Facebook secretly paid hundreds of contractors to transcribe audio clips shared by users in private messages. That’s according to Bloomberg News, which reports the practice rattled the contract workers, who were often subjected to vulgar and intrusive recordings and were not told whose conversations they were transcribing or why. In a statement, Facebook said the practice was aimed at improving its artificial intelligence transcription service, but that the company had “paused human review of audio more than a week ago.” An Irish data privacy commission said Wednesday it’s investigating whether Facebook violated European Union privacy laws. Bloomberg reported earlier this year that Amazon, Apple and Google similarly hired thousands of workers to listen to users’ recorded audio.
Facebook has said it will set aside $3bn (£2.3bn) to cover the potential costs of an investigation by US authorities into its privacy practices.
While it has provided for a heavy toll from the investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission, the final cost could be $5bn, it said.
The social media giant also said total sales for the first three months of the year leapt 26% to $15.08bn, narrowly beating market expectations.
Monthly users rose 8%, it said.
That rise takes the number of users to 2.38 billion.
“We had a good quarter and our business and community continued to grow,” founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said.
“We are focused on building out our privacy-focused vision for the future of social networking, and working collaboratively to address important issues around the internet.”
The shares are up by nearly 40% in the year to date, far outperforming the broader market, and were up nearly 5% in late trading on Wall Street.
Facebook is facing a probe over the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, however no findings have yet been published.
Facebook was labelled “morally bankrupt pathological liars” by New Zealand’s privacy commissioner this month after hosting a livestream of the Christchurch attacks that left 50 dead.
In an interview after the attacks, Mr Zuckerberg refused to commit to any changes to the platform’s live technology, including a time delay on livestreams.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, last week admitted that millions more Instagram users were affected by a security lapse than it had previously disclosed. It had mistakenly stored the passwords of hundreds of millions of users without encryption.
Social media sites were inaccessible to many users across the globe on Sunday, according to Downdetector.com.
Social media networks, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, were inaccessible to some users across the world on Sunday, according to Downdetector.com, a website which monitors outages.
The outage tracking website showed that there are more than 9,000 incidents of people reporting issues with Facebook.
Separately, Downdetector.com also showed that there were issues with WhatsApp and Instagram, but with a relatively lower count of outage reports.
Facebook had experienced one of its longest outages in March, when some users around the globe faced trouble accessing Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp for over 24 hours.
The passwords of millions of Facebook users were accessible by up to 20,000 employees of the social network, it has been reported.
Security researcher Brian Krebs broke the news about data protection failures, which saw up to 600 million passwords stored in plain text.
The passwords that were exposed could date back to 2012, he said.
In a statement, Facebook said it had now resolved a “glitch” that had stored the passwords on its internal network.
In a detailed expose, Mr Krebs said a Facebook source had told him about “security failures” that had let developers create applications that logged and stored the passwords without encrypting them.
Commenting on Mr Krebs’s story Facebook engineer, Scott Renfro said an internal investigation started after Facebook had uncovered the logs had not revealed any “signs of misuse”.
In public comments, Facebook said it had discovered the issue in January as part of a routine security review.
And its investigation showed that most of the people affected were users of Facebook Lite, which tends to be used in nations where net connections are sparse and slow.
“We estimate that we will notify hundreds of millions of Facebook Lite users, tens of millions of other Facebook users, and tens of thousands of Instagram users,” the company told Reuters.
But it added it would enforce a password re-set only if its taskforce looking into the issue uncovered abuse of the login credentials.
The news caps a long period of trouble for Facebook over the way it handles and protects user data.
In September last year, it said information on 50 million users had been exposed by a security flaw.
And earlier in 2018 it revealed that data on millions of users had been harvested by data science company Cambridge Analytica.
[Image: ‘Facebook’ by Alyssa Joy Bartlett, 2018]
(Bloomberg) — Nick Winke, a photographer in the Pacific northwest, was perusing internet forums when he came across a complaint that alarmed him: On certain Samsung Electronics Co. smartphones, users aren’t allowed to delete the Facebook app.
