Facebook

Audit Approved of Facebook Policies, Even After Cambridge Analytica Leak (nytimes.com) 59

Nicholas Confessore reports via The New York Times: An auditing firm responsible for monitoring Facebook for federal regulators told them last year that the company had sufficient privacy protections in place, even after the social media giant lost control of a huge trove of user data that was improperly obtained by the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The assertion, by PwC, came in a report submitted to the Federal Trade Commission in early 2017. The report, a redacted copy of which is available on the commission's website, is one of several periodic reviews of Facebook's compliance with a 2011 federal consent decree, which required Facebook to take wide-ranging steps to prevent the abuse of users' information and to inform them how it was being shared with other companies. The accounting firm, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, effectively gave Facebook a clean bill of health. "Facebook's privacy controls were operating with sufficient effectiveness to provide reasonable assurance to protect the privacy" of users, said the assessment, which stretched from February 2015 to February 2017. But during that period, Facebook was aware that a researcher based in Britain, Aleksandr Kogan, had provided Cambridge Analytica with private Facebook data from millions of users.
The Internet

Cloudflare: FOSTA Was a 'Very Bad Bill' That's Left the Internet's Infrastructure Hanging (vice.com) 147

Last week, President Donald Trump signed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) into law. It's a bill that penalizes any platform found "facilitating prostitution," and has caused many advocacy groups to come out against the bill, saying that it undermines essential internet freedoms. The most recent entity to decry FOSTA is Cloudflare, which recently decided to terminate its content delivery network services for an alternative, decentralized social media platform called Switter. Motherboard talked to Cloudflare's general counsel, Doug Kramer, about the bill and he said that FOSTA was an ill-consider bill that's now become a dangerous law: "[Terminating service to Switter] is related to our attempts to understand FOSTA, which is a very bad law and a very dangerous precedent," he told me in a phone conversation. "We have been traditionally very open about what we do and our roles as an internet infrastructure company, and the steps we take to both comply with the law and our legal obligations -- but also provide security and protection, let the internet flourish and support our goals of building a better internet." Cloudflare lobbied against FOSTA, Kramer said, urging lawmakers to be more specific about how infrastructure companies like internet service providers, registrars and hosting and security companies like Cloudflare would be impacted. Now, he said, they're trying to figure out how customers like Switter will be affected, and how Cloudflare will be held accountable for them.

"We don't deny at all that we have an obligation to comply with the law," he said. "We tried in this circumstance to get a law that would make sense for infrastructure companies... Congress didn't do the hard work of understanding how the internet works and how this law should be crafted to pursue its goals without unintended consequences. We talked to them about this. A lot of groups did. And it was hard work that they decided not do." He said the company hopes, going forward, that there will be more clarity from lawmakers on how FOSTA is applied to internet infrastructure. But until then, he and others there are having to figure it out along with law enforcement and customers. "Listen, we've been saying this all along and I think people are saying now, this is a very bad law," Kramer said. "We think, for now, it makes the internet a different place and a little less free today as a result. And there's a real-world implication of this that people are just starting to grapple with."

Businesses

Finland Is Killing Its Basic Income Experiment (businessinsider.com) 513

tomhath shares a report: Since the beginning of last year, 2000 Finns are getting money from the government each month -- and they are not expected to do anything in return. The participants, aged 25-58, are all unemployed, and were selected at random by Kela, Finland's social-security institution. Instead of unemployment benefits, the participants now receive $690 per month, tax free. Should they find a job during the two-year trial, they still get to keep the money. While the project is praised internationally for being at the cutting edge of social welfare, back in Finland, decision makers are quietly pulling the brakes, making a U-turn that is taking the project in a whole new direction. "Right now, the government is making changes that are taking the system further away from a basic income," Kela researcher Miska Simanainen told the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.
EU

