Calls for Increased Scrutiny of NewsBreak

Calls for Increased Scrutiny of NewsBreak

Recently, concerns have been raised about NewsBreak, a popular news aggregation app in the United States. U.S. lawmakers are calling for closer examination of the app due to its Chinese origins and the use of artificial intelligence tools that have produced erroneous stories. This article delves into the issues surrounding NewsBreak, its connections to China, and the lawmakers’ responses.

Background of NewsBreak and Its AI Challenges

Origins and Evolution

NewsBreak was launched in the United States in 2015 as a subsidiary of Yidian, a Chinese news aggregation app. Both companies were founded by Jeff Zheng, who also created the “Interest Engine” algorithm, patented in the U.S. in 2015, to recommend news based on user interests and location.

Use of Artificial Intelligence

The application has faced scrutiny due to its use of AI tools. A Reuters investigation, drawing from court documents related to copyright infringement and internal company memos, highlighted concerns over at least 40 instances where AI-generated stories negatively impacted the communities served by NewsBreak. This has raised alarms about the reliability and accuracy of the news content provided by the app.

Lawmakers’ Concerns

National Security and Propaganda Fears

Senator Mark Warner, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, expressed significant concerns about the potential threat posed by NewsBreak. He emphasized the danger of companies with deep ties to adversarial foreign governments, particularly those using unchecked, artificially-generated news. Warner called for a comprehensive approach to addressing the threat posed by technologies from countries of concern, likening the current situation to a game of whack-a-mole with individual companies.

Historical and Current Chinese Connections

The lawmakers highlighted NewsBreak’s connections to Chinese investors and its operational base in China, where many of its engineers work. Despite NewsBreak’s assertion that it is an American company, the historical ties to its Chinese parent company Yidian and its past praise from the Communist Party of China for disseminating government propaganda have fueled concerns.

Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, a top Democrat on the House select committee on China, pointed out the importance of transparency regarding any connections to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He stressed the need for Americans to be aware of these connections, especially in light of the use of opaque algorithms and AI tools in news production.

Responses from NewsBreak and Its Investors

NewsBreak’s Stance

In response to the scrutiny, NewsBreak has maintained that it is an American company, denying any assertions to the contrary. A spokesperson reiterated this point to Reuters, emphasizing the app’s American roots and operations.

Investor Reactions

NewsBreak’s primary backers are San Francisco-based Francisco Partners and Beijing-based IDG Capital. The involvement of IDG Capital, which was added to a Pentagon list of Chinese companies allegedly working with Beijing’s military, has intensified concerns. IDG Capital has denied any association with the Chinese military.

Francisco Partners, which has previously declined to answer questions about their investment in NewsBreak, described the story as “false and misleading.” They disputed the characterization of their investment as primary, stating it constitutes less than 10%. However, NewsBreak has identified Francisco Partners as its primary investor as recently as May 2023, leaving room for doubt and calls for more transparency.

Implications and Future Actions

Increased Scrutiny and Legislative Action

Given the concerns raised, lawmakers are advocating for increased scrutiny of NewsBreak. Representative Elise Stefanik highlighted the need to protect American citizens’ data from being weaponized by foreign adversaries. The scrutiny is not just about NewsBreak but extends to other technologies and companies with potential links to adversarial nations.

Transparency and Regulation

There is a growing call for transparency regarding the connections between news distributors and foreign entities, particularly those linked to the CCP. This involves scrutinizing the use of AI tools and algorithms that could influence the information consumed by the public. Lawmakers emphasize the importance of ensuring that news content is reliable, accurate, and free from foreign interference.

Related FAQs

What is NewsBreak?

NewsBreak is a news aggregation app that curates news content based on user interests and location. It was launched in the United States in 2015 as a subsidiary of the Chinese news aggregation app Yidian.

Why are U.S. lawmakers concerned about NewsBreak?

Lawmakers are concerned due to NewsBreak’s Chinese origins, connections to Chinese investors, and the use of AI tools that have produced erroneous stories. They fear that these factors pose a threat to national security and the reliability of news content.

What are the implications of the scrutiny on NewsBreak?

The increased scrutiny could lead to legislative actions aimed at enhancing transparency and regulation of news distributors with foreign connections. It also highlights the broader issue of ensuring the accuracy and reliability of news content in the digital age.

How has NewsBreak responded to the allegations?

NewsBreak has denied any assertions of being anything other than an American company. They have emphasized their American roots and operations in response to the scrutiny.

Who are the primary investors in NewsBreak?

NewsBreak’s primary investors are Francisco Partners, a San Francisco-based private equity firm, and IDG Capital, a Beijing-based firm. The involvement of IDG Capital has raised additional concerns due to its alleged links to the Chinese military.

The Path Forward for News Aggregation Apps

The controversy surrounding NewsBreak underscores the critical need for transparency, regulation, and scrutiny in the digital news landscape. As AI tools and algorithms become increasingly prevalent in news production, ensuring the accuracy and reliability of content is paramount. Lawmakers’ calls for increased scrutiny of NewsBreak reflect broader concerns about the influence of foreign entities on American media and the potential national security implications. Moving forward, a balanced approach that safeguards the integrity of news while embracing technological advancements is essential.

Roger Castellanos

Roger Castellanos graduated with a degree in Economics. He is a writer, analyst, and local critic. He has written many articles for top newspapers. With all his experience, Roger recommends a famous phrase: “Writing is kind of like running — anyone can do it, but your results will vary mostly based on practice.” Roger reports on the News sector.

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