A Reason Why Governments Tip Toe around Facebook?

September 6, 2019

Is Facebook a criminal evidence preservation resource?

How important is Facebook to law enforcement, and how important should it be? How broad should efforts be to preserve potential evidence on the platform? These are some questions we pondered when we read the Daily Caller’s article, “Facebook’s New ‘Clear History’ Tool Hits a Legal Roadblock Over Criminal Evidence Concerns.” The tool in question, Off-Facebook Activity, addresses privacy concerns by giving users control over what data other apps and websites share with Facebook. (It does not, however, completely “clear” user’s browsing history, as some had hoped.)

The Texas civil case at hand is one of human trafficking facilitated, alleges the plaintiff, through Facebook’s platform. The victim’s attorney, Annie McAdams, filed a temporary restraining order to block Off-Facebook Activity altogether, reasoning the tool would obscure data relevant to her case. In doing so, she cited the federal Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop enabling Sex Traffickers Act, both enacted in 2018. This would seem reasonable but for a couple of factors, reporter Audrey Conklin argues. For one thing, U.S. Code Section 230 protects social media companies from being held responsible for content published by others on their platforms. Furthermore, Facebook has other mechanisms for preserving data relevant to legal cases. Citing tech lawyer Brad Shear, Conklin writes:

“Shear explained that law enforcement can still access information behind Off-Facebook Activity under proper legal procedures because ‘Facebook still has that information on the back end because they don’t delete any information on their platform.’”

Interesting. The article continues:

“Facebook is used regularly as a resource to catch both active and potential criminals, including mass shooters and drug traffickers, so long as law enforcement subpoenas the information needed to identify them. …

We note:

“Facebook also works with Polaris and the National Human Trafficking Hotline ‘to provide resources and assist victims of human trafficking,’ according to a page on its site dedicated to human trafficking information, which also includes a list of human trafficking hotlines in various countries. The social media giant complied with 88% of 41,336 U.S. government requests for information in 2018, according to Facebook Transparency. There were 23,801 search warrant requests made for 36,652 accounts, 90% of which were produced. Of 8,360 subpoena requests for 13,728 accounts, data was produced for 83%. Hundreds of requests related to national security threats were also requested.”

So, according to Conklin, McAdams is approaching the issue all wrong. Instead of filing a broad restraining order against the Off-Facebook Activity tool, she could have asked Facebook nicely. However, the Transparency page states it will preserve information upon request from government law-enforcement, not private attorneys. Perhaps the issue is more complicated than the write-up suggests, and McAdams is not simply tech-ignorant, as Conklin charges.

Whatever the case here, there is no denying Facebook data has been playing an increasingly important role in law-enforcement efforts. Is that why punishments are mostly hand waving?

Cynthia Murrell, September 06, 2019

Facebook: One Must Respect Different Views of Reality

August 28, 2019

I wonder if the works of the Argentinean writer Borges are required reading at Facebook.

DarkCyber noted this article in Gizmodo: Alex Stamos, Ex-Facebook Security Chief, Blames Journalists for Cambridge Analytica Fallout. This passage warranted a tick mark:

According to Facebook’s former chief security officer, reporters who covered the company’s Cambridge Analytica scandal are at least partly to blame.

Alex Stamos, who oversaw security at Facebook when news first broke about the scandal last year, criticized BuzzFeed and “other outlets” over what he called “unbalanced reporting on privacy,” saying the media coverage of Facebook’s numerous privacy violations has been geared all along toward hampering its ability to share data for legitimate research.

DarkCyber spotted this write up as well: “Facebook Staff Had Concerns About ‘Sketchy’ Cambridge Analytica Year Before 2016 Election.” We circled this statement:

Facebook employees discussed for months how they would look into Cambridge Analytica’s practices. A document published by the company containing the emails appears to show the company only learned that Aleksandr Kogan, a developer working for the political data firm, had improperly gathered information on tens of millions of Americans in December of 2015, after the Guardian published a report.

Yep, interesting company. Too bad Borges is not around to explain the two views using Facebook’s duality.

Stephen E Arnold, August 28, 2019

What Does Facebook Know?

August 19, 2019

We noted “Why I Printed My Facebook.” The hook for the story was a single person’s interest in what Facebook knew. The write up has a number of useful factoids. Here is one:

All told, my Facebook archive was 10,057 pages long. I decided to discard the 4,612-page document of disembodied “likes,” which brought the total down to a more manageable 5,445 pages.

