8 Charts on Internet Use around the World As Countries Grapple with COVID-19

8 Charts on Internet Use around the World As Countries Grapple with COVID-19. Pew Research Center. Shannon Schumacher and Nicholas Kent. April 2, 2020

People in the United States and around the world are turning to the internet to do their work and stay connected with others as the COVID-19 outbreak forces people to stay home and away from the office and crowds. A median of 77% across 34 countries use the internet at least occasionally or own an internet-enabled smartphone, according to a spring 2019 Pew Research Center survey. But there are stark digital divides. Younger people, those with higher incomes and those in wealthier countries are more likely to be digital technology users. Many people surveyed also use social media, but social media usage is not ubiquitous, even in economically advanced nations like Germany and Japan. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

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Data Flows, Online Privacy, and Trade Policy

Data Flows, Online Privacy, and Trade Policy. Congressional Research Service. Rachel F. Fefer. Updated March 26, 2020

“Cross-border data flows” refers to the movement or transfer of information between computer servers across national borders. Such data flows enable people to transmit information for online communication, track global supply chains, share research, provide cross-border services, and support technological innovation.
Ensuring open cross-border data flows has been an objective of Congress in recent trade agreements and in broader U.S. international trade policy. The free flow of personal data, however, has raised security and privacy concerns. U.S. trade policy has traditionally sought to balance the need for cross-border data flows, which often include personal data, with online privacy and security. Some stakeholders, including some Members of Congress, believe that U.S. policy should better protect personal data privacy and security, and have introduced legislation to set a national policy. Other policymakers and analysts are concerned about increasing foreign barriers to U.S. digital trade, including data flows.

[PDF format, 28 pages].

Detecting Malign or Subversive Information Efforts over Social Media: Scalable Analytics for Early Warning

Detecting Malign or Subversive Information Efforts over Social Media: Scalable Analytics for Early Warning. RAND Corporation. William Marcellino et al. March 16, 2020.

The United States has a capability gap in detecting malign or subversive information campaigns before these campaigns substantially influence the attitudes and behaviors of large audiences. Although there is ongoing research into detecting parts of such campaigns (e.g., compromised accounts and “fake news” stories), this report addresses a novel method to detect whole efforts. The authors adapted an existing social media analysis method, combining network analysis and text analysis to map, visualize, and understand the communities interacting on social media. As a case study, they examined whether Russia and its agents might have used Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup as a launching point for malign and subversive information efforts. The authors analyzed approximately 69 million tweets, in three languages, about the World Cup in the month before and the month after the event, and they identified what appear to be two distinct Russian information efforts, one aimed at Russian-speaking and one at French-speaking audiences. Notably, the latter specifically targeted the populist gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement; detecting this effort months before it made headlines illustrates the value of this method. To help others use and develop the method, the authors detail the specifics of their analysis and share lessons learned. Outside entities should be able to replicate the analysis in new contexts with new data sets. Given the importance of detecting malign information efforts on social media, it is hoped that the U.S. government can efficiently and quickly implement this or a similar method. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 66 pages].

Cybercrime Prevention Principles for Internet Service Providers

Cybercrime Prevention Principles for Internet Service Providers. World Economic Forum. January 23, 2020

While certain cyberattacks focus on specific organizations, the majority target the largest number of internet users possible. Such attacks are often relatively easy for cybercriminals to undertake and can cause serious harm. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, the impact of indiscriminate malicious activity online can be significant and carries an estimated global price tag of $6 trillion in 2021.
The World Economic Forum Platform for Shaping the Future of Cybersecurity and Digital Trust brought together a group of leading ISPs and multilateral organizations to develop new ways to protect and prevent these attacks from reaching consumers. Following a year of development and testing, four actionable principles were identified as successful in preventing malicious activities from getting “down the pipes” to consumers, set out in the report. Each principle is considered from the perspective of the challenges it is seeking to address, as well as providing demonstrable evidence from service providers of the benefits of implementation. Further, more technical detail on how each principle could be implemented is also provided in related recommendations. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 32 pages].

The Data Driving Democracy: Understanding How the Internet Is Transforming Politics and Civic Engagement

The Data Driving Democracy: Understanding How the Internet Is Transforming Politics and Civic Engagement. American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Christina Couch. February 2020.

This report outlines the data and methodologies researchers use to understand how the Internet has impacted democracy and the challenges they face in this field. The report summarizes key insights from interviews with fifteen experts from a broad array of computer science, data analysis, media studies, legal, and political science backgrounds. It specifically examines the data and research methodologies experts use to study how the Internet is changing democracy, the types of inferences that can (and can’t) be drawn with current resources, and barriers in this field. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 52 pages].

Internet Regimes and WTO E-Commerce Negotiations

Internet Regimes and WTO E-Commerce Negotiations. Congressional Research Service. Rachel F. Fefer. January 28, 2020.

From retail to agriculture or healthcare, digitization has affected all sectors and allowed more industries to engage with customers and partners around the globe. Many U.S. companies thrived in the initial online environment, which lacked clear rules and guidelines, quickly expanding their offerings and entering foreign markets. As the internet has evolved, however, governments have begun to impose national laws and regulations to pursue data protection, data security, privacy, and other policy objectives. The lack of global rules and norms for data and digital trade is leading to differences in these domestic internet regimes. Competing internet regimes and conflicting data governance rules increase trade barriers and limit investment flows and international commerce, restricting the ability of U.S. businesses and consumers to enter and compete in some markets. For example, foreign internet regimes may use national security regulations to block cross-border data flows, disrupting global supply chains and limiting the potential use of and gains from emerging technologies. The creation of national technology standards can also limit market access by foreign firms.
As the digital economy expands, the diversity in digital rules is poised to grow in complexity and create new trade restrictions. The resulting patchwork of technical standards and national systems creates challenges for international trade, and may signal an impending fracturing of the global internet. Without agreement on global norms or common trade rules, some analysts foresee a splitting of the internet into distinct nation-led “dataspheres” and virtual trading blocs.

[PDF format, 29 pages].

Fighting Deepfakes When Detection Fails

Fighting Deepfakes When Detection Fails. Brookings Institution. Alex Engler. November 14, 2019

Deepfakes intended to spread misinformation are already a threat to online discourse, and there is every reason to believe this problem will become more significant in the future. So far, most ongoing research and mitigation efforts have focused on automated deepfake detection, which will aid deepfake discovery for the next few years. However, worse than cybersecurity’s perpetual cat-and-mouse game, automated deepfake detection is likely to become impossible in the relatively near future, as the approaches that generate fake digital content improve considerably. In addition to supporting the near-term creation and responsible dissemination of deepfake detection technology, policymakers should invest in discovering and developing longer-term solutions. Policymakers should take actions that:

  • Support ongoing deepfake detection efforts with continued funding through DARPA’s MediFor program, as well as adding new grants to support collaboration between detection efforts and training journalists and fact-checkers to use these tools.
  • Create an additional stream of funding awards for the development of new tools, such as reverse video search or blockchain-based verification systems, that may better persist in the face of undetectable deepfakes.
  • Encourage the release of large social media datasets for social science researchers to study and explore solutions to viral misinformation and disinformation campaigns. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

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