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On the Great Russian Heist of 2016 and Cyber Security

The Mueller report is a good reminder of how important it is to prevent foreign interference in American elections. “

True. And how they did it is telling also. They used social media and hacking. I will address hacking first. I have been focusing on the cyber security business nearly 20 years and to this day it astounds me how lax businesses are about their information security. The reason is money. They do not want to spend it. Why? The cost of a breach is really cheaper than that which is needed secure and monitor a business. Solution? Easy – since businesses will not solve this, we need very strong data security and privacy laws at the federal level coupled with stiff fines for breaches.

Next social media – here is where businesses can play a roll. They need to wake up to the fact that their use of companies like Facebook, Twiiter, and Google are all part of the problem. They need to simply stop using their advertising platforms. Of course that will not happen.

Consumers – at the Federal level, mandate that all browsers have effective ad blockers and browser privacy data is dumped when the browsers is closed inclusive of cookies and cache. If consumers can’t be targeted or tracked, then their value as ad revenue will dry up and so will the likes of Facebook etc.

There are other things that need to be done along the anti-trust route for big tech and in counseling for social media addiction. Perhaps a minimum age limit of 18 for using any digital social media would facilitate real social development in our children and eliminate the ills of the false digital social media ills.

Anyway – on to the op. ed. piece. It is very old news of course. Unless you were living under a rock, Russian influence in the election was well known a long time ago. And I do not wish to simply pick on Russia. Other countries are targeting us also – on many fronts. Should we ask them to stop? Well we can, but the results will be the same as when Obama did this. A temporary pause and then right back at it (China in this case). In fact, we should thank Russia and China for showing us how weak, and in many case, non existent, our cyber defenses are. They did cause they could. I maintain, therefore, the answers is federal action to guide and mandate information security.

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Heist of 2016

The report of the special counsel Robert Mueller leaves considerable space for partisan warfare over the role of President Trump and his political campaign in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. But one conclusion is categorical: “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”

That may sound like old news. The Justice Department’s indictment of 13 Russians and three companies in February 2018 laid bare much of the sophisticated Russian campaign to blacken the American democratic process and support the Trump campaign, including the theft of American identities and creation of phony political organizations to fan division on immigration, religion or race. The extensive hacks of Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails and a host of other dirty tricks have likewise been exhaustively chronicled.

But Russia’s interference in the campaign was the core issue that Mr. Mueller was appointed to investigate, and if he stopped short of accusing the Trump campaign of overtly cooperating with the Russians — the report mercifully rejects speaking of “collusion,” a term that has no meaning in American law — he was unequivocal on Russia’s culpability: “First, the Office determined that Russia’s two principal interference operations in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — the social media campaign and the hacking-and-dumping operations — violated U.S. criminal law.”

The first part of the report, which describes these crimes, is worthy of a close read. Despite a thick patchwork of redactions, it details serious and dangerous actions against the United States that Mr. Trump, for all his endless tweeting and grousing about the special counsel’s investigation, has never overtly confronted, acknowledged, condemned or comprehended. Culpable or not, he must be made to understand that a foreign power that interferes in American elections is, in fact, trying to distort American foreign policy and national security.

The earliest interference described in the report was a social media campaign intended to fan social rifts in the United States, carried out by an outfit funded by an oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” for the feasts he catered. Called the Internet Research Agency, the unit actually sent agents to the United States to gather information at one point. What the unit called “information warfare” evolved by 2016 into an operation targeted at favoring Mr. Trump and disparaging Mrs. Clinton. This included posing as American people or grass-roots organizations such as the Tea Party, anti-immigration groups, Black Lives Matter and others to buy political ads or organize political rallies.

At the same time, the report said, the cyberwarfare arm of the Russian army’s intelligence service opened another front, hacking the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and releasing reams of damaging materials through the front groups DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, and later through WikiLeaks. The releases were carefully timed for impact — emails stolen from the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, for example, were released less than an hour after the “Access Hollywood” tape damaging to Mr. Trump came out.

 

A perceived victory for Russian interference poses a serious danger to the United States. Already, several American agencies are working, in partnership with the tech industry, to prevent election interference going forward. But the Kremlin is not the only hostile government mucking around in America’s cyberspace — China and North Korea are two others honing their cyber-arsenals, and they, too, could be tempted to manipulate partisan strife for their ends.

That is something neither Republicans nor Democrats should allow. The two parties may not agree on Mr. Trump’s culpability, but they have already found a measure of common ground with the sanctions they have imposed on Russia over its interference in the campaign. Now they could justify the considerable time and expense of the special counsel investigation, and at the same time demonstrate that the fissure in American politics is not terminal, by jointly making clear to Russia and other hostile forces that the democratic process, in the United States and its allies, is strictly off limits to foreign clandestine manipulation, and that anyone who tries will pay a heavy price.

