Facebook: Slipslidin’ Away from the Filterin’ Thing

May 28, 2020

Censorship, flagged tweets, and technology companies trying to be a nervous parent? Sound familiar. DarkCyber finds the discussion interesting. One of the DarkCyber team spotted “Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg Says Platform Policing Should Be Limited To Avoiding Imminent Harm.” The main point of the write up contains this statement:

… the platform’s criteria for removing content remains “imminent harm” — not harm “down the line.”

The article provides some training wheels for the DarkCyber researcher:

Zuckerberg said several times that, in the balance, he thinks of himself “as being on the side of giving people a voice and pushing back on censorship.”

Some of the companies powering the digital economy appear to be willing to make decisions about what the product (those who use the services) or the customers (advertisers) can access.

The article provides a context for Facebook’s “imminent harm”; for example:

Facebook’s 2.6 billion users give it unprecedented reach, noted Susan Perez, a portfolio manager at Harrington Investments, who brought up the issue of political interference and fraudulent content on the platform. “Society’s risk is also the company’s risk,” she said.

The article includes a “Yes, but…”; to wit:

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s president of global affairs and communications, said during a question and answer session, said the company doesn’t think a private tech company “should be in the position of vetting what politicians say. We think people should be allowed to hear what politicians say so they can make up their own mind and hold the politician to account.”

As censorship becomes an issue in the datasphere, is Facebook “slip sliding away”? Is the senior management of Facebook climbing a rock face using an almost invisible path, a path that other digital climbers have not discerned?

But wait? Didn’t that pop song say?

You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away

Sure, but what if Facebook’s slip slidin’ is movin’ closer?

Stephen E Arnold, May 28, 2020

Facebook: A Super Example of a Leader with Integrity, Forthrightness, and Ethics

May 25, 2020

This is amazing. After years of Congress criticizing Facebook for its disappointing policies on false information, one representative is pointing to the social media platform as an example to others. CNBC reports, “Schiff to Google and Twitter: Please Be More Like Facebook When It Comes to Coronavirus Misinformation.” After the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal, tolerating Russian-made falsehoods during the 2016 presidential election, and consistently refusing to curb untrue political ads, what did Facebook do to earn this praise now? Reporter Joshua Roberts writes:

“Facebook said earlier this month that it would notify users if they had engaged with a post that had been removed for including misinformation about Covid-19 in violation of its policies. The social media company will also direct users to myths debunked by the World Health Organization. That marked a major step for Facebook, which has wrung its hands over other forms of misinformation, most notably in political ads. But even while it has refused to fact-check or remove most political ads that contain false information, Facebook said it would remove any that contain misinformation about the coronavirus. Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that investigated Russian meddling in the 2016 election, asked the chief executives of Google, YouTube and Twitter to consider a similar policy to Facebook’s in letters sent Wednesday. ‘While taking down harmful misinformation is a crucial step, mitigating the harms from false content that is removed requires also ensuring that those users who accessed it while it was available have as high a likelihood of possible of viewing the facts as well,’ Schiff wrote to the CEOs.”

Good point. While both Google’s YouTube and Twitter have also been removing misinformation on Covid-19, they have not agreed to notify anyone who viewed the falsehoods before they were taken down. Yes, a leader among leaders.

Cynthia Murrell, May 25, 2020

Facebook: Reducing Overhead and Maybe Management Oversight

May 22, 2020

NBC News (I know “real news” is thriving) published “Mark Zuckerberg: Half of Facebook May Work Remotely by 2030.” The article quotes the fellow who was not really in touch with Cambridge Analytica’s activities as saying:

“We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale,” the Facebook CEO said in an interview.

The article points out:

Still, Facebook’s move — and Zuckerberg’s expectation of a 50-50 split between in-office and at-home workers by 2030 — marks a seismic shift for Silicon Valley and American business generally, especially if other companies are inspired to follow suit.

One obvious point is that Facebook is aiming to reduce the costs for office space, heat, electricity, and related facility services.

