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April 07, 2022

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Today's newsletter is 984 words long, a 3 1/2-minute read.

1 big thing: New low for Americans' trust in tech firms

Data: 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Trust in tech companies has continued to decline in the U.S. and Canada, while rising in most of the rest of the world. That's according to fresh data from Edelman's annual 2022 Trust Barometer, shared first with Axios.

Why it matters: The decline in trust comes as pressure is mounting for legislators to more tightly regulate the industry and its perceived excesses.

By the numbers:

  • Globally, the tech industry remains the most trusted sector of business, earning the trust of 74% of those served, ahead of health care and education. By contrast, social media is the lowest ranked sector, trusted by only 44% of respondents.
  • However, only 54% of Americans trust tech companies to do the right thing, down three percentage points from last year and a whopping 19 points since 2019.
  • In the U.S., the decline in trust was seen across a number of the most talked-about sectors, including 5G, artificial intelligence, "internet of things" and virtual reality.
  • Those with higher incomes tended to trust tech more than those in lower income brackets. However, the gap narrowed last year, with trust improving among lower-income Americans and falling among the wealthy.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Democrats said they trust tech companies, while only 49% of Republicans and 50% of independents said the same.

What they're saying: "The trajectory of trust in tech makes complete sense if you consider it within the context of world events," Dan Susong, chair, U.S. Tech Sector at Edelman, tells Axios. "I'd suggest that tech can — and will — regain trust if it commits to better education about what it is, what it does."

2. Scammers seize on war in Ukraine

Illustration of a smartphone with an angry face multiplying into many smartphones.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Facebook says it has removed "tens of thousands of accounts, Pages and Groups" around the world for spreading misleading content about the conflict to build audiences and bring in cash, Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: Scammers have long latched on to breaking news events to post clickbait that can earn them revenue. Russia's Ukraine invasion created an enormous opportunity for bad actors because so much of the content being shared online is video that's harder to moderate.

Details: In a new report released Thursday, security officials at Facebook described incidents in which profiteers used Facebook to lure visitors off-site by posting innocuous content like live gaming videos and popular viral videos, including many from Ukraine.

  • Other spammers switched user names repeatedly to trick people into following them. They would then push their followings to other websites off-platform, where they could either make ad revenue or sell merchandise.
  • Facebook said it also uncovered and took down multiple clusters of compromised accounts.

The big picture: Facebook said it's continuing to take action against coordinated disinformation campaigns around the war.

  • For example, it detected and disrupted a campaign linked to the Belarusian KGB that began posting misinformation about Ukrainian troops surrendering at the beginning of the war.

What to watch: Facebook warns that many actors are moving their disinformation campaigns to platforms outside of Facebook.

  • The company said it has seen a further spike in attempts to compromise email accounts aimed at members of the Ukrainian military by Ghostwriter, a campaign tracked by the security community that targets people through email to gain access to their social media accounts to post disinformation.
  • The company also said it foiled an effort to return to Facebook by a network linked to individuals associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA). The network had been booted from Facebook in 2020 but has resurfaced, posting disinformation on its own websites posing as a civil-rights NGO.

3. Lego taps Epic Games for metaverse project

The Lego and Epic logos against a blue background with lego bricks making an X between the two logos
Image: Epic Games

The makers of Fortnite are building a kid-friendly Lego-themed virtual world, Epic Games and Lego, Axios Gaming's Stephen Totilo reports.

Why it matters: The project, pitched as a “place for kids to play in the metaverse,” could be a well-funded competitor to Minecraft, Roblox and other virtual worlds.

Details: Epic and Lego didn’t say much about what they’re building — and avoided calling it a game — but repeatedly emphasized in their announcement that it’ll be safe for children.

  • “Just as we’ve protected children’s rights to safe physical play for generations, we are committed to doing the same for digital play,” Lego CEO Niels Christiansen said in a press release.
  • That emphasis invites a contrast to the popular virtual world Roblox, which also touts its content moderation but regularly draws scrutiny over whether its users are creating content that’s inappropriate for kids.

Between the lines: Lego is no stranger to video games, but has largely found success with licensed games that offer Lego-ified takes on "Star Wars," Marvel movies and "Lord of the Rings."

  • More than a decade ago, the independently developed Minecraft essentially beat Lego to the punch by creating a digital playground full of virtual building blocks.
  • Lego eventually tried to counter with 2015’s Lego Worlds, but the project failed to catch on.

4. Take note

On tap

Trading places

  • Founder Richard Liu has stepped down as CEO of Chinese e-commerce company JD.com, replaced by company president Xu Lei. (AP)

ICYMI

5. After you Login

While we are on the subject of Lego, Fox announced this week that the brick-building reality show "Lego Masters" will return for season 3 starting May 31.