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Fresh fears after Facebook’s role in US abortion case

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Facebook's role in an abortion prosecution has raised fresh worries from advocates

Facebook’s role in an abortion prosecution has raised fresh worries from advocates – Copyright AFP/File Javed TANVEER

Glenn CHAPMAN

Facebook sparked outrage by complying with US police probing an abortion case, boosting simmering fears the platform will be a tool for clamping down on the procedure.

Criticism built after media reports revealed the social networking giant had turned over messages key to a mother being criminally charged with an abortion for her daughter.

Advocates had warned of exactly this kind of thing after America’s top court revoked the national right to abortion in late June, as big tech companies hold a trove of data on users locations and behavior.

Jessica Burgess, 41, was accused of helping her 17-year-old daughter to terminate a pregnancy in the midwestern US state of Nebraska.

She faces five charges — including one under a 2010 law which only allows abortion up to 20 weeks after fertilization.

The daughter faces three charges, including one of concealing or abandoning a corpse.

Yet Facebook owner Meta defended itself Tuesday by noting the Nebraska court order “didn’t mention abortion at all”, and came before the Supreme Court’s highly divisive decision in June to overturn Roe v Wade, the case which conferred right to abortion in the United States.

“That sentence would seem to imply that *if* the search warrants mentioned abortion, there would be a different result. But of course that’s not true,” tweeted Logan Koepke, who researches on how technology impacts issues like criminal justice.

When queried about handing over the data, the Silicon Valley giant pointed AFP to its policy of complying with government requests when “the law requires us to do so.”

Nebraska’s restrictions were adopted years before Roe was overturned. Some 16 states have outright bans or limits in the early weeks of pregnancy in their jurisdictions.

– ‘Can’t release encrypted chats’ –

For tech world watchers, the Nebraska case surely won’t be the last.

“This is going to keep happening to companies that have vast amounts of data about people across the country and around the world,” said Alexandra Givens, CEO of the non-profit Center for Democracy & Technology.

She went on to note that if companies receive a duly-issued legal request, under a valid law, there are strong incentives for them to want to comply with that request.

“The companies at a minimum have to make sure that they’re insisting on a full legal process, that warrants are specific and not a fishing expedition, searches are very narrowly construed and that they notify users so that users can try to push back,” Givens added.

Meta did not provide AFP the Nebraska court’s order. The police filing asked the judge to order the company not to tell Burgess’s daughter about the search warrant for her Facebook messages.

“I have reason to believe that notifying the subscriber or customer of the issuance of this search warrant may result in the destruction of or tampering with evidence,” police detective Ben McBride wrote.

He told the court he began investigating “concerns” in late April that Burgess’s daughter had given birth prematurely to a “stillborn child”, which they allegedly buried together.

Advocates noted that apart from not using Meta’s products, one sure way to keep users’ communications out of government hands would be for them to be automatically encrypted.

Meta-owned WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption, which means the company does not have access to the information, but that level of privacy protection is not the default setting on Facebook messenger.

“The company has never said it would not comply with a request from law enforcement in a situation related to abortions,” said Caitlin Seeley George, a campaign director at advocacy group Fight for the Future.

“If users could rely on encrypted messaging, Meta wouldn’t even be in a position where they could share conversations,” she added.

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Parler meddelar att det har avslutat sitt förvärvsavtal med Kanye West

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Kanye West is Buying Conservative Social Media Platform Parler to Voice His Unfiltered Opinions

Kanye West will not follow in Elon Musk’s footsteps and buy his own social media platform, with Parler confirming today that it has ended negotiations with West on a possible sale of the app.

The reasoning behind the decision is not clear, but West has continued to share his controversial opinions in various media opportunities of late, which has resulted in him losing a range of sponsor and partnership deals, and has decimated his net worth.

Axios has rapporterad that West’s financial situation, as a result of these impacts, has played at least some role in the dissolution of the Parler deal.

West originally announced his intention to acquire Parler back in October, saying at the time that he needed to buy his own platform in order to share his unfiltered opinions with the world.

"People had talked about it and mentioned this idea for years, but enough was enough.”

In the weeks leading up to that announcement, West had been suspended from both Instagram and Twitter efter deliberately pushing his limits on both by sharing offensive, anti-Semitic remarks. That then led West to Parler, and with Elon Musk moving to take over at Twitter, West saw an opportunity to also play a part in what he saw as a broader shift towards allowing more free and open speech.

But now, West is moving on – though he will continue with his 2024 Presidential run, apparently.

West has also seemingly pinned his hopes on Musk for a future reformation of social media moderation rules.

At least, I think that’s what this means.

The announcement leaves Parler in a less than certain predicament, as it continues its efforts to develop a more sustainable business model in order to maintain operation as a free speech platform.

In the wake of the Capitol Riots, Parler was almost killed off entirely when both Apple and Google removed the app from their respective stores due its lax moderation policies, which they said had allowed too many posts that encouraged violence and crime. Amazon then also refused to host Parler on its web-hosting service due to repeated violations of its rules.

Parler was eventually able to save itself by rolling out additional moderation rules, in alignment with the requirements of each platform, which subsequently caused a level of angst among its core user base. Parler has since been found to be censoring certain posts, and removing certain users, which has prompted further criticism of the app, and with Elon taking over at Twitter, and promising a more open approach to what can be shared via tweet, it seems like Parler’s days could indeed be numbered, especially if Musk is able to implement a significant change in Twitter’s approach.

Which will also be challenging. Just as Parler had to change its moderation approach in line with app store policies, Twitter will also have to maintain its processes on the same, which could impede Musk’s push to enable more free and open speech in the app.

Elon’s looking to challenge this, but again, there will always be a level of moderation required, which will likely always exceed what free speech advocates would prefer, given evolving rules in Europe and other regions.

And for Kanye, it seems like his ambitions for owning his own social platform are now shelved, at least for the time being.



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