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TechScape: How the world is turning against social media | Technology



Government workers in the UK, US, Canada and European Union (the list will have grown by the time you read this) are banned from installing TikTok on their phones.

On Friday, France joined that list, preventing its civil servants from installing TikTok – and everything else. From the government’s press release (original in French):

After an analysis of the issues, in particular security, the government has decided to ban the downloading and installation of recreational applications on professional telephones provided to public officials from now on.

Recreational applications do not have sufficient levels of cybersecurity and data protection to be deployed on government equipment. This ban applies immediately and uniformly. Exemptions may be granted on an exceptional basis …

From a cybersecurity point of view, there are two reasons to ban TikTok: one is that it gathers a substantial amount of data in its natural course of operation; the other is that it cannot credibly commit to withstanding efforts from the Chinese Communist party to compel TikTok to promote the party’s interests overseas.

But either of those rationales poses awkward questions for those who would ban TikTok, because the app isn’t unique. Plenty of apps and companies are exposed to China to a greater or lesser extent, and even more harvest vast amounts of personal data. So why focus on just one app?

France, at least, appears to have drawn the same conclusion. If TikTok can’t be safely installed on government devices, then how can anything else?

As with everything related to this spat, there is a geopolitical undercurrent: France gets to follow the international crowd, but bloody America’s nose in the process, highlighting the similarities between the data harvesting of TikTok and Facebook and declaring that neither of them is appropriate for a government device.

A world without TikTok?

In the short term, it’s hard not to feel as if everything is falling in Facebook’s favour. Sure, the company loses access to a few French civil servants, but everyone knows the real target here, and the further the bans spread, the more chance that the real ban-hammer drops, and TikTok faces general suppression.

Analysts at Wedbush Securities said on Sunday that such a ban was a matter of “when, not if”, “with the odds of a ban 90%+ in our opinion. We believe now it’s just a matter of time until CFIUS [the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] formally comes out with its recommendations for a US ban.” The legal wrangling would be tricky but the US, at least, probably has the power to do so, with TikTok’s status as a foreign-owned company enabling the government to invoke powers designed to protect national security.

TikTok could stave off a total ban if it secured its independence from Chinese-owned ByteDance, or if it was sold to another – American – owner, but the odds of that happening seem slim. “Project Texas”, an engineering effort to isolate American user data in servers controlled by Oracle, looks to be as big a concession the company was willing to make there, and it’s failed to convince those pushing for a ban.

So what would happen next? It’s hard to say: some of the fallout would depend on TikTok’s own actions. Any technical enforcement of the ban would likely be at the App Store level, as Google and Apple would be compelled to eject the app from their centralised distribution. The company could try to continue offering services to American users in spite of the CFIUS ban, building out its web service, offering Android apps for installation through third-party app stores, and continuing to operate for users who already downloaded the app on their iPhones. It’s not impossible to use a social network in a country that’s banned it: just look at the many, many Twitter and Facebook users posting from mainland China.

That would see a slow death of the site, similar to the constant drain of users from Musk’s Twitter. Without seismic upheaval, the winners would be the obvious places for other users to go: Instagram’s Reels and YouTube Shorts, which have spent years trying to clone TikTok’s appeal (and algorithm) with only moderate success.

More interesting would be if the company decided to push the big red button. Blocking all Americans overnight would cause instant upheaval. Some of the 150 million US users might shrug their shoulders and open another app, but others – many others – wouldn’t. Their dissatisfaction may not be enough to force the state to backtrack, but it could dissuade other governments from following course.

A new type of viral image

An AI-generated image of Pope Francis.
An AI-generated image of Pope Francis. Photograph: Reddit

This week you may have seen the photo of the pope in a white puffer jacket.

Hopefully you have also realised that the image is a fake. It was generated by the latest version of AI art bot Midjourney, prompted to create a picture of the pope in a Balenciaga jacket. (As such, there’s an infinite amount of similar pictures available if you want to see more dripped-out papas).

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The pic came hot on the heels of a similarly viral Midjourney creation, after Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins found himself banned from the tool for creating a selection of visualisations of Donald Trump being arrested in New York.