Facebook To Put 1.5 Billion Users Out of Reach of New EU Privacy Law (reuters.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Facebook: If a new European law restricting what companies can do with people's online data went into effect tomorrow, almost 1.9 billion Facebook users around the world would be protected by it. The online social network is making changes that ensure the number will be much smaller. Facebook members outside the United States and Canada, whether they know it or not, are currently governed by terms of service agreed with the company's international headquarters in Ireland. Next month, Facebook is planning to make that the case for only European users, meaning 1.5 billion members in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America will not fall under the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which takes effect on May 25. That removes a huge potential liability for Facebook, as the new EU law allows for fines of up to 4 percent of global annual revenue for infractions, which in Facebook's case could mean billions of dollars.
Facebook

Facebook To Design Its Own Processors For Hardware Devices, AI Software, and Servers (bloomberg.com) 55

Facebook is the latest technology company to design its own semiconductors, reports Bloomberg. "The social media company is seeking to hire a manager to build an 'end-to-end SoC/ASIC, firmware and driver development organization,' according to a job listing on its corporate website, indicating the effort is still in its early stages." From the report: Facebook could use such chips to power hardware devices, artificial intelligence software and servers in its data centers. Next month, the company will launch the Oculus Go, a $200 standalone virtual-reality headset that runs on a Qualcomm processor. Facebook is also working on a slew of smart speakers. Future generations of those devices could be improved by custom chipsets. By using its own processors, the company would have finer control over product development and would be able to better tune its software and hardware together. The postings didn't make it clear what kind of use Facebook wants to put the chips to other than the broad umbrella of artificial intelligence. A job listing references "expertise to build custom solutions targeted at multiple verticals including AI/ML," indicating that the chip work could focus on a processor for artificial intelligence tasks. Facebook AI researcher Yann LeCun tweeted about some of the job postings on Wednesday, asking for candidates interested in designing chips for AI.
Privacy

Richard Stallman On Facebook's Privacy Scandal: We Need a Law. There's No Reason We Should Let Them Exist if the Price is Knowing Everything About Us (nymag.com) 350

From a wide-ranging interview of Richard Stallman by New York Magazine: New York Magazine: Why do you think these companies feel justified in collecting that data?

Richard Stallman: Oh, well, I think you can trace it to the general plutocratic neoliberal ideology that has controlled the U.S. for more than two decades. A study established that since 1998 or so, the public opinion in general has no influence on political decisions. They're controlled by the desires of the rich and of special interests connected with whatever issue it is. So the companies that wanted to collect data about people could take advantage of this general misguided ideology to get away with whatever they might have wanted to do. Which happened to be collecting data about people. But I think they shouldn't be allowed to collect data about people.

We need a law. Fuck them -- there's no reason we should let them exist if the price is knowing everything about us. Let them disappear. They're not important -- our human rights are important. No company is so important that its existence justifies setting up a police state. And a police state is what we're heading toward. Most non-free software has malicious functionalities. And they include spying on people, restricting people -- that's called digital restrictions management, back doors, censorship.

Empirically, basically, if a program is not free software, it probably has one of these malicious functionalities. So imagine a driverless car, controlled of course by software, and it will probably be proprietary software, meaning not-free software, not controlled by the users but rather by the company that makes the car, or some other company. Well imagine if that has a back door, which enables somebody to send a command saying, "Ignore what the passenger said, and go there." Imagine what that would do. You can be quite sure that China will use that functionality to drive people toward the places they're going to be disappeared or punished. But can you be sure that the U.S. won't?

Security

Data Firm Leaks 48 Million User Profiles it Scraped From Facebook, LinkedIn, Others (zdnet.com) 56

Zack Whittaker, reporting for ZDNet: A little-known data firm was able to build 48 million personal profiles, combining data from sites and social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Zillow, among others -- without the users' knowledge or consent. Localblox, a Bellevue, Wash.-based firm, says it "automatically crawls, discovers, extracts, indexes, maps and augments data in a variety of formats from the web and from exchange networks." Since its founding in 2010, the company has focused its collection on publicly accessible data sources, like social networks Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and real estate site Zillow to name a few, to produce profiles.

