees and works with some 500 paying customers across the enterprise and mid-market, including NTT, Telit, and Euronext, up from 300 customers a year ago.
Wachsman, who co-founded the company with Avihai Ben-Yossef and Eyal Gruner, said he first thought of the idea of building a platform to continuously test an organization’s threat posture in 2016, after years of working in cybersecurity consulting for other companies. He found that no matter how much effort his customers and outside consultants put into architecting security solutions annually or semi-annually, those gains were potentially lost each time a malicious hacker made an unexpected move.
“If the bad guys decided to penetrate the organization, they could, so we needed to find a different approach,” he said. He looked to AI and machine learning for the solution, a complement to everything already in the organization, to build “a machine that allows you to test your security controls and security posture, continuously and on demand, and to get the results immediately… one step before the hackers.”
Last year, Wachsman described Cymulate’s approach to me as “the largest cybersecurity consulting firm without consultants,” but in reality the company does have its own large in-house team of cybersecurity researchers, white-hat hackers who are trying to find new holes — new bugs, zero days and other vulnerabilities — to develop the intelligence that powers Cymulate’s platform.
These insights are then combined with other assets, for example the MITRE ATT&CK framework, a knowledge base of threats, tactics and techniques used by a number of other cybersecurity services, including others building continuous validation services that compete with Cymulate. (Competitors include the likes of FireEye, Palo Alto Networks, Randori, AttackIQ and many more.)
Cymulate’s work comes in the form of network maps that detail a company’s threat profile, with technical recommendations for remediation and mitigations, as well as an executive summary that can be presented to financial teams and management who might be auditing security spend. It also has built tools for running security checks when integrating any services or IT with third parties, for instance in the event of an M&A process or when working in a supply chain.
Today the company focuses on network security, which is big enough in itself but also leaves the door open for Cymulate to acquire companies in other areas like application security — or to build that for itself. “This is something on our roadmap,” said Wachsman.
If potential M&A leads to more fundraising for Cymulate, it helps that the startup is in one of the handful of categories that are going to continue to see a lot of attention from investors.
“Cybersecurity is clearly an area that we think will benefit from the current macroeconomic environment, versus maybe some of the more capital-intensive businesses like consumer internet or food delivery,” said David Klein, a managing partner at One Peak. Within that, he added, “The best companies [are those] that are mission critical for their customers… Those will continue to attract very good multiples.”
Open-source password manager Bitwarden raises $100M – TechCrunch
Bitwarden, an open-source password manager for enterprises and consumers, has raised $100 million in a round of funding led by PSG, with participation form Battery Ventures.
Founded initially back in 2015, Santa Barbara, California-based Bitwarden operates in a space that includes well-known incumbents including 1Password, which recently hit a $6.8 billion valuation off the back of a $620 million fundraise, and Lastpass, which was recently spun out as an independent company again two years after landing in the hands of private equity firms.
In a nutshell, Bitwarden and its ilk make it easier for people to generate secure passwords automatically, and store all their unique passwords and sensitive information such as credit card data in a secure digital vault, saving them from reusing the same insecure password across all their online accounts.
Bitwarden’s big differentiator, of course, lies in the fact that it’s built atop an open-source codebase, which for super security-conscious individuals and businesses is a good thing — they can fully inspect the inner-workings of the platform. Moreover, people can contribute back to the codebase and expedite development of new features.
On top of a basic free service, Bitwarden ships a bunch of paid-for premium features and services, including advanced enterprise features like single sign-on (SSO) integrations and identity management.
It’s worth noting that today’s “minority growth investment” represents Bitwarden’s first substantial external funding in its seven year history, though we’re told that it did raise a small undisclosed series A round back in 2019. Its latest cash injection is indicative of how the world has changed in the intervening years. The rise of remote work, with people increasingly meshing personal and work accounts on the same devices, means the same password is used across different services. And such poor password and credential hygiene puts businesses at great risk.
Additionally, growing competition and investments in the management space means that Bitwarden can’t rest on its laurels — it needs to expand, and that is what its funds will be used for. Indeed, Bitwarden has confirmed plans to extend its offering into several aligned security and privacy verticals, including secrets management — something that 1Password expanded into last year via its SecretHub acquisition.
“The timing of the investment is ideal, as we expand into opportunities in developer secrets, passwordless technologies, and authentication,” Bitwarden CEO Michael Crandell noted in a press release. “Most importantly, we aim to continue to serve all Bitwarden users for the long haul.”
downgrade the ‘middle-men’ resellers – TechCrunch
As well as the traditional carbon offset resellers and exchanges such as Climate Partner or Climate Impact X the tech space has also produced a few, including Patch (US-based, raised $26.5M) and Lune (UK-based, raised $4M).
Now, Ceezer, a B2B marketplace for carbon credits, has closed a €4.2M round, led by Carbon Removal Partners with participation of impact-VC Norrsken VC and with existing investor Picus Capital.
Ceezer ’s pitch is that companies have to deal with a lot of complexity when considering how they address carbon removal and reduction associated with their businesses. Whie they can buy offsetting credits, the market remains pretty ‘wild-west’, and has multiple competing standards running in parallel. For instance, the price range of $5 to $500 per ton is clearly all over the place, and sometimes carbon offset resellers make buyers pay high prices for low-quality carbon credits, pulling in extra revenues from a very opaque market.
The startup’s offering is for corporates to integrate both carbon removal and avoidance credits in one package. It does this by mining the offsetting market for lots of data points, enabling carbon offset sellers to reach buyers without having to use these middle-men resellers.
The startup claims that sellers no longer waste time and money on bespoke contracts with corporates but instead use Ceezer’s legal framework for all transactions. Simultaneously, buyers can access credits at a primary market level, maximizing the effect of the dollars they spend on carbon offsets.
Ceezer says it now has over 50 corporate customers and has 200,000 tons of carbon credits to sell across a variety of categories. and will use the funds to expand its impact and sourcing team, the idea being to make carbon removal technologies more accessible to corporate buyers, plus widen the product offering for credit sellers and buyers.
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