Posts with «government agencies» label

SpaceX is reportedly building hundreds of spy satellites for the US government

SpaceX has been contracted by the Department of Defense’s National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to build a network of hundreds of low-orbiting spy satellites capable of operating as a swarm and tracking targets on the ground, according to Reuters. The Reuters report, which cites five sources with knowledge of the program, builds on earlier reporting by The Wall Street Journal that revealed SpaceX had signed a $1.8 billion contract in 2021 with an unnamed agency.

This network, called Starshield, would reportedly be able to gather continuous imagery all over Earth for US intelligence, using a mix of large imaging satellites to collect data and relay satellites to transmit information. According to one source who spoke to Reuters, it has the potential to make it so “no one can hide.” Neither SpaceX nor the NRO directly confirmed the company’s involvement in the project, but an NRO spokesperson told Reuters, "The National Reconnaissance Office is developing the most capable, diverse, and resilient space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance system the world has ever seen.”

Last fall, it was reported that SpaceX had bagged a $70 million contract with the Space Force to provide satellite communications under its Starshield program. This is a distinct entity from SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, at least according to Elon Musk, who has said Starlink “needs to be a civilian network,” whereas Starshield is meant to be used for government and national security purposes.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

NSA admits to buying Americans’ web browsing data from brokers without warrants

The National Security Agency’s director has confirmed that the agency buys Americans’ web browsing data from brokers without first obtaining warrants. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) blocked the appointment of the NSA’s inbound director Timothy Haugh until the agency answered his questions regarding its collection of Americans’ location and Internet data. Wyden said he’d been trying for three years to “publicly release the fact that the NSA is purchasing Americans’ internet records.”

In a letter dated December 11, current NSA Director Paul Nakasone confirmed to Wyden that the agency does make such purchases from brokers. "NSA acquires various types of [commercially available information] for foreign intelligence, cybersecurity, and other authorized mission purposes, to include enhancing its signals intelligence (SIGINT) and cybersecurity missions," Nakasone wrote. "This may include information associated with electronic devices being used outside and, in certain cases, inside the United States."

Nakasone went on to claim that the NSA "does not buy and use location data collected from phones known to be used in the United States either with or without a court order. Similarly, NSA does not buy and use location data collected from automobile telematics systems from vehicles known to be located in the United States."

An NSA spokesperson told Reuters that the agency uses such data sparingly but that it has notable value for national security and cybersecurity purposes. "At all stages, NSA takes steps to minimize the collection of US [personal] information, to include application of technical filters," the spokesperson said.

Wyden has called the practice unlawful. "Such records can identify Americans who are seeking help from a suicide hotline or a hotline for survivors of sexual assault or domestic abuse," he said.

The senator urged Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to order US intelligence agencies to stop buying Americans’ private data without consent. He also asked Haines to direct intelligence agencies to "conduct an inventory of the personal data purchased by the agency about Americans, including, but not limited to, location and internet metadata." Wyden said that any data that does not comply with Federal Trade Commission standards regarding personal data sales should be deleted.

Wyden pointed to an FTC settlement that this month banned a data broker from selling location data. The agency alleged that the information, which it claimed was sold to buyers including government contractors, "could be used to track people’s visits to sensitive locations such as medical and reproductive health clinics, places of religious worship and domestic abuse shelters."

The FTC stated in its complaint against the broker, formerly known as X-Mode Social, that by "failing to fully inform consumers how their data would be used and that their data would be provided to government contractors for national security purposes, X-Mode failed to provide information material to consumers and did not obtain informed consent from consumers to collect and use their location data."

The settlement was the first of its kind with a data broker. In a statement, Wyden, who has been investigating the data broker industry for several years, said he was "not aware of any company that provides such a warning to users [regarding their consent] before collecting their data."

The issue of US federal agencies buying phone location data isn't exactly new. In 2020, it emerged that Customs and Border Protection had been doing so. The following year, Wyden claimed the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon bought and used location data from Americans’ phones.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Senators want to know why the SEC’s X account wasn’t secured with MFA

Another lawmaker is pushing the Securities and Exchange Commission for more information about its security practices following the hack of its verified account on X. In a new letter to the agency’s Inspector general, Senator Ron Wyden, called for an investigation into “the SEC’s apparent failure to follow cybersecurity best practices.”