All this activity, the report said, was accompanied by the well documented efforts to contact the Trump campaign through business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for Mr. Trump to meet Mr. Putin and plans for improved American-Russian relations. Both sides saw potential gains, the report said — Russia in a Trump presidency, the campaign from the stolen information. The Times documented 140 contacts between Mr. Trump and his associates and Russian nationals and WikiLeaks or their intermediaries. But the Mueller investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

That is the part Mr. Trump sees as vindication, though the activities of his chaotic campaign team that the report describes are — at best — naïve. It is obviously difficult for this president to acknowledge that he was aided in his election by Russia, and there is no way to gauge with any certainty how much impact the Russian activities actually had on voters.

But the real danger that the Mueller report reveals is not of a president who knowingly or unknowingly let a hostile power do dirty tricks on his behalf, but of a president who refuses to see that he has been used to damage American democracy and national security.

Since the publication of the report, Vladimir Putin and his government have been crowing that they, too, are now somehow vindicated, joining the White House in creating the illusion that the investigation was all about “collusion” rather than a condemnation of criminal Russian actions. If their hope in a Trump presidency was to restore relations between the United States and Russia, and to ease sanctions, the Russians certainly failed, especially given the added sanctions ordered by Congress over Moscow’s interference.

But if the main intent was to intensify the rifts in American society, Russia backed a winner in Mr. Trump.

A perceived victory for Russian interference poses a serious danger to the United States. Already, several American agencies are working, in partnership with the tech industry, to prevent election interference going forward. But the Kremlin is not the only hostile government mucking around in America’s cyberspace — China and North Korea are two others honing their cyber-arsenals, and they, too, could be tempted to manipulate partisan strife for their ends.

That is something neither Republicans nor Democrats should allow. The two parties may not agree on Mr. Trump’s culpability, but they have already found a measure of common ground with the sanctions they have imposed on Russia over its interference in the campaign. Now they could justify the considerable time and expense of the special counsel investigation, and at the same time demonstrate that the fissure in American politics is not terminal, by jointly making clear to Russia and other hostile forces that the democratic process, in the United States and its allies, is strictly off limits to foreign clandestine manipulation, and that anyone who tries will pay a heavy price.

Facebook uploads users address books (contacts) without user permission

Really – any business that does business with Facebook is sending a great big message to their customers that they do not care about their user’s privacy. “Like US on Facebook” means let us rape your privacy. JUST SAY NO TO FACEBOOK.

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Facebook has admitted to “unintentionally” uploading the address books of 1.5 million users without consent, and says it will delete the collected data and notify those affected.

The discovery follows criticism of Facebook by security experts for a feature that asked new users for their email password as part of the sign-up process. As well as exposing users to potential security breaches, those who provided passwords found that, immediately after their email was verified, the site began “importing” contacts without asking for permission.

Facebook has now admitted it was wrong to do so, and said the upload was inadvertent. “Last month we stopped offering email password verification as an option for people verifying their account when signing up for Facebook for the first time,” the company said.

“When we looked into the steps people were going through to verify their accounts we found that in some cases people’s email contacts were also unintentionally uploaded to Facebook when they created their account,” a spokesperson said. “We estimate that up to 1.5 million people’s email contacts may have been uploaded. These contacts were not shared with anyone and we’re deleting them. We’ve fixed the underlying issue and are notifying people whose contacts were imported. People can also review and manage the contacts they share with Facebook in their settings.”

The issue was first noticed in early April, when the Daily Beast reported on Facebook’s practice of asking for email passwords to verify new users. The feature, which allows Facebook to automatically log in to a webmail account to effectively click the link on an email verification itself, was apparently intended to smooth the workflow for signing up for a new account.

But security experts said the practice was “beyond sketchy”, noting that it gave Facebook access to a large amount of personal data and may have led to users adopting unsafe practices around password confidentiality. The company was “practically fishing for passwords you are not supposed to know”, according to cybersecurity tweeter e-sushi, who first raised concern about the feature, which Facebook says has existed since 2016.

At the time, Facebook insisted it did not store email passwords but said nothing about other information gathered in the process. Shortly after, Business Insider reported that, for users who entered their passwords, Facebook was also harvesting contact details – apparently a hangover from an earlier feature that Facebook had built expressly to take contacts with permission – except in this new implementation, users had not given consent.

The company said those contacts were used as part of its People You May Know feature, as well as to improve ad targeting systems. While it has committed to deleting the uploaded contacts, it is not immediately clear whether it will delete the information it inferred from those uploaded contacts – or even whether it is able to do so. Facebook did not immediately reply to a query from the Guardian.

