Tech firms hail ‘progress’ on blocking terror

A consortium of technology companies and governments says it is “far exceeding” its targets for blocking terrorist propaganda online.
At a meeting on Friday, hosted by Google, the group will say that 88,000 “hashes” of terrorism-related content have been added to a shared database used by the coalition’s companies.
The hashes - essentially a digital fingerprint - can be used to block material before it is posted.
The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism - GIFCT - said it was well on course to meet its target of 100,000 hashes by the end of this year.
As well as Google, the group's members are Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and other, smaller tech firms.
‘Three strikes’
The GIFCT will also announce an additional database to help companies block harmful content hosted on external websites from appearing on their platforms.
Twitter has developed the database of web addresses that it has blocked on its own network, which can then be accessed by other firms currently taking part in a beta test of the concept.
To date, 4,734 links have been added to the database over the last “several months”. A source with knowledge of the programme said that the amount of links was likely to increase considerably once the database moved out of the testing phase.
The GIFCT had its first meeting in August 2017, attended by the then-UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Her replacement, Sajid Javid, will be in California to attend Friday’s meeting. A spokesperson said the home secretary would be “learning” about the group’s efforts so far.
Mr Javid has supported a “three strikes” rule for anybody caught watching terrorism-related material online through streaming websites.
“It’s an offence if you download terror videos, but not if you stream it,” the home secretary said on Monday.
“There is an anomaly in the law there.”
Also in attendance will be US Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, as well as ministers from Canada and Australia.
Companies on board
The founding members of the GIFCT - Google-owned YouTube, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter - said they had a “valuable role to play in supporting other, smaller tech companies” who may not have the resources to tackle the spread of harmful material on their platforms.
Other services with access to the hashing database include Ask.fm, Cloudinary, Instagram, Justpaste.it, LinkedIn, Oath, and Snapchat owner Snap.
The BBC understands as many as 70 companies have talked to the consortium since its inception - however the GIFCT did not want to share more details about specific platforms, arguing to do so would discourage companies from engaging with them due to potential negative publicity.
Critics of systems that automatically block material argue that they create false positives - content being blocked when it should not have been.
Furthermore, groups like so-called Islamic State have now mostly eschewed major social networks in favour of smaller companies not involved with the GIFCT.
Ms Neilsen said the involvement of big firms was continually welcomed, but that "their commitment alone is not enough".
"We need companies of every size to make this a priority," she said in a statement ahead of Friday's meeting.

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16 January 2019

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