The letter, which was first reported by Axios, comes days after the SEC’s official X account was taken over in order to post a tweet claiming that spot bitcoin ETFs had been approved by the regulator. The rogue post temporarily juiced the price of bitcoin and forced SEC chair Gary Gensler to chime in from his X account that the approval had not, in fact, happened. (The SEC did approve 11 spot bitcoin ETFs a day later, with Gensler saying in a statement that “bitcoin is primarily a speculative, volatile asset that’s also used for illicit activity.”)

The incident has raised a number of questions about the SEC’s security practices after officials at X said the financial regulator had not been using multi-factor authentication to secure its account. In the letter, Wyden, who chairs the Senate’s finance committee, said it would be "inexcusable" for the agency to not use additional layers of security to lock down its social media accounts.

“Given the obvious potential for market manipulation, if X’s statement is correct, the SEC’s social media accounts should have been secured using industry best practices,” Wyden wrote. “Not only should the agency have enabled MFA, but it should have secured its accounts with phishing-resistant hardware tokens, commonly known as security keys, which are the gold standard for account cybersecurity. The SEC’s failure to follow cybersecurity best practices is inexcusable, particularly given the agency’s new requirements for cybersecurity disclosure”

Wyden isn’t the only lawmaker who has pushed the SEC for more details about the hack. Senators J. D. Vance and Thom Tillis sent a letter of their own, addressed to Gensler, immediately following the incident. They asked for a briefing about the agency’s security policies and investigation into the hack by January 23.

The SEC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The agency said in an earlier statement that it was working with the FBI and the Inspector General to investigate the matter.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

US Senator calls for the public release of AT&T ‘Hemisphere’ surveillance records

US Senator Ron Wyden wants the public to know about the details surrounding the long-running Hemisphere phone surveillance program. Wyden has written US Attorney General Merrick Garland a letter (PDF), asking him to release additional information about the project that apparently gives law enforcement agencies access to trillions of domestic phone records. In addition, he said that federal, state, local and Tribal law enforcement agencies have the ability to request "often-warrantless searches" from the project's phone records that AT&T has been collecting since 1987. 

The Hemisphere project first came to light in 2013 when The New York Times reported that the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was paying AT&T to mine and keep records of its customers' phone calls. Four billion new records are getting added to its database every day, and a federal or state law enforcement agency can request a query with a subpoena that they can issue themselves. Any law enforcement officer can send in a request to a single AT&T analyst based in Atlanta, Georgia, Wyden's letter says, even if they're seeking information that's not related to any drug case. And apparently, they can use Hemisphere not just to identify a specific number, but to identify the target's alternate numbers, to obtain location data and to look up the phone records of everyone who's been in communication with the target. 

The project has been defunded and refunded by the government several times over the past decade and was even, at one point, receiving federal funding under the name "Data Analytical Services (DAS)." Usually, projects funded by federal agencies would be subject to a mandatory Privacy Impact Assessment conducted by the Department of Justice, which means their records would be made public. 

However, Hemisphere's funding passes through a middleman, so it's not required to go through mandatory assessment. To be specific, ONDCP funds the program through the Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which is a regional funding organization that distributes federal anti-drug law grants and is governed by a board made up of federal, state and local law enforcement officials. The DOJ had provided Wyden's office with "dozens of pages of material" related to the project in 2019, but they had been labeled "Law Enforcement Sensitive" and cannot be released to the public. 

"I have serious concerns about the legality of this surveillance program, and the materials provided by the DOJ contain troubling information that would justifiably outrage many Americans and other members of Congress," Wyden wrote in his letter. "While I have long defended the government’s need to protect classified sources and methods, this surveillance program is not classified and its existence has already been acknowledged by the DOJ in federal court. The public interest in an informed debate about government surveillance far outweighs the need to keep this information secret."

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Sweeping White House executive order takes aim at AI's toughest challenges

The Biden Administration unveiled its ambitious next steps in addressing and regulating artificial intelligence development on Monday. Its expansive new executive order seeks to establish further protections for the public as well as improve best practices for federal agencies and their contractors.

"The President several months ago directed his team to pull every lever," a senior administration official told reporters on a recent press call. "That's what this order does, bringing the power of the federal government to bear in a wide range of areas to manage AI's risk and harness its benefits ... It stands up for consumers and workers, promotes innovation and competition, advances American leadership around the world and like all executive orders, this one has the force of law."

