Wednesday, March 28, 2018
We Are Approaching 1984 and Facebook and Google Are Big Brother
THE REAL NEWS TODAY IS THAT IT IS 1984. We just don't realize how much it is true...yet. • • • FACEBOOK LABELS US ON A VERY CONSERVATIVE TO VERY LIBERAL SCALE. Fox News reported on Tuesday that Facebook thinks it knows whether you're liberal or conservative : "Hidden in plain sight under Ad Preferences is a section called Your Information. If you click on that tab, you’ll see an option for Your Categories, which contains a section called US Politics -- in parentheses, Facebook will have you labeled as Very Liberal, Liberal, Moderate, Conservative or Very Conservative." Facebook says it fills up these categories “based on information you've provided on Facebook and other activity.” The other activity includes lumping you into the same political category as that of other users who have 'liked' the same pages you 'liked,' without asking you. • No wonder the Federal Trade Commission confirmed on Monday that Facebook is under investigation by the FTC about whether Facebook violated the terms of a 2011 settlement entered into after an earlier data leak. • Facebook faces a backlash in the US and Europe from users, advertisers and lawmakers for having allowed Cambridge Analytica to allegedly amass information on 50 million of its users. Fox News says : "The company’s core business that powers around $4 billion in monthly revenue is monetizing everything you do on Facebook to serve its advertisers. However, users may not know that the powerful social network already has an opinion about your political leanings -- and it’s fairly easy to find out what Mark Zuckerberg’s company thinks of your political preferences." Here is Fox's advice to get yourself 'unlabeled' -- after accessing "Ad Preferences," click on "Your Information" and you’ll see an option for "Your Categories" that contains a section called US Politics -- in parentheses, Facebook will have you labeled as Very Liberal, Liberal, Moderate, Conservative or Very Conservative. If you don’t want the algorithm to factor in your presumed political affiliation for advertising purposes, just hover over the box, click the X and see how the tweak impacts your experience on the site. • • • FACEBOOK UNDER THE UK PARLIAMENT'S MICROSCOPE. Meanwhile, Fox News says a new poll shows only 41% of Americans trust Facebook with their personal data. This did not stop Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg from declining to testify in front of British lawmakers about the data scandal, but the CEO and co-founder has reportedly expressed willingness to do so in the United States. • Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg's decision not to appear before MPs is "astonishing", said the committee chairman who invited him to attend. Damian Collins, the head of a British parliamentary inquiry into fake news, urged Mr Zuckerberg to "think again." Facebook and data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica are at the center of a row that actually started in the UK over harvesting personal data. Zuckerberg has apologized for a "breach of trust" but said he will not appear in front of the parliamentary inquiry. Instead, he will send one of his senior executives, Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox, who will give evidence to MPs in the first week after the Easter parliamentary break. • MP Collins, the chairman of the Department for Culture Media and Sport select committee, said : "Given the extraordinary evidence that we've heard so far today... it is absolutely astonishing that Mark Zuckerberg is not prepared to submit himself to questioning. These are questions of a fundamental importance and concern to Facebook users, as well as to our inquiry as well. I would certainly urge him to think again if he has any care for people that use his company's services." Facebook's answer to Parliament was that Cox is "well placed to answer the committee's questions." Last weekend, Zuckerberg took out full-page advertisements in several UK and US Sunday newspapers to apologize, adding the company could have done more to stop millions of users having their data exploited by Cambridge Analytica. • It may be that Mark Zuckerberg is trying to seek shelter from European law, which treats privacy as a fundamental human right. Companies cannot use personal data without notifying and obtaining permission from consumers. A new data privacy regime going into effect this year in the EU fines companies up to 4% of global revenue for each violation. • • • FACEBOOK, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA, BREXIT, AND THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN. The select committee on Tuesday heard testimony from former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie, who claimed the UK may not have voted for Brexit had it not been for "cheating" by the Leave campaign. Wylie told the committee that Canadian company Aggregate IQ -- which has been linked to Cambridge Analytica -- received funding from Vote Leave and played a "very significant role" in the referendum result. He also claimed that his predecessor died in suspicious circumstances in a hotel in Kenya after a "deal went