The motivation may be simpler than the complex verbal gymnastics reveal: Facebook can be more profitable, distance itself from certain office behaviors, and use monitoring technology to keep the gerbils running.

How many commercial real estate professionals agree with me? Yep, that’s what I thought.

Stephen E Arnold, May 22, 2020

Facebook Chokes NSO Group: Will NSO Group Tap Out?

April 27, 2020

Facebook has become a digital world unto itself. From the insouciance demonstrated during the Cambridge Analytica matter to the cheerful attempt to create a global currency, Facebook has was some might call digital schnorrer. Take data and do what’s necessary to get as much as possible for nothing. Pay for data? Nah. Testify so elder statesmen can understand? Nah. Make it easy for consumers to manage their free Facebook accounts? Nah.

These are fascinating characteristics of a social media company eager to bring people together. But the company has another characteristic, and it is one that certainly surprised the hapless researchers at DarkCyber.

Cyberscoop reported that the Facebook legal eagles are doubling down on the bet that they can squeeze the NSO Group. Is it for cash? Is it for power? Is it to make darned clear that Facebook is more powerful than a company which develops specialized software for government agencies? DarkCyber doesn’t know, but it is clear, if the information in “Facebook: NSO Group Used U.S.-Based Servers in Operations against WhatsApp” is accurate, Facebook is ready to rumble.

The write up states:

In court documents, Facebook-owned WhatsApp claims NSO Group used a server run by Los Angeles-based hosting provider QuadraNet “more than 700 times during the attack to direct NSO’s malware to WhatsApp user devices in April and May 2019.”

The article points out that:

The filing is a blow to NSO Group’s claims that its signature product, Pegasus, isn’t capable of running operations in the United States.

What’s remarkable is that the lawsuit has become increasingly high profile. Dust ups related to what DarkCyber calls intelware and third parties usually keep a lower profile. A good example is the efforts expended to keep the lid on the interesting litigation between Analyst’s Notebook and Palantir Technologies. This matter, if mentioned at a conference, evokes the question, “What? When?”

The Facebook NSO Group dispute is getting media traction. Cyberscoop includes the full 35 page document via link in its article.

DarkCyber’s view is:

  1. There are some ironic factors in Facebook’s pursuit of this matter; for example, allegedly Facebook wanted to license NSO Group’s Pegasus. Is Facebook a bride left at the alter?
  2. Is Facebook trying to deflect attention from its own data policies? ( It is helpful to keep in mind that Facebook has to pay $5 billion for its Cambridge Analytica adventure.)
  3. Facebook’s own behaviors have been troubling to some individuals due to its own privacy and data actions; for example, exposing friends of friends without oversight to Facebook partners.
  4. Facebook’s shift from the privacy procedures users assumed were in place to a more Wild West approach to data as the social media firm sought to expand its revenues and user base.

Intelware companies are not new, but they are small compared to today’s Facebook. Intelware companies are like some flowers which die in direct sunlight. A special climate controlled environment is necessary for survival.

Facebook may be waking up to the fact that certain government agencies want access to Facebook data. Specialized firms, not just NSO Group, have the ability to work around, under, and through whatever shields Facebook puts in place to keep Facebook data for Facebook. And when Facebook does play nice with government agencies, Facebook plays by its own rules and brings the ball and the referee to the game.

DarkCyber’s perception is that Facebook was and is offended by what it thinks NSO did or does. DarkCyber assumes that Facebook wants it own NSO Group-style capabilities and is defending itself in order to be the Facebook everyone knows and loves.

With the Facebook – NSO Group matter moving forward, the path each company, the lawyers, and possibly government officials will explore will be interesting to chart.

Plus who knows whether Facebook is fighting hard to protect its customers or fighting another battle.

Also, NSO Group may, like a WWE star, have a masked helper waiting in the wings eager to join the fray.

Stephen E Arnold, April 27, 2020

Australia: Facebook and Google Will Not Be Allowed to Kill News

April 20, 2020

Australia to Force Technology Giants Facebook and Google to Pay for News Content” expresses something News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch has long desired: Money for real news.