But earlier this year, the company left a massive store of profile data on a public but unlisted Amazon S3 storage bucket without a password, allowing anyone to download its contents. The bucket, labeled "lbdumps," contained a file that unpacked to a single file over 1.2 terabytes in size. The file listed 48 million individual records, scraped from public profiles, consolidated, then stitched together.

Transportation

Southwest Airlines Engine Failure Results In First Fatality On US Airline In 9 Years (heavy.com) 332

schwit1 shares a report from Heavy: Tammie Jo Shults is the pilot who bravely flew Southwest Flight 1380 to safety after part of its left engine ripped off, damaging a window and nearly sucking a woman out of the plane. The flight was en route to Dallas Love airport from New York City, and had to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia. Shults, 56, kept her cool during an incredibly intense situation, audio from her conversation with air traffic controllers reveals, while many passengers posted on social media that they were scared these were their last moments. She, with the help of the co-pilot and the rest of the crew, landed the plane safely. The NTSB reported that there was one fatality out of 143 passengers on board. Some passengers said that someone had a heart attack during the flight, but it's not yet known if this was the fatality reported by the NTSB. The woman who died has been identified by KOAT-TV as Jennifer Riordan, 43, of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Facebook

Facebook Admits To Tracking Users, Non-Users Off-Site (theguardian.com) 145

Facebook said in a blog post yesterday that they tracked users and non-users across websites and apps for three main reasons: providing services directly, securing the company's own site, and "improving our products and services." The statement comes as the company faces a U.S. lawsuit over a controversial facial recognition feature launched in 2011. The Guardian reports: "When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you're logged out or don't have a Facebook account. This is because other apps and sites don't know who is using Facebook," Facebook's product management director, David Baser, wrote. "Whether it's information from apps and websites, or information you share with other people on Facebook, we want to put you in control -- and be transparent about what information Facebook has and how it is used."

But the company's transparency has still not extended to telling non-users what it knows about them -- an issue Zuckerberg also faced questions over from Congress. Asked by Texas representative Gene Green whether all information Facebook holds about a user is in the file the company offers as part of its "download your data" feature, Zuckerberg had responded he believed that to be the case. Privacy campaigner Paul-Olivier Dehaye disagreed, noting that, even as a Facebook user, he had been unable to access personal data collected through the company's off-site tracking systems. Following an official subject access request under EU law, he told MPs last month, Facebook had responded that it was unable to provide the information.

Facebook

Former Cambridge Analytica Employee Says Facebook Users Affected Could Be 'Much Greater Than 87 million' (theverge.com) 45

Cambridge Analytica and its partners used data from previously unknown "Facebook-connected questionnaires" to obtain user data from the social media service, according to testimony from a former Cambridge Analytica employee. From a report: Brittany Kaiser provided evidence to the British Parliament today as part of a hearing on fake news. Kaiser, who worked on the business team at Cambridge Analytica's parent company until January of this year, wrote in a statement that she was "aware in a general sense of a wide range of surveys" used by Cambridge Analytica or its partners, and she said she believes the number of people whose Facebook data may have been compromised is likely higher than the widely reported 87 million.
United States

Facebook Must Face Class-Action Lawsuit Over Facial Recognition, Says Judge (kfgo.com) 79

U.S. District Judge James Donato ruled on Monday that Facebook must face a class-action lawsuit alleging that the social network unlawfully used a facial recognition process on photos without user permission. Donato ruled that a class-action was the most efficient way to resolve the dispute over facial templates. KFGO reports: Facebook said it was reviewing the ruling. "We continue to believe the case has no merit and will defend ourselves vigorously," the company said in a statement. Lawyers for the plaintiffs could not immediately be reached for comment. Facebook users sued in 2015, alleging violations of an Illinois state law about the privacy of biometric information. The class will consist of Facebook users in Illinois for whom Facebook created and stored facial recognition algorithms after June 7, 2011, Donato ruled. That is the date when Facebook launched "Tag Suggestions," a feature that suggests people to tag after a Facebook user uploads a photo. In the U.S. court system, certification of a class is typically a major hurdle that plaintiffs in proposed class actions need to overcome before reaching a possible settlement or trial.
Science

