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

It was a laboratory of trust Founded by a team of big tech alumni who came together in 2021 with one mission: to make online content moderation more transparent, accountable and reliable. A year later, the company announced a “strategic partnership” with venture capital firm CIA.

Trust Lab’s premise is simple: Internet platforms around the world such as Facebook and YouTube have so thoroughly and consistently failed in their efforts to moderate their content that the decision about what speech to remove should be left to completely independent foreign companies—companies like Trust Lab. . In a June 2021 blog post, Trust Lab co-founder Tom Siegel described content moderation as “a big problem that big tech can’t solve.” The argument that Trust Lab could solve intractable problems seems to have caught the attention of In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm tasked with securing technology for the CIA’s toughest challenges. Not the challenges of the global Internet.

I am suspicious of startups that present the status quo as innovation.

The quiet announcement of the partnership on Oct. 29 did not elaborate, saying that Trust Lab and In-Q-Tel — which invest in and work with companies it believes advance the CIA’s mission — are working on a long-term project. will do which helps identify harmful content and actors in order to protect the Internet.” Key terms such as “harmful” and “safe” are not explained, but the press release continues that the company aims to “show many types of content harmful online, including toxicity and misinformation” will work.

Although Trust Lab’s stated mission is empathetic and fact-based—moderation of online content is truly broken—it’s hard to imagine how the startup’s alignment with the CIA fits with Siegel’s goal of bringing more transparency and integrity to Internet governance. For example, what does incubating disinformation technology mean for an agency with a long history of perpetuating disinformation? Placing the company in the CIA’s technology pipeline also raises questions about Trust Lab’s view of who or what might be “malicious” online, a vague concept that no doubt has a very different meaning for the US intelligence community. compared to other parts of the Internet. – Use of the world

No matter how provocative an In-Q-Tel deal might be, much of what Trust Lab is offering looks similar to what the likes of Facebook and YouTube are already trying internally: employing a combination of human capabilities. and unspecified “machine learning” to identify and counter anything it detects as “harmful” content.

“I’m suspicious of startups that pass off the status quo as innovation,” Angel Diaz, a law professor at the University of Southern California and content moderation researcher, wrote in an email to The Intercept. Trust Lab’s perspective on content moderation does not separate itself from the tech giants. They both want to expand the use of automation, better transparency reports and expand partnerships with government.

How exactly the Trust Lab will address the CIA’s needs is unclear. Neither In-Q-Tel nor the company responded to multiple requests for comment. As stated in the October press release, they did not elaborate on what kinds of “malicious actors” Trust Lab might help the intelligence community “prevent” from publishing content online.

Although details about what exactly Trust Lab sells or how its software product works are scarce, the company appears to be in the business of social media analytics, algorithmically identifying social media platforms. Monitors on behalf of clients and alerts them to the spread of hot keywords. . In a Bloomberg profile of Trust Lab, Siegel, who previously ran content moderation policy at Google, suggested that a federal Internet security agency would be preferable to Big Tech’s current approach to moderation, which mostly involves obscure algorithms and thousands of outsourced contractors. Posts and Timeline In his blog post, Siegel calls for more democratic oversight of online content: “Governments in the free world have abdicated their responsibility to keep their citizens safe online.”

Even if it is a sigil While the prospect of something like an EPA for the web remains a pipe dream, Trust Lab’s vague partnership with In-Q-Tel represents a step toward more government oversight of online speech, albeit not in the democratic vein that his blog post suggests. It has been explained. . “Our technology platform allows IQT’s partners to view, in one dashboard, malicious content that may go viral and gain worldwide exposure,” Siegel said in an October press release that omitted any financial details. to find participation

Unlike typical venture capital firms, In-Q-Tel’s “partners” are the CIA and the broader US intelligence community—entities that have historically not been known to exemplify Trust Lab’s organizational principles of transparency, democratization, and truth. Although In-Q-Tel is structured as an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, its only express mission is to advance the interests and enhance the capabilities of the CIA and other 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 simply: “The CIA identifies pressing problems, and In “-Q-Tel provides the technology. Address 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 to pursue research and development (R&D) that provides solutions to some It offers the best. The difficult IT problems facing the CIA.

Diaz said Siegel has previously written that Internet speech policy should be a “global priority,” but that In-Q-Tel’s participation represents a kind of allegiance to Western priorities — an allegiance that can ignore the impact of these moderation policies on billions of people. People of the non-western world

“Partnering with Western governments perpetuates a racist view that communities are a threat and are simply exercising their freedom of expression,” Diaz said. Trust Lab’s mission statement, which claims to distinguish between “free world” and “repressive” governments, is a disturbing preview of what we can expect. What happens when a ‘liberal’ government treats discussion of anti-Black racism as foreign disinformation, or when social justice activists are labeled ‘racially motivated violent extremists’?”

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