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Peter Thiel Employee Helped Cambridge Analytica Before It Harvested Data

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I think this story shows that the Facebook data mining is the tip of the iceberg. It will drag in Google and others.

As a start-up called Cambridge Analytica sought to harvest the Facebook data of tens of millions of Americans in summer 2014, the company received help from at least one employee at Palantir Technologies, a top Silicon Valley contractor to American spy agencies and the Pentagon.

It was a Palantir employee in London, working closely with the data scientists building Cambridge’s psychological profiling technology, who suggested the scientists create their own app — a mobile-phone-based personality quiz — to gain access to Facebook users’ friend networks, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

Cambridge ultimately took a similar approach. By early summer, the company found a university researcher to harvest data using a personality questionnaire and Facebook app. The researcher scraped private data from over 50 million Facebook users — and Cambridge Analytica went into business selling so-called psychometric profiles of American voters, setting itself on a collision course with regulators and lawmakers in the United States and Britain.

The revelations pulled Palantir — co-founded by the wealthy libertarian Peter Thiel — into the furor surrounding Cambridge, which improperly obtained Facebook data to build analytical tools it deployed on behalf of Donald J. Trump and other Republican candidates in 2016. Mr. Thiel, a supporter of President Trump, serves on the board at Facebook.

The connections between Palantir and Cambridge Analytica were thrust into the spotlight by Mr. Wylie’s testimony on Tuesday. Both companies are linked to tech-driven billionaires who backed Mr. Trump’s campaign: Cambridge is chiefly owned by Robert Mercer, the computer scientist and hedge fund magnate, while Palantir was co-founded in 2003 by Mr. Thiel, who was an initial investor in Facebook.

Google Link?

A former intern at SCL — Sophie Schmidt, the daughter of Eric Schmidt, then Google’s executive chairman — urged the company to link up with Palantir, according to Mr. Wylie’s testimony and a June 2013 email viewed by The Times.

“Ever come across Palantir. Amusingly Eric Schmidt’s daughter was an intern with us and is trying to push us towards them?” one SCL employee wrote to a colleague in the email.

Ms. Schmidt did not respond to requests for comment, nor did a spokesman for Cambridge Analytica.

In an interview this month with The Times, Mr. Wylie said that Palantir employees were eager to learn more about using Facebook data and psychographics. Those discussions continued through spring 2014, according to Mr. Wylie.

Mr. Wylie said that he and Mr. Nix visited Palantir’s London office on Soho Square. One side was set up like a high-security office, Mr. Wylie said, with separate rooms that could be entered only with particular codes. The other side, he said, was like a tech start-up — “weird inspirational quotes and stuff on the wall and free beer, and there’s a Ping-Pong table.”

Mr. Chmieliauskas continued to communicate with Mr. Wylie’s team in 2014, as the Cambridge employees were locked in protracted negotiations with a researcher at Cambridge University, Michal Kosinski, to obtain Facebook data through an app Mr. Kosinski had built. The data was crucial to efficiently scale up Cambridge’s psychometrics products so they could be used in elections and for corporate clients.

“I had left field idea,” Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote in May 2014. “What about replicating the work of the cambridge prof as a mobile app that connects to facebook?” Reproducing the app, Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote, “could be a valuable leverage negotiating with the guy.”

Those negotiations failed. But Mr. Wylie struck gold with another Cambridge researcher, the Russian-American psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, who built his own personality quiz app for Facebook. Over subsequent months, Dr. Kogan’s work helped Cambridge develop psychological profiles of millions of American voters.

One can only hope this will broaden the understanding of what “you are the product” means to free services peddled by big tech. Then again…..

Google Chrome vows to carpet bomb meddling Windows antivirus tools

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Browser will block third-party software from mucking around with pages next year.

By mid-2018 Google Chrome will no longer allow outside applications – cough, cough, antivirus packages – to run code within the browser on Windows.

“In the past, this software needed to inject code in Chrome in order to function properly; unfortunately, users with software that injects code into Windows Chrome are 15 per cent more likely to experience crashes.”

In particular, the target here seems to be poorly coded AV tools can not only crash the browser or cause slowdowns, but also introduce security vulnerabilities of their own for hackers to exploit.

Rather than accept injected code, Chrome will require applications to use either Native Messaging API calls or Chrome extensions to add functionality to the browser. Google believes both methods can be used to retain features without having to risk browser crashes. With Chrome 68, the browser will block third-party code in all cases except when the blocking itself would cause a crash. In that case, Chrome will reload, allow the code to run, and then give the user a warning that the third-party software will need to be removed for Chrome to run properly. The warning will be removed and nearly all code injection will be disabled in January of 2019.

“While most software that injects code into Chrome will be affected by these changes, there are some exceptions,” said Hamilton.

“Microsoft-signed code, accessibility software, and IME software will not be affected.”

Russian Influence Reached 126 Million Through Facebook Alone

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Russian agents intending to sow discord among American citizens disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million users on Facebook, published more than 131,000 messages on Twitter and uploaded over 1,000 videos to Google’s YouTube service, according to copies of prepared remarks from the companies that were obtained by The New York Times.