The write up reports:

Social media giants Facebook and Google will be forced to pay Australian media companies for sharing their content or face sanctions under a landmark decision by the Morrison government. The move comes as the media industry reels from tumbling advertising revenue, already in decline before the Covid 19 coronavirus outbreak collapsed the market.

Several questions may soon be answered:

  • Will Facebook and Google tie up the “pay for news” effort in the courts?
  • If the invoices are sent, will Facebook and Google pay them or seek to stall, negotiate, or just ignore blandishments?
  • Will the law cause Facebook and Google to set up their own news gathering operations and subsidize them via ad revenue; that is, reinvent traditional news. (Remember: Apple and Google have teamed up to deal with coronavirus. The “pay for news” effort may force a similar shotgun marriage.)
  • Will other countries like members of the Five Eyes, get with this “pay for news” program?

Net net: Facebook and Google face a management moment that could become “real news.”

Stephen E Arnold, April 20, 2020

Facebook: Disappearing Snapchap Content?

March 24, 2020

Ever vigilant Techcrunch published “Instagram Prototypes Snapchat Style Disappearing Text Messages.” The article reports:

Instagram has prototyped an unreleased ephemeral text messaging feature that clears the chat thread whenever you leave it.

The function seems to complement Whatsapp disappearing content.

Will there be unintended consequences of these measures? DarkCyber believes that Facebook has a knack for sparking discussion about its policies, goals, and intentions among some customer segments.

Stephen E Arnold, March 24, 2020

WhatsApp: Indexed by Google

March 11, 2020

The Orissa Post reports, “Google Indexes Private WhatsApp Group Chat Links.” As a result of the search indexing, assorted private chat groups were summarily forced open for anyone to join. Writer Ians reports,

“According to a report in Motherboard, invitations to WhatsApp group chats were being indexed by Google. The team found private groups using specific Google searches and even joined a group intended for NGOs accredited by the UN and had access to all the participants and their phone numbers. Journalist Jordan Wildon said on Twitter that he discovered that WhatsApp’s ‘Invite to Group Link’ feature lets Google index groups, making them available across the internet since the links are being shared outside of WhatsApp’s secure private messaging service. ‘Your WhatsApp groups may not be as secure as you think they are,’ Wildon tweeted Friday, adding that using particular Google searches, people can discover links to the chats. According to app reverse-engineer Jane Wong, Google has around 470,000 results for a simple search of ‘chat.whatsapp.com’, part of the URL that makes up invites to WhatsApp groups.”

A spokesperson for WhatsApp confirmed that publicly posted invite links would be available to other WhatsApp users, and insists folks should not have to worry their private invites may be made public in this way. On the other hand, Google’s public search liaison seemed to place the blame squarely on WhatsApp. He tweets:

“Search engines like Google & others list pages from the open web. That’s what’s happening here. It’s no different than any case where a site allows URLs to be publicly listed. We do offer tools allowing sites to block content being listed in our results.”

Perhaps both companies could have handled this issue with more consideration. We wonder whether WhatsApp has since taken advantage of those content-blocking tools.

Cynthia Murrell, March 11, 2020

Facebook: A Blunder Down Under?

March 10, 2020

DarkCyber noted “Australia sues Facebook over Cambridge Analytica, fine could scale to $529BN.” The modest fine imposed by Britain has not dissuaged Australia from boosting the cost of data impropriety. Facebook — yes, the Cambridge Analytica matter — may incur a hefty fine. The write up states:

The suit alleges the personal data of Australian Facebook users was disclosed to the This is Your Digital Life app for a purpose other than that for which it was collected — thereby breaching Australia’s Privacy Act 1988. It further claims the data was exposed to the risk of being disclosed to Cambridge Analytica and used for political profiling purposes, and passed to other third parties.

The potential fine is sufficiently large to catch the attention of the “connect everyone” company. In NBC News’ math that is about $20.00, right?

On the other hand, nothing has applied the brakes to Facebook’s activities for years. Money alone may not press the pedal to the metal.

