Tech Roundup, Oct. 18, 2019 | Big Tech joins Brazilian effort against misinformation

. Oct 18, 2019
Big Tech joins Brazilian effort against misinformation. How serious are they?

You’re reading The Brazilian Report‘s weekly tech roundup, a digest of the most important news on technology and innovation in Brazil. This week’s topics: How serious is Big Tech in fighting fake news and misinformation in Brazil? São Paulo leads the way in research and development. The government’s bad idea to create a central citizen database. Google Pay adapts to the Brazilian market.

Big Tech joins Brazilian effort against misinformation. How serious are they?

Prior to the 2018 election, Supreme Court Justice Luiz Fux—who at the time presided over the Superior Electoral Court—pointed to the spread of fake news and misinformation as major risks for Brazilian democracy. Yet, the court did little to curb the widespread use of social media for fearmongering by all major campaigns.

</p> <p>Eyeing the 2020 municipal election, the court is unwilling to repeat the same mistakes. On October 22, the electoral justice system will announce an alliance with Google, Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp to pool their efforts and curb misinformation in the election season.</p> <p>Observers can be forgiven for being skeptical of how much Big Tech will actually engage in the efforts. In recent years, Silicon Valley giants have given half-hearted apologies and refused to fully recognize their roles in the rise of extreme political views—amplified by the echo-chamber effect social media creates. But Brazilian authorities are seeing the glass half-full.</p> <p>Ana Cristina Rosa, the Superior Electoral Court&#8217;s chief advisor, sees the cooperation agreement as major progress from events in the recent past—when WhatsApp, for instance, failed to adopt measures proposed by the court to control the spreading of falsehoods on its instant messaging app.</p> <p>Earlier this month, WhatsApp admitted that its platform was used during Brazil&#8217;s 2018 elections to send illegal mass messages to the electorate by way of automated systems hired by companies. Speaking at an event in Medellin, Colombia, WhatsApp executive Ben Supple said companies &#8220;violated [the app&#8217;s] terms of use to reach a large number of people&#8221; with automated messages.</p> <h4>Facebook under scrutiny. Again</h4> <p>The Justice Ministry has opened a new investigation into <a href="">Facebook</a>, which is suspected of committing abuse in the way it deals with users&#8217; sensitive data—including people who were <em>not</em> registered on Facebook, but whose data was obtained by way of other apps. This is the third investigation into the firm—all centered around the handling of user data. For each case, Facebook could be forced to pay up to BRL 10 million.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>São Paulo leads the way in research and innovation</h2> <p>Spending on research and innovation in the state of São Paulo grew 2.7 percent between 2017 and 2018—amounting to BRL 27.6 billion. It may seem a slim growth rate, but it was bigger than the state&#8217;s GDP expansion for the period (2.5 percent).</p> <p>Growth was higher in federally-run universities, as well as in companies. State-run research centers and the CNPq—a government body to foster innovation—have lowered their spending amid massive budget cuts.</p> <p>If São Paulo were a country, it would invest more in innovation (relative to GDP) than countries such as Portugal, Italy, Spain, or Chile.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/772926"></div><script src=""></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazilian government to create a central citizen database, and why this is a bad idea</h2> <p>President Jair Bolsonaro issued a decree this week to create a unified database with citizens&#8217; personal data—to be shared among different government bodies. In theory, the move would speed up processes and slash costs, which could appear to be a positive idea. However, it is quite the opposite.</p> <p>For one, this database is to be managed only by government members—which clashes directly with Brazil&#8217;s Data Protection Law, which will take effect from 2020 onward. According to the new rules, citizens are the proprietary owners of their data—even when this information is under the custody of the state. So, having members of society (companies, universities, NGOs) on database steering committees is a must.</p> <p>Moreover, centralizing data into a single base is a poor move from an information security standpoint. Fragmenting data storage is the best way to protect information from malicious attacks. Government entities have failed to keep up with the latest anti-hacker technology—and Brazil is no exception to this rule. That has led to a <a href="">mounting number of cyberattacks</a> against government websites.&nbsp;</p> <script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>Just last week, we got a <a href="">taste</a> of the government&#8217;s often frightening <a href="">lack of ability to handle data</a>. The Department of Traffic in the state of Rio Grande do Norte suspects that a system glitch allowed third parties to access information of drivers from all over the country. It remains uncertain what was made available—and for how long.</p> <p>Of course, these deficiencies are not exclusive to Brazil. In May, the U.S. city of Baltimore was attacked by <a href="">hackers</a> who seized data and asked for USD 76,000 as a ransom. The city refused to pay—only to discover it had no backup of the data. According to tech reporter Tim Cushing, recovering that data will cost the city up to USD 20 million.</p> <p>Brazil should learn from such cases of poor data handling.&nbsp;</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Google Pay adapts to the Brazilian market</h2> <p>Google Pay announced a new payment option exclusive to the Brazilian market: the choice between debit or credit cards in purchases made through cell phones. Payment companies were still resistant toward debit cards, as they are more vulnerable to fraud—but they also make up the majority of cards in Brazil. Of the 110 million cards circulating in Brazil, only 50 million are credit cards.&nbsp;</p> <p>The introduction of debit cards should gradually replace bank-issued invoices or &#8220;<em>boletos</em>,&#8221; a type of bar-code based push payment system that accounts for 25 percent of all online payment transactions in Brazil, but generates many fees.

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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