Higgins’s images didn’t quite escape containment in the same way the pope shot did, though, which is why I think the latter has a good case for being the first of a new type of viral image: the AI-generated fake that goes viral despite – not because – it was created by AI.

Midjourney’s fifth iteration is probably the best AI image generator on the market, particularly when trying to generate photorealistic images of humans. It’s even able to generate hands with five fingers (£), something this technology has notoriously struggled with before now.

So expect this to happen more in the future. The immediate future. Now. It’s time to treat photographic evidence as no more reliable than written statements: if @bonerfart420 posted that Rishi Sunak kicked a beggar, you wouldn’t believe them; it’s time to extend that same scepticism if they post a photo of him caught in the act.

Microsoft ahead of the game

It’s looking good for Microsoft’s multibillion takeover of gaming mega publisher Activision Blizzard, after the UK regulator dropped one of its key objections. According to the Competition and Markets Authority, Microsoft has provided sufficient proof that it would continue to make the Call of Duty series available on PlayStation consoles after the purchase was completed, and so that risk should be discounted.

“It would not be commercially beneficial to Microsoft to make CoD exclusive to Xbox following the deal,” the CMA says. “Microsoft will instead still have the incentive to continue to make the game available on PlayStation.”

That means, more broadly, that the CMA has provisionally concluded that the acquisition “will not result in a substantial lessening of competition in relation to console gaming in the UK”.

There’s still the question of “cloud gaming services”: few believe that Microsoft would offer Call of Duty to Sony to add to its PlayStation Plus service, making Xbox Game Pass the only subscription likely to have the series for the foreseeable future, and the CMA could still decide that’s a deal-breaker.

Of course, there are at least two other major regulators to go, with the EU competition commission and the FTC in the US both weighing in. But the former is expected to approve the deal itself. That leaves just the FTC still potentially committing itself to full-throated opposition of the deal. Things might still shake out the way Microsoft hopes.

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Former Myanmar colonel who once served as information minister gets 10-year prison term for sedition



Former Myanmar colonel who once served as information minister gets 10-year prison term for sedition

BANGKOK (AP) — A former high-profile Myanmar army officer who had served as information minister and presidential spokesperson in a previous military-backed government has been convicted of sedition and incitement, a legal official said Thursday. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Ye Htut, a 64-year old retired lieutenant colonel, is the latest in a series of people arrested and jailed for writing Facebook posts that allegedly spreading false or inflammatory news. Once infrequently prosecuted, there has been a deluge of such legal actions since the army seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021.

He was arrested in late October after a military officer from the Yangon Regional Military Command reportedly filed a change against him, around the time when some senior military officers were purged on other charges, including corruption. He was convicted on Wednesday, according to the official familiar with the legal proceedings who insisted on anonymity for fear of being punished by the authorities.

Ye Htut had been the spokesperson from 2013 to 2016 for President Thein Sein in a military-backed government and also information minister from 2014 to 2016.

After leaving the government in 2016, Ye Htut took on the role of a political commentator and wrote books and posted articles on Facebook. For a time, he was a visiting senior research fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a center for Southeast Asia studies in Singapore.

After the army’s 2021 takeover, he often posted short personal vignettes and travel essays on Facebook in which he made allusions that were generally recognized to be critical of Myanmar’s current military rulers.

The army’s takeover triggered mass public protests that the military and police responded to with lethal force, triggering armed resistance and violence that has escalated into a civil war.

The official familiar with the court proceedings against Ye Htut told The Associated Press that he was sentenced by a court in Yangon’s Insein prison to seven years for sedition and three years for incitement. Ye Htut was accused on the basis of his posts on his Facebook account, and did not hire a lawyer to represent him at his trial, the official said.

The sedition charge makes disrupting or hindering the work of defense services personnel or government employees punishable by up to seven years in prison. The incitement charge makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that cause fear, spread false news, agitate directly or indirectly for criminal offences against a government employee — an offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

However, a statement from the Ministry of Legal Affairs said he had been charged under a different sedition statute. There was no explanation for the discrepancy.

