Facebook: A New York City-Sized PR Problem

July 20, 2018

I read “Once nimble Facebook Trips Over Calls to Control Content.” If you are looking for this write up online, the story’s headline was changed to “What Stays on Facebook and What Goes? The Social Network Cannot Answer.” You may be able to locate the online version at this link. (No promises.) The dead tree version is on Page A1 of the July 20, 2018, edition which comes out on Thursday night. Got the timeline square?

I wanted to highlight a handful of comments in the “real” news story. Here we go with direct statements from the NYT article in red:

  1. The print version headline uses the phrase “once nimble.” Here in Harrod’s Creek that means stumbling bobolyne. In Manhattan, the phrase may mean something like “advertise more in the New York Times.” I am, of course, speculating.
  2. I marked in weird greenish yellow this statement: “Facebook still seems paralyzed over how to respond.” So much for nimble.
  3. Another: “Comically tripped up”. Yep, a clown’s smile on the front page of the NYT.
    Related image
  4. My favorite: The context for being a bit out of his depth. Whatever does “yet lucidity remai9ned elusive.” Does this mean stupid, duplicitous, or something else?
  5. I thought Silicon Valley wunderkind were sharp as tacks. In the NYT, I read “Facebook executives’ tortured musings.” Not Saturday Night Live deep thoughts, just musings and tortured ones at that.
  6. How does Facebook perceive “real” journalism? Well, not the way the NYT does. I circled this phrase about Alex Jones, a luminary with some avid believers one mine drainage ditch down the road a piece which is Kentucky talk for “some”: “Just being false doesn’t violate community standards” and “Infowars was a publisher with a ‘different point of view.’”
  7. This is a nifty sequence crafted to recycle another “real” journalist’s scoop interview with Mark Zuckerberg: “what Facebook would or would not allow on its site became even more confusing.” So, a possible paralyzed clown who lacks lucidity is confusing.
  8. The “bizarre idea” word pair makes sure I understand what the NYT believes in a lack of clear thinking.

But these brief rhetorical flourishes set up this statement:

A Facebook spokeswoman [who is not identified] explained that it would be possible, theoretically, to deny the Holocaust without triggering Facebook’s hate-speech clause.

Those pesky algorithms are at work. But the failure to identify the person at Facebook who offered this information is not identified. Why not?

Here’s another longer statement from the NYT write up:

And what exactly constitutes imminent violence is a shifting line, the company said— it is still ‘iterating on’ its policy, and the rules may change.

I don’t want to be too dumb, but I would like to know who at the company offered the statement. A company, to my knowledge, cannot talk unless one considers firing a question at Amazon’s Alexa.

I put an exclamation point on this statement in the NYT article:

All of this fails a basic test: It’s not even coherent. It is a hodge podge of declarations and exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions.

Net net: Facebook has a public relations problem with the New York Times. Because of the influence of the “real” newspaper and its “real” journalists, Facebook has a PR problem of magnitude. Perhaps the point of the story is to create an opportunity for a NYT ad sales professional to explain the benefits of a full page ad across the print and online versions of the New York Times?

Stephen E Arnold, July 20, 2018

Facebook: A Fan of Infowars

July 13, 2018

I don’t know much about Infowars. I do know that the host has an interesting verbal style. The stories, however, don’t make much sense to me. I just ignore the host and the program.

However, if the information in “Facebook Proves It Isn’t Ready To Handle Fake News” is accurate, Facebook is okay with the host and the Infowars’ approach to information.

The write up reports a Facebook news expert as saying:

“I guess just for being false that doesn’t violate the community standards.” I think part of the fundamental thing here is that we created Facebook to be a place where different people can have a voice. And different publishers have very different points of view.

The Buzzfeed story makes this statement:

Despite investing considerable money into national ad campaigns and expensive mini documentaries, Facebook is not yet up to the challenge of vanquishing misinformation from its platform. As its videos and reporter Q&As take pains to note, Facebook knows the truth is messy and hard, but it’s still not clear if the company is ready to make the difficult choices to protect it.

Hey, it’s difficult for some people to deal with responsibility. Ease off. Facebook is trying hard to be better. Every day. Better.

Stephen E Arnold, July 13, 2018

Facebook: Information Governance?

July 9, 2018

Anyone else annoyed by the large amount of privacy disclosures filling your index and slowing down your favorite Web site? User data privacy and how companies are collecting and/or selling that information is a big issue.

Facebook is one of the more notorious data management case studies. Despite the hand waving, it may be easy for Facebook data to be appropriated.

Josip Franjkovi? writes how user data can be stolen in the post, “Getting Any Facebook User’s Friend List And Partial Payment Card Details.”

There are black hat and white hat hackers, the latter being the “good guys.” It is important for social media Web sites to hack themselves, so they can discover any weaknesses in their structures. Franjkovi? points out that Facebook uses a GraphQL endpoint that is only accessible their first part applications. He kept trying to break into the endpoint, even sending persisted queries on a loop. The same error message kept returning, but it did return information already available to the public and the privately held friends list.

The scarier hack was about credit card information:

“A bug existed in Facebook’s Graph API that allowed querying for any user’s payment cards details using a field named payment_modules_options. I found out about this field by intercepting all the requests made by Facebook’s Android application during registration and login flow.”

Thankfully Franjkovi? discovered this error and within four hours and thirteen minutes the issue was resolved. Credit card information was stolen this time around, but how much longer until it is again? We await Franjkovi?’s analysis of Google email being available to certain third parties.

Whitney Grace, July 9, 2018

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

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