The new information goes far beyond what the companies have revealed in the past and underline the breadth of the Kremlin’s efforts to lever open divisions in the United States using American technology platforms, especially Facebook. Multiple investigations of Russian meddling have loomed over the first 10 months of the Trump presidency, with one leading to the indictments of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chief, and others on Monday.

For Facebook, Google and Twitter, the discovery of Russian influence by way of their sites has been a rude awakening. The companies had long positioned themselves as spreading information and connecting people for positive ends. Now the companies must grapple with how Russian agents used their technologies exactly as they were meant to be used — but for malevolent purposes.

Rude Awaking? Bullshit. For whom? Connecting people for positive good? More bullshit! It is about hoovering up personal user data and selling it! Come on, wake up!

Just say no to Social Media. Just say no to Google. Demand privacy.

Facebook and Google promoted false news about Las Vegas

“Social media: The internet version of the supermarket tabloid. Written by the mindless for the mindless.” Unfortunately it is picked up by mainstream media and is swallowed and regurgitated by a good percentage of the 65% of Americans who get their “news” from social media. The article also points up to a failure in machine learning (AI) algorithms in use by the Facebook, Google and their ilk.

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Facebook and Google promoted false news stories claiming that the shooter who killed more than 50 people in Las Vegas was a Democrat who opposed Donald Trump. The misidentification spread rapidly from dark corners of the internet to mainstream platforms just hours after hundreds were injured at a festival near the Mandalay Bay casino, the latest example of fake news polluting social media amid a breaking news story.

The flow of misinformation on Monday illustrated a particularly grim trend that has increasingly dominated viral online propaganda during US mass shootings – hyper-partisan trolls battling to blame the tragedy on opposing political ideologies. …

Despite the fact that the claims were unproven and coming from non-credible sources, Facebook’s “Safety Check” page, which is supposed to help people connect with loved ones during the crisis, ended up briefly promoting a story that said the shooter had “Trump-hating” views, along with links to a number of other hoaxes and scams, according to screenshots. At the same time, Google users who searched Geary Danley’s name were at one point directed to the 4chan thread filled with false claims.
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False content can quickly move from social media to legitimate news sources, she added: “People are putting out crap information on purpose … It’s really easy to get shit into the news cycle by being on Twitter.”

A YouTube user also pushed an unsubstantiated rumor that the suspect was a Hillary Clinton supporter.

Google IMAP losing old security protocols this month

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Google’s ongoing elimination of the antediluvian SSLv3 and RC4 protocols is taking another step on June 16.
From that date, Gmail’s IMAP and POP services will join its SMTP services in rejecting connections using those protocols.
Recognising, perhaps, that not everybody’s been paying attention, Mountain View is giving users and sysadmins time to adjust. It may take “longer than 30 days for users to be fully restricted from connecting” using clients that still run those protocols, the company’s announcement states.
However, most clients already support more modern TLS versions.
Beyond the deprecation date, sysadmins will start to see errors if they try running SSLv3 or RC4 in connection, and app developers are likewise warned they need to push out upgrades.
It’s been a year since the IETF put a bolt into the skull of SSLv3, issuing RFC 7568 as a not-so-gentle reminder to the industry.
And as a cipher, RC4 has been a dead duck for years.
So if your favourite mail app tells you “upgrade now”, you might want to ask why they’ve taken so long.

Took long enough!

Chrome trumps all comers in reported vulnerabilities

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More vulnerabilities were discovered in Google Chrome last year than any other piece of core internet software – that’s according to research that also found 2014 clocked record numbers of zero-day flaws.

The Secunia Vulnerability Review 2015 report [PDF] is built on data harvested by the company’s Personal Software Inspector tool residing on “millions” of customer end points, each with an average of 76 installed applications.

It said the Chocolate Factory’s web surfer had more reported vulnerabilities than Oracle Solaris, Gentoo Linux, and Microsoft Internet Explorer which rounded out the top four among the analysed core products. ….Chrome leads the browser pack with 504 reported vulnerabilities followed by Internet Explorer with 289 and Firefox with 171. Some 1035 flaws were reported across all browsers including Opera and Safari, up from 728 in 2013.

Wait, but isn’t Google itself a threat?

Google Malvertising App

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Android apps that should be innocuous are pimping smut by way of slack supervision of their advertising networks, with two app authors complaining to The Register that the root of the problem lies with The Chocolate Factory.

The authors of two popular Sydney public transport apps told us Google’s app monetisation service AdMob is failing to catch disallowed advertisements that should be easy to spot for the world-dominating ad-and-click network.

Malvertising is a rising problem because users are turning to ad blockers as a security precaution, both to protect against malware and to keep material they deem inappropriate out of their eyeballs. The latter outcome is made necessary by ads like those below, which The Register has observed in the Arrivo and TripView public transport timetable apps, both of which are likely to pop up on minors’ phones.

If, as it seems to this untutored eye, the ad got past filters by presenting its text as an image with extra space to defeat character recognition, Google deserves its backside kicked through all the letters of its Alphabet. Twice per letter, once per language.