Winke bought his Samsung Galaxy S8, an Android-based device that comes with Facebook’s social network already installed, when it was introduced in 2017. He has used the Facebook app to connect with old friends and to share pictures of natural landscapes and his Siamese cat — but he didn’t want to be stuck with it. He tried to remove the program from his phone, but the chatter proved true — it was undeletable. He found only an option to “disable,” and he wasn’t sure what that meant.
“It just absolutely baffles me that if I wanted to completely get rid of Facebook that it essentially would still be on my phone, which brings up more questions,” Winke said in an interview. “Can they still track your information, your location, or whatever else they do? We the consumer should have say in what we want and don’t want on our products.”
Consumers have become more alert about their digital rights and more vigilant about privacy in the past year, following revelations about Facebook’s information-sharing practices and regulators’ heightened scrutiny of online data collection. Some people have deleted their Facebook accounts in protest of the company’s lapses, while others simply want to make sure they have the option to do so. Many Android phone users have begun to question Samsung’s deal to sell phones with a permanent version of Facebook — and some of them are complaining on social media.
A Facebook spokesperson said the disabled version of the app acts like it’s been deleted, so it doesn’t continue collecting data or sending information back to Facebook. But there’s rarely communication with the consumer about the process. The Menlo Park, California-based company said whether the app is deletable or not depends on various pre-install deals Facebook has made with phone manufacturers, operating systems and mobile operators around the world over the years, including Samsung. Facebook, the world’s largest social network, wouldn’t disclose the financial nature of the agreements, but said they’re meant to give the consumer “the best” phone experience right after opening the box.
Balwinder Singh’s experience wasn’t what he would consider the best. Singh, who lives in the Susquehanna Valley of the eastern U.S. and works in transportation, bought his Samsung phone seven months ago. He first tried to delete the Facebook app when he was setting up the device.
“My news feed was full of negative stuff, people going crazy on social media,” he said. “It was affecting me emotionally and mentally.” Even after disabling the app, he was bothered to still have it on his phone.
Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, said it provides a pre-installed Facebook app on selected models with options to disable it, and once it’s disabled, the app is no longer running. Facebook declined to provide a list of the partners with which it has deals for permanent apps, saying that those agreements vary by region and type. There is no complete list available online, and consumers may not know if Facebook is pre-loaded unless they specifically ask a customer service representative when they purchase a phone.
Consumer-advocacy groups have been skeptical of such arrangements for years, according to Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
“It’s only recently that people have become to understand that these apps really power the spy in your pocket,” he said. “Companies should be filing public documents on these deals, and Facebook should turn over public documents that show there is no data collection when the app is disabled.”
Facebook isn’t the only company whose apps show up on smartphones by default. A T-Mobile US Inc. list of apps built into its version of the Samsung Galaxy S9, for example, includes the social network as well as Amazon.com Inc. The phone also comes loaded with many Google apps such as YouTube, Google Play Music and Gmail; Google is the creator of the Android software that powers the phone. Other phone makers and service providers, including LG Electronics Inc., Sony Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc., have made similar deals with app makers. When Twitter’s app is loaded on a new phone by default, it wouldn’t collect any data unless a user had an account or created a new one, and opened the app and logged in, the company said.
But Facebook, which has spent the past year apologizing for security breaches and data privacy scandals, is the one drawing ire about its irrevocable presence on Samsung’s phones. “Very slimy,” Twitter user Gopinath Pandalai in Bangalore, who goes by @gopibella, wrote on the site in October. “Been a Samsung customer for 10 years. Time to move on.”
In December, Justin McMurry, whose Twitter handle is @BoutSebm, wrote that he considered Facebook a privacy threat. “If I can’t delete it, this will be the last Samsung product I ever own.”
Apple Inc., whose iPhone is the top-selling smartphone in the U.S., doesn’t pre-install Facebook or any other third-party apps on its new phones.
José Cortés, a Spaniard living in Sweden, has started using Facebook on his phone more infrequently, sharing less because he doesn’t like the way it broadcasts his activity to his friends. If there’s an event coming up on Facebook, he never marks that he’s going or interested, even if he is, because he dislikes that his attendance will advertise the event to his other friends.
