Thursday, December 16, 2021

Zoom Joins Facebook, Alphabet and Microsoft Against Terrorism


Video conferencing platform Zoom has joined the counterterrorism organization formed by major US technology firms including Meta Platforms (formerly known as Facebook), and Microsoft Corp, the group said on Wednesday.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) is an independent group where member companies share information on fighting terrorism and violent extremism on their websites.

Zoom Video Communications Inc, which has seen a usage boom during the COVID-19 pandemic but has faced slowing growth in recent months, has come under scrutiny for how it monitors content and abuse on its platform.

The founding members of GIFCT are Alphabet's Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube.

Its membership has grown to 18 companies with five new platforms joining this year including rental company Airbnb, social network Tumblr and online publishing platform WordPress.

Tech companies have long been criticized for failing to curb violent extremist activity on their platforms, although they also face concerns over freedom of expression.

GIFCT was created in 2017 under pressure from US and European governments after a series of deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels.

GIFCT maintains a hash-sharing database, where member companies can share "hashes," unique numerical representations of chunks of original content that have been removed from their service. Other companies may use this hash to identify the same content on their sites and review or remove the material.

"It is our responsibility to support our users and protect them from online threats," Josh Parecki, Zoom's association general counsel for trust and security, said in a statement.

"By collaborating with other leaders across the industry, sharing key learnings and advancing research, we aspire to make the digital world a safer place for everyone," he added.

As individuals and companies turn to video conferencing apps during activity restrictions due to COVID-19, Zoom is facing the problem of moderating high-profile content.

These range from offenses such as "zoombombing", a condition in which uninvited users tamper with other people's online conferences to spread hate speech and racist, violent or pornographic content, to decisions such as the cancellation of virtual events featuring Leila Khaled, a member of a Palestinian group included in the organization's list. Terrorists issued by the US State Department.

GIFCT Executive Director Nicholas Rasmussen said in a statement that it was pleased to add Zoom as their new member because of its mission to develop cross-platform solutions that render terrorists and violent extremists ineffective on the internet.

GIFCT has faced criticism from some human and digital rights advocates for centralized or too broad censorship, and has called for greater transparency.

In July, the organization expanded the scope of its hash-sharing database to include attacker manifestos and other publications and URLs tagged by the United Nations initiative, Tech Against Terrorism.
GIFCT also said it would continue to expand its database to include hashes of specific audio files or symbols.

GIFCT also said Wednesday that it has designed a new membership structure based on company earnings, with suggested annual contributions ranging from $0 to $1 million, meaning membership is independent of company earnings.

Other members include Instagram and WhatsApp Meta, Pinterest, Amazon.com, chat platform Discord, and file-sharing service Dropbox. Other companies such as Reddit and the owners of Snapchat Snap can also access hash-sharing databases.[]

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