CIA’s Venture Capital Wing In-Q-Tel Partners With Trust Lab Startup

Trust Lab is was founded by a team of well-qualified Big Tech Alumni who came together in 2021 with one mission: Make downloading content online more transparent, reliable and trustworthy. A year later, the company announced a “strategic partnership” with the CIA capital company.

Trust Lab’s recommendation is simple: global online platforms like Facebook and YouTube are so thoroughly and consistently disrupting content moderation efforts that the decision about which speech to delete should be turned over to corporations. fully independent — companies like Trust Lab. In a June 2021 blog post, Tom Siegel, co-founder of the Trust Lab, described content curation as “the big problem that Big Tech hasn’t solved.” In-Q-Tel’s argument seems to have caught the attention of Trust Lab, a technology-security venture capital firm that can solve the problems of the CIA’s most pressing challenges, not the Internet’s. worldwide.

“I’m concerned about starting to put the status quo as reform.”

A quiet October 29 announcement about the partnership is clear in its details, saying that Trust Lab and In-Q-Tel — which invest in and work with companies it believes will advance the CIA’s mission — will work on “permanent projects. that will help identify malicious content and actors to protect the internet.” Keywords such as “harmful” and “security” are not explained, but the press release goes on to say that the company will work to “identify all types of harmful online content, including toxic and the fake news.”

While the Trust Lab’s stated mission is sympathetic and grounded in reality—the adaptation of online content is truly broken—it’s hard to imagine how it fits the bill. Siegel’s alignment of the initiative with the CIA is in line with Siegel’s goal of bringing more transparency and integrity to Internet governance. What does it mean, for example, to introduce counter-intelligence technology to an agency with a long history of false alarms? Placing the company in the CIA’s technology pipeline also raises questions about the Trust Lab’s view of who or what can be “malicious” online, a vague concept that no doubt means something else. much of the US intelligence community but not elsewhere on the internet. – use the world.

However provocative the In-Q-Tel deal may be, much of what Trust Lab is doing is similar to what Facebook and YouTube have been trying to do in-house: using a mix of human and unspecified skills through “learning” by machines. identify and challenge what is determined to be “dangerous” content.

“I’m concerned about starting to put the status quo as reform,” Ángel Díaz, a law professor at the University of Southern California and an expert on content regulation, wrote in a message to The Intercept . “There’s little separating Trust Lab’s content curation vision from the tech giants. Both want to expand the use of automation, better transparent reporting, and cooperation with the government. “

It is unclear how exactly the Trust Lab will respond to the CIA’s needs. Neither In-Q-Tel nor the company responded to multiple requests for comment. They did not specify what types of “malicious actors” Trust Lab could help the intelligence community “prevent” from spreading content online, according to an October press release.

While there are few details about what Trust Lab actually sells or how its software products work, the company appears to be in the social media analytics business, monitoring social media platforms on behalf of customers and warn them against the spread of hot slogans. . In a Bloomberg profile of the Trust Lab, Siegel, who previously ran content policy at Google, suggested that the federal Internet Security Agency would be better off today’s Big Tech approach to pressure, which includes obscure algorithms and thousands of contractors watching. articles and schedules. In his blog post, Siegel urges more democratic control of online content: “Governments in the free world have abdicated their responsibility to protect their citizens online. “

Even Siegel While visions of something like an environmental protection agency for the web remain a dream, Trust Lab’s tentative partnership with In-Q-Tel offers a step toward greater oversight. government is more involved in online discourse, although not in the democratic way described in his blog post. . “The technology platform allows IQT’s partners to find, on a single dashboard, malicious content that may be spreading around the world,” Siegel said in a press release at October, which removed information about financial conditions. the cooperation.

Unlike traditional venture capital firms, In-Q-Tel’s “partners” were the CIA and the broader US intelligence community—a historically obscure branch of the exemplifying Trust Lab’s corporate principles of transparency, democracy and fairness. Although In-Q-Tel is structured as a non-profit 501(c)3, its only clear mission is to advance the interests and increase the capabilities of the CIA and its partner intelligence agencies.

Former CIA director George Tenet, who led the creation of In-Q-Tel in 1999, described the CIA’s direct relationship with In-Q-Tel in simple terms: call them. ” The official history of In-Q-Tel published on the CIA website states: “The mission of In-Q-Tel is to promote the development of new and emerging information technologies and will pursue research and development (R&D) that produces solutions to some of the most challenging IT problems facing the CIA.”

Siegel has previously written that Internet speech policy must be a “global priority,” but the In-Q-Tel partnership suggests some priorities. priority of the West, said Díaz – an agreement that may not consider the impact of these recovery policies on billions of people. people in the non-western world.

“Partnering with Western governments perpetuates a racist view that threatens communities and simply exercises freedom of speech,” said Díaz. “Trust Lab’s mission statement, which claims to distinguish between ‘free world government’ and ‘oppression,’ is a worrying glimpse of what we can expect. What happens when ‘free’ governments pretend to be is the debate about anti-Black racism fake news from abroad, or when social activists are labeled as ‘racist violent extremists’?”

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