Microsoft rolling out transparency, cybersecurity tools for elections

Microsoft Logo 2016 AH 5 NEW

Security in national elections has been a hot topic of late, with both governments and tech companies taking an interest in safeguarding the electoral process. Microsoft is the latest tech entity to roll out tools intended to safeguard elections. The company announced five new steps it is taking to protect elections in a blog post Tuesday that coincided with Election Day in the U.S. Microsoft is targeting two elements of political threats with these new measures: transparency and cybersecurity. While some of these tools are consumer-facing, others are intended to help candidates in their campaigns behind the scenes.

Perhaps the biggest element of Microsoft’s sweeping initiatives is transparency. Images and videos generated by artificial intelligence (AI), commonly referred to as “deepfakes,” are perforating the electoral landscape. As AI becomes more advanced, it will be much harder to tell whether media is real or fake. Microsoft will combat this by rolling out a feature that it calls Content Credentials.

Essentially, Content Credentials allow users to digitally watermark their media with information regarding when and how it was created. This would inform voters whether an image was from yesterday or a decade ago. More importantly, whether it was generated with AI or not. Microsoft says this will launch in Spring 2024 as a preview for political campaigns before making a public debut.

Microsoft’s other election tools coming soon

Microsoft also plans to improve its information provided by its Bing search engine, as it related to elections. For example, it will streamline how information about elections and requirements are displayed to users. The company said that it plans to elevate “reputable sites” in search results, working with external organizations. Examples of these include the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), the Spanish news agency EFE, and Reporters Without Borders. These steps are expected to reduce the potential of misinformation or disinformation to come up in search results for election-based queries.

Other Microsoft plans won’t be as evident to the end user. However, they still could have a massive impact to the security of elections. The company plans to install a “Campaign Success Team” designed to help political campaigns navigate AI and cybersecurity concerns. It will operate as part of the Microsoft Philanthropies’ Tech for Social Impact organization, which is a sub-organization within Microsoft. Similarly, it will create a “Election Communications Hub” designed to combat critical security threats to campaign with quick responses.

Finally, for what it’s worth, Microsoft plans to use its “voice as a company to support legislative and legal changes that will add to the protection of campaigns and electoral processes from deepfakes and other harmful uses of new technologies,” per .... This currently includes backing a U.S. bi-partisan bill against deepfakes, but could expand to others in the future.