It’s a tech-themed Global Insider today, thanks to the insights of POLITICO’s chief technology correspondent Mark Scott. We’ll look at how:
- In Eastern European countries, Russian state media and disinformation are still all over Facebook.
- The White House is set to deliver an executive order on a new transatlantic data transfer system later this month.
- Congress has virtually no chance of passing digital legislation ahead of November elections.
SO, WHAT’S THE RUSSIA DISINFORMATION DEAL: In Kremlin-friendly Hungary, war documentaries made by state-owned (and supposedly banned) media outlets RT and Russia-1 are being shared widely in local Facebook groups, according to Szilvi Német from Hungarian fact-checking organization Lakmusz. In Poland, Russian false narratives portraying Ukrainian refugees as criminals and the West’s faltering support for Warsaw popped up repeatedly on Facebook when I searched CrowdTangle, the social media analytics firm owned by Meta.
In Bulgaria, the country’s digital ministry told POLITICO that Facebook posts have been shared hundreds of thousands of times comparing Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Adolf Hitler; accusing Ukrainian refugees of beating up locals; and repeating claims the United States is using Ukraine as a proxy to attack Russia. Many of these posts were flagged to Facebook as potential disinformation. As of June 1, none had been taken down.
“Disinformation is a systemic risk for Bulgaria,” said Bozhidar Bozhanov, the country’s minister of electronic governance, extending all the way to the minister’s own Facebook feed, he said.
East-West divide: In the U.S. and other populous Western countries, a combination of sophisticated machine-learning content algorithms and the increased scrutiny from politicians has seen scores of such material scrubbed off Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The companies have been eager to publicly show how — given the unfolding war — they are doing their part to stop these narratives from spreading.
Yet in smaller countries, particularly in places whose populations may be more favorable to Russian President Vladimir Putin, that same level of attention is sorely lacking. Bozhanov, the Bulgarian minister, said his repeated discussions with Facebook about Russian disinformation had left him frustrated with how the company was handling the problem based on his calls and detailed letters. In response, Meta said it was investigating scores of links related to Facebook posts from Russian state media and disinformation associated with the Kremlin that Mark Scott sent them after scouring content from across Eastern Europe.
To tackle Russian disinformation, serious investments in content moderation should not be available only to the U.S. and parts of Western Europe. Smaller countries, too, must receive similar levels of resources, in terms of human moderators, functioning automated content systems and access to social media executives who are willing to treat requests/complaints from the likes of Bulgaria in the same way they respond to similar issues flagged in the U.S.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN BIDEN’S PRIVACY SHIELD EXECUTIVE ORDER
The White House’s long-awaited plan for ensuring Europeans will have greater legal rights to complain about how U.S. companies handle their data when its transferred across the Atlantic is expected this month, according to three people with direct knowledge of those discussions. That will kick off another six-month process in which the European Commission will transfer those changes into EU law — and that in turn will probably spark a legal challenge that ends up before the EU’s highest court.
Expect specific details on the “necessary and proportionate” limits for how U.S. national security agencies can access both European and American data. That would be a big shift for the U.S. government that, until very recently, would have preferred to have unfettered access.
The last-minute haggling on these details is why we still haven’t had the executive order despite President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announcing a data transfers political agreement in March.
The U.S. intelligence community now understands it will need to be more circumspect with how it collects people’s data, but it’s easier to agree to the principle than to codify the practice of limiting intelligence agency data collection. The final result will not be the win that many privacy campaigners want — but it will be an admission that Edward Snowden revealed data-gathering excesses that still plague many of these agencies.
The political value of the executive order will lie in giving the EU executive the legal firepower it needs to ward off court challenges. If the U.S. government outlines, in concrete language, what its limits to data access are, then it will be harder for Europe’s highest court to determine that the new pact falls foul of the 27-country bloc’s fundamental right to privacy.
Geopolitics angle: Since Europe’s top court in 2015 invalidated the first transatlantic data pact, U.S. officials have asserted that Washington’s access to EU data is treated differently compared with how national European governments similarly collect information on EU citizens. That’s true.
And so by outlining, for the first time, what the “necessary and proportionate” limits are to U.S. data collection, Washington will also be shining a flashlight on the data-collection practices of European national security agencies which are often not living up to the standards expected in the executive order. The question will become: If American spies are willing to agree to such limits, why can’t European spies do the same?
BY THE NUMBERS — GEOPOLITICS OF SMARTPHONES
TRANS-ATLANTIC TRADE AND TECH COUNCIL VERSUS THE QUAD
Tyson Barker, a former U.S. State Department official who now runs the technology and global affairs program at the German Council on Foreign Relations, a Berlin-based think tank, talked to Mark Scott about the competing dynamics.
“The U.S. is just full of Pacific romantics, and so is the White House … but pesky Europe keeps getting in the way.” Barker thinks it will soon be the Quad’s turn to be pesky: “At some point, there’s going to be a lot of tension around the India-Russia trade relationship … .”
“The traffic from undersea cables between the U.S. and Europe is 55 percent higher than traffic between the U.S. and the Indo-Pacific. The stock of that relationship is something that is completely underappreciated by the national security crowd.”
“Washington’s approach to Europe is Republicans are hostile and Democrats are indifferent. The reason is because [of] the way the U.S. sees the world. Sure, Ukraine and Russia, that’s an acute challenge. But the chronic challenge remains China.”
TTC — WHAT HAPPENS BETWEEN MEETINGS
The next meeting of the Transatlantic Trade and Tech Council will most likely be in December, but in the meantime, 10 working groups are in action. Here are the key priorities:
1. Export controls: Five officials involved in these discussions say the goal now is to double down on personal ties among the Council participants to present a united front on the global trading stage. “When it comes to export controls, I think all of us are keenly aware of the challenges of our current (trade) architecture that has Russia participating in it,” Tarun Chhabra, senior director for technology and national security at the White House’s National Security Council, told POLITICO.
