Rival French and Russian disinformation campaigns have sought to deceive and influence Internet users in the Central African Republic ahead of an election later this month, Facebook said on Tuesday.
Facebook said it was the first time it had seen foreign influence operations directly engage on its platforms, with fake accounts denouncing each other as “fake news”.
The company said it had suspended three networks totalling almost 500 accounts and pages for so-called “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. One network was linked to “individuals associated with French military,” it said, while the other two had connections to “individuals associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency” as well as Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin.
The French defence ministry and military command did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Representatives for Prigozhin, who U.S. prosecutors say directed the Internet Research Agency to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. He denies the U.S. allegations.
“You can’t fight fire with fire. We have these two efforts from different sides of these issues using the same tactics and techniques, and they end up looking sort of the same,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy.
France and Russia are both keen to assert influence in Africa. Paris has ties with many French-speaking African countries, which it sees as vital to preventing the spread of violent Islamisation, and Moscow is jockeying for position in a lucrative market.
Facebook said the two campaigns largely focused on the Central African Republic (CAR), which votes on Dec. 27, but also targeted users in 13 other African countries including Algeria, Cameroon, Libya and Sudan.
Ben Nimmo, head of investigations at social media analytics firm Graphika, said both campaigns used fake accounts to pose as local people, sometimes sharing doctored photos.
The French effort started in mid-2019 and pushed pro-French messages before targeting “Russian fake news” following Facebook’s suspension of a Russian-linked disinformation campaign in Africa in October last year.
The subsequent Russian operation attempted to promote Russian business and diplomatic interests, as well as the candidacy of President Faustin-Archange Touadera in the election, he said. Later, the Russian accounts tried to out the French accounts that were trying to out them.
But neither side built a significant audience in CAR, he added. “They looked like two troll teams arm wrestling, with nobody else really paying attention.”
Facebook announced it will be opening an office in Lagos, Nigeria - its second office on the African continent.
Aimed at supporting the entire Sub-Saharan Africa region, the office is expected to become operational in H2 2021 and will be the first on the continent to house a team of expert engineers building for the future of Africa and beyond.
Facebook’s office will be home to various teams servicing the continent from across the business, including Sales, Partnerships, Policy, Communications as well as Engineers.
Commenting, Ime Archibong, Facebook's Head of New Product Experimentation said: “The opening of our new office in Lagos, Nigeria presents new and exciting opportunities in digital innovations to be developed from the continent and taken to the rest of the world. All across Africa we’re seeing immense talent in the tech ecosystem, and I’m proud that with the upcoming opening of our new office, we’ll be building products for the future of Africa, and the rest of the world, with Africans at the helm. We look forward to contributing further to the African tech ecosystem.”
The investment of the new Facebook office follows the 2018 opening of NG_Hub, its first flagship community hub space in Africa in partnership with CcHub, and the 2019 opening of a Small Business Group (SBG) Operations Centre in Lagos, in partnership with Teleperformance. Providing outsourced support to all English-speaking advertisers across Sub-Saharan Africa, the SBG office supports Small Medium Businesses (SMBs) through its Advocacy, Community & Education (ACE) programme, as well as its Marketing Expert sales programmes – all aimed at enabling SMBs to accelerate the growth and development of their businesses.
“Our new office in Nigeria presents an important milestone which further reinforces our ongoing commitment to the region”, commented Kojo Boakye, Facebook’s Director of Public Policy, Africa. “Our mission in Africa is no different to elsewhere in the world - to build community and bring the world closer together, and I’m excited about the possibilities that this will create, not just in Nigeria, but across Africa.”
Since the opening of its first office in 2015, Facebook has made a number of investments across the continent, aimed at supporting and growing the tech ecosystem, expanding and providing reliable connectivity infrastructures and helping businesses to grow locally, regionally and globally. This includes the recent rollout of its SMB Grants programme in Nigeria and South Africa, aimed at supporting over 900 businesses by providing a combination of cash and ad credits to help small businesses as they rebuild from COVID. The development of 2Africa, the world’s largest subsea cable project that will deliver much needed internet capacity and reliability across large parts of Africa, as well as its ongoing training programmes across the continent which support various communities including students, SMBs, digital creatives, female entrepreneurs, start-up’s and developers.