These actions will be introduced over the next year with smaller safety and security changes happening in around 90 days and with more involved reporting and data transparency schemes requiring 9 to 12 months to fully deploy. The administration is also creating an “AI council,” chaired by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Bruce Reed, who will meet with federal agency heads to ensure that the actions are being executed on schedule.


Public Safety

"In response to the President's leadership on the subject, 15 major American technology companies have begun their voluntary commitments to ensure that AI technology is safe, secure and trustworthy before releasing it to the public," the senior administration official said. "That is not enough."

The EO directs the establishment of new standards for AI safety and security, including reporting requirements for developers whose foundation models might impact national or economic security. Those requirements will also apply in developing AI tools to autonomously implement security fixes on critical software infrastructure. 

By leveraging the Defense Production Act, this EO will "require that companies developing any foundation model that poses a serious risk to national security, national economic security, or national public health and safety must notify the federal government when training the model, and must share the results of all red-team safety tests," per a White House press release. That information must be shared prior to the model being made available to to the public, which could help reduce the rate at which companies unleash half-baked and potentially deadly machine learning products.

In addition to the sharing of red team test results, the EO also requires disclosure of the system’s training runs (essentially, its iterative development history). “What that does is that creates a space prior to the release… to verify that the system is safe and secure,” officials said.

Administration officials were quick to point out that this reporting requirement will not impact any AI models currently available on the market, nor will it impact independent or small- to medium-size AI companies moving forward, as the threshold for enforcement is quite high. It's geared specifically for the next generation of AI systems that the likes of Google, Meta and OpenAI are already working on with enforcement on models starting at 10^26 petaflops, a capacity currently beyond the limits of existing AI models. "This is not going to catch AI systems trained by graduate students, or even professors,” the administration official said.

What's more, the EO will encourage the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security to address AI threats "to critical infrastructure, as well as chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and cybersecurity risks," per the release. "Agencies that fund life-science projects will establish these standards as a condition of federal funding, creating powerful incentives to ensure appropriate screening and manage risks potentially made worse by AI." In short, any developers found in violation of the EO can likely expect a prompt and unpleasant visit from the DoE, FDA, EPA or other applicable regulatory agency, regardless of their AI model’s age or processing speed.

In an effort to proactively address the decrepit state of America's digital infrastructure, the order also seeks to establish a cybersecurity program, based loosely on the administration's existing AI Cyber Challenge, to develop AI tools that can autonomously root out and shore up security vulnerabilities in critical software infrastructure. It remains to be seen whether those systems will be able to address the concerns of misbehaving models that SEC head Gary Gensler recently raised.

AI Watermarking and Cryptographic Validation

We're already seeing the normalization of deepfake trickery and AI-empowered disinformation on the campaign trail. So, the White House is taking steps to ensure that the public can trust the text, audio and video content that it publishes on its official channels. The public must be able to easily validate whether the content they see is AI-generated or not, argued White House officials on the press call. 


The Department of Commerce is in charge of the latter effort and is expected to work closely with existing industry advocacy groups like the C2PA and its sister organization, the CAI, to develop and implement a watermarking system for federal agencies. “We aim to support and facilitate and help standardize that work [by the C2PA],” administration officials said. “We see ourselves as plugging into that ecosystem.”

Officials further explained that the government is supporting the underlying technical standards and practices that will lead to digital watermarking’ wider adoption — similar to the work it did around developing the HTTPS ecosystem and in getting both developers and the public on-board with it. This will help federal officials achieve their other goal of ensuring that the government's official messaging can be relied upon.

Civil Rights and Consumer Protections

The first Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights that the White House released last October directed agencies to “combat algorithmic discrimination while enforcing existing authorities to protect people's rights and safety,” the administration official said. “But there's more to do.” 

The new EO will require guidance be extended to “landlords, federal benefits programs and federal contractors” to prevent AI systems from exacerbating discrimination within their spheres of influence. It will also direct the Department of Justice to develop best practices for investigating and prosecuting civil rights violations related to AI, as well as, per the announcement, “the use of AI in sentencing, parole and probation, pretrial release and detention, risk assessments, surveillance, crime forecasting and predictive policing, and forensic analysis."