2. Standards: There’s a growing consensus on both sides of the Atlantic that a more unified approach to these multilateral international bodies is in everyone’s interests. One to watch: how the U.S. and EU work together during the upcoming vote on the International Telecommunication Union’s new secretary-general (which pits an American against a Russian).
3. Funding: One of the outcomes of the latest TTC meeting was a pledge to combine EU, U.S. and international development financing to help middle-income countries choose Western alternatives to Chinese telecommunications and digital infrastructure. The goal is to offer an alternative to Chinese state-backed loans. Expect the first batch of funded projects to be announced in 2022.
4. Platforms: The White House knows it can’t — and doesn’t want to — copy the EU Digital Services Act, or recently approved online content rules. But where there is growing alignment is in efforts to copy certain elements of the European approach, particularly when it comes to providing an independent way for researchers to gain access to social media data and voluntary efforts by the companies to conduct risk assessments over where their networks could face stress.
WHAT COULD U.S. FEDERAL PRIVACY LEGISLATION LOOK LIKE? The R Street Institute, a Washington think tank, lays out a possible way forward on the concepts of preemption, private right of action and the role of the FTC.
“We aren’t even close to being out of the woods as it relates to the supply problems with semiconductors,” Gina Raimondo, the U.S. commerce secretary, said on Twitter. “The semiconductor supply chain is very fragile, and it is going to remain that way until we can increase chip production.“
BY THE NUMBERS — HOLLYWOOD IN CHINA
Market share of China’s box office claimed by Hollywood films:
- 2012: 48 percent
- 2016: 36 percent
- 2021: 12 percent
- 2022: 9 percent
DEMOCRACY — DEFENDING IN EXILE IS AN INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT CHALLENGE: A new report from Freedom House concludes that more governments are using brutal tactics to target dissidents beyond their own borders and stifle dissent. To help meet those aims autocrats are collaborating with each other.
CLIMATE — G-7 LOOKAHEAD: The German government is emphasizing the link between the energy and food crises and the climate crisis, so expect food to feature significantly in the final leaders communique June 28 (here’s the famine risk of not acting).
Last week, G-7 energy ministers committed to “achieving predominantly decarbonised electricity sectors by 2035,” and per Global Insider’s diplomatic sources there is a prospect that a 2030 coal phase-out will be agreed at the G-7 leaders summit. Tension remains around financing of natural gas projects: They’re a fossil fuel that the G-7 said it would move away from, but: Russia.
CLIMATE — THE POWER COMPANY LAWSUIT WITH GLOBAL IMPLICATIONS
A Peruvian farmer takes on Germany’s largest electricity firm. The outcome of the climate lawsuit will have global implications. More here.
WEF’S SHRINKING FOOTPRINT: According to new data Cision, a media industry platform, shared with Global Insider, coverage of the WEF annual meeting in Davos decreased by 44 percent compared to the last in-person meeting of the forum in 2020.
The proportion of coverage that Cision rated as negative “nearly doubled to 13 percent” per a statement from Cision. Still, most leaders and organizations would be happy with those numbers.
The winners from WEF media coverage included Ukraine, which was the most covered topic, well ahead of energy, climate and Covid issues. Pfizer was the most covered company participating in the forum, according to Cision.
THE MIDDLEMEN AT THE HEART OF AN OLIGARCH-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX: Andrew Adams, a federal prosecutor, told The New York Times, that “targeting people who make their living by providing a means for money laundering is a key priority” of a new government taskforce charged with seizing the ill-gotten gains of Russian oligarchs.
The efforts were confirmed Thursday by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said in a statement that the Biden administration “is taking further action to degrade the networks allowing Russia’s elites, including President Putin, to anonymously make use of luxury assets around the globe.” In particular, Sergei Roldugin, a Putin money manager, is now sanctioned, and unidentified “yachts and aircraft in which Russia’s elites maintain interests” have been added to the sanctions campaign.
What other governments are doing: The U.K. Home Office and Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, are advocates for legislation that would funnel oligarch assets toward rebuilding Ukraine. Canada’s government will introduce laws to redirect assets to victims of the war.
FORMER MISS FRANCE CHARGED OVER GIFT OF €1M PARIS FLAT FROM DICTATOR: Omar Bongo, the late former dictator of Gabon gifted the apartment to Sonia Rolland, who is accused of ill-gotten gains by French prosecutors.
THE BLAIR WORTH $200 MILLION: Euan Blair, the 38-year-old son of former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair, is running a roughly billion-dollar company that works to break down labor market barriers created by elitist approaches to education. That work has delivered him a personal fortune of $200 million and earned him designation from the Queen as a “Member of Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.”
STAYS FIT FOR A QUEEN: 70 YEARS OF ROYAL GLOBETROTTING
TV: Borgen is back:Hillary Clinton’s (and your host’s) favorite TV series is back, after a decade-long break, for a fourth season. The show’s star Sidse Babett Knudsen tells all. The new season is now available worldwide on Netflix.
SHORT READ: The case for Xi Jinping is damaging China’s economy: The Economist says that inflexible policies are undoing a 40-year legacy of pragmatism, and now policies of “self-reliance” are further muddying the picture.
SHORT READ: China’s gay youth wanting to expand rights — but seek a different path to Western pride campaigners.
DEBATE: Should you feed child guests dinner?What #Swedengate reveals about food culture, per Timothy Heffernan.
Thanks to editor John Yearwood, Cornelius Hirsch and producer Hannah Farrow.
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