Nunu Ntshingila, Regional Director, Facebook Africa,said: “We’re delighted to be announcing our new office in Nigeria. Five years on from opening our first office on the continent in Johannesburg, South Africa, we’re continuing to invest in and support local talent, as well as the various communities that use our platforms. The office in Lagos will also be key in helping to expand how we service our clients across the continent.”
Nigeria will find it impossible to place taxes on the transactions of foreign tech companies like Netflix, Facebook, Google, Youtube and other virtual firms without foreign help, Head of Research at SBM Intelligence, Ikemesit Effiong, has said.
It will be recalled that the federal government announced its intent to tax OTT’s in the Finance act the president signed earlier in the year.
The legal document, which reviewed the countries tax policies, included any business that “transmits, emits, or receives signals, sounds messages, images or data of any kind by cable, radio, electromagnetic systems or any other electronic or wireless apparatus to Nigeria in respect of any activity including electronic commerce, application store, high-frequency trading, electronic storage, online adverts, participative network platform, online payments and so on, to the extent that the company has a significant economic presence in Nigeria and profit can be attributable to such activity.”
Effiong told SaharaReporters that it would be difficult for the federal government to calculate the Nigerian derived earnings of these companies’ activities.
He is sceptical about how the government will, for example, find out the volume of activities engaged in by Nigeria’s estimated 20m Facebook users and how much each transaction yielded in revenue.
He said countries across the world were discussing how to tax over the top technologies (OTT’s) and virtual firms that do not have end-user telecommunication infrastructure and share the profit.
“The only way I see Nigeria being able to negotiate a tax regime (OTT) will be for them to collaborate with our European and American partners,” he said.
“I can’t think of any African economy – South Africa included– that can do this on their own. Even global powers like the US and the EU are struggling with this.”
The minister for finance, Zainab Ahmed, gave clarity on how the government plans to implement the new tax regime by issuing the Companies Income Tax (Significant Economic Presence) Order. The finance minister is also empowered by the law to determine who a SEP is.
In the letter of the order, the first guiding principle in identifying who a SEP is will be to check if the company has sustained interaction with customers in Nigeria or agents of foreign entities based in Nigeria and have an annual earning in any currency whose value comes up to N25m or more.
Firms that fall into this category have been asked by the order to customize their platforms to enable them to receive payment in naira for taxable reasons.
“A foreign entity providing technical services such as training, advertising, supply of personnel, professional, management or consultancy services shall have a SEP in Nigeria in any accounting year if it earns any income or receives any payment from a person resident in Nigeria or a fixed base or agent of a foreign entity in Nigeria,” the act reads.
Education service providers are exempted though. Companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google, that make as much money off traffic as they do from promoted posts, would be difficult to tax, experts believe.
Most of these OTT firms do not have offices in Nigeria. Those who do only maintain a representational presence and Effiong thinks this is the flaw in the plan.
“If Facebook says we had 17m unique visits, how are you as a country going to quantify and verify it?” he wondered.
Explaining that every taxpaying entity in the country has to open their books to the federal or state revenue boards, Effiong said OTTs have to largely comply, they have to be transparent about the number of Nigerian users they have, the ads those users clicked on, what the monetary cost of those ads was… for tax authorities to be able to assess them.”
Save for a Chinese/Iranian/Russian mode of internet monitoring, the lawyer said it would be impossible for the government to validate the genuineness of the data it is given.
Kenya is another African country that has attempted to levy an OTT. Its revenue authority said in a recent draft regulation that foreign companies offering digital services should register in the country to pay value-added tax or get a tax representative.
Outside Africa, France has been the most desperate to begin charging virtual firms for the number of undeclared profits they earn across the world.
In January, Macron’s government said it was going to go ahead of the EU conversation on the matter to collect three per cent of the global annual earnings of these firms.
That move was swiftly countered by the Trump administration, who threatened to massively heighten excise duties on goods coming out of France. Since then, Coronavirus has stalled the possibility of a joint tax regime for over-the-top technologies in the European Union.
Nigeria and Kenya are chasing the monies that could come from this new pull of cash though. It could be vital funding that would ease the recession fears in Africa’s largest economy.
The Government of Nigeria plans to tax foreign digital service providers offering services to Nigerians and earning revenue in naira.
Some of these service providers which are video streaming sites, social media platforms, and companies that offer downloads of digital contents are expected to pay digital tax to the Federal Inland Revenue Service.
The Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, had issued the Companies Income Tax (Significant Economic Presence) Order, 2020 as an amendment of the Finance Act 2019.