sour." • According to the BBC, the data Aggregate IQ possessed was used to target between five and seven million people during the Brexit referendum campaign. Aggregate IQ said it had a "conversion rate" of 5-7% in persuading people to vote a specific way. Wylie, whose allegations were first published in the Observer newspaper over a week ago, has accused Cambridge Analytica of gathering the details of 50 million users on Facebook through a personality quiz in 2014. He alleges that because 270,000 people took the quiz, the data of some 50 million users, mainly in the US, was harvested without their explicit consent via their friend networks. Wylie claims the data was sold to Cambridge Analytica, which then used it to psychologically profile people and deliver pro-Donald Trump material to them to assist the presidential election campaign. He described his former boss, Cambridge Analytica's CEO Alexander Nix, as a salesman with no background in politics or technology but a lot of wealth. On one occasion, the two of them were running late because Mr Nix had to "pick up a £200,000 chandelier", MPs heard. Nix played on his Eton background, Mr Wylie said. • Cambridge Analytica claims that Wylie "misrepresented himself and the company" to the committee. It described him as a "part-time contractor" who left the firm in July 2014 after less than a year working there. Wyllie "had no direct knowledge of the company's work or practices since that date", it said. Cambridge Analytica also said it was "disgusted" by his "use" of the "tragic death of a member of our team as a means to further his own agenda. An investigation by Kenyan authorities concluded that there was nothing suspicious about our colleague's death, and we as a company were deeply saddened by the loss," it said. • Cambridge Analytica also denies any of the data acquired was used as part of the services it provided to the Trump campaign. Lawyers for Aggregate IQ have said the firm had "never entered into a contract with Cambridge Analytica" and it had "never knowingly been involved in any illegal activity." Vote Leave has denied accusations that they broke the spending rules during the UK's 2016 referendum on whether or not to stay in the European Union. In a blog on Friday, Vote Leave's Dominic Cummings said the claims were "factually wrong" and the Electoral Commission had approved donations in the run-up to the referendum. • • • FACEBOOK IS ALSO IN TROUBLE WITH CONGRESS. Mark Zuckerberg didn't 'voluntarily' decide to testify before the US Congress. But, he has finally caved in to pressure to testify about the social network’s data-privacy scandal. The New York Post reported on Tuesday that : " 'Facebook’s 33-year-old chief executive is in talks with the House Energy and Commerce Committee to “determine a day and time...to testify,' Elena Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the panel, confirmed in a Tuesday statement. Zuckerberg’s decision comes after repeated calls by US lawmakers for him to submit to a Capitol Hill grilling." The New York Post also reported that "at least 37 states and UK’s Parliament" are seeking Zuckerberg's testimony. • Information about Facebook's falling stock prices and the impact its data-privacy crisis will have on the tech industry are now almost an hourly feature on CNBC. Facebook’s stock has tumbled, falling 21.2% from its 2018 high on February 1. Since the scandal broke, Zuckerberg’s net worth has fallen by about $13 billion over 10 days, to roughly $62 billion. On Tuesday, shares of Facebook 'tanked' 4.9% to $152.22. Google and Twitter shares were trading sharply lower Tuesday. • Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony promises to be a media spectacle, as he scrambles to contain the damage over revelations that Facebook spilled the data of over 50 million users to Cambridge Analytica. Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, also invited Zuckerberg -- along with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey -- to a hearing on data privacy on April 10. Senator John Thune, chairman of the Commerce Committee, and Senator Bill Nelson, the committee’s ranking Democrat member, have said they would work with Facebook “to find a suitable date for Mr. Zuckerberg to testify in the coming weeks.” • In an interview with CNN last week, Zuckerberg said he was “happy to [testify]...if it’s the right thing to do,” before hedging further : “What we try to do is send the person at Facebook who will have the most knowledge." That got a swift answer from Representative Greg Warden, an Oregon Republican who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the committee's ranking Democrat Frank Pallone, who said : "We believe, as CEO of Facebook, [Zuckerberg] is the right witness to provide answers to the American people.” • There were also reports on Tuesday, according to the New York Post, that Facebook is shopping for top-notch Washington lobbyists : "That move may have been pushed along by Monday’s announcement by the Federal Trade Commission that it has launched a probe into whether Facebook violated the terms of a 2011 settlement entered into after an earlier data leak." • • • GOOGLE AND FACEBOOK COLLECT USERS' PHONE AND