Hands-On with Microsoft Edge’s Fake News Warning

Posted on January 24, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android, iOS, Microsoft, Mobile with 96 Comments

Microsoft has partnered with NewsGuard to warn users of its Edge mobile browser about fake news. And I just had to see what that looked like.

As you may have seen, Microsoft quietly added the NewsGuard fake news detection service to the mobile (Android and iOS) versions of the Microsoft Edge web browser. (Users of Edge on the desktop can manually install a NewsGuard extension if they’d like to experience this functionality in Windows 10.) This move is controversial on a number of levels: Though the NewsGuard functionality is not enabled by default on mobile, it is, in fact, included in the product when you download Edge from Google’s or Apple’s online store. For this reason, I feel that Microsoft is still the responsible party here, despite its protestations to the contrary.

News of this integration came after the UK’s The Daily Mail, the type of publication that devalued journalism to a degree that has since become common on blogs, complained that it had been flagged by Edge on mobile as untrustworthy.

Intrigued, I enabled NewsGuard in Microsoft Edge on Android. To do so, navigate to More (“…”) > Settings > News rating and enable the option “Display ratings on address bar.”

Now, when you navigate to a website in Edge mobile, a shield icon will appear in the address bar, alerting you to the site’s trustworthiness rating. Thurrott.com gets an empty/blank shield, presumably because it has not been rated.

The New York Times gets a green shield, noting that “this website maintains basic standards of accuracy and accountability.”

I happen to disagree with that, given its bogus health reporting.

In fact, I’ll give you a perfect and recent example of how this publication routinely deceives and confuses its readers: On January 4, The New York Times reported that marijuana use came with serious mental and physical health risks and that the push to legalize it throughout the United States should be stopped. Then,  a week later, it reported that fears about the health risks were overblown and that “speculation and fear should be replaced with the best evidence available.” Classic New York Times.

Anyway. The Daily News fares less well, with a red shield.

This denotes that this publication “generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability.” And when you select a “See the full Nutrition label,” whatever that means, you’re told that the Daily Mail is a “British tabloid newspaper” that “repeatedly publishes false information and has been forced to pay damages in numerous high-profile cases.” Ouch. Scroll down, and it just keeps going.

I can see why The Daily Mail is upset. But I can also see that The Daily Mail is a terrible publication that, again, led the way to the terrible “news” we see on blogs of all kinds every day now.

What I can’t see is why Microsoft would provide this functionality in its own web browser. I’ve already made the case that Microsoft itself publishes fake news—mainly as ads that pose as stories—on its own news sites/services. But Microsoft’s news sites/services have also delivered malware, as recently as this past week, because it allows ads to pose as stories and it clearly doesn’t do a great job of curating what gets published through those entry points. Ultimately, this is a matter of trust.

In any event, I like the idea of this functionality, generally speaking. But as an add-in the user chooses, not as something that’s just built-in to the browser. I figure the issue on mobile is that Edge, like Chrome and Safari, doesn’t support extensions. So the only way to get this feature into the browser is to just include it. And to Microsoft’s credit, it is an opt-in feature, and not enabled by default.

That’s fine. But it’s still Microsoft’s responsibility. So when I write that Microsoft—and not NewsGuard—is punishing The Daily Mail, that’s exactly what I mean. And maybe they deserve it.

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