The order aimed to impose tax on a foreign entity with respect to certain services or digital transactions if it had a Significant Economic Presence in Nigeria.
It further stated that the finance minister may by order, determine what constituted SEP in Nigeria.
Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, among others are some of these foreign companies that offer digital video and advertising services to Nigerians.
Others like Alibaba and Amazon generate revenue from Nigeria by processing and transmitting data collected about users in Nigeria, provision of goods or services directly or through a digital platform or offer intermediate services that link suppliers and customers in Nigeria.
The new regulation would apply to companies with income of N25m or equivalent in other currencies from Nigeria in a year and those with a Nigerian domain name (.ng) or a website address in the country.
The SEP order mandated foreign companies with sustained interactions with persons in Nigeria and customising their digital platforms to target persons in Nigeria by stating the prices of its products or services in naira to pay taxes.
According to the Act, a foreign entity providing technical services such as training, advertising, supply of personnel, professional, management or consultancy services shall have a SEP in Nigeria in any accounting year if it earns any income or receives any payment from a person resident in Nigeria or a fixed base or agent of a foreign entity in Nigeria.
However, payments made to employees of a foreign entity or for teaching in an educational institution are exempted.
Analysts at PricewaterhouseCoopers said some of the affected foreign digital companies would be required to register for income taxes in Nigeria and file annual tax returns even if they did not have a physical presence in Nigeria.
They added that Nigerian resident businesses (as well as the fixed bases of non-resident companies) that have transactions with the affected non-resident companies would also be required to account for withholding tax on some of the payments made to these foreign companies.
PwC raised concerns as to how the FIRS would enforce compliance without international consensus, as a number of the companies affected might be outside the territorial reach of the agency.
According to the consulting firm, the problem will also be exacerbated where the companies sell their products and services directly to individual consumers in Nigeria.
Google and Facebook have told most employees to keep working from home for the rest of the year as part of a response by the tech giants to the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
Chief executive Sundar Pichai told Google staff at an all-hands meeting that its remote work policy will be extended until 2021, the Silicon Valley giant confirmed Friday.
Any return to offices was expected to be incremental and staggered, according to the company.
The news came along with US media reports that Facebook is also letting workers tend to their jobs remotely for the rest of this year.
Google employees who need to return to offices will be able to do that in the next month or two, with added safety measures in place due to coronavirus concerns, but most of the staff will continue working from home.
Facebook’s updated plan is to re-open offices in early July, but let people work from home if they prefer until 2021, according to reports.
When one talks about young Africans using smartphones, the dominant narrative is that these gadgets serve mostly as platforms for connection so that users can communicate and share greetings and information via text and images.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp and Signal take pride of place in that description, despite their murkier side. What has perhaps been overlooked is how smartphones are also affecting other facets of young people’s lives. One area is the ever-growing community of sports betting in Africa.
The phenomenon of sports betting among African youths has taken the region by storm. Recent polls and anecdotal reports point to a grim scenario, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. A 2017 GeoPoll survey found that up to 54% of sub-Saharan African youth between 17 and 35 years have engaged in sports gambling. Kenya, with 74% participation in sports betting, had by far the largest percentage of youth involvement in this activity. The survey of some 2,726 African millennials was conducted in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.
A core driver of this trend has been the growing ubiquity of mobile telephony around the continent combined with the availability of smartphones. Added to this has been greater connectivity – including satellite access to sport matches – and a ballooning population of young people with high levels of unemployment.
In research on the subject we see that sports betting has brought many ills to young people in sub-Saharan Africa. These include severe gambling addiction and money laundering. Some of these concerns are also experienced in other parts of the world. These include smartphone addiction and a closely related phenomenon: internet addiction. These ills in turn lead to heightened levels of social anxiety and loneliness among the affected population.
Smartphone penetration around the continent has exhibited a remarkable growth rate. Cameroon, for instance, had 72% registered users of social networks among those aged 15 to 24 in 2016. This grew to that level from 43% in the first half of that year. The most popular social networks for that community was Facebook, Google+, Instagram and Twitter. This development has come at a time when there is growing interest in sports betting - the most popular gambling option for African youth. Mobile phones are the preferred avenue for sports betting.