TEXT INFORMATION. The news reported on Tuesday by USA TODAY -- that Facebook’s Android app has been collecting call and text histories -- is yet another black eye for the social media giant. But just why was Facebook able to siphon off records of who its users were contacting -- and when -- in the first place? USA TODAY's answer is : "Because Google let it. The longer answer : Well, it’s complicated. The social network acknowledged on Sunday that it began uploading call and text logs from phones running Google’s Android system in 2015 -- first via its Messenger app and later through an option in Facebook Lite, a stripped-down version of its main app. Facebook added that only users who gave appropriate permission were affected, that it didn’t collect the contents of messages or calls, and that users can opt out of the data collection and have the stored logs deleted by changing their app settings." • Is this the civilian version of Obama national security advisor Jim Clapper's collection of metadata on Americans? I can't answer that question, but here are some details of the Facebook-Google phone and message data collection, according to USA TODAY : "There’s a reason Facebook’s actions were restricted to Android phones. Apple locks down app permissions tightly, which offers more privacy protection to iPhone users. 'Apple’s fundamental approach is to collect the minimum amount of information to keep the service running, and keep customers in control of the information,' said Rich Mogull, CEO of the security firm Securosis. But Android has long been more indulgent. Until recently, in fact, Google let app developers gain access to a phone’s call and text logs. All they needed was an app that required access to user contacts. Once users agreed, Android would then also grant access to those communication histories. Starting in 2012 with its 'Jelly Bean' release, Android would notify people installing such apps that they were also giving apps access to their call and text logs, but still required them to agree to all those permissions at once. Rejecting the request meant the apps wouldn’t work. It wasn’t until 2015 when Google released Android 6.0, dubbed 'Marshmallow,' that Android phones finally split up those permissions. That meant users could agree to share contacts, but reject access to their messaging and phone histories. That’s the same year Facebook says its apps started collecting this information. But many Android users aren’t using the latest version of the software. In fact, they often can’t get it even if they want it. Apple owns both the software and hardware for iPhones, which allows it to push out new versions of its iOS operating software at will. Google, by contrast, is largely at the mercy of both mobile carriers and hardware makers when it comes to distributing new Android versions. There are nearly 20,000 Android phone models now in service, and carriers like to tweak the software for each to ensure that it will work as smoothly as possible on their networks. As a result, new Android versions reach users very slowly....Last October, Google began forcing all apps to follow the new rules when they issue updates, even on phones running older versions of Android." • USA TODAY says this leaves two big unanswered questions : "Why did Google set up Android permissions this way? And how many other apps have taken advantages of the same setup?" Experts and privacy advocates are quoted by USA TODAY. They say : "the answer to the first question is probably related to Google’s advertising-based business model, which -- like Facebook -- depends on collecting detailed information about users in order to target them with tailored ads. Apple, meanwhile, derives its profits from the sale of devices and services like Apple Music. Another possible factor : Android was playing catch-up with Apple for many years, and was eager to attract app developers in order to attain parity with Apple’s App Store. Some app developers may have found greater access to user data on Android attractive -- as Facebook did. Experts say it’s not clear if other apps are going as far as Facebook in terms of tracking call history and texts, but it’s very possible." • Bob O’Donnell, chief analyst at Technalysis Research, told USA TODAY : "In a lot of ways, Facebook is the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other people doing this kind of data collection.” • • • FORBES ASKS 'WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG TO GET ANGRY?' Forbes wrote about the current Facebook crisis : "The most amazing thing about the recent Facebook crisis with Cambridge Analytica is how long it took people to care. More than three years. The Guardian first reported most of the story in December 2015, covering most of what is in the news today : In 2014, Cambridge University lecturer Aleksandr Kogan formed UK company, Global Science Research (GSR), developed a Facebook app involving a personality questionnaire, got Facebook users to use the app, and in the process scraped up their personal Facebook details and that of all of their friends. This was allowed by Facebook. Within months, Kogan claimed he had a massive pool of data on more than 40 million Americans. The Facebook