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Image: Tinashe Mugayi and Protocol

One election playbook to rule them all

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Good morning! As more social media companies announce their plans for tamping down misinformation in November, we’re starting to notice that the rules haven’t changed much from what they were in 2020.

Election Day prepping

It’s mid-August of an election year in America, which can only mean one thing: It’s time for every social media company to announce how it plans to combat whatever fresh hell November has in store. This week, it’s TikTok and Meta’s turn.

Both companies have recently faced bruising accusations of being asleep at the wheel with regard to election interference. Now, they’re working hard to explain why they’re more prepared for this election than they were for the last one. Which, if you recall the last one, is a pretty low bar.

Starting today, TikTok is launching its “election center,” where users can get “authoritative information” about the election in 45 languages. TikTok will add labels to all election-related posts — as well as to any videos from governments, politicians and political parties in the U.S. — directing people to the center.

  • TikTok is also leaning heavily on fact-checkers and will prevent videos from showing up in For You recommendations while they’re being reviewed. If a video can’t be verified, TikTok will label it as such and serve users a warning screen before they try to share it.
  • The company will also be rolling out educational tools for creators to teach them about its political ad policies. Of course, that may help with the influencers who don’t know any better. Not so much with the ones who already know they’re breaking the rules.

Meta, meanwhile, is banning new political ads the week of the election — again.

  • Remember: In 2020, the company botched the rollout of this same policy, removing ads that had been approved and were running before the ban went into effect, leaving Democrats fuming. Then, it left the ban in place for weeks, stymying efforts to get out the vote in the Georgia runoff.
  • This year, Meta’s giving political campaigns a little more notice and is limiting the ban to one week only.
  • The company is also scaling back its 2020 push to label all election-related content and direct people to its election information center. “In the 2020 election cycle we received feedback from users that these labels were over-used,” Meta’s president of global affairs Nick Clegg wrote in a blog post yesterday. “So in the event that we do need to deploy them this time round our intention is to do so in a targeted and strategic way.”

What’s notable about these plans is that neither company’s approach is radically different than it was in 2020. They’re still relying mostly on fact-checking, labeling, friction and restrictions on political advertising.

That could mean a few things: Maybe the tech industry is finally growing up and converging on a common playbook of tools and standards that allow even a newcomer like TikTok to get caught up quickly. Maybe it’s just failing to imagine whatever threat is coming next. Or maybe it’s both.

— Issie Lapowsky

‘Privacy not included’

Some of the most popular reproductive health apps lack strong privacy labels and security practices, according to a report published by Mozilla this morning.

Mozilla gave 18 out of 25 reproductive health apps a “Privacy Not Included” warning label, meaning that these apps collect tons of personal data and then share it widely.

  • Mozilla looked at period-tracking apps including Flo, Ovia and Glow, and found that the data that most of these apps collect includes phone numbers, IP addresses and app activity like cycle length, date of last menstrual period and pregnancy due date.
  • The data is used to target ads toward pregnant people and expecting families. It’s also shared with third-party businesses, research institutions and sometimes even employers.
  • Just one app, Euki, earned Mozilla’s “Best Of” badge. The app stores data locally on devices, meaning only the user has access to the information.

Privacy advocates have raised concerns over data collection in these apps for years.

  • The most worrying part of these apps’ data collection practices is that the information can be subpoenaed by law enforcement in abortion-related cases, according to Jen Caltrider, lead at Mozilla’s Privacy Not Included project. “It is so gray right now, what can be shared [with law enforcement],” Caltrider told me.
  • Mozilla found that most apps have “vague boilerplate statements” on when and how much user data could be handed over to officers.

We’ve already seen what could happen when platforms hold sensitive user data. Facebook last week gave Nebraska police private chats in an abortion-related case. (Facebook expanded its end-to-end encryption on Messenger shortly after; the company said that it was unrelated to the case.)

  • There are other ways this data could be used, too. Anti-abortion protesters could hypothetically get the information from a data broker and harass individual users, Caltrider said.
  • And some companies might not have the legal resources needed to protect the data if it does get subpoenaed. “They could just give this data away because they don't have the resources to do more, and then this data can be used by law enforcement as we're seeing to arrest and potentially prosecute people seeking abortion,” she said.

Caltrider said she hopes the report could serve as a wake-up call for people: their most sensitive data can be bought and sold and even subpoenaed. “Is this a tipping point where people start to realize that our privacy is gone, and it’s starting to have real-world harms?” she said.

— Sarah Roach

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People are talking

Elon Musk said he's kidding about buying Manchester United:

  • "No, this is a long-running joke on Twitter. I’m not buying any sports teams."

Senator Richard Blumenthal is taking aim at scam ads on Google:

  • “I am deeply concerned that Google appears unwilling to protect consumers and small businesses on Google Ads.”

Making moves

Sana Godhwani is Crossbeam's new VP. She was previously an associate director within the Investment Bank at UBS.

Frans van Houten is leaving Philips as CEO. Roy Jakobs, who’s been overseeing Philips’ recall of millions of ventilators and machines for sleep apnea treatment, will take over.

Michael Gilbert is ePost’s new director of sales. Gilbert’s held leadership roles at Newgistics, DHL and Oracle.

In other news

Amazon warehouse workers in upstate New York want to unionize. They filed a petition for a union election yesterday.

Airbnb's trying to stop big parties in its rentals in the U.S. The company introduced "anti-party" tech designed to detect bookings in which people were likely to host unauthorized shindigs.

Employees dealing with post-pandemic burnout are “quiet quitting,” which means they’re just not working as hard.

Australia’s consumer watchdog group is examining Meta for copying TikTok in its services and features for Instagram and Facebook.

The Federal Reserve issued guidance for banks wanting to get into crypto, emphasizing that banks have to let it know beforehand.

Climate startups are using public benefit corporations to avoid shareholder demands that might be at odds with their missions.

LexisNexis was sued in Illinois for privacy violations. A group of activists alleges that the platform sold state residents’ data without their consent.

Veggies are going to space. Space infrastructure firm Redwire said yesterday that in 2023, it plans to launch the first commercial space greenhouse to support exploration missions.

How Zoom uses Zoom

A typical workday probably includes a handful of Zoom calls. But at Zoom, employees can sometimes find themselves on multiple Zoom calls at once! Protocol Workplace reporter Lizzy Lawrence got the lowdown on how best to use Zoom from Zoomies themselves:

  • Let everyone participate. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to talk by keeping the chat window open.
  • Have your cake and eat it on Zoom. People are in meetings all day, and sometimes finding time to eat is difficult. As long as you’re not eating something too distracting, it’s OK to eat on camera.
  • Know when enough is enough. Zoom fatigue is real, even at Zoom. That’s why they never hold meetings on Wednesdays.

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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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