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Social media CEOs hedge on whether they’d boot the 12 anti-vax ‘super-spreaders’ cited by states’ attorneys general

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On Wednesday, a coalition of a dozen state attorneys general called on Facebook and Twitter to step up their enforcement of their community guidelines to curtail the spread of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on their platforms. Their letter specifically identified 12 “anti-vaxxer” accounts that were responsible for a sizable 65% of public anti-vaccine content on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In today’s House hearing on disinformation and extremism, Twitter and Facebook’s CEOs, along with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, were directly asked if they would be willing to take down these 12 accounts.

Their answers were a mixed bag and a demonstration of social media execs’ unwillingness to take a simple action — taking down a handful of disinformation sources — that could have a significant impact on Americans’ willingness to get vaccinated to end the pandemic.

Over the course of the hearing, Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA) pointed out that nearly 550,000 Americans had lost their lives to COVID-19, and an independent study found that Facebook users in five countries, including the U.S., had been exposed to COVID-19 disinformation 3.8 billion times. Now that the U.S. is rushing to get shots into people’s arms to reduce the spread of the deadly virus, it’s still having to deal with social media sites continuing to promote and recommend content leading to vaccine hesitancy.

“My staff found content on YouTube telling people not to get vaccines, and was recommended to similar videos. The same was true on Instagram, where it was not only easy to find vaccine disinformation, but platforms recommended similar posts,” said Doyle. “The same thing happened on Facebook, except they also had anti-vax groups to suggest, as well. And Twitter was no different.”

“You can take this content down,” Doyle said. “You can reduce the vision. You can fix this, but you choose not to,” he told the CEOs.

He later directly asked the CEOs if they would be willing to take down the 12 accounts the attorneys general had identified in their letter as the so-called “super-spreaders” of misinformation.

The coalition had written that both Facebook and Twitter had yet to remove the accounts of 12 prominent anti-vaxxers, who repeatedly violated the company’s terms of service. These users’ accounts, associated organizations, groups and websites were responsible for 65% of public anti-vaccine content across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as of March 10, the letter noted.

In response to the question of taking down these dozen accounts, Zuckerberg hedged. He said that Facebook’s team would have to first look at the exact examples being referenced, leading to Doyle cutting him off.

Pichai tried to start his answer by noting that YouTube had removed more than 850,000 videos with misleading coronavirus information, but was also cut off as Doyle re-asked the question as to whether or not YouTube would take down the accounts of the 12 super-spreaders.

“We have policies to take down content,” Pichai said, but added that “some of the content is allowed, if it’s people’s personal experiences.”

When Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was posed the same question, he said, “yes, we remove everything against our policy” — a better answer, but also one that’s not necessarily a confirmation that Twitter would, indeed, remove those specific 12 accounts.

Dorsey, earlier in the hearing, had also spoken broadly about Twitter’s long-term vision for dealing with misinformation, “Bluesky,” its vision for a decentralized future. He explained how Bluesky would leverage a base, open-source protocol that’s shared, allowing for “increased innovation around business models, recommendation algorithms, and moderation controls which are placed in the hands of individuals, rather than private companies,” Dorsey said. The answer indicated Twitter’s vision for moderation was ultimately about handing off the responsibility to others — something Facebook has also done in recent months with its Oversight Committee, an external body that will weigh in on the hardest moderation decisions.

These moves indicate that social networks have decided for themselves that they’re not capable of handling the responsibilities of content moderation on their own. But whether the U.S. government will actually step in to regulate them as result still remains to be seen.

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FTC finds GoodRx shared sensitive health data with Facebook, Google

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FTC finds GoodRx shared sensitive health data with Facebook, Google

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The FTC on Wednesday filed a court order against GoodRx for failing to notify users that it shared their personal, identifiable health data with Facebook and Google and said it would permanently ban the company from sharing such information for ads, should the court order be federally approved.

Why it matters: The court order is the first FTC action under the Health Breach Notification Rule, which requires companies to notify users when their health data is infringed upon, and includes several safeguards aimed at protecting consumer data.

  • “We’re making clear that apps violating this rule need to come clean with consumers when they share sensitive data improperly,” an FTC official said during a press briefing about the order.
  • The order must be approved by the federal court to go into effect.

Zoom in: The health data GoodRx shared with tech companies includes individually identifiable data on users’ prescription medications and health conditions. Per the complaint:

  • In August 2019, GoodRx compiled lists of users who’d purchased medications for heart disease and high blood pressure and uploaded their email addresses, phone numbers and mobile advertising IDs to Facebook so it could identify their profiles.
  • GoodRx then used that information to target users with relevant ads.

