By Sam Biddle, The Intercept
Trust Lab was founded by a team of well-credentialed Big Tech alumni who came together in 2021 with a mission: Make online content moderation more transparent, accountable, and trustworthy. A year later, the company announced a “strategic partnership” with the CIA’s venture capital firm.
Trust Lab’s basic pitch is simple: Globe-spanning internet platforms like Facebook and YouTube so thoroughly and consistently botch their content moderation efforts that decisions about what speech to delete ought to be turned over to completely independent outside firms — firms like Trust Lab. In a June 2021 blog post, Trust Lab co-founder Tom Siegel described content moderation as “the Big Problem that Big Tech cannot solve.” The contention that Trust Lab can solve the unsolvable appears to have caught the attention of In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm tasked with securing technology for the CIA’s thorniest challenges, not those of the global internet.
“I’m suspicious of startups pitching the status quo as innovation.”
The quiet October 29 announcement of the partnership is light on details, stating that Trust Lab and In-Q-Tel — which invests in and collaborates with firms it believes will advance the mission of the CIA — will work on “a long-term project that will help identify harmful content and actors in order to safeguard the internet.” Key terms like “harmful” and “safeguard” are unexplained, but the press release goes on to say that the company will work toward “pinpointing many types of online harmful content, including toxicity and misinformation.”