Facebook Is Stealing Your Family’s Joy

Before you post that baby bump or college acceptance letter online, remember how much fun it used to be to share in person.

My kids have had some good news lately. Academic triumphs, hockey tournament wins, even a little college admissions excitement. They’ve had rough moments too, and bittersweet ones. There have been last games and disappointments and unwashed dishes galore. If you’re a friend, or even somebody who knows my mom and struck up a friendly conversation in line at the grocery store, I’d love to talk to you about any of it. I might even show you pictures.

But I’m not going to post them on social media. Because I tried that for a while, and I came to a simple conclusion about getting the reactions of friends, family and acquaintances via emojis and exclamations points rather than hugs and actual exclamations.

It’s no fun. And I don’t want to do it any more.

I’m not the only one pulling back from social media. While around two-thirds of American adults use Facebook, the way many of us use it has shifted in recent years. About 40 percent of adult users report taking a break from checking Facebook for several weeks or more, and 26 percent tell researchers they’ve deleted the app from their phone at some point in the past year.

Some have changed their behavior because of Facebook’s lax record on protecting user data: More than half of adult users have adjusted their privacy settings in the past year. Others seem more concerned with how the platform makes them act and feel. Either way, pulling back on social media is a way to embrace your family’s privacy.

“I have definitely seen an evolution toward sharing less,” said Julianna Miner, an adjunct professor of global and community health at George Mason University and the author of the forthcoming “Raising a Screen-Smart Kid: Embrace the Good and Avoid the Bad in the Digital Age.” She added, “It’s hard to tell if the changes are a response to the security breaches, or a result of people just getting tired of it.”

Even Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, seems to suspect it’s at least in part the latter — that after experimenting with living our lives in a larger online sphere for over a decade, many of us are ready to return to the more intimate groups where humans have long thrived. In a recent blog post, Mr. Zuckerberg announced plans to emphasize private conversations and smaller communities on the platform. Interacting on Facebook, he wrote, “will become a fundamentally more private experience” — less “town square,” more “living room.”

[As technology advances, will it continue to blur the lines between public and private? Sign up for Charlie Warzel’s limited-run newsletter to explore what’s at stake and what you can do about it.]

That’s a shift I’ve already made for myself, and since doing so, I find myself asking why I embraced my personal soapbox in that online square in the first place. The more I reserve both good news and personal challenges for sharing directly with friends, the more I see that the digital world never offered the same satisfaction or support. Instead, I lost out on moments of seeing friends’ faces light up at joyful news, and frequently found myself wishing that not everyone within my network had been privy to a rant or disappointment.

“There’s plenty of evidence that interpersonal, face-to-face interactions yield a stronger neural response than anything you can do online,” said Ms. Miner. “Online empathy is worth something to us, but not as much. It takes something like six virtual hugs to equal one real hug.”

Time spent seeking those virtual hugs can take us outside the world we’re living in, and draw us back to our phones (which, of course, is the reason many networks offer those bursts of feedback in the first place).

“Ultimately, you’re not just giving social media the time it takes you to post,” said Stacey Steinberg, the associate director of the Center on Children and Families at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and the author of a paper on the topic called “Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media.”

“The interaction doesn’t end the minute you press share,” she said. “Some part of your mind is waiting for responses, and that amounts to a small distraction that takes us away from whatever else we would be engaged in.” Once we post that image of our toddler flossing, we’re no longer entirely watching him dance. Some part of us is in the digital realm, waiting to have our delight validated.

That validation can be satisfying, but the emotion is fleeting, like the sugar rush that comes from replacing a real breakfast with a Pop-Tart. Watching your mother’s reaction to the same video, though, brings a different kind of pleasure. “I see parents sharing differently than I did five years ago,” said Ms. Steinberg. “We’re looking for smaller audiences and ways to share just with close friends.”

She also warned that even seemingly innocuous public updates have long shadows. “You could have a child who was a star baseball player and later decides to make a change, still being asked by relative strangers about his batting average,” she said. “Or one who decides on a college, and then changes her mind. Decisions are complex. Lives are complex. Marie Kondo-ing your Facebook page is not so easy.”

There are exceptions. Facebook shines as an arena for professional connection and promotion, of course. For those of us with children who have special needs, it can offer an invaluable community of support. And for the very worst of bad news — for calamities or illnesses or deaths — Facebook can help users speedily share updates, ask for help and share obituaries and memories.
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As technology advances, will it continue to blur the lines between public and private? Explore what’s at stake and what you can do about it.

Cal Newport, the author of “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,” suggests that when we evaluate the ways we use the social media tools available to us, we ask ourselves if those tools are the best ways to achieve our goals. In those cases, the answer is yes.

