Facebook sets aside $3bn for possible privacy probe damages (guilty, anyone?)

Facebook

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.”

IMG_20181216-facebookpiece1-ajb.jpg

Image: “Facebook, #2”  by Alyssa Joy Bartlett, 2018

Shares rise

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.

Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram users hit by outages (huh.)

Social media sites were inaccessible to many users across the globe on Sunday, according to Downdetector.com.

Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram users hit by outages
Most of those affected by the outages were in Europe, 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.

Downdetector.com’s live outage map showed that the issues mainly cropped up in Europe.

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.

Millions of Facebook passwords exposed internally

Smartphone users silhouetted against the Facebook logo (file photo)

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.

Samsung Phone Users Perturbed to Find They Can’t Delete Facebook

IMG_20181216-facebookpiece1-ajb.jpg[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.

by Sarah Frier

IMG_20181216-facebookpiece2-ajb.jpg[Image: ‘Facebook Unbalance” by Alyssa Joy Bartlett,  2018]

D.C. Attorney General Sues Facebook over User Privacy Violations

DEC 20, 2018

H6 facebook

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.

Russia used all major social media platforms to aid Trump (especially Instagram)

Two new reports say Russian disinformation campaign on US social media is much more far-reaching than initially thought.

This May 21, 2013 file photo shows an iPhone in Washington with Twitter, Facebook, and other apps [File: Evan Vucci/AP Photo] [Daylife]

Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election on social media was more widespread than previously thought and included attempts to divide Americans by race and extreme ideology, according to reports by private experts released on Monday by US senators from both parties.

The Russian government’s Internet Research Agency, based in St Petersburg, Russia, tried to manipulate US politics, said the reports, one by social media analysts New Knowledge and the other by an Oxford University team working with analytical firm Graphika.

The twin reports largely verified earlier findings by US intelligence agencies, but offered much more detail about Russian activity going back years that continues even now.

For instance, one Russian troll farm tried to encourage US “secessionist movements” in California and Texas, the New Knowledge report said.

“What they tried to do is divide US public opinion by the existing divisions that were there,” Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher said, reporting from Washington, DC.

Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new “data demonstrates how aggressively Russia sought to divide Americans by race, religion and ideology”.

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK

Facebook, Russian trolls and the new era of information warfare

Bob Abeshouse
by Bob Abeshouse

The Russian agency worked to erode trust in US democratic institutions and its activities have not stopped, he said. The committee collected data from social media companies that was used by the private analysts in their analysis.

Senator Mark Warner, the committee’s top Democrat, said, “These reports demonstrate the extent to which the Russians exploited the fault lines of our society to divide Americans in an attempt to undermine and manipulate our democracy.

“These attacks … were much more comprehensive, calculating and widespread than previously revealed,” he said.

Targeted African Americans

Oxford/Graphika said the Russians spread “sensationalist, conspiratorialist, and other forms of junk political news and misinformation to voters across the political spectrum.”

The group said Russian trolls urged African Americans to boycott the election or to follow wrong voting procedures, while also encouraging right-wing voters to be more confrontational.

READ MORE

US indicts 12 Russians on 2016 election meddling charges

Since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, it said, Russian trolls have put out messages urging Mexican-American and other Hispanic voters to mistrust US institutions.

The report from New Knowledge said the Russians ran “comprehensive Anti-Hillary Clinton operations,” such as efforts to organize Muslims to stage a pro-Clinton demonstration.

The report said Russian hackers also targeted Republican senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and the late John McCain, as well as former FBI chief James Comey, special prosecutor Robert Mueller, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The matter is being investigated by Special Counsel Mueller, whose long-running inquiry has clouded the Trump presidency and netted guilty pleas and indictments against former close Trump associates.

Social media, games, apps

Another major takeaway from both studies is the breadth of Russian interference that appeared on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook and was not frequently mentioned when its parent company testified on Capitol Hill. The study says that as attention was focused on Facebook and Twitter in 2017, the Russians shifted much of their activity to Instagram.

The New Knowledge study says that there were 187 million engagements with users on Instagram, while there were 77 million on Facebook.

“Instagram was a significant front in the IRA’s influence operation, something that Facebook executives appear to have avoided mentioning in congressional testimony,” the researchers wrote. They added that “our assessment is that Instagram is likely to be a key battleground on an ongoing basis.”

The Russian activity went far beyond the three tech companies that provided information, reaching many smaller sites as well. The New Knowledge report details sophisticated attempts to infiltrate internet games, browser extensions and music apps. The Russians even used social media to encourage users of the game Pokemon Go – which was at peak popularity in the months before the 2016 presidential election – to use politically divisive usernames, for example.