data was used to create personality profiles based on five personality traits. Kogan then started working with UK company, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), on a 'large research project' to analyze US Facebook users. Kogan impermissibly shared the Facebook data that GSR had gathered with SCL and its US subsidiary, Cambridge Analytica. Financed by Republican financier, Robert Mercer, Cambridge Analytica performed targeted analysis using the Facebook data to help shape campaign messages. The company mission was to further hone the grassroots, digital profiling developed by the Obama campaign.Cambridge Analytica was hired to help with the presidential campaigns of Ted Cruz and Ben Carson and received fees of $750,000 from Cruz and around $220,000 from Carson. It also worked for John Bolton’s Super PAC and got about $2.5 million from Super PACs that Mercer or his family contributed to. Facebook claimed it was 'carefully investigating the situation' with respect to Cruz and stated that misuse of Facebook information 'is a direct violation of our policies and we will take swift action against companies that do, including banning those companies from Facebook and requiring them to destroy improperly collected data.' Sounds like today’s news, doesn’t it? The story died. Then, two years later, in March 2017, The Intercept published an article headlined, 'Facebook Failed to Protect 30 million Users From Having Their Data Harvested by Trump Campaign Affiliate.' It rehashed much of the same information as The Guardian article. The Intercept article did go a step farther, however. It began describing to readers how the Facebook data could be used for predictive purposes. It noted that a 2013 study by three of Kogan’s Cambridge colleagues, 'showed that [Facebook] likes alone could predict race with 95 percent accuracy and political party with 85 percent accuracy.' Dan Gillmore, director of Arizona State University’s Knight Center, noted in the article, 'It’s reasonable to believe that sooner or later, we’re going to see wide-spread manipulation of people’s decision-making, including in elections, in ways that are more widespread and granular, but even less detectable than today.' Again, ho-hum was the response by readers and regulators. So, what was it about the March 2018 articles in the New York Times and London Observer -- which covered much of the same ground as the Guardian and Intercept stories -- that set everyone’s hair on fire? The articles did reveal more information about Robert and Rebekah Mercer's and Steve Bannon’s involvement and the Trump campaign’s use of Cambridge Analytica’s data collected from 50 million Facebook users. Most importantly, however, the articles provided details on what data was collected and how it was analyzed and used to help Trump win the presidency." • So, other Republican and African candidates and Brexit groups could use the ill-gotten data to market their candidacies or Brexit positions, but when it became clear that Cambridge Analytica could be connected to Steve Bannon -- and indirectly, in the media's Progressive thinking, to Trump -- then, the Facebook scam made a splash on mainstream media, even though Cambridge denies that the data collected was used in the trump campaign. • Forbes calls this "the power of Big Data," noting that : "The widespread media coverage on Russian interference in our elections and their misuse of Facebook and other social media platforms to influence 126 million Americans has served as a continuing education of the American public about how seemingly innocuous, personal details may be used against them. The Facebook articles drove the point home." Forbes point is this : "For years, Americans have shrugged their shoulders over NSA surveillance and government access to digital data and said, 'I don’t care; I have nothing to hide.' Now they are starting to see that maybe they do have something to hide. They are starting to understand that their own preferences and those of their friends and family can be hoovered up and stored in perpetuity and fed through algorithms to produce manipulative messaging intended to move beliefs and influence actions." Forbes sees government investigations as window dressing : "the real hammer will be the market. Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, or some other social media platform, when users start to realize that the data they are sharing may be used against them or cause them to lose control over their beliefs or be manipulated, they will begin to shut off. If the company can’t be trusted with personal data, users simply will not use that platform and advertisers will go elsewhere." Roger McNamee, Mark Zuckerberg's long-time mentor, says Facebook usage in North America was down in the last quarter of 2017 for the first time, and he expects the same for the first quarter of 2018. Forbes says : "He may be right. Big names are drawing attention to Facebook's lack of governance and exploitation of individuals. Bloomberg quoted Apple's CEO Tim Cook as saying, 'The ability of anyone to know what you've been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life -- from my own point of view it shouldn't exist.' Elon Musk deleted