But for sharing personal moments, for venting, for getting good advice on parenting challenges while feeling supported in our tougher moments? I’ve found that real life, face-to-face, hug-to-hug contact offers more bang for my buck than anything on a screen ever could. Why cheat yourself out of those pleasures for the momentary high of a pile of “likes”?

Recently, I ran into an acquaintance while waiting for my order at a local restaurant. “Congratulations,” she said, warmly. I racked my brain. I’d sold a book that week, but the information wasn’t public. I wasn’t pregnant, didn’t have a new job, had not won the lottery. My takeout ordering skills didn’t really seem worthy of note, and in fact I probably had asked for too much food, as I usually do. I wanted to talk more about this happy news, but what were we talking about? Fortunately, she went on, “Your son must be so thrilled.”

Right. My oldest — admitted to college. He was thrilled, and so were we, and I said so. But how did she know?

My son told her daughter, one of his classmates, and her daughter told her.

Perfect.

Dear tech companies, I don’t want to see pregnancy ads after my child was stillborn

Dear Tech Companies:

I know you knew I was pregnant. It’s my fault, I just couldn’t resist those Instagram hashtags — #30weekspregnant, #babybump. And, silly me! I even clicked once or twice on the maternity-wear ads Facebook served up. What can I say, I am your ideal “engaged” user.

You surely saw my heartfelt thank-you post to all the girlfriends who came to my baby shower, and the sister-in-law who flew in from Arizona for said shower tagging me in her photos. You probably saw me googling “holiday dress maternity plaid” and “babysafe crib paint.” And I bet Amazon.com even told you my due date, Jan. 24, when I created that Prime registry.

But didn’t you also see me googling “braxton hicks vs. preterm labor” and “baby not moving”? Did you not see my three days of social media silence, uncommon for a high-frequency user like me? And then the announcement post with keywords like “heartbroken” and “problem” and “stillborn” and the 200 teardrop emoticons from my friends? Is that not something you could track?

You see, there are 24,000 stillbirths in the United States every year, and millions more among your worldwide users. And let me tell you what social media is like when you finally come home from the hospital with the emptiest arms in the world, after you and your husband have spent days sobbing in bed, and you pick up your phone for a few minutes of distraction before the next wail. It’s exactly, crushingly, the same as it was when your baby was still alive. A Pea in the Pod. Motherhood Maternity. Latched Mama. Every damn Etsy tchotchke I was considering for the nursery.

And when we millions of brokenhearted people helpfully click “I don’t want to see this ad,” and even answer your “Why?” with the cruel-but-true “It’s not relevant to me,” do you know what your algorithm decides, Tech Companies? It decides you’ve given birth, assumes a happy result and deluges you with ads for the best nursing bras (I have cabbage leaves on my breasts because that is the best medical science has to offer to turn off your milk), DVDs about getting your baby to sleep through the night (I would give anything to have heard him cry at all), and the best strollers to grow with your baby (mine will forever be 4 pounds 1 ounce).

And then, after all that, Experian swoops in with the lowest tracking blow of them all: a spam email encouraging me to “finish registering your baby” with them (I never “started,” but sure) to track his credit throughout the life he will never lead.

Please, Tech Companies, I implore you: If your algorithms are smart enough to realize that I was pregnant, or that I’ve given birth, then surely they can be smart enough to realize that my baby died, and advertise to me accordingly — or maybe, just maybe, not at all.

Regards,

Gillian

Addendum:

Rob Goldman, VP of advertising at Facebook, responded to an earlier version of my letter, saying:

“I am so sorry for your loss and your painful experience with our products. We have a setting available that can block ads about some topics people may find painful – including parenting. It still needs improvement, but please know that we’re working on it & welcome your feedback.”

In fact, I knew there was a way to change my Facebook ad settings and attempted to find it a few days ago, without success. Anyone who has experienced the blur, panic and confusion of grief can understand why. I’ve also been deluged with deeply personal messages from others who have experienced stillbirth, infant death and miscarriage who felt the same way I do. We never asked for the pregnancy or parenting ads to be turned on; these tech companies triggered that on their own, based on information we shared. So what I’m asking is that there be similar triggers to turn this stuff off on its own, based on information we’ve shared.

But for anyone who wants to turn off parenting ads on Facebook, it’s under: Settings>Ad Preferences>Hide ad topics>Parenting.

I have a better idea – just say no to facebook and related social media “look at me look at me” posts and get on with growing up and living your own life.

Hundreds of millions of Facebook records exposed on public servers – report

Wait Wait – I thought old Zuck said he was changing things. I guess his users (including Business users) are really the Zuckers.