Details: The court order, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC in California’s Northern District, found GoodRx shared data with companies including Facebook, Google, Criteo, Branch and Twilio. The order found GoodRx:

  • Monetized users’ personal health data to target them with health- and medication-specific ads on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Let third parties it shared data with use the information for research, development or advertising purposes without getting consent.
  • Misrepresented its HIPAA compliance, displaying a seal at the bottom of its telehealth site falsely suggesting it complied with the law.
  • Failed to maintain sufficient policies or procedures to protect its users’ personal health information.

State of play: GoodRx, which offers prescription discount coupons and telehealth services, lets users track their personal health data to save, track and get alerts about prescriptions, refills, pricing and medication purchase history.

  • Per the complaint, the company collects data from users themselves and from pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) that confirm when someone buys a prescription drug using one of its coupons.
  • Since January 2017, more than 55 million consumers have visited or used GoodRx’s website or mobile apps, the complaint says.

What they’re saying: A spokesperson for GoodRx told Axios the company does not agree with the allegations, saying the order “focuses on an old issue that was proactively addressed almost three years ago.”

  • “We admit no wrongdoing,” the spokesperson said. “Entering into the settlement allows us to avoid the time and expense of protracted litigation.”

  • “Health data today isn’t just what your doctor keeps in a file behind a desk,” an FTC official said during the briefing. “And the way we’re enforcing this reflects that new reality.”
  • “We expect this to have a significant impact on the marketplace,” the official added.

Flashback: The FTC in 2021 issued a warning to health apps and others that collect or use consumers’ health information that they must comply with the Health Breach rule.

  • “We are now showing the market that we meant business when we issued that policy statement,” the FTC official said.

What’s next: In addition to charging GoodRx with a $1.5 million civil penalty and banning it from disclosing user health information for ads, the order requires that the company:

  • Direct third parties to delete the consumer health data shared with them and inform users about the breaches and the FTC’s enforcement action.
  • Get users’ consent before sharing health data with third parties for purposes other than ads and detail the types of health information it will disclose to those parties.
  • Limit how long it can retain personal health information.
  • Create a privacy program that includes safeguards to protect such data.

Of note: While the order only binds GoodRx, companies including Facebook who received the data “are on notice that they were in receipt of data that was illegally collected,” another FTC official said.

This story has been updated to include the company’s comment.

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Facebook and Google ad oligopoly is over, fund manager says

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Facebook and Google ad oligopoly is over, fund manager says

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Inge Heydorn, fund manager at GP Bullhound, discusses competition in the digital ad market, what investors will be looking for in Meta’s results, and why it’s “all about TikTok.”

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Mike Lindell Says Jimmy Kimmel Wants to Put Him in a Big Claw Machine

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Mike Lindell Says Jimmy Kimmel Wants to Put Him in a Big Claw Machine
  • Mike Lindell says Jimmy Kimmel is requesting to interview him on his show. 
  • But Kimmel had one request, Lindell said: The pillow CEO has to sit inside a giant claw machine.
  • Lindell said this is because he is unvaccinated. 

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell says late-night show host Jimmy Kimmel had one request of him: The pillow CEO must sit inside a giant claw machine during their interview.

“A lot of you have reached out to me: ‘Mike, don’t do it, he’s going to attack you. Why did you agree to go inside a claw game?'” Lindell said during a Facebook live stream on Tuesday. Lindell is scheduled to appear on Kimmel’s talk show, “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” on Tuesday.

“Which I did, because they, you can’t go inside the studio if you’re not vaccinated. And of course, I’m not vaccinated,” Lindell added. 

“Maybe I’ll find out that that claw game was rigged, huh, the one that picks up the stuffed animals,” Lindell quipped, seemingly referencing his own baseless claims of widespread election fraud.

The pillow CEO said his appearance on Kimmel “should be very, very interesting.” He also said he was only agreeing to the interview because he thinks it will help “save our country.”

Kimmel appeared to confirm Lindell’s account, tweeting: “MyPillow Mike from a claw machine tonight!” 

 

Kimmel said on Monday that Lindell has “repeatedly” asked to be on the show, and that he’s tried to invite Lindell back many times.

Lindell’s last appearance on Kimmel’s show was in April 2021. During their nearly 20-minute conversation, Kimmel pummeled Lindell with questions about his voter fraud claims.

“A lot of people didn’t want you to come on this show. Liberals and conservatives, told me not to have you on, and they told you don’t go on the show,” Kimmel told Lindell in 2021. “But I think it’s important that we talk to each other.”

Lindell is fresh off a big loss in his race for RNC chair, where he only secured four votes.

Lindell and representatives for Kimmel did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.



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