The Scientific Paper Is Obsolete (theatlantic.com) 152

James Somers, writing for The Atlantic: The scientific paper -- the actual form of it -- was one of the enabling inventions of modernity. Before it was developed in the 1600s, results were communicated privately in letters, ephemerally in lectures, or all at once in books. There was no public forum for incremental advances. By making room for reports of single experiments or minor technical advances, journals made the chaos of science accretive. Scientists from that point forward became like the social insects: They made their progress steadily, as a buzzing mass.

The earliest papers were in some ways more readable than papers are today. They were less specialized, more direct, shorter, and far less formal. Calculus had only just been invented. Entire data sets could fit in a table on a single page. What little "computation" contributed to the results was done by hand and could be verified in the same way.

The more sophisticated science becomes, the harder it is to communicate results. Papers today are longer than ever and full of jargon and symbols. They depend on chains of computer programs that generate data, and clean up data, and plot data, and run statistical models on data. These programs tend to be both so sloppily written and so central to the results that it's contributed to a replication crisis, or put another way, a failure of the paper to perform its most basic task: to report what you've actually discovered, clearly enough that someone else can discover it for themselves.

Social Networks

Is It Time To Stop Using Social Media? (counterpunch.org) 291

Slashdot reader Nicola Hahn writes: Bulk data collection isn't the work of a couple of bad apples. Corporate social media is largely predicated on stockpiling and mining user information. As Zuckerberg explained to lawmakers, it's their business model...

While Zuckerberg has offered public apologias, spurring genuine regulation will probably be left to the public. Having said that, confronting an economic sector which makes up one of the country's largest political lobbying blocks might not be a tenable path in the short term.

The best immediate option for netizens may be to opt out of social media entirely.

The original submission links to this call-to-action from Counterpunch: Take personal responsibility for your own social life. Go back to engaging flesh and blood people without tech companies serving as an intermediary. Eschew the narcissistic impulse to broadcast the excruciating minutiae of your life to the world. Refuse to accept the mandate that you must participate in social media in order to participate in society. Reclaim your autonomy.
Facebook

Facebook Competitor Orkut Relaunches as 'Hello' (bloombergquint.com) 103

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: In 2004, one of the world's most popular social networks, Orkut, was founded by a former Google employee named Orkut Buyukkokten... Orkut was shut down by Google in 2014, but in its heyday, the network had hit 300 million users around the world... "Hello.com is a spiritual successor of Orkut.com," Buyukkokten told BloombergQuint... "People have lost trust in social networks and the main reason is social media services today don't put the users first. They put advertisers, brands, third parties, shareholders before the users," Buyukkokten said. "They are also not transparent about practices. The privacy policy and terms of services are more like black boxes. How many users actually read them?"

Buyukkokten said users need to be educated about these things and user consent is imperative in such situations when data is shared by such platforms. "On Hello, we do not share data with third parties. We have our own registration and login and so the data doesn't follow you anywhere," he said. "You don't need to sell user data in order to be profitable or make money."

Social Networks

'An Apology for the Internet -- from the People Who Built It' (nymag.com) 179

"Those who designed our digital world are aghast at what they created," argues a new article in New York Magazine titled "The Internet Apologizes". Today, the most dire warnings are coming from the heart of Silicon Valley itself. The man who oversaw the creation of the original iPhone believes the device he helped build is too addictive. The inventor of the World Wide Web fears his creation is being "weaponized." Even Sean Parker, Facebook's first president, has blasted social media as a dangerous form of psychological manipulation. "God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains," he lamented recently...

