Phrase of the Day: Collateral Damage

June 14, 2018

The phrase “collateral damage” means, according to the Cambridge Dictionary:

during a war, the unintentional deaths and injuries of people who are not soldiers, and damage that is caused to their homes, hospitals, schools, etc.

Cambridge University itself may be touched by blowback from the antics of one of its professors and a company which shares the name of the town on the River Cam. Twitch the mantle blue, of course.

The Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scandal has rightly been scrutinized by everyone from individual users to entire government bodies. As could be expected when the players are this large, what people are finding links together unlikely suspects and victims in this data breach. One such surprise popped up this week when we read a Gizmodo report, “Facebook ‘Looking Into’ Palantir’s Access to User Data.”

According to the story:

“The inquiry was led by Damian Collins, chair of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee. According to CNBC, Collins asked if Palantir was part of Facebook’s “review work…. While it’s unclear if it gained access to the Facebook user data that Cambridge Analytica harvested, Palantir’s connection to the social network extends beyond any potential collaboration with Cambridge Analytica. Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member, is a Palantir co-founder.”

We aren’t sure what the big data powerhouse Palantir knew or didn’t know, but so far the company has been outside the blast zone.

Take for example, the recent news that Cambridge Analytica’s data seems to be out of business or in business under a different name.

Keep that ceramic plate on. The dominoes may continue to fall.

Patrick Roland, May 13, 2018

Is Real News Synthetic?

June 13, 2018

There are new artificial intelligence algorithms being designed to develop new security measures. AI algorithms “learn” when they are fed large datasets to discover patterns, inconsistencies, and other factors. It is harder than one thinks to generate large datasets, so Google has turned to fake…er…synthetic data over real. Valuewalk wrote more about synthetic data in, “Why Facebook Now Uses Synthetic (‘Fake’) Data.”

Facebook recently announced plans to open two new AI labs to develop user security tools and the algorithms would be built on synthetic data. Sergey Nikolenko, a data scientist, complimented the adoption of synthetic data, especially since it would enable progress without hindering user privacy.

“ ‘While fake news has caused problems for Facebook, fake data will help fix those problems,’ said Nikolenko.  ‘In a computing powerhouse like Facebook, where reams of data are generated every day, you want a solution in place that will help you quickly train different AI algorithms to perform different tasks, even if all the training data is.  That’s where synthetic data gets the job done!’ “

One of the biggest difficulties AI developers face is a lack of usable data. In other words, data that is high-quality, task-specific and does not compromise user privacy. Companies like Neuromation nabbed this niche, so they started creating qualifiable data.

Facebook will use the AI tools to fight online harassment, political propaganda from foreign governments, fake news, and various networking tools and apps. This might be the start of better safety protocols protecting users and preventing online bullies.

Perhaps “real news” is synthetic?

Whitney Grace, June 13, 2018

Short Honk: Does Amazon Have Facebook Data?

June 5, 2018

I read “Facebook Gave Device Makers Deep Access to Data on Users and Friends.” The write up mentions Amazon as a company given “access to vast amounts of its users’ personal information.” So the answer appears to be “Yes.” I assume that the NYT report is “real” news. What can Amazon do with that data? Check out the Amazon analysis in this week’s DarkCyber.

Stephen E Arnold, June 5, 2018

Facebook: Collateral Damage?

May 17, 2018

The Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scandal has rightly been scrutinized by everyone from individual users to entire government bodies. As could be expected when the players are this large, what people are finding links together unlikely suspects and victims in this data breach. One such surprise popped up this week when we read a Gizmodo report, “Facebook ‘Looking Into’ Palantir’s Access to User Data.”

According to the story:

“The inquiry was led by Damian Collins, chair of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee. According to CNBC, Collins asked if Palantir was part of Facebook’s “review work.”

“While it’s unclear if it gained access to the Facebook user data that Cambridge Analytica harvested, Palantir’s connection to the social network extends beyond any potential collaboration with Cambridge Analytica. Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member, is a Palantir co-founder.”

We aren’t sure what the big data powerhouse Palantir knew or didn’t know, but if they are found to have violated laws it could get ugly. And the ugliness doesn’t seem to know any depths in this case. Take for example, the recent news that Cambridge Analytica’s data could be up for sale since the company declared bankruptcy after the data breach news tanked the company. Buckle up, because we don’t think the dominoes are done falling yet.