Additionally, the EO calls for prioritizing federal support to accelerate development of privacy-preserving techniques that would enable future LLMs to be trained on large datasets without the current risk of leaking personal details that those datasets might contain. These solutions could include “cryptographic tools that preserve individuals’ privacy,” per the White House release, developed with assistance from the Research Coordination Network and National Science Foundation. The executive order also reiterates its calls for bipartisan legislation from Congress addressing the broader privacy issues that AI systems present for consumers.

In terms of healthcare, the EO states that the Department of Health and Human Services will establish a safety program that tracks and remedies unsafe, AI-based medical practices. Educators will also see support from the federal government in using AI-based educational tools like personalized chatbot tutoring.

Worker Protections

The Biden administration concedes that while the AI revolution is a decided boon for business, its capabilities make it a threat to worker security through job displacement and intrusive workplace surveillance. The EO seeks to address these issues with “the development of principles and employer best practices that mitigate the harms and maximize the benefit of AI for workers,” an administration official said. “We encourage federal agencies to adopt these guidelines in the administration of their programs.”

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

The EO will also direct the Department of Labor and the Council of Economic Advisors to both study how AI might impact the labor market and how the federal government might better support workers “facing labor disruption” moving forward. Administration officials also pointed to the potential benefits that AI might bring to the federal bureaucracy including cutting costs, and increasing cybersecurity efficacy. “There's a lot of opportunity here, but we have to to ensure the responsible government development and deployment of AI,” an administration official said.

To that end, the administration is launching on Monday a new federal jobs portal,, which will offer information and guidance on available fellowship programs for folks looking for work with the federal government. “We're trying to get more AI talent across the board,” an administration official said. “Programs like the US Digital Service, the Presidential Innovation Fellowship and USA jobs — doing as much as we can to get talent in the door.” The White House is also looking to expand existing immigration rules to streamline visa criteria, interviews and reviews for folks trying to move to and work in the US in these advanced industries.

The White House reportedly did not preview the industry on this particular swath of radical policy changes, though administration officials did note that they had already been collaborating extensively with AI companies on many of these issues. The Senate held its second AI Insight Forum event last week on Capitol Hill, while Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to speak at the UK Summit on AI Safety, hosted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Tuesday.

Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

At a Washington Post event on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) was already arguing that the executive order did not go far enough and could not be considered an effective replacement for congressional action, which to date, has been slow in coming. 

“There’s probably a limit to what you can do by executive order,” Schumer told WaPo, “They [the Biden Administration] are concerned, and they’re doing a lot regulatorily, but everyone admits the only real answer is legislative.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

IRS will start piloting its free TurboTax alternative in 2024

It looks like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) truly was working on a free TurboTax alternative like earlier reports had claimed. The US tax authority has announced that it will start pilot testing its new Direct File program for the 2024 filing season, though it will initially be available for select taxpayers in 13 states only. During its pilot period, Direct File will only cover individual federal tax returns and won't have the capability to prepare people's state returns. That's why 9 out of the 13 states testing it — namely Alaska, Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming — don't levy state income taxes. 

Arizona, California, Massachusetts and New York, the other four states in the list, worked with the IRS to integrate their state taxes into the Direct File system for 2024. The IRS says it invited all states to join the pilot program, but not all of them were in a position to participate "at this time." In addition to being only available in certain locations, Direct File will only be accessible by people with "relatively simple returns" at the beginning. It will cover W-2 wages and tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, for instance, but it will not cover self-employment income and itemized deductions. However, the agency is still finalizing the tax scope for the pilot, so it could still change over the coming months. 

Based on the screenshots the IRS shared with The Washington Post, taxpayers will only have to answer a questionnaire to be able to file their taxes directly, simplifying the process without having to pay for a third-party service. An IRS official told the publication that select eligible taxpayers in the aforementioned states will start getting invitations to use the service sometime around mid-February next year. The agency says it will begin with a small group of taxpayers before expanding access to more and more people as the filing season for the 2023 federal tax return progresses.

"This is a critical step forward for this innovative effort that will test the feasibility of providing taxpayers a new option to file their returns for free directly with the IRS," IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said in a statement. "In this limited pilot for 2024, we'll be working closely with the states that have agreed to participate in an important test run of the state integration. This will help us gather important information about the future direction of the Direct File program."

