Tech Roundup: Can WhatsApp curb fake news in the 2020 election?

. Oct 02, 2020
whatsapp fake news Photo: Michael Jay Berlin

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: Brazil’s efforts to curb misinformation on WhatsApp ahead of the elections, e-commerce performance with Black Friday on the horizon, and the dreadful cybersecurity scenario for Latin America’s company’s and individuals. 

Electoral courts and WhatsApp team up against fake news. Will it work? 

One and a half months before the 2020 municipal elections,

Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court launched <a href="">a new bot</a>, in partnership with WhatsApp, to increase access to reliable information both on sanitary measures and electoral rules. While experts recognize the good intentions of the initiative, they say the fight against misinformation needs broader strategies.</p> <p><strong>How the bot works. </strong>Users must add a number provided by the Electoral Justice system to their list of contacts in order to interact with the bot. Then they will receive messages with information about their polling station, which safety measures to observe when heading out to vote, as well as fact-checked news on the election.</p> <ul><li>There will also be a dedicated channel to denounce numbers that send mass messages during the campaign — which is forbidden by local electoral legislation. This feature, though, will be deactivated by December 19.</li></ul> <p><strong>Step in the right direction. </strong>Débora Albu, coordinator of democracy and technology at think-tank ITS Rio, tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that structuring an anti-fake news strategy around WhatsApp — used by almost all Brazilian smartphones — is &#8220;very positive.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>“Voters don’t need to leave a platform they already use, they don’t need to create new digital skills. The process is very simple and this is crucial.”</li><li>Plus, the partnership with Facebook — which owns WhatsApp — points in the direction of a partnership between the public sphere and the private sector that might come in handy during elections. “Unlike 2018, there is now an attempt to join solutions and new initiatives, so you have a unified front,” she said.</li></ul> <p><strong>Yes, but … </strong>Ms. Albu warns the only way to tackle such a complex issue is through a more comprehensive strategy, involving political and media education — something a simple WhatsApp bot cannot handle. </p> <p><strong>Regulation.</strong> Previously heralded as one of the pinnacles of Congress&#8217;s reaction to misinformation, the controversial &#8220;fake news bill&#8221; remains far from approval.</p> <ul><li>The project faced severe criticism from experts for <a href="">creating the possibility of censorship</a> disguised as a crackdown on misinformation.</li></ul> <p><strong>Digital campaigns.</strong> Official campaigns began on September 26, but mayoral candidates launched their online strategies on Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp weeks or months ago. </p> <ul><li>After Jair Bolsonaro won the presidency in 2018 with a campaign almost entirely conducted on social media and WhatsApp group chats, politicians have become obsessed with their online presence. But followers do not strictly translate into votes — and the most engaging candidates on social media are not the ones who are polling the best. </li><li>&#8220;That&#8217;s because engagement doesn&#8217;t only come from supporters, but also from people who want to confront candidates.”</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazilian e-commerce losing steam?&nbsp;</h2> <p>After breaking records earlier in the year, Brazilian e-commerce shrank 9 percent in August, according to <a href="">data</a> from the Brazilian Chamber for E-Commerce. While sales raised 75 percent more money than in August 2019, year-on-year growth was at 136 percent back in May.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters. </strong>Big retailers have poured millions into improving their online sales channels, but e-commerce sales are decreasing as brick-and-mortar shops reopen.</p> <p><strong>Capital markets.</strong> All of Brazil&#8217;s top 4 retailers saw share prices drop by as much as 21 percent in September.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3900499" data-url="" aria-label=""><script src=""></script></div> <ul><li>Stocks analyst Eduardo Guimarães, of Levante Investimentos, points out that the sector has seen expressive gains over the year. As Nasdaq and Ibovespa lost steam in September, investors saw an opportunity for profit-taking.</li><li>In Brazil, retail companies such as Via Varejo became favorites among retail investors, which may have caused trading volumes to boom temporarily. “The frenzy has died down a bit,&#8221; says Mr. Guimarães.&nbsp;</li><li>Institutional investors are betting on e-commerce. BTG Pactual bank replaced traditional retailer Lojas Americanas with Magazine Luiza on its monthly recommended portfolio, saying the latter is “well-positioned to continue growing above the market.”</li></ul> <p><strong>Challenges.</strong> As retailers prepare for <a href="">Black Friday</a>, Amazon Inc will host its first Prime Day in Brazil on October 13 and 14. Besides being a proxy for the biggest shopping sprees in the year, it could also spell trouble for competition.</p> <p><strong>Yes, but…</strong> It’s not the first time the market has jumped the gun in response to Amazon&#8217;s moves. When the American giant announced it was expanding to Brazil, domestic retailers&#8217; stock melted, but Amazon has since taken a very cautious approach to the Brazilian market.