Of course the increasing availability of smartphones is unleashing the innovative potential of many sub-Saharan African youth. The plethora of social media platforms have the potential to change lives around the continent. Many social media adaptions are the result of the ingenuity of sub-Saharan youth, like M-Pesa, Ensbuuko and WorldRemit (financial services); ButterflyiQ, Momconnect, Usalama (health and security); Cityaps, Musanga and Twiga Foods (supply chain platforms); and Ushahidi, tajirat al-Facebook and Kano’s WhatsApp entrepreneurs (to strengthen social cohesion).
Another driver is clever marketing and advances in technology - the digital satellite television space across the continent broadcasts sports events of African clubs and popular European soccer leagues. In Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and across much of sub-Saharan Africa, the advent of DStv (Digital Satellite Television) and other broadcast platforms have brought foreign league matches to viewing centres and hence to the doorstep of individuals who on their own who be hard-pressed to afford watching prized league games in their respective homes.
These viewing centres are in the nooks and crannies of urban centres in all these countries. In turn self-acclaimed fans of some of the biggest clubs in the world like Real Madrid, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona, Manchester City, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Juventus and Paris Germain can keep up with the performance of their teams without ever visiting the homes of these clubs.
A third driver is the youth bulge in Africa. The continent has the youngest population in the world, with an estimated 60% of people under the age of 25. Of the 420 million youth in Africa today, the majority are unemployed, have insecure jobs or are in casual employment. For many on the continent, the slick advertising of sports betting firms provides an irresistible proposition.
Facebook is reportedly set to be slapped with a $5bn (£4bn) fine over data privacy violations.
The social media giant has reached a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), according to Reuters, following a probe into the firm’s use of handling consumer data.
Facebook was under investigation over allegations that it inappropriately shared information belonging to some 87m customers with Cambridge Analytica, a data mining consultancy firm.
The fine, which is the largest ever imposed by the FTC, is in line with what the company had forecasted it would pay in a recent financial update.
hares in the firm, which has come under fire for its data policies in recent years, closed up two per cent on Friday night after reports of the settlement emerged.
In May shareholders at the firm’s annual general meeting voted to allow Mark Zuckerberg to stay on as both chief executive and chairman, despite some investors calling for his removal in the dual role after a troubled year.
The Facebook founder, who has pledged to reinvent the platform’s priorities in the wake of several data rows, owns 60 per cent of the firm’s voting shares.
Mark Zuckerberg's Libra cryptocurrency project may just strengthen his stranglehold on our user data. Financial stability is another huge concern.
Regulators will be watching closely when Facebook Inc. unveils its cryptocurrency project this week. Their vigilance is warranted.
Mark Zuckerberg, the social network’s founder, isn’t going to gamble with what remains of his public image by replicating the worst excesses of the Bitcoin craze. He’s not trying to create a speculative currency; a potential wave of mom-and-pop investment losses is the last thing he needs. He just wants a digital medium of exchange for use on his apps. Nevertheless, his bid to launch an online payments revolution carries plenty of risks, from antitrust concerns to the threat that it might pose to financial stability.
Weekend media leaks suggest that Facebook’s “Libra” project will be a continuation of its past efforts to expand its payments business and keep customers within the walled garden of its social media apps by creating their very own money.
While Zuckerberg is poised to unveil a team of partners – reportedly including eBay Inc., Farfetch Ltd., Spotify Technology SA, Uber Technologies Inc. and Vodafone Group Plc – so far this feels very much like Facebook’s baby. Tellingly, it’s not one that the big banks or the other Silicon Valley and Seattle giants seem ready to adopt quite yet, unless Zuckerberg surprises us with some bigger names at the launch. The target customer base for these new digital tokens looks certain to be the 2.6 billion-strong users of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.
While Facebook will no doubt assure us that this project is all about making the lives of its customers ever easier, giving them the ability to actually buy stuff in a way that Bitcoin has rarely offered, it’s hard to square it away with the political effort to curb Big Tech’s monopolistic tendencies (regardless of that roster of launch partners and their $10 million participation fees).
It’s crucial that Libra doesn’t become a protective glue that binds Zuckerberg’s social networks even more closely together at a time when many regulators want to break them up. Libra will be presented as an open-source partnership whose benefits are available to all, but to what extent will it really be held at arm’s length from the Zuckerberg empire? Indeed, if the financial and business benefits of using Libra accrue mainly to Facebook, it will merely enshrine its market dominance.
