Ways Facebook and Google can fight ISIS without breaking encryption

The FBI and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies would like Silicon Valley firms to give them a “backdoor” to encryption to help better monitor the communications of suspected terrorists. Major tech companies such as Apple and Google have so far resisted such calls, however, as they argue persuasively that breaking encryption would do more long-term harm than it would do good. However, David Talbot of Technology Review also makes the case that Facebook and Google can do more to combat ISIS’s online influence in ways that don’t involve compromising their users’ security.

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While Talbot acknowledges Google has done a good job of scrubbing ISIS’s sadistic videos of beheadings and other forms of punishment from YouTube, he thinks it could do a much better job of removing links to such videos from its search results than it has.

When it comes to Facebook, Talbot says that it can do more to profile its own users to help intelligence agencies figure out which ones are most at risk for becoming radicalized. After all, Facebook’s complex algorithms already do a good job of figuring out when someone is pregnant before they even publicly announce it to the world — surely it could pull something similar for potential ISIS recruits?

“Consider that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made clear that Facebook can, and should, intervene on a number of fronts: to reduce bullying, prevent suicide, encourage organ donation, and promote voter turnout,” Talbot argues. “In a particularly striking example of how these interventions can pay dividends in the real world: Facebook’s voting suggestion meant 340,000 more people actually went out and voted.”

Talbot’s piece is very smart, even though it obviously raises some real privacy concerns — after all, it would be pretty terrible to get tracked by the FBI just because something you wrote on Facebook inadvertently triggered its anti-ISIS algorithms. Nonetheless, there are some ideas in here worth considering and you should read the full piece for yourself here.

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