SpaceX and Tesla's Facebook pages, Cher deleted hers, and #DeleteFacebook and #RegulateFacebook have become popular hashtags. It remains to be seen whether Facebook can regain the trust of its users and whether it will be the company that leads the tech industry into regulations, but Facebook’s crisis will be remembered. It is the Great American Privacy Wake-up Call." • • • DEAR READERS, Facebook and all social media platforms that collect personal data and information are under the gun. Facebook's cavalier treatment of its users' personal information has opened Pandora's Box and governments in Europe and the US will not let them hide behind their 'baby-face' facades. • The Washington Post wrote on Tuesday : "Silicon Valley executives have gone to great lengths to avoid testifying before both public committees and courts. During congressional hearings on Russian meddling last fall, lawmakers also called for the chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter to come forward. But, the companies sent their lawyers instead. In February, Google suddenly settled a protracted legal dispute with Uber over self-driving cars, the week that co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were expected to testify. Zuckerberg in particular appears to be far more comfortable when he can control his appearance. He once hired a personal pollster to gauge the most minor shifts in the public perception of him. His public statements are almost always only on Facebook’s own platforms; he hasn’t used Twitter in years. Even candid photos that appear of him, such as those that took place during his US tour last year, are carefully managed." • In Europe, Facebook may face serious legal consequences for its mistakes. But, in the US, Facebook’s use of people’s data is governed in part by a 2011 agreement with the US Federal Trade Commission. That agreement also requires that Facebook obtain consumers’ consent before making changes to how their data is shared or used. The agency is investigating whether Facebook broke that agreement when Cambridge Analytica took the profiles of individuals and their friends. This FTC investigation of social platforms may finally prove the value of the FTC itself, long considered as a second-tier antitrust regulatory body. • Even CNN on Monday published an opinion piece by Bruce Schneier, the author of "Data and Goliath : The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World." CNN noted that the opinions in the Schneier article are his own and not CNN's, but the article appeared under the CNN banner. Schneier wrote : "In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, news articles and commentators have focused on what Facebook knows about us. A lot, it turns out. It collects data from our posts, our likes, our photos, things we type and delete without posting, and things we do while not on Facebook and even when we're offline. It buys data about us from others. And it can infer even more : our sexual orientation, political beliefs, relationship status, drug use, and other personality traits -- even if we didn't take the personality test that Cambridge Analytica developed. But for every article about Facebook's creepy stalker behavior, thousands of other companies are breathing a collective sigh of relief that it's Facebook and not them in the spotlight. Because while Facebook is one of the biggest players in this space, there are thousands of other companies that spy on and manipulate us for profit." Schneier quotes Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff, who calls it "surveillance capitalism." And, says Schneier : "As creepy as Facebook is turning out to be, the entire industry is far creepier. It has existed in secret far too long, and it's up to lawmakers to force these companies into the public spotlight, where we can all decide if this is how we want society to operate and -- if not -- what to do about it. There are 2,500 to 4,000 data brokers in the United States whose business is buying and selling our personal data. Last year, Equifax was in the news when hackers stole personal information on 150 million people, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver's license numbers. You certainly didn't give it permission to collect any of that information. Equifax is one of those thousands of data brokers, most of them you've never heard of, selling your personal information without your knowledge or consent to pretty much anyone who will pay for it. Surveillance capitalism takes this one step further. Companies like Facebook and Google offer you free services in exchange for your data. Google's surveillance isn't in the news, but it's startlingly intimate. We never lie to our search engines. Our interests and curiosities, hopes and fears, desires and sexual proclivities, are all collected and saved. Add to that the websites we visit that Google tracks through its advertising network, our Gmail accounts, our movements via Google Maps, and what it can collect from our smartphones." The smartphone, says Schneier, "is probably the most intimate surveillance device ever invented. It tracks our location continuously, so it knows where we live, where we work, and where we spend our