The report discusses even more unconventional ways that the Russian accounts attempted to connect with Americans and recruit assets, such as merchandise with certain messages, specific follower requests, job offers and even help lines that could encourage people to unknowingly disclose sensitive information to Russia that could later be used against them.

The Russians’ attempts to influence Americans on social media first became widely public in the fall of 2017. Several months later, Mueller’s indictment laid out a vast, organised Russian effort to sway political opinion. While the social media companies had already detailed some of the efforts, the indictment tied actual people to the operation and named 13 Russians responsible.

The Kremlin has denied the allegations of meddling. Trump has denied any collusion between Russia and his campaign.

Facebook v Soros: ‘Congress must probe’

Soros Facebook montage
Facebook said it had Mr Soros investigated after he had called it a “menace”

One of George Soros’s lieutenants has called on US politicians to probe Facebook, after the social network confirmed that it had hired a PR firm to make claims about the financier.

The head of Mr Soros’s grant-making network claimed Facebook had smeared the philanthropist, adding “this needs independent, congressional oversight”.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s deputy chief, has also clarified her role.

She said she had been told of the PR firm but had not remembered its name.

The latest developments follow the social network’s decision to publish a memo by its departing communications chief, Elliot Schrage.

In it, he confirmed Facebook had directed the PR firm Definers to investigate Soros’s links to the Freedom from Facebook campaign, which is seeking the company’s break-up.

Mr Schrage added that related documents were then sent to journalists on Facebook’s behalf.

The memo had originally been sent to Facebook’s staff and had already been leaked to the news site Techcrunch .

But its re-publication by Facebook represented the first confirmation that Definers had not been engaged in a rogue operation.

Patrick Gaspard, president of Mr Soros’s Open Society Foundations, responded by calling for an official investigation, and suggested that Facebook had deliberately timed the revelation to coincide with the US Thanksgiving holiday.

In addition to publishing Mr Schrage’s message, Facebook also issued an update from its chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

A week ago, she wrote written that she had not known that Facebook had hired Definers, the PR firm involved, nor knew about the work it had done on her company’s behalf.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg had also described both himself and his deputy as having been kept “out of the loop”.

Ms Sandberg now acknowledges that she had in fact been told about the company.

“Last week, I didn’t remember a firm called Definers,” she wrote.

“I asked our team to look into the work Definers did for us and to double-check whether anything had crossed my desk,

“Some of their work was incorporated into materials presented to me and I received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced.”

Sheryl SandbergSheryl Sandberg has denied being involved in Definers’ actions

Ms Sandberg added that she rejected claims that her firm had sought to put the spotlight on Mr Soros in order to exploit racist conspiracy theories against him.

“It was never anyone’s intention to play into an anti-Semitic narrative against Mr Soros or anyone else. Being Jewish is a core part of who I am and our company stands firmly against hate,” she wrote.

‘Menace to society’

Some company-watchers have suggested that Facebook’s decision to publish the memo marks an attempt to protect Ms Sandberg.

She had reportedly angered “many people” within her firm by attempting to distance herself from the controversy, according to an earlier report by the Wall Street Journal, which said she had a reputation for closely managing Facebook’s media strategies.

Mr Schrage wrote that he took responsibility for the affair.

He said that his team had only asked Definers to look into Mr Soros after the billionaire had described the social network as being a “menace to society”.

But Mr Schrage provided no evidence that Mr Soros was more directly involved in the campaign.

And although he acknowledged that he “should have known of the decision to expand [Definers’] mandate,” he did not address specifically how he thought the PR firm had overstepped the mark.

His memo did, however, touch on the fact that Facebook has become prone to leaks.

“I’m deeply disappointed that so much internal discussion and finger pointing has become public,” Mr Schrage wrote.

“This is a serious threat to our culture and ability to work together in difficult times.”

President Cook

The New York Times has also published a follow-up report to its original expose about Facebook and Definers.

Tim CookDefiners is accused of having worked against Tim Cook

It contains claims that Definers also engaged in a campaign against Apple at a time the PR firm was working for the chip-maker Qualcomm – the two tech firms are involved in a long-running legal battle.

The report alleges that Definers promoted the idea that Tim Cook might seek to become US President in 2020, which the newspaper suggested had been done to undermine the Apple chief executive’s relationship with President Trump.

The BBC has contacted all three companies for comment but has not had a response.

The NYT did, however, publish a statement from Definers saying its work was “absolutely no different than what public affairs firms do every day for their clients across industries and issues across the country”.