Note to Businesses: DROP FACEBOOK, it will hurt you in the long run.
Note to Users: Time to seek addiction counseling because if you still use Facebook, in spite of all the news, you are either mentally challenged or have a serious addiction problem (or simply too apathetic to give a damn).

Editorial — actually my ire is not with the users, it is with the businesses that still patronize Facebook. Customers of these businesses really need to ask this “why is this business still using Facebook?” The answers is clear — they also want your private data and prefer to track and monetize you as opposed to protecting your privacy. And yes, their bedfellows include media like the Washington Post, New York Times, The Guardian, Bloomberg, all of which we often quote here. Shame on them and all others. If companies left Facebook, then this menace (Facebook) would be history. Well that will not happen as they see $$$$$$$$$$$.

What to do? Simple: 1) Delete your Facebook Account, 2) contact those businesses and urge them to drop Facebook.

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Material discovered on Amazon cloud servers in latest example of Facebook letting third parties extract user data

More than 540m Facebook records were left exposed on public internet servers, cybersecurity researchers said on Wednesday, in just the latest security black eye for the company.

Researchers for the firm UpGuard discovered two separate sets of Facebook user data on public Amazon cloud servers, the company detailed in a blogpost.

One dataset, linked to the Mexican media company Cultura Colectiva, contained more than 540m records, including comments, likes, reactions, account names, Facebook IDs and more. The other set, linked to a defunct Facebook app called At the Pool, was significantly smaller, but contained plaintext passwords for 22,000 users.
Zuckerberg’s proposals to regulate Facebook are self-serving and cynical | Roger McNamee
Read more

The large dataset was secured on Wednesday after Bloomberg, which first reported the leak (see article here), contacted Facebook. The smaller dataset was taken offline during UpGuard’s investigation.

The data exposure is not the result of a breach of Facebook’s systems. Rather, it is another example, akin to the Cambridge Analytica case, of Facebook allowing third parties to extract large amounts of user data without controls on how that data is then used or secured.

More than 540m Facebook records were left exposed on public internet servers, cybersecurity researchers said on Wednesday, in just the latest security black eye for the company.

“The data exposed in each of these sets would not exist without Facebook, yet these data sets are no longer under Facebook’s control,” the UpGuard researchers wrote in its blogpost. “In each case, the Facebook platform facilitated the collection of data about individuals and its transfer to third parties, who became responsible for its security.”

Facebook said that it was investigating the incident and did not yet know the nature of the data, how it was collected or why it was stored on public servers. The company said it will inform users if they find evidence that the data was misused.

“Facebook’s policies prohibit storing Facebook information in a public database,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “Once alerted to the issue, we worked with Amazon to take down the databases. We are committed to working with the developers on our platform to protect people’s data.”

Cultura Colectiva did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The data exposure is just the latest example of how Facebook’s efforts to be perceived as a “privacy-focused” platform are hampered by its own past practices and what UpGuard researchers called “the long tail” of user data. For years, Facebook allowed third-party app developers substantial access to users’ information.

“As these exposures show, the data genie cannot be put back in the bottle,” the UpGuard researchers wrote. “Data about Facebook users has been spread far beyond the bounds of what Facebook can control today.”

High tech is watching you

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In new book [The Age of Surveillance Capitalism], Business School professor emerita says surveillance capitalism undermines autonomy — and democracy

The continuing advances of the digital revolution can be dazzling. But Shoshana Zuboff, professor emerita at Harvard Business School, warns that their lights, bells, and whistles have made us blind and deaf to the ways high-tech giants exploit our personal data for their own ends.

In her new book, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” Zuboff offers a disturbing picture of how Silicon Valley and other corporations are mining users’ information to predict and shape their behavior.

The Gazette recently interviewed Zuboff about her belief that surveillance capitalism, a term she coined in 2014, is undermining personal autonomy and eroding democracy — and the ways she says society can fight back.
Q&A
Shoshana Zuboff

GAZETTE: The digital revolution began with great promise. When did you start worrying that the tech giants driving it were becoming more interested in exploiting us than serving us?

ZUBOFF: In my 2002 book, “The Support Economy,” I looked at the challenges to capitalism in shifting from a mass to an individual-oriented structure of consumption. I discussed how we finally had the technology to align the forces of supply and demand. However, the early indications were that the people framing that first generation of e-commerce were more preoccupied with tracking cookies and attracting eyeballs for advertising than they were in the historic opportunity they faced.

For a time I thought this was part of the trial and error of a profound structural transformation, but, certainly by 2007, I understood that this was actually a new variant of capitalism that was taking hold of the digital milieu. The opportunities to align supply and demand around the needs of individuals were overtaken by a new economic logic that offered a fast track to monetization.