The internet's original sin, as these programmers and investors and CEOs make clear, was its business model. To keep the internet free -- while becoming richer, faster, than anyone in history -- the technological elite needed something to attract billions of users to the ads they were selling. And that something, it turns out, was outrage. As Jaron Lanier, a pioneer in virtual reality, points out, anger is the emotion most effective at driving "engagement" -- which also makes it, in a market for attention, the most profitable one. By creating a self-perpetuating loop of shock and recrimination, social media further polarized what had already seemed, during the Obama years, an impossibly and irredeemably polarized country... What we're left with are increasingly divided populations of resentful users, now joined in their collective outrage by Silicon Valley visionaries no longer in control of the platforms they built.

Lanier adds that "despite all the warnings, we just walked right into it and created mass behavior-modification regimes out of our digital networks." Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, is even quoted as saying that a social-validation feedback loop is "exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors, creators -- it's me, it's Mark [Zuckerberg], it's Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it's all of these people -- understood this consciously. And we did it anyway."

The article includes quotes from Richard Stallman, arguing that data privacy isn't the problem. "The problem is that these companies are collecting data about you, period. We shouldn't let them do that. The data that is collected will be abused..." He later adds that "We need a law that requires every system to be designed in a way that achieves its basic goal with the least possible collection of data... No company is so important that its existence justifies setting up a police state."

The article proposes hypothetical solutions. "Could a subscription model reorient the internet's incentives, valuing user experience over ad-driven outrage? Could smart regulations provide greater data security? Or should we break up these new monopolies entirely in the hope that fostering more competition would give consumers more options?" Some argue that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 shields internet companies from all consequences for bad actors -- de-incentivizing the need to address them -- and Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, thinks the solution is new legislation. "The government is going to have to be involved. You do it exactly the same way you regulated the cigarette industry. Technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and product designers are working to make those products more addictive. We need to rein that back."
Facebook

Nearly 1 In 10 Americans Have Deleted Their Facebook Account Over Privacy Concerns, Survey Claims (bgr.com) 172

An anonymous reader shares a report from BGR, summarizing a survey from TechPinions: With the outrage surrounding Facebook's privacy policies reaching a fever pitch over the past few weeks, there has been something of an underground movement calling for users to delete their Facebook account altogether. To this point, you may have seen the DeleteFacebook hashtag pop up on any number of social media platforms in recent weeks, including, ironically enough, on Facebook itself. While Zuckerberg last week said that the company hasn't seen a meaningful drop off in cumulative users, a new survey from Creative Strategies claims that 9% of Americans may have deleted their accounts.

The report reads in part: "Privacy matters to our panelists. Thirty-six percent said they are very concerned about it and another 41% saying they are somewhat concerned. Their behavior on Facebook has somewhat changed due to their privacy concerns. Seventeen percent deleted their Facebook app from their phone, 11% deleted from other devices, and 9% deleted their account altogether. These numbers might not worry Facebook too much, but there are less drastic steps users are taking that should be worrying as they directly impact Facebook's business model."

Firefox

Firefox 11.0 For iOS Arrives With Tracking Protection On By Default (venturebeat.com) 16

The new version of Firefox 11.0 for iOS turns on tracking protection by default, lets you reorder your tabs, and adds a handful of iPad-specific features. The latest version is currently available via Apple's App Store. VentureBeat details the new features: Tracking protection means Firefox blocks website elements (ads, analytics trackers, and social share buttons) that could track you while you're surfing the web. It's almost like a built-in ad blocker, though it's really closer to browser add-ons like Ghostery and Privacy Badger because ads that don't track you are allowed through. The feature's blocking list, which is based on the tracking protection rules laid out by the anti-tracking startup Disconnect, is published under the General Public License and available on GitHub. The feature is great for privacy, but it also improves performance. Content loads faster for many websites, which translates into less data usage and better battery life. If tracking protection doesn't work well on a given site, just turn it off there and Firefox for iOS should remember your preference.