As such, regulators must find out who will own the giant new datasets. They might even want to push the case that this kind of data should be made available to governments or rivals to avoid the problems of the past, where a handful of companies ended up owning all of the information about our online activities.
While Facebook barely makes any money from its payments business today – with payments and other fees accounting for less than 2% of last year’s $55.8 billion of revenue – some analysts reckon Libra could change things. Barclays is reportedly predicting $19 billion in additional revenue by 2021 if the tokens gain traction. Libra is scheduled to launch across a dozen countries in 2020. That’s a lot of potential data and new sources of revenue.
Financial stability is a worry too and regulators should ask for transparency on how Libra is structured. The token is expected to be a “stablecoin,” which is pegged to existing fiat currencies such as the U.S. dollar or the euro. That will damp price volatility, unlike the free-wheeling Bitcoin, whose price in the past five years has gone from $600 to $19,000, and now to $9,000. Regulatory oversight of which currencies are held in reserve to back the Libra coin would go some way to building faith in Facebook’s capacity to redeem tokens when customers ask for it.
While no one wants to choke innovation unnecessarily, Facebook hasn’t exactly done much to earn everybody’s trust in recent years. Any chance to put the necessary controls in at the beginning, rather than firefighting down the road, should be grabbed by the regulators.
Read More: Bloomberg
Facebook shares tumbled 7.5% Monday following a Wall Street Journal report that said the FTC will be able to examine the effect of Facebook's practices on digital competition.
Facebook's drop shaved more than $38 billion from its market cap, bringing it to about $469 billion. Facebook is already under investigation by the FTC over its handling of user data and has said it is expecting a fine of up to $5 billion.
Shares of other tech giants took a hit over similar concerns. Amazon's stock fell 4.6% Monday following a Washington Post report that the top U.S. antitrust enforcement agencies have a new agreement on tech oversight. The drop shaved more than $40 billion from its market cap, bringing it to $833 billion.
And shares of Google parent company Alphabet were down 6.1% after the Journal reported Friday that the Justice Department is readying an antitrust investigation of Google. The stock lost about $47 billion from its market cap, bringing it to about $721 billion.
Antitrust regulation has remained a distant threat in recent years as scandals like Cambridge Analytica brought the scale of tech power into focus for the public. In the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, "break up big tech" has become a rallying cry for some, including Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
But a new reported agreement between the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice brings that threat a bit closer to reality. The FTC will take the lead on oversight of Amazon, while the DOJ will have greater jurisdiction over Google, according to the Post. The FTC previously closed an investigation of Google without taking action, but now the DOJ will take another look into Google's practices in search and other areas, according to the Journal.
Calls for Mark Zuckerberg's power to be reined in continue to grow louder – not that it matters.
That much was clear during Facebook's annual shareholders meeting on Thursday, where Zuckerberg faced numerous calls for his power to be checked. On the agenda were four shareholder proposals that called for new checks on Zuckerberg's power:
A proposal calling for more shareholder a power
A proposal calling for an independent board chair (not Zuck)
A proposal which compared Zuckerberg's control of the company to a "dictatorship," for shareholder input in elections to the board of directors
A proposal to explore "strategic alternatives," including breaking up Facebook into separate companies
But going over these initiatives were mostly a symbolic gesture as Facebook's board, once again, easily voted down all shareholder proposals. As Bloomberg pointed out earlier this week, such proposals are all essentially dead on arrival, since Zuckerberg controls the vast majority of the company's most powerful shares.
Zuckerberg seemed mostly unfazed by all this. He said addressing the "social issues" facing the company is one of his top priorities.
"This is an important period for the company...we're fighting to do the right thing every day," he said.
Still, shareholders in attendance made it clear they want to see Facebook change.
During the meeting's Q&A period, one questioner asked Facebook's lead independent director, Susan Desmond-Hellmann, if she was willing to exercise her authority to call a board meeting without Zuckerberg in order to oust the CEO.
She said no. "That's not the direction we want to take the company or the board," she said.
Another attendee posed a similar question to Zuckerberg, asking if he would respond to people who want him to give up some of his power. Facebook's founder sidestepped the question by repeating his calls for increased regulation.
"I do acknowledge there are limits to what an individual company should deciding," he said.
That wasn't really an answer to the question that was asked, but it was a deft move that allowed the CEO to avoid addressing calls for him to step down or relinquish his control directly.
Most of all, it was a powerful reminder to Zuckerberg's critics that he's not going away any time soon.