Patrick Roland, May 17, 2018

Facebook Might Have More Info Than Previously Suspected

May 11, 2018

With the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal and Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress and the Senate, we thought Facebook privacy hysteria was at a peak. However, a recent story unearthed evidence that the social media giant might have been collecting even more data than previously suspected. This was all made public in a recent Motherboard story, “Facebook Has Stolen Identities and Social Security Numbers for Years.”

According to the story:

“Motherboard was able to confirm the first four digits of the social security numbers, names, addresses, and dates of birth for four people whose data appears in a post from July 2014. At least three social security numbers, names, addresses, and dates of birth that appear in a different post from February 2015 also appear to be real, based on records searches.”

This does not seem to be the only issue. In fact this news might be the tip of the iceberg. Just in the past week residents of Delaware reported a huge data breach and one survey claims that 1-in-4 Pennsylvanians have had their data lifted from Facebook. This onion seems to be peeling away and revealing more and more problems. We suspect that either social media companies will begin policing themselves harder or we will see a drastically different online landscape in a decade.

Patrick Roland, May 11, 2018

Humans Do Not Cut and Paste 80 Million User Profiles and Draw Link Diagrams by Hand

May 9, 2018

As one who has always been cynical about online confidentiality, I’ve been a bit startled at the recent surprise surrounding Facebook’s privacy practices. Then again, perhaps we who follow information technology, and the ways companies leverage it, have more reason than most to be wary. The Register reports, “As Zuck Apologizes Again… Facebook Admits ‘Most’ of its 2bn+ Users May Have Had Public Profiles Slurped by Bots.” The disclosure appeared in Facebook’s own post announcing its new, post-Cambridge-Analytica-hullabaloo data policies. Writer Shaun Nichols explains:

“Even as the social network’s founder was giving his mea culpa for the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, however, another privacy scandal was emerging. Facebook’s outline of its new data policies included the disclosure that Facebook’s user search and account recovery features had been abused to scrape the profile information of potentially two or more billion accounts.

“‘Until today, people could enter another person’s phone number or email address into Facebook search to help find them,’ Facebook explained. ‘However, malicious actors have also abused these features to scrape public profile information by submitting phone numbers or email addresses they already have through search and account recovery. Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we’ve seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in this way.’ Zuckerberg said the feature has been turned off effective immediately and, once again, apologized. ‘I would assume that if you had that setting turned on, someone at some point has access to your public info in this way,’ he admitted.”

Oh, goody. Nichols seems vexed that Zuckerberg issued a (perhaps legally advisable) caveat in the post—a reminder that, after all, Facebook users did choose to share the scraped information in a publicly accessible profile. Are companies like Facebook responsible for making their fine print more accessible and easy to understand? Or should users pay closer attention and take less for granted? Some of each, perhaps.

Cynthia Murrell, May 9, 2018

You Know You Are in Deep Doo Doo When…

May 7, 2018

I flipped through the Overflight news feeds and noted several stories. Remember when you were a wee thing, and you did something wrong. Your friends knew. Your friends’ mom knew. Your mom knew. Then your father or significant parental other (SPO) knew. That may be the feeling of some of the Cambridge Analytica wunderkind.

An example is warranted:

That excellent hire Christopher Wylie has allegedly shared more information about turning clicks into votes. The good hearted wizard told the Guardian about data, target variables, and profiling. There’s even a reference to a patent (absent the patent number, the assignee, and other data which allows one to locate the referenced patent). The kimono is open and the sight does not strike me as one I would describe as attractive.

Will declaring bankruptcy allow the Cambridge Analytica “owner” to avoid further scrutiny? That seems unlikely.

Will an expert step forward and suggest that Cambridge Analytica may have precipitated the Brexit anguish? That seems unlikely.

Nevertheless, I would hypothesize that moms.

PS. Include patent identifiers when you quote patents, dear Guardian editors, please. Perhaps you too are engaging in some data shaping just on a tiny scale?

Stephen E Arnold, May 7,l 2018

Regulating Facebook and Unexpected Consequences

April 23, 2018

After Mark Zuckerberg’s mostly frothy and somewhat entertaining testimonies for Congress and the Senate, what are we left with? Some tea leaves are saying that Facebook will likely be permitted to self regulate.

What happens if governments step in. One commentator worries not just for our privacy, but for society as a whole. We learned more from a recent Guardian story, “Facebook is a Tyranny and Our Government Isn’t Built to Stop it.”