What a discovery DarkCyber found interesting from this individual’s research:

“A document called “Friend Peer Group,” for example, listed, in one laughably short line, the “Life stage description” that Facebook had assigned to me and my friend network, presumably based on our ages and other data points. According to Facebook, my millennial peers and I are well into “Established Adult Life,” a designation that many of us would find hilarious.”

Another one:

Other files were less amusing. “Advertisers Who Uploaded a Contact List With Your Information” was a 116-page roster of companies, most of which I had never heard of, that have used my data to try to sell me things. The document called “Facial Recognition Code” was disturbingly brief and indecipherable, translating my face into a solid block of jumbled text—a code that only Facebook’s proprietary technology can unlock—about 15 rows deep. Some documents held secrets, too. “Search History” revealed an embarrassingly detailed record of my personal obsessions and preoccupations over the years. Crushes, phobias, people I have argued with and envied?this was the information I never wanted to post on Facebook, but instead had asked Facebook to help me find. This information, along with the facial recognition codes of my children (which were not included in the .zip file, but which I assume Facebook owns), is the data I most wish I could scrub from the servers of the world.

DarkCyber is not into Facebook. We are confident that Facebook knows about BeyondSearch and maybe Tess Arnold. But other members of the team? Not much. We live in a fantasy world, right?

Stephen E Arnold, August 19, 2019

Are the British Tossing Facebook?

August 16, 2019

The British are abandoning Facebook in droves and the question is why? Zero Hedge has the answer in the article, “Exodus: Brits Abandon Facebook As Usage Plummets.” For the past twelve months, British use of Facebook own the mobile app has dropped 38%. The drop in usage is directly tied to the Cambridge Analytical scandal. The scandal took place in summer 2018, when Facebook failed to disclose that Cambridge Analytical abused Facebook user data.

Users have also decreased the number of web links and ads they clink on in Facebook on average of 2.6% per month. Zuckerberg claims the opposite and that Europe’s Facebook usage continues to grow. Facebook investors used to view user metrics as a reliable way to determine the platform’s health, but there are large amounts of fake accounts. Facebook also lost $120 billon in July 2018 with slow European growth.

One expert thinks differently:

“Matti Littunen, a social media expert at Enders Analysis, questioned the alternative data – didn’t believe the figures represented an accurate view of Facebook users’ activity across the UK, due to his belief that Facebook’s usage data showed an uptick. Instead, Mixpanel’s data could reflect changes in advertising tactics, he said. Littunen said if usage does begin to fall – advertising prices will start to rise as firms compete for smaller audiences, leading advertisers to shift ad money elsewhere.”

Facebook, like most of the unprotected Internet, takes advantage of user data and sells it to the highest bidder. Also Facebook is an old school platform and younger users do not want to be on it. Facebook might have had its time in the sun and privacy violations are could be driving it into the history books.

Whitney Grace, August 16, 2019

Libra Scams Get Ahead of the Facebook Cryptocurrency Launch

August 2, 2019

A digital currency from Facebook—what could go wrong? Rampant fraud, for starters, and that’s before cryptocurrency Libra has even been put into circulation. The Verge reports, “Libra Scams Are Already Proliferating on Facebook.” Writer Jon Porter reports:

“An investigation by The Washington Post has uncovered a dozen accounts, pages, and groups across Facebook and Instagram which misleadingly claim to be official hubs for Libra, Facebook’s proposed digital currency. In some cases these pages, which were only removed after WaPo reported them to Facebook, offered to sell Libra at a discount through third-party websites. Given the proliferation of cryptocurrency scams seen in recent years, it’s not surprising that scammers have descended on Libra given its widespread attention. However, it’s far more surprising that Facebook doesn’t seem to have been prepared for the influx of tricksters on its own service, especially as it struggles to assure regulators that it’s equipped to handle a global currency.”

Yes, the irony has been noted. Cryptocurrency scams have plagued Facebook’s platform before, so it is puzzling they did not take stronger measures to prevent this before even announcing Libra. The company employee in charge of Calibra, the Libra-associated digital wallet, has already been hauled into a Senate hearing. In The Next Web’s article, “Facebook Forced to Take Action Against Fraudsters Peddling Fake Libra,” writer Matthew Beedham tells us:

“Earlier this month, Facebook‘s head of Calibra, David Marcus, faced questions at a senate hearing. Marcus received numerous questions that interrogated many of Facebook‘s claims about its digital currency. Indeed, trust was a common theme and cropped up 69 times during the questioning.”

One representative went so far as to state she thinks Libra is so risky it should be ended before it even begins. Perhaps that would be wise, but what are the chances Facebook will embrace such wisdom?