GAZETTE: What are some of the ways we might not realize that we are losing our autonomy to Facebook, Google, and others?

ZUBOFF: I define surveillance capitalism as the unilateral claiming of private human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. These data are then computed and packaged as prediction products and sold into behavioral futures markets — business customers with a commercial interest in knowing what we will do now, soon, and later. It was Google that first learned how to capture surplus behavioral data, more than what they needed for services, and used it to compute prediction products that they could sell to their business customers, in this case advertisers. But I argue that surveillance capitalism is no more restricted to that initial context than, for example, mass production was restricted to the fabrication of Model T’s.

Right from the start at Google it was understood that users were unlikely to agree to this unilateral claiming of their experience and its translation into behavioral data. It was understood that these methods had to be undetectable. So from the start the logic reflected the social relations of the one-way mirror. They were able to see and to take — and to do this in a way that we could not contest because we had no way to know what was happening.

We rushed to the internet expecting empowerment, the democratization of knowledge, and help with real problems, but surveillance capitalism really was just too lucrative to resist. This economic logic has now spread beyond the tech companies to new surveillance–based ecosystems in virtually every economic sector, from insurance to automobiles to health, education, finance, to every product described as “smart” and every service described as “personalized.” By now it’s very difficult to participate effectively in society without interfacing with these same channels that are supply chains for surveillance capitalism’s data flows. For example, ProPublica recently reported that breathing machines purchased by people with sleep apnea are secretly sending usage data to health insurers, where the information can be used to justify reduced insurance payments.

GAZETTE: Why have we failed even now to take notice of the effects of all this surveillance?

ZUBOFF: There are many reasons. I chronicle 16 explanations as to “how they got away with it.” One big reason is that the audacious, unprecedented quality of surveillance capitalism’s methods and operations has impeded our ability to perceive them and grasp their meaning and consequence.

Another reason is that surveillance capitalism, invented by Google in 2001, benefitted from a couple of important historical windfalls. One is that it arose in the era of a neoliberal consensus around the superiority of self-regulating companies and markets. State-imposed regulation was considered a drag on free enterprise. A second historical windfall is that surveillance capitalism was invented in 2001, the year of 9/11. In the days leading up to that tragedy, there were new legislative initiatives being discussed in Congress around privacy, some of which might well have outlawed practices that became routine operations of surveillance capitalism. Just hours after the World Trade Center towers were hit, the conversation in Washington changed from a concern about privacy to a preoccupation with “total information awareness.” In this new environment, the intelligence agencies and other powerful forces in Washington and other Western governments were more disposed to incubate and nurture the surveillance capabilities coming out of the commercial sector.

A third reason is that these methodologies are designed to keep us ignorant. The rhetoric of the pioneering surveillance capitalists, and just about everyone who has followed, has been a textbook of misdirection, euphemism, and obfuscation. One theme of misdirection has been to sell people on the idea that the new economic practices are an inevitable consequence of digital technology. In America and throughout the West we believe it’s wrong to impede technological progress. So the thought is that if these disturbing practices are the inevitable consequence of the new technologies, we probably just have to live with it. This is a dangerous category error. It’s impossible to imagine surveillance capitalism without the digital, but it’s easy to imagine the digital without surveillance capitalism.

A fourth explanation involves dependency and the foreclosure of alternatives. We now depend upon the internet just to participate effectively in our daily lives. Whether it’s interfacing with the IRS or your health care provider, nearly everything we do now just to fulfill the barest requirements of social participation marches us through the same channels that are surveillance capitalism’s supply chains.

GAZETTE: You warn that our very humanity and our ability to function as a democracy is in some ways at risk.

ZUBOFF: The competitive dynamics of surveillance capitalism have created some really powerful economic imperatives that are driving these firms to produce better and better behavioral-prediction products. Ultimately they’ve discovered that this requires not only amassing huge volumes of data, but actually intervening in our behavior. The shift is from monitoring to what the data scientists call “actuating.” Surveillance capitalists now develop “economies of action,” as they learn to tune, herd, and condition our behavior with subtle and subliminal cues, rewards, and punishments that shunt us toward their most profitable outcomes.

What is abrogated here is our right to the future tense, which is the essence of free will, the idea that I can project myself into the future and thus make it a meaningful aspect of my present. This is the essence of autonomy and human agency. Surveillance capitalism’s “means of behavioral modification” at scale erodes democracy from within because, without autonomy in action and in thought, we have little capacity for the moral judgment and critical thinking necessary for a democratic society. Democracy is also eroded from without, as surveillance capitalism represents an unprecedented concentration of knowledge and the power that accrues to such knowledge. They know everything about us, but we know little about them. They predict our futures, but for the sake of others’ gain. Their knowledge extends far beyond the compilation of the information we gave them. It’s the knowledge that they have produced from that information that constitutes their competitive advantage, and they will never give that up. These knowledge asymmetries introduce wholly new axes of social inequality and injustice.