The IRS is hoping to gather data and feedback during the pilot to be able to analyze how effective Direct File is. It's also hoping to identify areas of improvement for a "potential large-scale launch in the future."

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Your phone will blare a national emergency alert test on October 4 at 2:20PM ET

The federal government will conduct a nationwide alert test on Wednesday, October 4. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will send notifications to cell phones (as well as radios and TVs) to test the National Wireless Emergency Alert System and ensure the system (including the public’s familiarity with it) is ready for a real crisis.

The cellphone portion of the test will assess Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) nationwide. If you live near a decent-sized metro area, there’s a solid chance you’ve received AMBER alerts through this system before; it can also broadcast signals for imminent threats, public safety and presidential notices in a national emergency. The test’s WEA portion will use FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), a centralized internet-based system that can broadcast emergency notifications through various communications networks.

If your cell phone is set to English, you’ll receive a message at around 2:20PM ET reading, “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” Those with phones set to Spanish as their primary language will see, “ESTA ES UNA PRUEBA del Sistema Nacional de Alerta de Emergencia. No se necesita acción.”

Of course, the messages will be accompanied by a “unique tone and vibration.” Based on past tests we’ve received, that could easily be described as “a jarring and obnoxious alarm that will immediately make you stop what you’re doing, utter select obscenities and pick up your phone to make it stop.”

Using the Emergency Alert System (EAS), the television and radio portion of the assessment is scheduled to happen simultaneously. This will be the seventh nationwide EAS test.

The cell phone part of the test is scheduled to last for about 30 minutes, but you should be able to dismiss the notification and shut up your phone as soon as you see and hear it. And in the (extremely unlikely) event of an actual emergency on Wednesday, the test will take place a week later on the backup date of October 11.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Wall Street banks fined $549 million for not backing up messaging app histories

Federal regulatory agencies have fined 11 financial institutions a combined $549 million for using “off-channel” messaging apps (WhatsApp, iMessage, Signal and text messages) for conversations about trades and other business. Securities laws require investment firms and banks to preserve communications records and ensure employees only carry out business through authorized channels. “The firms did not maintain or preserve the substantial majority of these off-channel communications, in violation of the federal securities laws,” the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) wrote in a statement today.

The Wall Street firms were fined over half a billion dollars in penalties for using messaging apps instead of email, approved messaging platforms or other easily archived channels. Firms penalized by the SEC include Wells Fargo ($125 million), BNP Paribas ($35 million), SG Americas Securities ($35 million), BMO Capital Markets ($25 million), Mizuho Securities ($25 million), Houlihan Lokey Capital ($15 million), Moelis & Company ($10 million), Wedbush Securities ($10 million) and SMBC Nikko Securities America ($9 million). Meanwhile, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) fined Wells Fargo ($75 million), BNP Paribas ($75 million), Société Générale ($75 million) and Bank of Montreal ($35 million).

“Recordkeeping failures such as those here undermine our ability to exercise effective regulatory oversight, often at the expense of investors,” said Sanjay Wadhwa, the SEC’s Deputy Director of Enforcement. “The Commission’s message could not be more clear — recordkeeping and supervision requirements are fundamental, and registrants that fail to comply with these core regulatory obligations do so at their own peril,” said CFTC Director of Enforcement Ian McGinley.

Federal regulators said all firms admitted to the facts about unapproved communications in agreeing to the penalties. “As described in the SEC’s orders, the firms admitted that from at least 2019, their employees often communicated through various messaging platforms on their personal devices, including iMessage, WhatsApp, and Signal, about the business of their employers,” the SEC wrote in a statement. “The firms did not maintain or preserve the substantial majority of these off-channel communications, in violation of the federal securities laws. By failing to maintain and preserve required records, certain of the firms likely deprived the Commission of these off-channel communications in various SEC investigations.”

Both government agencies stressed that the problem was pervasive and not limited to entry-level employees and junior staff. “The failures involved employees at multiple levels of authority, including supervisors and senior executives,” the SEC said.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

How to watch this week's Congressional UFO hearing

A Congressional subcommittee is set to hold a hearing into UFOs, which are also referred to as unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP). The panel will hear "firsthand accounts" of UAP and "assess the federal government’s transparency and accountability" regarding possible threats to national security. You'll be able to watch the hearing below on July 26th at 10AM ET.