According to the story:

“Many ideas for regulatory reforms to protect privacy fail to address the governance problems we face. Our government was not built to counter the tyranny of the global corporation…. “With the fervor of the early US founders, we need to debate and adopt a new structure for self-government that is strong enough to counter the global monopolies of the 21st century. Our liberty is at stake.”

Is Facebook really that serious of a threat? We’re ones to pump the brakes a little on this subject. However, that doesn’t mean that social media needs to change. Many people are inventing suggestions for ways in which Washington can regulate this world. Many are bunk, but some are legitimately solid. One that we have been leaning toward is a Digital Consumer Protection Agency. This keeps the senator and congress, who proved how shockingly little they know about social media when they grilled Zuckerberg, out of the fray.

Allegedly accurate information surfaced in Buzzfeed. The article “Cambridge Analytica Data Scientist Aleksandr Kogan Wants You To Know He’s Not A Russian Spy” will certainly spark some additional discussion of governance at Facebook and Cambridge University.

Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian, who appears to have been a key module in the Cambridge Analytica data service is quoted as saying, “I am not a Russian spy.” That’s good to know. The academic asserts that he was doing research. He wrote journal papers about that research. In fact, he wrote papers with Facebook professionals. He also “believes” that his work had not impact on elections. The information in the article is interesting.

Four observations:

  1. Government officials who do not understand Facebook are likely to find themselves relying on Facebook lobbyists for guidance.
  2. Facebook itself can continue to operate and use clever maneuvers to sidestep some regulations.
  3. With more than two billion users, Facebook has the capability of becoming a messaging system for itself.
  4. The story will continue to have momentum.

One unintended consequence is that it will be business as usual for Facebook.

Patrick Roland, April 23, 2018

Facebook Finds an Angle

April 23, 2018

I read “Americans Want Tougher Rules for Big Tech Amid Privacy Scandals, Poll Finds.” Polls are easy to shape. I did note one comment about this insight into what “Americans want”:

83% of Americans call for companies like Facebook to face harsher penalties for breaches.

Remarkable consensus.

Calling is different from “doing.”

In fact, Facebook seems to have found a way to finesse at least some of the European Union’s privacy protection requirements. “Facebook to Put 1.5 Billion Users out of Reach of New EU Privacy Law” states that Facebook “is keen to reduce its exposure to GDPR.”

The alleged desire for tougher rules may not apply to some Americans. Furthermore, Facebook wants to continue on the path which minimizes the impact of regulations on the firm’s operations.

Clever beats what those in the survey sample say they want it seems.

Stephen E Arnold, April 23, 2018

Social Media Fantasy Land? Hello, Hello?

April 5, 2018

We noted Facebook’s minor correction. That Cambridge Analytica – GSR 50 million person data glitch; it is now 87 million. Minor stuff. “Facebook Says Cambridge Analytica May Have Had Data on 87 Million People” states:

The 87 million number is the maximum amount of people that could have impacted, according to Facebook’s calculations. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a call with reporters on Wednesday that it got to that number by looking at the maximum number of friends its users had at the time.

Okay, just a minor mistake. Keep in mind that Facebook has 2.3 billion or so “users.” A mere 87 million is not even 10 percent of this select group of well informed, online savvy Facebookers.

I like the “maximum” too. Because Facebook has apparently generated this figure, I know it is rock solid. Why would Facebook obfuscate? I can’t think of a single reason. Perhaps investigators will come up with at least one or two hypotheses?

In this context of revising a 50 million figure to an 87 million figure, we think some analysts are working hard to make social media vendors into really great outfits. In “Using Artificial Intelligence to Investigate Illegal Wildlife Trade on Social Media” I learned:

“Methods from artificial intelligence are being developed and used to investigate the supply chain of the illegal wildlife trade in an innovative and novel way, stresses the importance of such novel methods to identify relevant data on the illegal wildlife trade from social media platforms.”

This movement has become quite far reaching to stop the hunting of elephants and rhinos for their ivory. We spotted a snow leopard jacket for sale on eBay.

ebay snow leopard from kabul

The coat was manufactured in Kabul. Those filters are working really well too.

Even Google is working to preserve animals. The well managed company and ZSL recently teamed up to also help pinpoint poaching hopefully before it happens and definitely after it occurs.

With Facebook revising numbers and Google using its smart software to help minimize poaching, Silicon Valley touchstones are doing excellent work.

“Management excellence in action,” opined one of the Beyond Search researchers. From people to animals, online is setting a new standard in governance infused with smart software.

Stephen E Arnold, April 5, 2018

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