FireEye

(FireEye via AP)

Can tech giants work together against their common enemies?

Cooperation makes it easier for tech companies to combat fraudulent use of their services.

August 22, 2018 - 5:30 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook, Twitter and Google routinely squabble for users, engineers and advertising money. Yet it makes sense for these tech giants to work together on security threats, elections meddling and other common ills.

Such cooperation was evident Tuesday when Facebook announced that it had removed 652 suspicious pages, groups and accounts linked to Russia and Iran. This was followed by similar news from Twitter. On Monday, meanwhile, Microsoft reported a new Russian effort to impersonate conservative U.S. websites, potentially as part of an espionage campaign.

Cooperation makes it easier for tech companies to combat fraudulent use of their services. It also makes them look good in the eyes of their users and regulators by showing that they take the threats seriously enough to set aside competitive differences.

They have little other choice if they want to avoid regulation and stay ahead of — or just keep up with — the malicious actors, who are getting smarter and smarter at evading the tech companies' controls.

Case in point: While Facebook said there was no evidence that Russian and Iranian actors cooperated in the latest efforts to create fake accounts to mislead users, the company said their tactics were similar. In other words, if the bad guys are learning from each other, the companies fighting them would need to do the same.

Such efforts have helped other industries stave off regulation. For example, the movie industry banded together to develop its own ratings system in the 1960s to ward off government censorship.

The tech companies already share information to fight terrorism, child pornography, malware and spam. They are now adding global political threats from nation-states. In congressional hearings earlier this year, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said Facebook, Twitter and Google have a "long history" of working together on such threats. He expressed hope that sharing information becomes "industry standard practice."

"Really understanding the nature of a threat requires understanding how the actors communicate, how they acquire things like hosting and domain registration, and how the threat manifests across other services," Facebook said in a blog post on Tuesday. "To help gather this information, we often share intelligence with other companies once we have a basic grasp of what's happening."

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