Cynthia Murrell, August 2, 2019

Facebook: Running Out of Users? No, Just Nibbling on Its Foot

July 25, 2019

About that Facebook growth? The US may be saturated, and FBF or Facebook fatigue may be kicking. Rumors about “phantom” Facebookers in far flung countries won’t die. The regulators are flocking with legal eagles, and some countries see Facebook as a piggy bank filled with easy money.

What else could go wrong?

According to Information (no, that’s the name of an online publication), quite a bit. “Facebook Secret Research Warned of ‘Tipping Point’ Threat to Core App” discloses allegedly confidential information that doom approaches with a Like icon. (We will take a look at secrets let loose in our August 6, 2019, “DarkCyber” video program.)

What’s the Facebook secret?

…if enough users started posting on Instagram or WhatsApp instead of Facebook, the blue app could enter a self-sustaining decline in usage that would be difficult to undo. Although such “tipping points” are difficult to predict…

Here’s a Venn diagram (remember those you algebra lovers?) to prove this “secret”:

app overlap fixed

These could be Facebook’s five circles of social hell. Source: Information (that’s a great name when searching!)

To simplify, Facebook is cannibalizing itself. Without a flow of “real,” honest to goodness users of “old” Facebook, it’s possible for the core service to shrink and maybe die.

No, no, no, howls one group of FB Likers. Yes, yes, yes, shout another group which collectively dislikes Facebook.

Several observations:

  1. Monopolies do what they do, steered by the invisible hand of digital leprosy
  2. Reversing the cannibalism is going to take more than high school science club management methods, apologies, and writing checks to assorted nation states
  3. A weakened Facebook can fall prey to the MySpace disease, the digital pneumonia which thrives in poorly managed social spaces.

Net net: Worth watching. Get your popcorn, kick back, and think how certain government agencies will obtain high value information from a weakened Facebook.

Stephen E Arnold, July 25, 2019

Facebook: Fine, We Are Cooperative

July 25, 2019

Other than sharing fake news, being a hotspot for senior citizens, and causing more drama than a family reunion, Facebook is known to not cooperate with authorities. As a private business, Facebook chooses its own autonomy but the French are fed up and Facebook might comply. A story from Reuters shares that it is an “Exclusive: In A World First, Facebook To Give Data On Hate Speech In French Courts.”

Facebook is notorious for not protecting its users’ privacy, because they sell it to advertisers. However in an odd turn of non-self-serving events, Facebook complied with French courts to turn over information on users that post hate speech. French Minister for Digital Affairs Cedric O is a big supporter of French President Emmanuel Macron and has advised him on numerous issues related to technology companies.

Macron wants France to exhibit model behavior:

“The decision by the world’s biggest social media network comes after successive meetings between Zuckerberg and Macron, who wants to take a leading role globally on the regulation of hate speech and the spread of false information online. So far, Facebook has cooperated with French justice on matters related to terrorist attacks and violent acts by transferring the IP addresses and other identification data of suspected individuals to French judges who formally demanded it.”

Facebook already turns over information related to terrorism and violent actions, but the inclusion of hate speech will allow French judicial processes to run as intended. O maintains connections with Facebook executives. Since O took office, he has made it a priority to target hate speech. O is also not against US tech companies buying smaller, promising French startups.

Facebook has not revealed hate speech users’ information in the past, because the company says it upholds freedom of speech and does not want other governments misusing that power.

Facebook may be a freed of speech champion, but we known they are ruled by the almighty dollar or, in this case, euro. Or is it eur O?

Whitney Grace, July 25, 2019

Facebook: Fighting the Good Ad Fight

July 21, 2019

It is search to the rescue! Following a settlement meant to eliminate discrimination on Facebook last year, the company is amending how it delivers housing, job, and financial services ads. ABC News reports, “Facebook to Make Jobs, Credit Ads Searchable for US Users.” The platform makes most of its money from targeted advertising, but the technique has its problems. Reporter Frank Bajak writes:

“The move is likely part of Facebook’s strategy to show regulators that is doing a good job policing its own service — putting it in compliance with existing anti-discrimination law — and doesn’t need a heavy-handed approach from lawmakers. It comes as the company is facing increasing regulatory pressures.

As part of the settlement with plaintiffs including the ACLU and the National Fair Housing Alliance, Facebook agreed in March to stop targeting people based on age, gender and zip code and to also eliminate such categories as national origin and sexual orientation. The groups had sued claiming Facebook violated anti-discrimination laws by preventing audiences including single mothers and the disabled from seeing many housing ads — while some job ads were not reaching women and older workers. Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney at the ACLU and the group’s lead attorney in the case, said making the three Facebook databases searchable by anyone ‘definitely creates greater access to information about economic opportunities.’”

