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Google erases 58 US accounts linked to Iran 'influence operation'

Google withdrew its search engine from China eight years ago due to censorship and hacking but it is now working on a project for the country codenamed "Dragonfly," an employee told AFP on condition of anonymity
LIU JIN (AFP/File)

Google said Thursday it blocked YouTube channels and other accounts over a misinformation campaign linked to Iran, on the heels of similar moves by Facebook and Twitter.

Google said that working with the cybersecurity firm FireEye, it linked the accounts to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting as part of an effort dating to at least January 2017.

"We identified and terminated a number of accounts linked to the IRIB organization that disguised their connection to this effort," Google vice president Kent Walker said in a statement.

"Actors engaged in this type of influence operation violate our policies, and we swiftly remove such content from our services and terminate these actors' accounts."

It said it detected and axed 39 YouTube channels, saying that the "relevant videos" had earned 13,466 views in the US. 

Six accounts on the Blogger platform and 13 on Google Plus were also deleted. 

The Silicon Valley-based company did not describe the content found to be part of the influence attempts. 

The move comes just a day after Facebook removed more than 650 pages, groups and accounts identified as "networks of accounts misleading people about what they were doing," according to chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook identified Iran and Russia as being behind the pages. 

Kremlin

"In addition to the intelligence we received from FireEye, our teams have investigated a broader range of suspicious actors linked to Iran who have engaged in this effort," Google said.

The internet firm added that it has updated US lawmakers and law enforcement about what its investigation uncovered, including associated political content. 

Google also said it hs blocked state-sponsored phishing attacks in which deceptive messages were sent to users of its free email service in an effort to trick people into disclosing information such as passwords.

"In recent months, we've detected and blocked attempts by state-sponsored actors in various countries to target political campaigns, journalists, activists, and academics located around the world," Google said.

The California-based internet giant added that in the past year it has also intensified its defenses against "actors linked to" the Russia-backed  Internet Research Agency (IRA).

Google has removed 42 YouTube channels and a Blogger account as a result of watching to IRA activities, according to the company.

A FireEye report released on Thursday detailed its findings and expressed confidence in attributing influence campaigns to Iran.

Evidence turned up in the investigation included phone numbers, website registration information, and promotion of content in synch with Iranian political interests, according to the report.

"The activity we have uncovered highlights that multiple actors continue to engage in and experiment with online, social media driven influence operations as a means of shaping political discourse," FireEye said.

"These operations extend well beyond those conducted by Russia."

(Staff with AFP)

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