How Google, Facebook and Apple tools are fueling COVID-19 disinformation sites

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Tech companies including Facebook, Google and Apple that are working to prevent COVID-19 disinformation and fraud on their platforms are actually enabling their spread through online tools, services and code used by websites that post such content, according to the Washington Post.

Seven details:

1. Oxford University researchers studied 120 websites that support protests against government health restrictions and spreading misleading information about COVID-19, including false cures and misleading health advice, according to the Dec. 4 report.

2. These websites analyzed use web hosting, ad-tracking services, web development tools and social media links from tech companies including Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.

3.  Some of the tools are free "widgets," or bits of computer code that allow web designers to grow the capabilities of their sites; these tools are often used without the companies that produce them knowing who deploys them. Several websites included in the analysis use Apple Pay for financial transactions, use Apple's affiliate links or support compatibility with Apple devices such as the iPhone.

4. Some of the content published by the websites using the digital tools and services most likely would not be permitted on platforms run by top tech companies like Facebook and Google as these companies have for months pushed efforts to fight scammers and disinformation on the pandemic, according to the report.

5. Oxford's analysis of 40 COVID-19 disinformation sites found nearly 2,000 tools or bits of code from Google, more than 800 from Facebook, more than 360 from Apple and more than 330 from Amazon. However, the report does not suggest that more aggressive actions by the companies would prohibit the disinformation websites from operating.

6. A Facebook spokesperson said the company has "taken aggressive steps to limit the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 and connect people with reliable information," and that it will "reject ads with debunked claims as well as ads that discourage people from getting vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines," according to the report.

7. Google, AWS and Apple declined the Post's request for comment.

 

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