</p> <p><strong>Holiday season. </strong>Q4 is traditionally the best time of the year for retailers. “However, sales could be hurt by weak brick-and-mortar sales,” Mr. Guimarães tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazilian companies targeted by cybercriminals</h2> <p>A new <a href=";utm_medium=Email&amp;utm_campaign=kd%20weekly%20digest">report</a> by cybersecurity firm Kaspersky shows that Brazil is home to 56 percent of all cyberattacks in Latin America. From January to September, Kaspersky noted 37.2 million attacks on companies in the continent and another 20.5 million to home users.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Remote work. </strong>The Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), which allows users to connect to other computers, suffered 517 million attacks in the region. The peak happened in April, coinciding with the beginning of several quarantines in Latin America.</p> <ul><li>“The adoption of remote work made it easier for cybercriminals to attack systems that were not available on the internet,” said Dmitry Bestuzhev, head of Kaspersky’s GReAT team in Latin America.</li></ul> <p><strong>Vulnerability.</strong> Though it is the most targeted, Brazil isn’t the most insecure place. According to the report, Argentina has the highest “coefficient of attack” — the proportion of attacks per capita — for both companies and home users.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>However, Brazilians are the most vulnerable to attacks on mobile devices. The country recorded 63 percent of the 1.2 million attacks of this kind reported during the period.&nbsp;</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Take note</h2> <ul><li><strong>LGPD.</strong> Homebuilder Cyrela was the first company <a href=";infoid=55028&amp;sid=9">fined</a> on the grounds of the General Data Protection Law in Brazil. The company was found guilty after a customer sued it for being spammed with emails from Cyrela’s partners, evidence that the homebuilder shared his data without consent. Cyrela now has to pay BRL 10,000 in compensation and an extra BRL 300 for every undue attempt to contact the customer.</li><li><strong>SMB. </strong>A new report by consultancy Neotrust/Compre&amp;Confie shows that online sales by small- and medium-sized businesses in Brazil nearly doubled between February and August, bumping revenue by 118 percent. The leading segment was home appliances, with a near 400-percent growth, followed by furniture (+241%), decor (+217%), health (+212%), and cameras and drones (+205%).</li><li><strong>Acquisition</strong>. Bitz, the digital wallet launched by Bradesco a few weeks ago, has already made its <a href="">first acquisition</a>: buying fintech DinDin for an undisclosed amount. The deal comes as Bitz tries to obtain knowhow to achieve its goal of grabbing a  25-percent market share in digital wallets in Brazil over the next three years. </li><li><strong>Startups. </strong>Google <a href=",google-for-startups-lanca-novo-programa-no-brasil-focado-em-estrategias-de-crescimento,70003455578">launched</a> its Growth Academy initiative in Brazil. The ten-week program offers mentorship and teaches growth techniques to startup leaders that already have some market traction. The first edition will be fully digital due to Covid-19 and will include companies such as health food startup LivUp, cosmetics brand Sallve, and pet store Zee Dog. </li><li><strong>Digital Ecosystem.</strong> Data from think-thank Distrito <a href=",aquisicao-de-startups-no-brasil-chega-a-100-transacoes-em-2020-e-bate-recorde,70003457187">obtained</a> by newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo shows that large companies purchased 100 startups in Brazil between January and September — the largest number on record. The trend is propelled by digital transformation needs, the urge to launch new business fronts, and the availability of capital due to an environment of low interest rates. </li><li><strong>Unicorn.</strong> Fintech dLocal became <a href="">Uruguay’s first unicorn</a> in September, with a USD 1.2 billion valuation. It reached the milestone after a new USD 200 million funding round led by General Atlantic. The company offers payment solutions in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, with high-profile customers such as and Nike. </li><li><strong>Crowdfunding.</strong> The Brazilian Securities Commission canceled the operating permit of crowdfunding platform Finco Invest after several irregularities, including fraud, acting as qualified investors without having the due certification, and lack of due diligence processes. </li><li><strong>Agritech. </strong>Sugar and bioethanol group São Martinho <a href="">teamed up</a> with Ericsson to launch a 5G pilot in one of the group’s sugarcane plantations in São Paulo state. The new network will allow them to connect trucks and machines and speed up the harvesting process from 2021 on. If it works, the partnership will be expanded to other plantations of the group and new products and services both companies aim to offer in the market. </li><li><strong>Drones. </strong>Food delivery app iFood will <a href="">test drones</a> to deliver meals in the city of Campinas, in the state of São Paulo. The restaurants will take the food to hubs where the drones are stored. Then, the machines will fly to delivery centers and, from there, couriers will drive it to consumers. iFood believes that, in some routes, the process may shorten delivery times from 10 to 2 minutes. The tests are expected to last for 12 months and, if they succeed, the model may be adopted in another 200 cities.

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Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Before joining The Brazilian Report, she worked as an editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

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