Journalists and privacy experts on Twitter noticed a number of identical tweets from bots regarding Sidewalk Labs’ smart city project, which is raising concerns surrounding disinformation.
Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, unveiled its controversial Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP) last month. The plan outlines its $1.3 billion plan for its smart city project in the Waterfront area of downtown Toronto. There are still issues regarding the size of the project, along with serious privacy concerns around surveillance.
Sean Craig, a freelance journalist, first noticed that numerous accounts had tweeted the same message with the same link to a Sidewalk Labs press release. Although Twitter suspended the accounts, this occurrence unveiled a network that depicts the kinds of techniques that make bots appear more real, as outlined by the CBC.
Future of Privacy Forum, a data privacy think-tank that gets funding from Google, began to look into the tweets, according to the company’s vice-president of policy, John Verdi.
“We all sort of looked at each other and said, ‘I didn’t buy a botnet, did you buy a botnet?'” Verdi told the CBC. The company then reached out to Sidewalk Labs, which stated that it didn’t hire a botnet either.
Interestingly, majority of the people in the profile images of the fake accounts are wearing sunglasses. This suggests that the photos aren’t of real people, and that the images are generated through an artificial neural network.
Image credit: Twitter