The hearing — conducted by the Subcommittee on National Security, the Border and Foreign Affairs — will also focus on drives for legislation to "bring transparency to UAPs." The subcommittee wants to force the federal government to provide US residents with "information about potential risks to public safety and national security" as well. According to Rep. Tim Burchett, “The Pentagon and Washington bureaucrats have kept this information hidden for decades and we’re finally going to shed some light on it."

The federal government has placed more of an onus on UAPs over the last few years (publicly, at least). In 2021, the Pentagon set up a task force to look into UAP sightings while NASA has established a separate panel to investigate the phenomena. The Department of Defense also created its own UAP investigative body, the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), in 2022.

Among the three witnesses who will testify during the hearing is David Grusch. The former intelligence official recently claimed that the US government has been recovering alien spacecraft and the bodies of UAP pilots for decades. Grusch, who until July 2022 was the co-lead for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's UAP analysis, also said there was evidence of "malevolent activity" by UFOs. His claims, for which he has not provided any physical evidence, led to the hearing.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The FTC plans to slap companies with hefty fines for using fake reviews

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed a formal ban on fake reviews and testimonials. Companies would also be prohibited from using phony followers and views to inflate their social media metrics if the rule takes effect as it stands.

This isn't the first time the agency has trained its sights on fake reviews. In its first such case in 2019, it fined a third-party Amazon seller for paying for fake reviews (Amazon itself has sued phony review providers). Earlier this year, the FTC levied a $600,000 penalty against the owner of a vitamin brand for “review hijacking" on Amazon.

The new rule, which the agency said it was working on in October, is close to being finalized and it includes steep penalties for those caught peddling fake reviews and testimonials. As The Washington Post points out, the FTC plans to slap businesses that "buy, sell and manipulate online reviews" up to $50,000. Not only is that fine for each phony review, it's also for every time a consumer sees it. So, if the FTC finds out that one fake review has been viewed just 20 times, the business that bought it could be on the hook for $1 million.

“Our proposed rule on fake reviews shows that we’re using all available means to attack deceptive advertising in the digital age,” Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “The rule would trigger civil penalties for violators and should help level the playing field for honest companies.”

Explicitly, the FTC aims to ban "businesses from writing or selling consumer reviews or testimonials by someone who does not exist, who did not have experience with the product or service, or who misrepresented their experiences." Similarly, companies won't be allowed to obtain or disseminate reviews and testimonials that they "knew or should have known that they were fake or false."

Repurposing an existing review to make it appear that it was written for a different product (i.e. review hijacking) will be outlawed, as will offering payments or other kinds of compensation for positive or negative reviews. The FTC says companies can still ask users to leave a review, as that's an important way for small businesses to enhance their reputations.

Managers and officers won't be allowed to post reviews of their company's products without clear disclosures and nor can they ask family members or employees to do so in certain circumstances. Under the proposed rule, companies won't be allowed to run websites that claim to offer independent reviews of categories of products and services that include their own offerings.

Review suppression will be banned as well. Companies won't be allowed to use intimidation tactics, such as legal threats and false accusations, to push customers to remove or avoid leaving a negative review.

In addition, the FTC seeks to ban companies from using fake followers and views to fluff up their social media numbers. "The proposed rule also would bar anyone from buying such indicators to misrepresent their importance for a commercial purpose," the agency said. This is a provision that could have far-reaching consequences beyond commerce — influencers may have to ensure they don't factor in bots when they try to secure brand deals.

Meanwhile, the proposed notice for the rule takes note of the popularity of generative AI. "It has been reported that an AI chatbot is being used to create fake reviews," it reads. "As the reporting notes, the widespread emergence of AI chatbots is likely to make it easier for bad actors to write fake reviews."

The rule won't take effect immediately. It will be open to public comments for a 60-day period, after which the agency will consider changes before finalizing the directive.

A lot of these provisions make sense. In essence, the FTC is trying to ensure that businesses and brands are transparent and honest with consumers. Actually enforcing these measures, however, is a different matter. The agency told the Post that it won't be getting extra resources to tackle purveyors of fake reviews, but a codified rule can strengthen its hand in court. Taking on companies based overseas that sell and post phony reviews might be a difficult task too. Still, a formal ban on these practices and the threat of eye-popping fines may be enough to deter some companies from using fake reviews.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at