Stephen E Arnold, March 10, 2020

Facebook Is Definitely Evil: Plus or Minus Three Percent at a 95 Percent Confidence Level

March 2, 2020

The Verge Tech Survey 2020 allegedly and theoretically reveals the deepest thoughts, preferences, and perceptions of people in the US. The details of these people are sketchy, but that’s not the point of the survey. The findings suggest that Facebook is a problem. Amazon is a problem. Other big tech companies are problems. Trouble right here is digital city.

The survey findings come from a survey of 1123 people “nationally representative of the US.” There was no information about income, group with which the subject identifies, or methodology. But the result is a plus or minus three percent at a 95 percent confidence level. That sure seems okay despite DarkCyber’s questions about:

  • Sample selection. Who pulled the sample, from where, were people volunteers, etc.
  • “Nationally representative” means what? Was it the proportional representation method? How many people from Montana and the other “states”? What about Puerto Rico? Who worked for which company?
  • Plus or minus three percent. That’s a swing at a 95 percent confidence level. In terms of optical character recognition that works out to three to six errors per page about 95 percent of the time. Is this close enough for a drone strike or an enforcement action. Oh, right, this is a survey about big tech. Big tech doesn’t think the DarkCyber way, right?
  • What were the socio economic strata of the individuals in the sample?

What’s revealed or discovered?

First, people love most of the high profile “names” or “brands.” Amazon is numero uno, the Google is number two, and YouTube (which is the Google in case you have forgotten is number three. So far, the data look like a name recognition test. “Do you prefer this unknown lye soap or Dove?” Yep, people prefer Dove. But lye soap may be making a come back.

The stunning finding is that Facebook and Twitter impact society in a negative way. Contrast this to lovable Google and Amazon, 72 percent are favorable to the Google and 70 percent are favorable to Amazon.

Here’s the data about which companies people trust. Darned Amazing. People trust Microsoft and Amazon the most.


Which companies do the homeless and people in rural West Virginia trust?

Plus 72 percent of the sample believe Facebook has too much “power.” What does power mean? No clue for the context of this survey.

Gentle reader, please, examine the article containing these data. I want to go back in time and reflect on the people who struggled in my statistics classes. Painful memories but I picked up some cash tutoring. I got out of that business because some folks don’t grasp numerical recipes.

Stephen E Arnold, March 2, 20020

Clever Teens and a Less Than Clever Instagram

March 1, 2020

Teenagers are young, inexperienced, and do anything for a laugh. Most of their time their antics result in trouble with horrible consequences, but this time the victim is Instagram. Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms for teenagers and, being a generation who never knew a world without the Internet, they figured out how to hack aka mess with the algorithm. CNET has the story about, “Teens Have Figured Out How To Mess With Instagram’s Tracking Algorithm.”

Teenagers may post their entire lives on social media, but some of them are concerned about social media platforms such as Instagram tracking their data. They especially do not like Instagram tracking them, so they formed a plan. Using groups of trusted friends with access to multiple accounts, teenagers are fooling Instagram. Here is how:

“First, make multiple accounts. You might have an Instagram account dedicated to you and friends, or another just for your hobby. Give access to one of these low-risk accounts to someone you trust.

Then request a password reset, and send the link to that trusted friend who’ll log on from a different device. Password resets don’t end Instagram sessions, so both you and the second person will be able to access the same account at the same time.

Finally, by having someone else post the photo, Instagram grabs metadata from a new, fresh device. Repeat this process with a network of, say, 20 users in 20 different locations with 20 different devices? Now you’re giving Instagram quite the confusing cocktail of data.”

The hilarious part is that while it is not against Instagram’s policies, the parent company Facebook advises against it because of security risks. While it is laughable that Facebook is worried about privacy, when that company and other collect user data to tailor Internet experiences with personalized ads. However, if one person on the Instagram account posted something malicious, the entire group is accountable.

In order to have access to one of these “hacking” accounts, users must follow strict rules. They must only post content that the original users approve, do not accept follow requests or follow others, and any violations results in dismissal from access.

Clever teens. Less clever Instagram and, by extension, the fun folks at Facebook.

Whitney Grace, March 1, 2020

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