Of course, there could still be a lot of bias hidden in those ad-steering algorithms, but good luck achieving complete transparency there—proprietary software and all that. Besides, there are also the issues of privacy, anti-trust violations, and hate speech to consider. At least Facebook appears to be looking ahead: they say they are fighting voter suppression efforts and potential attempts to interfere with the 2020 census. Will it be enough to keep its critics, like the ACLU and the National Fair Housing Alliance, at bay?

Cynthia Murrell, July 21, 2019

Facebook: Soldiering On Despite Adversity

July 19, 2019

The Libra hearing was painful to watch. Not only was the information presented in a colorless manner, Facebook’s attention shifter illuminates what happens when governance and regulation take a holiday.

Anyone considering a job at a large company should take note of this resource— ZDNet reports, “Glassdoor Survey: Employees Give Top Rating to VMWare’s CEO, but Zuckerberg Plunges.” Poor Zuck; the famous Facebook CEO dove from 16th place last year to number 55 in this year’s roster of the 100 best CEOs to work for. It could be worse. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has yet to appear on the list, which began in 2013.

Glassdoor only considers companies with more than 1,000 employees “large” for the purpose of this survey. Writer Tom Foremski reports:

“The annual ranking of the top 100 CEOs of the largest US companies is prepared by Glassdoor, which hosts reviews of companies and their management by employees. … Adobe, Microsoft, and LinkedIn CEOs joined VMware in the 2019 top 10. Overall, the tech sector has the most employee-approved CEOs with 27 in the Top 100, followed by healthcare with 12 CEOs, and manufacturing with eight CEOs. The San Francisco/Bay Area is home to 17 CEOs on the Top 100 List — with nearly all in tech. New York City has 16 CEOs on the list — none are in tech — with mostly financial services and management consulting companies.

We also noted this statement:

“Zuckerberg held the No. 1 spot on the list in 2013 and maintained a top 10 rank until 2018, dropping to No. 16. His declining popularity with employees appear to mirror his handling of high-profile problems over privacy and targeted advertising. A similar fall from grace has affected Google, which had the No. 1 CEO in 2015 with Larry Page but now sits at No. 46. Like Facebook, Google has come under considerable public criticism over the past few years.”

Three CEOs have made the list every year for the past three: Zuckerberg, Tim Cook of Apple, and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff. Only seven women appear on this year’s list; that’s actually pretty good, though, considering only five percent of CEOs at S&P 500 companies are female. Glassdoor assures us it employs an algorithm that can tell if respondents are trying to skew results, and that it punishes guilty companies accordingly. The curious can see this year’s results, and an archive of previous ones, here.

DarkCyber believes that more exposure of the company’s plans and ideas may not add sparkle to the social media firm.

Cynthia Murrell, July 19, 2019

Facebook Usage: Who Is Abandoning Ship?

July 15, 2019

It is hard to imagine any social media platform being declared “old,” but Generation Z has already labeled Facebook as thing nobody uses anymore except grandparents sharing photos. Wandering attention spans and cooler Internet places lure younger users away, but there is another reason Facebook usage is down says The Guardian in the story, “Facebook Usage Falling After Privacy Scandals, Data Suggests.” Since April 2018, Facebook activity, including likes, shares, and posts, have dropped 20%, then usage picked up, but circa fall and winter 2018 they fell yet again.

Why is this happening to still one of the top social median platforms? The answer lays in how it handles privacy:

“The decline coincided with a series of data, privacy and hate speech scandals. In September the company discovered a breach affecting 50m accounts, in November it admitted that an executive hired a PR firm to attack the philanthropist George Soros, and it has been repeatedly criticized for allowing its platform to be used to fuel ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.”

Facebook is a social communication tool and not the problem itself. The problem is with the people who run and use, such as the attack on Soros and fueled hatred fires in Myanmar. (Does anyone else think about the Rwanda genocide, except radios were used instead of social media?). Facebook is a crazy, yet necessary tool in today’s wacko world. Despite the breaches, Facebook continues to grow

Users say that while they maintain their accounts, they are not using them as much or they have deleted them entirely. The younger crowds continue to stay away and there are more alluring Web sites to connect with than Facebook.

DarkCyber believes that Facebook chug along. At some point, most users may be law enforcement and intelligence professionals. But $5 billion fines and zero regulatory oversight suggest that whatever content is in Facebook, it has value to some people—for now.

Senior citizens do love looking at pix of their grandchildren.

Whitney Grace, July 15, 2019

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