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

FOIA Suit Seeks Details of Palantirs Work with ICE

March 21, 2018

Well, this should be interesting. The Electronic Privacy Information Center ( has announced, “EPIC FOIA- EPIC Sues for Details of Palantir’s Government Systems.” The brief write-up reports the watchdog’s complaint requesting information on the relationship between data-analysis firm Palantir and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). The announcement specifies:

The federal agency contracted with the Peter Thiel company to establish vast databases of personal information, and to make secret determinations about the opportunities for employment, travel, and also who is subject to criminal investigations. EPIC is seeking the government contracts with Palantir, as well as assessments and other related documents. The ICE Investigative Case Management System and the FALCON system pull together vast troves of personal data from across the federal government. EPIC wrote in the complaint, ‘Palantir’s “big data” systems raise far-reaching privacy and civil liberties risks.’

Palantir’s role in creating “risk assessment” scores for travelers (US citizens and non-citizens alike) was revealed through an earlier FOIA lawsuit from EPIC. It would be interesting to see what information the organization is able to shake loose.

Cynthia Murrell, March 21, 2018

Google Accused of Censorship

March 13, 2018

Google, Facebook, and other social media and news outlets are concerned with fake news.  They have taken preliminary measures to curb false, but Live Mint says, “Google Is Filtering News For The Wrong Reason.”  Google, like other news outlets and social media platforms, is a business. While it delivers products and services, its entire goal is to turn a profit.  Anything that affects the bottom line, such as false information, is deemed inappropriate.

Google deemed the Russian government-owned news Web sites RT and Sputnik as false information generators, so the search engine giant has reworked its ranking algorithm.  The new ranking algorithm pushes RT and Sputnik way down in news searches.  Live Mint explained that this made RT and Sputnik victims, but Google does not want to ban these Web sites.  Instead, Google has other ideas:

Schmidt’s words are a riff on an April post by Google vice president of engineering Ben Gomes, who teased changes to how Google searches for news. New instructions targeted “deceptive web pages” that look like news but seek to “manipulate users” with conspiracy theories, hoaxes, and inaccurate information. ‘We’ve adjusted our signals to help surface more authoritative pages and demote low-quality content,’ Gomes wrote.

The author makes a poignant argument about why it is bad for businesses to alter their services, such as a news aggregator, to avoid bad press and increase regulation on them.  He also argues that false information Web sites are harmful, but it is not Google’s responsibility to censor them.

It is a good point, but when people take everything printed on the Internet as fact someone has to take the moral argument to promote the truth.

Whitney Grace, March 13, 2018

Short Honk: Palantir Technologies and DCGS

March 10, 2018

I don’t know if the information in “Army Taps Raytheon, Palantir for Potential $876M Ground Intell system Support Contract.” The Beyond Search and Dark Cyber teams will monitor the subject. The GovConWire stated on March 9, 2018:

Raytheon and Palantir Technologies have won spots on a potential 10-year, $876 million contract to help the U.S. Army address technology requirements for the service branch’s Distributed Common Ground System.

If on the money, this is big news. Our perception was that Palantir was not in the DCGS winner’s circle. Looks like IBM and its technology partners have to adapt.

Stephen E Arnold, March 10, 2018

Facebook Begins Censoring Content for Good and Ill

March 5, 2018

Facebook has been under a lot of scrutinies for fake news and propaganda lately. While the company has acknowledged its mistakes, the course it is taking to fix these problems should alarm people. We learned more on the social media giant’s censorship from a recent story in the Intercept, “Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments.

According to the story:

Facebook has been on a censorship rampage against Palestinian activists who protest the decades-long, illegal Israeli occupation, all directed and determined by Israeli officials. Indeed, Israeli officials have been publicly boasting about how obedient Facebook is when it comes to Israeli censorship orders.


Shortly after news broke earlier this month of the agreement between the Israeli government and Facebook, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Tel Aviv had submitted 158 requests to the social media giant over the previous four months asking it to remove content it deemed “incitement.” She said Facebook had granted 95 percent of the requests.

This is a no-win situation for Facebook. By trying to keep questionable content off the net, it opens the door for censoring its users. A slippery slope, to be sure. If we were to guess, Facebook will make a few more missteps before correcting things appropriately.

Patrick Roland, March 5, 2018

Big Data and Net Freedom in China Make a Complicated Relationship

February 21, 2018

One of China’s hottest new app uses a big data engine, unlike anything most of us can imagine, however, that horsepower is getting the company in trouble. We learned more in a recent Slashdot piece, “Toutiao, One of China’s Most Popular News Apps, is Discovering the Risks Involved in Giving People Exactly What They Want Online.”

It actually pulls from a New York Times article and says:

Now the company is discovering the risks involved, under China’s censorship regime, in giving the people exactly what they want. The makers of the popular news app Jinri Toutiao unveiled moves this week to allay rising concerns from the authorities.

Last week, the Beijing bureau of China’s top internet regulator accused Toutiao of “spreading pornographic and vulgar information” and “causing a negative impact on public opinion online,” and ordered that updates to several popular sections of the app be halted for 24 hours. In response, the app’s parent company, Beijing Bytedance Technology, took down or temporarily suspended the accounts of more than 1,100 bloggers that it said had been publishing “low-quality content” on the app. It also replaced Toutiao’s “Society” section with a new section called “New Era,” which is heavy on state media coverage of government decisions.