“I understand Samsung is trying to make it easy for the user, but I don’t like that it does not allow me to uninstall,” he said. For his next phone, he said he’ll consider buying something else.
[Image: ‘Facebook Unbalance” by Alyssa Joy Bartlett, 2018]
This week in Washington has distilled all the chaos, upheaval, drama and conflict of the first two years of the Donald Trump presidency down to its purest form.
It’s been a bungee jump from high to low, then careening everywhere in between – and it’s not altogether clear that it won’t end with the loud and final thud of an impact on the ground.
Here’s a look at the crises – plural – that have unfolded in the past few days.
Most, if not all, are of the president’s own making. Mr Trump campaigned as a disrupter, and this week has been disruption in the extreme.
The shutdown fight
At the end of last week it appeared that Congress was on a glide path toward avoiding a partial shutdown of the federal government.
Then, on Thursday, everything went haywire. After the White House had signalled it would support the stopgap funding measure, hard-core conservative media outlets and politicians demanded the president draw a line in the sand over building his much-promised border wall.
Mr Trump abruptly changed course, announcing that “any measure that funds the government must include border security”. The fact he’s stopped calling for a wall and instead asked for border security and “metal slats” – fencing – is a concession that might have meant something if it was made weeks ago, and not under the shadow of a shutdown.
The irony is that the warning was made at a signing ceremony for bipartisan farm legislation, during which the president touted another recently passed bill reforming the criminal justice system. Green shoots of inter-party co-operation appeared this week, only to be met with the herbicide of wall acrimony.
The House of Representatives seems solidly behind including wall funding in any bill. But the Senate, with only 51 Republicans and unified Democratic opposition, is well short of the 60 votes needed to agree to such a measure. And if enough House members change their mind, there’s always the chance that the president will veto a stopgap bill without any funding for the wall.
The dynamic changes considerably on 3 January, when Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats take over the House.
At that point, the door slams shut on wall funding ever being approved in the House. The Senate may very well acquiesce to a new wall-free spending bill and the president becomes the final roadblock.
Would he back down, giving the House Democrats an early win? That may be a bitter pill to swallow.
For Mr Trump, however, the pain he appears to fear from his supporters seems to outweigh in his mind the political discomfort from a shutdown.
The great withdrawal
If Mr Trump’s pivot on budget funding was surprising, his unexpected announcement that he’s pulling the 2,000 US troops out of Syria – and reports of plans for thousands more coming home from Afghanistan – was an electric shock through the US foreign policy establishment.
The fact that the president, who campaigned in part on drawing down US involvement obligations abroad, might contemplate such a move is not unexpected. The manner in which the announcement was made, with little apparent consultation with senior government officials or US allies abroad, is the primary source of upheaval – and the cause for concern among even those who might otherwise support the decision.
Was Trump right to say ISIL is beaten?
Then came the exclamatory punctuation mark at the end of the drawdown drama. Defence Secretary James Mattis, perhaps the most universally respected member of Mr Trump’s Cabinet, announced he was resigning because of differences of opinion he has with the president. In his announcement, he offered full-throated support for the US alliance structure and a warning that the US must serve as a counterweight to authoritarian rivals.
Then came his parting shot.
“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defence whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” he wrote.
It was one of the most direct suggestions of disapproval from any of Mr Trump’s ever-expanding list of former advisers and Cabinet secretaries.
All of this raises the question, why did the president act now? There has been some speculation that it may be tied the budget fight over the Mexican border wall. If people tell the president there’s not enough money, then he’ll reduce US commitments abroad. Others have suggested the move was a distraction in the midst of an unpleasant news cycle. Or perhaps it was a move to placate Turkey or – an evergreen explanation – Russia.
Whatever the reason, Mr Trump has roiled his supporters in the US Senate at a time when he needs them most. In the past, Republican politicians have managed to walk the line between offering tuts of disapproval for presidential actions they don’t like, while still voting lockstep for conservative policy priorities.
In the coming days, however, this straddling effort will be tested like never before.
Mueller’s circling army
In a recent article in The Atlantic, Benjamin Wittes and Mikhaila Fogel compare Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation of possible Russian ties to the Trump presidential campaign to a siege on a walled city.