According to detailed lists compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a watchdog group based in Thailand, 4,204 civilians have died in Myanmar in the military government’s crackdown on opponents and at least 25,474 people have been arrested.

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Top CIA agent shared pro-Palestinian to Facebook after Hamas attack: report



Top CIA agent shared pro-Palestinian to Facebook after Hamas attack: report

A high-ranking CIA official boldly shared multiple pro-Palestinian images on her Facebook page just two weeks after Hamas launched its bloody surprise attack on Israel — while President Biden was touring the Jewish state to pledge the US’s allegiance to the nation.

The CIA’s associate deputy director for analysis changed her cover photo on Oct. 21 to a shot of a man wearing a Palestinian flag around his neck and waving a larger flag, the Financial Times reported.

The image — taken in 2015 during a surge in the long-stemming conflict — has been used in various news stories and pieces criticizing Israel’s role in the violence.

The CIA agent also shared a selfie with a superimposed “Free Palestine” sticker, similar to those being plastered on businesses and public spaces across the nation by protesters calling for a cease-fire.

The Financial Times did not name the official after the intelligence agency expressed concern for her safety.

“The officer is a career analyst with extensive background in all aspects of the Middle East and this post [of the Palestinian flag] was not intended to express a position on the conflict,” a person familiar with the situation told the outlet.

The individual added that the sticker image was initially posted years before the most recent crisis between the two nations and emphasized that the CIA official’s Facebook account was also peppered with posts taking a stand against antisemitism.

The image the top-ranking CIA official shared on Facebook.

The latest post of the man waving the flag, however, was shared as Biden shook hands with Israeli leaders on their own soil in a show of support for the Jewish state in its conflict with the terrorist group.

Biden has staunchly voiced support for the US ally since the Oct. 7 surprise attack that killed more than 1,300 people, making the CIA agent’s posts in dissent an unusual move.

A protester walks near burning tires in the occupied West Bank on Nov. 27, 2023, ahead of an expected release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli hostages. AFP via Getty Images

In her role, the associate deputy director is one of three people, including the deputy CIA director, responsible for approving all analyses disseminated inside the agency.

She had also previously overseen the production of the President’s Daily Brief, the highly classified compilation of intelligence that is presented to the president most days, the Financial Times said.

“CIA officers are committed to analytic objectivity, which is at the core of what we do as an agency. CIA officers may have personal views, but this does not lessen their — or CIA’s — commitment to unbiased analysis,” the CIA said in a statement to the outlet.

The top CIA official has since deleted the pro-Palestinian images from her social media page. Hamas Press Service/UPI/Shutterstock

Follow along with The Post’s live blog for the latest on Hamas’ attack on Israel

Neither the Office of the Director of National Intelligence nor the White House responded to The Post’s request for comment.

All of the official’s pro-Palestinian images and other, unrelated posts have since been deleted, the outlet reported.

Palestinian children sit by the fire next to the rubble of a house hit in an Israeli strike. REUTERS

The report comes as CIA Director William Burns arrived in Qatar, where he was due to meet with his Israeli and Egyptian counterparts and the Gulf state’s prime minister to discuss the possibility of extending the pause in fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip for a second time.

Israel and Hamas agreed Monday to an additional two-day pause in fighting, meaning combat would likely resume Thursday morning Israel time if no additional halt is brokered.

Both sides agreed to release a portion of its hostages under the arrangement.

More than 14,000 Palestinians in Gaza, including many women and children, have been killed in the conflict, according to data from the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health.

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Lee Hsien Yang faces damages for defamation against two Singapore ministers over Ridout Road rentals



Lee Hsien Yang faces damages for defamation against two Singapore ministers over Ridout Road rentals

High Court ruling: Lee Hsien Yang directed to compensate Ministers Shanmugam and Balakrishnan for defamatory remarks on Ridout Road state bungalows. (PHOTO: MCI/YouTube and ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images ) ((PHOTO: MCI/YouTube and ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images ))

SINGAPORE — The High Court in Singapore has directed Lee Hsien Yang to pay damages to ministers K. Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan for defamatory statements made in Facebook comments regarding their rental of black-and-white bungalows on Ridout Road.