Toutiao is the vanguard of a growing movement in China. For years, citizens knew they were being tracked by the government, but now are beginning to demand privacy. We certainly hope they can get there but are mighty skeptical. Good luck!

Patrick Roland, February 21, 2018

Canada and Its Upgraded Archive Search

February 19, 2018

A nation’s archive is a priceless treasure and an informative wonder. The Library of Congress houses many historical documents and items important to United States history. The Vatican also houses an impressive archive that is not only important to world history, but Abrahamic religions. The Library and Archives of Canada is another treasure trove not only for the US’s northern neighbor, but for the world.

The Library and Archives of Canada wants people from over the world to take advantage of its holdings. In order to do so, the Library and Archives of Canada needs a user-friendly database with a search function. Government-branded search engines usually stink worse than last year’s hockey sweats, but Library Journal says that, “Library And Archives Canada Announces Launch Of ‘Collection Search’ (Beta).”

Canada’s new endeavor is appropriately titled Voilà and is a leading-edge library management system. Here is a little more about it:

“The launch of Voilà, a milestone for LAC in its library renewal project, marks the completion of the migration of the national union catalogue holdings from AMICUS to OCLC. Starting today, LAC invites members of the Canadian library community to use Voilà.

The new catalogue offers an intuitive interface with modern features for searching published materials located in hundreds of libraries across Canada that subscribe to OCLC services, or had their holdings migrated from AMICUS to OCLC. LAC will start enriching Voilà to provide public access to its own holdings later this year.”

Canada has a reputation for doing practical and workable solutions, so the new Voilà database will probably have a successful beta phase, unless it gets too sticky with maple syrup.

Whitney Grace, February 19, 2018

Russia Considers Building a Garden Wall

February 14, 2018

In a move that could presage the future of the internet, Russia is considering a walled garden for itself and its fellow BRICS members; TechDirt reports, “Russia Says Disconnecting From the Rest of the Net ‘Out of the Question,’ but Wants Alternative DNS Servers for BRICS Nations.” We learn it was the Russian Security Council that recommended its government develop this infrastructure, proposing the creation of a separate, independent DNS backup system. The write-up observes:

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is the following comment by Putin’s Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov: ‘Russia’s disconnection from the global internet is of course out of the question,’ Peskov told the Interfax news agency. However, the official also emphasized that ‘recently, a fair share of unpredictability is present in the actions of our partners both in the US and the EU, and we [Russia] must be prepared for any turn of events.’ That offers a pragmatic recognition that disconnection from the global Internet is no longer an option for a modern state, even if Iran begs to differ. It’s true that local DNS servers provide resilience, but they also make it much easier for a government to limit access to foreign sites by ordering their IP addresses to be blocked — surely another reason for the move.

The “unpredictability” of the US and Europe? That’s a bit rich. We’re reminded Russia has been trying to localize control over parts of the Internet since at least 2012, and it looks like its fellow BRICS members may be supportive.

Cynthia Murrell, February 14, 2018

UK Surveillance Backlash

February 9, 2018

Recently, the UK attempted to fight a variety of criminal activity by developing a mass data unit that used analytics and AI to fight crime. If it sounds like science fiction, that’s because it doesn’t really exist. The task force was ruled illegal recently, we discovered in a Guardian story, “UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal.”

According to the story Security minister Ben Wallace responded to the ruling saying:

“Communications data is used in the vast majority of serious and organized crime prosecutions and has been used in every major security service counter-terrorism investigation over the last decade. It is often the only way to identify pedophiles involved in online child abuse as it can be used to find where and when these horrendous crimes have taken place.”

While the British police are crying for more freedom, they are not the only ones being restricted. A better solution, in our mind, comes from Crime Report, who are advocating for a balanced system of big data policing. According to their report, “acceptable boundaries” must be set in order to protect citizen privacy, but also increase the police’s ability to do their job through technology. It’s likely to be a debate that rages on for a while, but we are hoping for an acceptable solution.

Patrick Roland, February 9, 2018

Online Giants: Not into Sunshine

February 6, 2018

Two quick items.

The first comes from Thomson Reuters (now in the process of adapting to its financial reality). The write up is “Germany Opens Anti-Trust Probe into Online Advertising.” The German regulators are referenced as the “cartel” office. And the bone of contention? Facebook and Google get lots of online advertising money. Major publishing companies have either been squeezed by the US high school science club companies or missed the U-Bahn completely.

The second is a more academic and, therefore, considered opinion than “real” news. The article is “Big Tech’s Bid to Control FOIA.” The main point is that companies like the Silicon Valley science club outfit Facebook wants to keep tax incentives and other information out of bright light.

It seems that some in governmental agencies like Germany want to know more about US online giants. And maybe some of the online giants want to keep information about its business dealings in a low light situation.

Which will win? I suppose one can turn to Paradise Lost for guidance. But there was that pesky sequel Paradise Regained. Now one has to figure out who or what is making a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven.

Stephen E Arnold, February 6, 2018

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