If the investigation is “a campaign of degradation over a substantial period of time”, this week brought a number of new volleys that could hasten the eventual collapse.
There was Michael Flynn’s sentencing fiasco, in which Mr Trump’s former national security adviser admitted in open court that he knowingly lied to the FBI and wasn’t tricked or trapped into it. The judge, Emmet Sullivan, then suggested he sold his country out.
Facing the prospect of an angry judge threatening jail time, Flynn’s lawyers asked for a sentencing delay – dangling the possibility of more co-operation by Flynn and guaranteeing this portion of the Mueller investigation will stretch on until at least March.
Meanwhile, the Senate released two investigations into Russian social media campaigns to influence the 2016 presidential election.
They indicated the scope of the attack was much wider than previously known. The efforts reached hundreds of millions of people on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other services, engaging conservatives and discouraging key voting blocs on the left, all in an attempt to help Mr Trump’s presidential bid.
The president and his supporters have dismissed evidence of Russian meddling as blame-shifting by Democrats seeking an excuse for their 2016 defeat. With these reports, that becomes a more difficult case to make.
What’s still not known is if there are any direct links between the Russians and the Trump team. Rumours swirl of new Mueller indictments on the horizon, however, perhaps of Trump confidant Roger Stone, who had contacts with WikiLeaks, the group that released hacked Democratic documents.
Then there’s the NBC News report that Mr Mueller could release his findings and conclusions in mid-February – which, although it seems like an eternity in US politics these days, is just two months away.
The clock is ticking – providing a possible explanation for Mr Trump’s dyspeptic attitude of late.
A crumbling foundation
There was evidence as early as 2016, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, that Donald Trump frequently used his family’s charitable foundation – funded in large part by donations from other people – to settle business lawsuits, buy baubles at auctions and, during the presidential campaign, advance his political interests.
Any of this could qualify as “self-dealing” and put the charity’s tax status at risk.
The controversies swirling around the foundation attracted the attention of the Democrat-run attorney general’s office in New York, which launched an investigation. On Tuesday, they negotiated the dismantling of the charity.
Mr Trump and his lawyers explained that they wanted this all along, and that the entire inquiry was the result of “sleazy Democrats”. But this is another dark cloud that won’t be disappearing anytime soon.
Barbara Underwood, in a statement heralding the action, called the foundation “little more than a chequebook” for the Trumps, with activity that displayed “a shocking pattern of illegality”.
What’s more, she said, the state would continue to seek millions of dollars in back taxes and fines from the Trump Organization, and sanctions against the president and his three oldest children.
During the 2016 campaign, Mr Trump repeatedly criticised Hillary Clinton and her family’s much-larger operating foundation. Two years later, however, it’s the president’s charity that remains in the headlines.
Dow heading down
Mr Trump has spent much of his presidency touting the seemingly endless ascent of the US stock market.
“The Stock Market just reached an All-Time High during my Administration for the 102nd Time, a presidential record, by far, for less than two years,” he tweeted in early October.
Politicians who hitch their star to the stock market, however, can be in for a bumpy ride. Since Mr Trump wrote that tweet, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen more than 4,300 points – a 16% decline.
Due to a combination of rising interest rates, the president’s trade wars, the impending government shutdown and indications of slower economic growth, the now long-in-the-tooth bull market may be coming to an end. December has seen the biggest market decline since the Great Depression and the largest drop in any month since 2009.
Larger economic indicators, such as GDP growth, unemployment and consumer confidence, are still strong. The current economic expansion is now entering its 13th year, however, and no one has yet discovered how to outwit the business cycle.
What goes up eventually comes down (at least a bit), and the timing may not be good for the president.
The D.C. attorney general sued Facebook Wednesday for allowing outside companies, including political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, to access user data and misleading users on the privacy of their data. In more news about Facebook, the social networking giant has temporarily blocked the account of Yair Netanyahu, the son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over “hate speech.” Earlier this month, Yair Netanyahu posted multiple racist posts, calling Palestinians “monsters” and saying he wished there were no Muslims in Israel, claiming Muslims were terrorists.