time. It's the first and last thing we check in a day, so it knows when we wake up and when we go to sleep. We all have one, so it knows who we sleep with. Uber used just some of that information to detect one-night stands; your smartphone provider and any app you allow to collect location data knows a lot more. Surveillance capitalism drives much of the internet. It's behind most of the 'free' services, and many of the paid ones as well. Its goal is psychological manipulation, in the form of personalized advertising to persuade you to buy something or do something, like vote for a candidate. And while the individualized profile-driven manipulation exposed by Cambridge Analytica feels abhorrent, it's really no different from what every company wants in the end. This is why all your personal information is collected, and this is why it is so valuable. Companies that can understand it can use it against you." None of this is new, says Bruce Schneier : "The Wall Street Journal published an award-winning two-year series about how people are tracked both online and offline, titled "What They Know." Schneier notes that : "This might change soon. In 2016, the European Union passed the comprehensive General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The details of the law are far too complex to explain here, but some of the things it mandates are that personal data of EU citizens can only be collected and saved for 'specific, explicit, and legitimate purposes,' and only with explicit consent of the user. Consent can't be buried in the terms and conditions, nor can it be assumed unless the user opts in. This law will take effect in May, and companies worldwide are bracing for its enforcement. Because pretty much all surveillance capitalism companies collect data on Europeans, this will expose the industry like nothing else. Here's just one example. In preparation for this law, PayPal quietly published a list of over 600 companies it might share your personal data with. What will it be like when every company has to publish this sort of information, and explicitly explain how it's using your personal data? We're about to find out." • In the wake of this scandal, even Mark Zuckerberg said that his industry probably should be regulated. Although he's certainly not advocating the sort of comprehensive regulation the GDPR is bringing to Europe, Zuckerberg is right. • While Schneier may call the tech personal data invasion "surveillance capitalism," it is in fact an outcome of the Progressive sense that all the world should be "connected," as Hillary Clinton spelled out in her "Global Village" book. It is the result of Progressive Globalism at work on communications, politics, education and social interaction. No American likes to call for regulation. It is not in our genes to be regulated by an overarching government. But, since we have succumbed to the siren song of tech-led connection for every facet of our lives, the companies that make the tech connectivity possible should be treated as public utilities -- they are indeed the telephone and TV and radio and post office utilities of the 21st century. Regulation is the only answer. • It is a hard lesson -- our children have led us to a place where privacy and personal control of our lives are no longer possible. The lesson we must teach our children is that with such total control over all human lives comes severe regulation and restrictions meant to protect us from them and their Global Village. • If we do not regain control of the mechanisms of communication and social and political discourse, we will become those who are controlled and stripped of memory and personal existence. Isn't that the goal of the unauthorized collection of our personal data? Isn't that the goal of finding the connection between our likes and dislikes and what we can be persuaded to think and to vote for or against? It is precisely, minus the physical torture, what George Orwell described in 1984 : "It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children. And with good reason, for hardly a week passed in which The Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak -- 'child hero' was the phrase generally used -- had overheard some compromising remark and denounced its parents to the Thought Police....Within twenty years at the most, he reflected, the huge and simple question, 'Was life better before the Revolution than it is now?' would have ceased once and for all to be answerable. But in effect it was unanswerable even now, since the few scattered survivors from the ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another. They remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a workmate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister's face, the swirls of dust on a windy morning seventy years ago : but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their vision. They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones. And when memory failed and written records were falsified -- when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested....What can you do against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing, and then simply persists in his lunacy?" • You -- We -- can act.