Tracking protection aside, iOS users can now reorder their tabs. Organizing your tabs is very straightforward: Long-press the specific tab and drag it either left or right. iPad users have gained two new features, as well. You can now share URLs by just dragging and dropping links to and from Firefox with any other iOS app. If you're in side-by-side view, just drag the link or tab into the other app. Otherwise, bring up the doc or app switcher, drag the link into the other app until it pulses, release the link, and the other app will open the link. Lastly, iPad users have gained a few more keyboard shorts, including the standard navigation keys from the desktop. There's also cursor navigation through the bookmarks and history results, an escape key in the URL bar, and easier tab tray navigation (try using the keyboard shortcut Command + Option + Tab to get to and from the tabs view).

Communications

Reddit Continues To Protect Racist Language In Favor of Free Speech (digitaltrends.com) 661

In a thread about Reddit's 2017 transparency report, a user asked CEO Steve Huffman whether posts containing racism or racial slurs violate Reddit's terms. Huffman revealed that said speech are permissible on the site. "On Reddit, the way in which we think about speech is to separate behavior from beliefs," Huffman clarified. "This means on Reddit there will be people with beliefs different from your own, sometimes extremely so." Digital Trends reports: It's unclear if Huffman's comments are representative of Reddit's company policy, but protection of hate speech can -- and do -- lead to online harassment and cyberbullying. A recent study from Pew revealed that as many as 40 percent of Americans have experienced some form of harassment online. And even if hate speech may still be protected content on Reddit, Huffman was quick to point out that any threat of violence is not tolerated on the site. "When users actions conflict with our own content policies, we take action," he said. This distinction is consistent with Reddit's prior policies for enforcement. "Going forward, we will take action against any content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or a group of people; likewise we will also take action against content that glorifies or encourages the abuse of animals," the updated terms read, noting that "context is key."
Cellphones

The Personality Traits That Put You At Risk For Smartphone Addiction (washingtonpost.com) 73

Zorro shares a report from The Washington Post: When the Trump-affiliated firm Cambridge Analytica obtained data on tens of millions of Facebook users, it used the "Big 5" or "Five Factor Model" personality test to target them with ads designed to influence their votes in the 2016 election. The test scores people on five traits -- openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism -- and was used in the election to predict the way a voter would respond to an advertisement. But the Big 5 can predict a lot more -- including how likely you are to even use Facebook or any other social media (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source).

That's because the way you score on the test can tell you how likely you are to become addicted to your screen. Research shows that people who score high on neuroticism, low on conscientiousness, and low on agreeableness are more likely to become addicted to social media, video games, instant messaging, or other online stimuli. Studies have also found that extraverts are more likely to become addicted to cellphone use than introverts. Some of the correlations make sense. Less agreeable people may be more apt to immerse themselves in technology because it does not require the kind of friendly interactions that real life does. Neurotic people have been shown to spend more time online because it validates their desire to belong or be part of a group. Conscientious people are less impulsive and therefore more able to control and organize their time. But then it gets complicated. Because according to a new study out of the State University of New York at Binghamton, specific combinations of those personality traits can mitigate or exaggerate one's propensity to addiction.

Social Networks

Instagram Will Soon Let You Download a Copy of Your Data (techcrunch.com) 22

An Instagram spokesperson has confirmed to TechCrunch that the site will soon let users download a copy of what they've shared on Instagram, including their photos, videos and messages. The new data portability tool could make it much easier for users to leave Instagram and go to a competing image social network. It will also help the site comply with the upcoming European GDPR privacy law that requires data portability, assuming the feature launches before May 25th. From the report: Instagram has historically made it very difficult to export your data. You can't drag, or tap and hold on images to save them. And you can't download images you've already posted. That's despite Instagram now being almost 8 years old and having over 800 million users. For comparison, Facebook launched its Download Your Information tool in 2010, just six years after launch. We're awaiting more info on whether you'll only be able to download your photos, videos, and messages; or if you'll also be able to export your following and follower lists, Likes, comments, Stories, and the captions you share with posts. It's also unclear whether photos and videos will export in the full fidelity that they're uploaded or displayed in, or whether they'll be compressed. Instagram told me "we'll share more details very soon when we actually launch the tool. But at a high level it allows you to download and export what you have shared on Instagram" so we'll have to wait for more clarity.

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