GAZETTE: So how do we change this dynamic?

ZUBOFF: There are three arenas that must be addressed if we are to end this age of surveillance capitalism, just as we once ended the Gilded Age.

First, we need a sea change in public opinion. This begins with the power of naming. It means awakening to a sense of indignation and outrage. We say, “No.” We say, “This is not OK.”

Second, we need to muster the resources of our democratic institutions in the form of law and regulation. These include, but also move beyond, privacy and antitrust laws. We also need to develop new laws and regulatory institutions that specifically address the mechanisms and imperatives of surveillance capitalism.

A third arena relates to the opportunity for competitive solutions. Every survey of internet users has shown that once people become aware of surveillance capitalists’ backstage practices, they reject them. That points to a disconnect between supply and demand: a market failure. So once again we see a historic opportunity for an alliance of companies to found an alternative ecosystem — one that returns us to the earlier promise of the digital age as an era of empowerment and the democratization of knowledge.

Facebook’s Data Deals Are Under Criminal Investigation

Throw the book at em, and wind down this house of despicable spies and greedy exploiters of their (arguably gullible) flock

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Federal prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation into data deals Facebook struck with some of the world’s largest technology companies, intensifying scrutiny of the social media giant’s business practices as it seeks to rebound from a year of scandal and setbacks.

A grand jury in New York has subpoenaed records from at least two prominent makers of smartphones and other devices, according to two people who were familiar with the requests and who insisted on anonymity to discuss confidential legal matters. Both companies had entered into partnerships with Facebook, gaining broad access to the personal information of hundreds of millions of its users.

The companies were among more than 150, including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Sony, that had cut sharing deals with the world’s dominant social media platform. The agreements, previously reported in The New York Times, let the companies see users’ friends, contact information and other data, sometimes without consent. Facebook has phased out most of the partnerships over the past two years.

A grand jury in New York has subpoenaed records from at least two prominent makers of smartphones and other devices, according to two people who were familiar with the requests and who insisted on anonymity to discuss confidential legal matters. Both companies had entered into partnerships with Facebook, gaining broad access to the personal information of hundreds of millions of its users.


Yep, no surprise here. The invasion of privacy extends much further including the oligopolist, and in many cases, outright monopolies in the mobile phone carriers, ISPs and beyond. When will the U.S. get serious about anti-trust enforcement in the tech industry?

“We are cooperating with investigators and take those probes seriously,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement. “We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions and pledged that we will continue to do so.”

[Read Brian Chen’s story on what he found when he downloaded his Facebook data.]

It is not clear when the grand jury inquiry, overseen by prosecutors with the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, began or exactly what it is focusing on. Facebook was already facing scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission. And the Justice Department’s securities fraud unit began investigating it after reports that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, had improperly obtained the Facebook data of 87 million people and used it to build tools that helped President Trump’s election campaign.

The Justice Department and the Eastern District declined to comment for this article.

The Cambridge investigation, still active, is being run by prosecutors from the Northern District of California. One former Cambridge employee said investigators questioned him as recently as late February. He and three other witnesses in the case, speaking on the condition of anonymity so they would not anger prosecutors, said a significant line of inquiry involved Facebook’s claims that it was misled by Cambridge.

In public statements, Facebook executives had said that Cambridge told the company it was gathering data only for academic purposes. But the fine print accompanying a quiz app that collected the information said it could also be used commercially. Selling user data would have violated Facebook’s rules at the time, yet the social network does not appear to have regularly checked that apps were complying. Facebook deleted the quiz app in December 2015.

The disclosures about Cambridge last year thrust Facebook into the worst crisis of its history. Then came news reports last June and December that Facebook had given business partners — including makers of smartphones, tablets and other devices — deep access to users’ personal information, letting some companies effectively override users’ privacy settings.

The sharing deals empowered Microsoft’s Bing search engine to map out the friends of virtually all Facebook users without their explicit consent, and allowed Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends. Apple was able to hide from Facebook users all indicators that its devices were even asking for data.

Privacy advocates said the partnerships seemed to violate a 2011 consent agreement between Facebook and the F.T.C., stemming from allegations that the company had shared data in ways that deceived consumers. The deals also appeared to contradict statements by Mark Zuckerberg and other executives that Facebook had clamped down several years ago on sharing the data of users’ friends with outside developers.