The court issued a default judgment favouring the two ministers after Lee – the youngest son of Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and brother of current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – failed to address the defamation lawsuits brought against him. Lee had, among other claims, insinuated that the ministers engaged in corrupt practices and received preferential treatment from the Singapore Land Authority for their bungalow rentals.

The exact amount of damages will be evaluated in a subsequent hearing.

Restricted from spreading defamatory claims against ministers

Not only did Justice Goh Yi Han grant the default judgment on 2 November, but he also imposed an injunction to prohibit Lee from further circulating false and defamatory allegations.

In a released written judgment on Monday (27 November), the judge highlighted “strong reasons” to believe that Lee might persist in making defamatory statements again, noting his refusal to remove the contentious Facebook post on 23 July, despite receiving a letter of demand from the ministers on 27 July.

Among other things, Lee stated in the post that “two ministers have leased state-owned mansions from the agency that one of them controls, felling trees and getting state-sponsored renovations.”

A report released by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau in June concluded that no wrongdoing or preferential treatment had occurred concerning the two ministers. However, Lee continued referencing this post and the ongoing lawsuits, drawing attention to his remarks under legal scrutiny.

Justice Goh emphasised that the ministers met the prerequisites for a default judgment against Lee. The suits, separately filed by Shanmugam, the Law and Home Affairs Minister, and Dr Balakrishnan, the Foreign Affairs Minister, were initiated in early August.

Lee Hsien Yang alleges in his post that two ministers leased state-owned mansions, 26 and 31 Ridout Road from an agency, one of which they control, involving tree felling and receiving state-sponsored renovations.Lee Hsien Yang alleges in his post that two ministers leased state-owned mansions, 26 and 31 Ridout Road from an agency, one of which they control, involving tree felling and receiving state-sponsored renovations.

Lee Hsien Yang alleges in his post that two ministers leased state-owned mansions, 26 and 31 Ridout Road from an agency, one of which they control, involving tree felling and receiving state-sponsored renovations.(SCREENSHOTS: Google Maps)

He failed to respond within 21 days

Lee and his wife, Lee Suet Fern, had left Singapore in July 2022, after declining to attend a police interview for potentially giving false evidence in judicial proceedings over the late Lee Kuan Yew’s will.

His absence from Singapore prompted the court to permit Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan to serve him legal documents via Facebook Messenger in mid-September. Despite no requirement for proof that Lee saw these documents, his subsequent social media post on 16 September confirmed his awareness of the served legal papers.

Although Lee had the opportunity to respond within 21 days, he chose not to do so. Additionally, the judge noted the novelty of the ministers’ request for an injunction during this legal process, highlighting updated court rules allowing such measures since April 2022.

Justice Goh clarified that despite the claimants’ application for an injunction, the court needed independent validation for its appropriateness, considering its potentially severe impact on the defendant. He reiterated being satisfied with the circumstances and granted the injunction, given the continued accessibility of the contentious Facebook post.

Lee acknowledges court order and removes allegations from Facebook

Following the court’s decision, Lee acknowledged the court order on 10 November and removed the statements in question from his Facebook page.

In the judgment, Justice Goh noted that there were substantial grounds to anticipate Lee’s repetition of the “defamatory allegations by continuing to draw attention to them and/or publish further defamatory allegations against the claimants.”

The judge mentioned that if Lee had contested the ministers’ claims, there could have been grounds for a legally enforceable case under defamation law.

According to Justice Goh, a reasonable reader would interpret Lee’s Facebook post as insinuating that the People’s Action Party’s trust had been squandered due to the ministers’ alleged corrupt conduct, from which they gained personally.

While Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan were not explicitly named, the post made it evident that it referred to them, and these posts remained accessible to the public, as noted by the judge.

Justice Goh pointed out that by choosing not to respond to the lawsuits, Lee prevented the court from considering any opposing evidence related to the claims.

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Yahoo Singapore Telegram

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