The devastation that last week’s deadly earthquake left in Turkey and Syria could be witnessed in real-time, as eyewitnesses captured the scenes and shared them on social media. Once more, social media played a significant role in rescue efforts and disaster relief.
In other news, the ChatGPT frenzy is picking up fast, while Big Tech companies get called out for various reasons. Let’s get started.
Stephanie and the Digital Watch team
// HIGHLIGHT //
AI-powered search engines: The race is on
Google’s accolades in the search engine business are plenty. It created a money-making algorithm, uses AI to power its search, shopping, translation and augmented reality, and is the dominant player in this field.
So when Microsoft announced last Tuesday that it was revamping its Bing search engine and Edge browser with software from OpenAI, the developers of ChatGPT, Google had to react fast the next day, announcing its conversational AI named Bard. Considering that Microsoft is teaming up with the developers of an already hugely popular ChatGPT, Google is coming in a tad late (and a bit shabby: Bard made a factual error in its first public demo).
Still, the race is now on, and will depend on at least three factors.
First, personal preferences: Users will be able to choose between a toggle page (Microsoft) or an integrated search result (Google). Microsoft’s Bing will allow users to toggle between the search results page and a ChatGPT-powered chat service in another browser tab. On the other hand, Google will integrate its generative AI features into its search results without the need to switch tabs.
Second, accuracy: For users to continue using these tools, they need to be able to trust the output. Companies will need to keep mistakes (and biases) at bay, or at least be fast enough to correct errors.
Third, monetising the engine: The advertising market linked to search engines is already lucrative. Since this is what powers Google’s business model, any inroads which Microsoft makes into Google’s share of the market can disrupt Google more than any other tech giant.
|Digital policy round-up (6–13 February)|
// AI //
China joins generative AI frenzy
Tech companies in China have joined the generative AI bandwagon. Chinese tech giants Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent are among the companies planning to integrate generative AI software into their existing products.
OpenAI’s ChatGPT software is capable of conversing in Chinese, making the software very attractive to the Chinese market. Although Chinese users cannot access ChatGPT directly, access tools such as virtual private networks are helping users bypass restrictions.
Council of Europe’s AI committee releases draft text
The Council of Europe’s Committee on Artificial Intelligence has published its revised draft convention on AI, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The text is being negotiated by the committee. The European Commission is a party to the negotiations on behalf of the EU.
// UKRAINE //
SpaceX to restrict Ukraine’s use of satellite internet for drones
Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to limit the Ukrainian military from using its satellite internet service to control drones. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said last week that the Starlink service was ‘never meant to be weaponised’. The company has been providing internet to Ukraine since last February through its Starlink satellite system.
Up until Thursday, Ukraine’s Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov confirmed that ‘So far, there are no problems with the operation of Starlink terminals in Ukraine.’
US development agency pledged up to USD60 million to ramp up Ukraine’s cyber capabilities
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) plans to invest up to an additional USD60 million (EUR56 million) to help Ukraine protect its critical infrastructure against cyberattacks. The funds are also aimed at boosting Ukraine’s cyber capabilities, and supporting it with its ongoing digital transformation. The announcement was made by Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman during her visit to the Ukrainian capital.
// DISINFORMATION //
Twitter blocked in Turkey in aftermath of earthquake
Global internet monitor NetBlocks revealed that Twitter was blocked for up to 12 hours in Turkey, a day after deadly earthquakes shook the region. Restrictions were carried out by internet service providers.
NetBlocks explained: ‘The incident comes as authorities raise concerns over disinformation online, although no formal explanation has been provided. Service was restored the next morning after state media reported that Turkish authorities had held a meeting with Twitter’s head of policy on disinformation and the need for content takedowns.’
Twitter fails EU disinformation test
In separate news, Twitter was called out by EU Commissioner Věra Jourová for a poor report on how it is dealing with disinformation. The report was submitted as part of a voluntary anti-disinformation charter, the EU’s 2022 Code of Practice on Disinformation, agreed upon in June 2022.
The information which companies were asked to provide included: How political adverts are labelled, and how coordinated foreign manipulation campaigns are detected and stopped.
// BIG TECH //
President Biden’s State of the Union: ‘Hold social media accountable’
Protecting children’s privacy and clamping down on targeted advertising to children were among the issues raised by US President Joe Biden in his annual State of the Union address.
‘It’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children, and impose stricter limits on the personal data that companies collect on all of us.’
His address also mentioned ongoing efforts to produce more semiconductors in the USA, the need for companies to pay their fair share of taxes, and the work being done to bring affordable, high-speed internet to every community across the country.
// JOBS //
Lay-offs: Zoom’s next
Zoom has announced it will lay off around 1,300 employees, equivalent to 15% of its workforce. The announcement was made by CEO Eric Yuan, who said that the company ‘didn’t take as much time as we should have to thoroughly analyse our teams or assess if we were growing sustainably, toward the highest priorities.’
Solidarity. The CEO said he plans to reduce his salary for the coming fiscal year by 98% and will also forego his 2023 corporate bonus.
|The week ahead (13–19 February)|
13–15 February: The first meeting of the G20 digital economy working group takes place in Uttar Pradesh, India. We have high hopes for India’s G20 presidency after it announced its intention to set new data standards.
14 February: The European Data Protection Board will use its next plenary meeting to discuss the proposed EU-US Data Privacy Framework, and the ongoing tangle with Ireland over the WhatsApp case.
15 February: The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva will hold a consultation on human rights and standards for emerging digital technologies. The consultations will feed into a report on human rights and standards which the OHCHR is due to present to the UN Human Rights Council’s 53rd session in June 2023.
17 February: Online platforms and search engines need to publish their average monthly active recipients (AMARs) in the EU by today. This is one of the first onerous obligations set by the EU’s new Digital Services Act.
17–19 February: The 59th Munich Security Conference, taking place in Munich, Germany, will include discussions on cybersecurity. The Munich Security Report 2023 will set the scene.
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