F.T.C. officials, who spent the past year investigating whether Facebook violated the 2011 agreement, are now weighing the sharing deals as they negotiate a possible multibillion-dollar fine. That would be the largest such penalty ever imposed by the trade regulator.

Facebook has aggressively defended the partnerships, saying they were permitted under a provision in the F.T.C. agreement that covered service providers — companies that acted as extensions of the social network.

The company has taken steps in the past year to tackle data misuse and misinformation. Last week, Mr. Zuckerberg unveiled a plan that would begin to pivot Facebook away from being a platform for public sharing and put more emphasis on private communications.

Over a Dozen Children’s and Consumer Advocacy Organizations Request Federal Trade Commission to Investigate Facebook for Deceptive Practices

It is not just me Tilting at Windmills as some have suggested. The Facebook and related social media threats are real – especially to our children.

Contact:
David Monahan, CCFC: david@commercialfreechildhood.org; (617) 896-9397
Lisa Cohen, Common Sense: lcohen@commonsense.org; (310) 395-2544

Over a Dozen Children’s and Consumer Advocacy Organizations Request Federal Trade Commission to Investigate Facebook for Deceptive Practices

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — February 21, 2019 — Earlier today, Common Sense Media, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy, and over a dozen organizations called upon the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether Facebook has engaged in unfair or deceptive practices in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

“Facebook’s practice of ‘friendly fraud’ and referring to kids as ‘whales’ shows an ongoing pattern of the company putting profits over people. Kids, under any circumstances, should not be the target of irresponsible and unethical marketing tactics,” said Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media. “Facebook has a moral obligation to change its culture toward practices that foster the well-being of kids and families, and the FTC should ensure Facebook is acting responsibly.”

The FTC complaint is in response to unsealed documents from a 2012 class action lawsuit that Facebook settled in 2016. Upon a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Center for Investigative Reporting, internal documents at Facebook revealed the company knowingly duped children into making in-game purchases and made refunds almost impossible to obtain. Facebook employees called the practice “friendly fraud” and referred to kids who spent large amounts of money as “whales,” a casino-industry term for super high rollers.

Advocates are concerned that Facebook employed unfair practices by charging children for purchases made without parental consent and often without parental awareness. According to Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, “unfair” practices are defined as those that “cause or [are] likely to cause substantial injury to consumers which is not reasonably avoidable by consumers themselves and not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or to competition” (15 U.S.C. Sec. 45(n)). Advocates point to court documents to demonstrate substantial injury to consumers, including one teenager who incurred $6,500 of charges in just a few weeks, and request rates for refunds were 20 times higher than the usual rate of refund requests.

“Facebook’s scamming of children is not only unethical and reprehensible – it’s likely a violation of consumer protection laws,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood. “Time and time again, we see that Facebook plays by its own rules regardless of the cost to children, families and society. We urge the FTC to hold Facebook accountable.”

Additionally, the complaint asks the FTC to investigate whether Facebook violated COPPA. Unsealed documents show that Facebook was aware that many of the games it offered were popular with children under age 13 and were in fact being played by children under 13. COPPA makes it unlawful for an “operator of a Web site or online service directed to children, or any operator that has actual knowledge that it is collecting or maintaining personal information from a child, to collect personal information from a child” unless it has obtained verifiable parental consent and provided appropriate disclosures.

Advocates are calling for the Commission to recognize the particular vulnerability of young people and investigate whether Facebook is complying with Section 5 and COPPA.

Groups signing on to the complaint include Common Sense Media, Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Consumer Action, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Consumer Federation of America, Children and Screens, Badass Teachers Association, Inc., Media Education Foundation, New Dream, Parents Television Council, Peace Educators Allied for Children Everywhere (P.E.A.C.E.), Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Public Citizen, Story of Stuff, TRUCE, and Defending the Early Years.

The full complaint can be read here.

It’s time to hold Facebook accountable

From the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood -CCFC educates the public about commercialism’s impact on kids’ well being and advocates for the end of child-targeted marketing.

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In January, it was revealed that Facebook knowingly defrauded children and their families out of millions of dollars by intentionally misleading children into making in-app purchases. The company referred to children who unintentionally spent thousands of dollars as “whales,” a casino industry term for high-rollers, and refused to refund unauthorized purchases. Not only did the company not refund these unauthorized charges, they encouraged them.

As we wrote at the time, these policies and attitudes toward kids show that Facebook is unfit to make products for children. Now, we’re joining our allies at Common Sense Media, Center for Digital Democracy, and 14 other organizations, asking the FTC to investigate these clearly fraudulent and deceptive practices. Facebook has proven again and again that it will stop at nothing to increase profits, even at the expense of children.

Read our press release here, and the full text of our FTC complaint here.