A Grain of Salt for Zuckerberg Suggestions

April 12, 2019

Given the pressures Facebook has been under to better regulate harmful content on its platform, it is no surprise Mark Zuckerberg has weighed in with a blog post on the matter. However, writer Mark Wyci?lik-Wilson scoffs at the Facebook founder’s ideas in the BetaNews write-up, “Mark Zuckerberg’s Calls for Internet Regulation Are Just an Attempt to Shift the Blame from Facebook.” The article outlines Zuckerberg’s “four ideas to regulate the internet,” noting that, coming from anyone else, they might be plausible suggestions: First, there’s the concept of privacy regulations like those in Europe’s GDPR. Zuckerberg also says he wants more control over hate speech, and to exert tighter standards over political advertising, especially near election time. Finally, he counsels data portability.

We’re reminded nothing is actually standing in the way of Facebook implementing these ideas on its own—and this is what makes Wyci?lik-Wilson suspicious of Zuckerberg’s motives. He also notes a couple tendencies he has observed in the Facebook CEO: to pass the buck when something goes wrong, and to spin any attempts to address users’ concerns as a PR positive. He writes:

Whilst admitting that ‘companies such as Facebook have immense responsibilities’ it seems the Facebook founder would rather have rules and guidelines handed down to him rather than having to do the hard work himself. This is understandable. It would help to absolve Facebook of blame and responsibility. If things go wrong when following regulations set out by the government or other agencies, it’s easy to point to the rulebook and say, ‘well, we’re were just doing as we were told’. At the moment it’s all too easy for Facebook to make a lot of noise about how it wants to improve things while simultaneously raping users’ privacy, and benefiting from the fake news, extremist content and everything else the social network claims not to want to be a platform for. But at the end of the day, a signed-up user is a signed-up user, and acts as a microscopic cog in the advertising-driven money-machine that is Facebook. Facebook has shown time and time again that it can do something about objectionable content and activity — be that political extremism, racism, election interference or whatever. But it doesn’t do anything until it faces insurmountable pressure to do so.

Wyci?lik-Wilson urges Facebook to just go ahead and implement these suggestions already, not wait to be told what to do outside forces. “Less talking, more doing,” he summarizes.

Cynthia Murrell, April 12, 2019

Instagram: Another Facebook Property in the News

March 22, 2019

Instagram (IG or Insta) has become an important social media channel. Here’s a quick example:

My son and his wife have opened another exercise studio in Washington, DC. How was the service promoted? Instagram.

Did the Instagram promotions for the new facility work? Yes, quite well.

The article “Instagram Is the Internet’s New Home for Hate” makes an attempt to explain that Facebook’s Instagram is more than a marketing tool. Instagram is a source of misinformation.

The write up states:

Instagram is teeming with these conspiracy theories, viral misinformation, and extremist memes, all daisy-chained together via a network of accounts with incredible algorithmic reach and millions of collective followers—many of whom, like Alex, are very young. These accounts intersperse TikTok videos and nostalgia memes with anti-vaccination rhetoric, conspiracy theories about George Soros and the Clinton family, and jokes about killing women, Jews, Muslims, and liberals.

We also noted this statement:

The platform is likely where the next great battle against misinformation will be fought, and yet it has largely escaped scrutiny. Part of this is due to its reputation among older users, who generally use it to post personal photos, follow inspirational accounts, and keep in touch with friends. Many teenagers, however, use the platform differently—not only to connect with friends, but to explore their identity, and often to consume information about current events.

Is it time to spend more time on Instagram? How do intelligence-centric software systems index Instagram content? What non obvious information can be embedded in a picture or a short video? Who or what examines content posted on the service? Can images with hashtags be used to pass information about possibly improper or illegal activities?

Stephen E Arnold, March 22, 2019

New Field Manual about Social Media Deception

March 7, 2019

How effective are false personas and social media? The answer is, “Remarkably effective.” A new report published by the US Army provides a wealth of information about online deception. The 100 page publication is “FM 3-13.4 Army Support to Military Deception.” The document provides a review of the fundamentals of deception, information about planning a deception operation, and data about preparation and execution. An example of the information contained in the report is a useful review of the terminology of deception. DarkCyber requires these types of glossaries essential to researching additional information.

Without the key terms or jargon, queries about software, methods, and activities are difficult to formulate. Equally valuable is the checklist of “principles.” The information provides a series of reminders about specific operational considerations required for a successful deception campaign. The list of techniques is one of the first summaries of the spectrum of functions associated with deception operations.

The report captures a post operation evaluation checklist. One weakness is the report does not operational examples focused on social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. With NATO’s social media phishing of its own soldiers proving effective, more attention is warranted on what can be accomplished at this time with widely used online services. DarkCyber recommends this document because deception activities will become an increasing important tool in law enforcement and intelligence activities.

Stephen E Arnold, March 7, 2019

Regulation: Social Media Is Not a Right

February 20, 2019

Will this ruling push more social-media bad actors onto encrypted communications? Nextgov reports, “A California Court Finds Social Media Posts Aren’t a First Amendment Right.” The headline is a tad inaccurate, I’m afraid. The appeals court ruling actually places a rational limit on that Supreme-Court affirmed right (think of the “fire in a crowded theatre” example.) In fact, the case involved a juvenile on probation who was apparently inclined to brag about his crime. Reporter Ephrat Livni writes:

“Basically, it’s true that AA has the right to speak freely. But his freedom is legally curtailed by probation conditions designed to rehabilitate him and protect the victim. The court noted that his social media posts could endanger the victim in this case and that there were plenty of other ways AA could communicate, including email, phone, in person, and via written correspondence. To the extent that AA’s case seems to contradict the conclusions about free speech and social media in Packingham, it’s notable that the Supreme Court case involved a North Carolina law that made it a felony for sex offenders to have any social media presence at all, indefinitely. In this juvenile case, however, AA was only barred from posting about his offense and only for the duration of his probation.”

So the perpetual dance between freedom and protection continues. Livni also notes that “AA” claimed his attorney was at fault for failing to object to the prohibition in the first place, but that plea was dismissed out of hand. So, freedom of speech on social media is indeed a First Amendment right (at least for now), but, as always, common sense must be applied.

Cynthia Murrell, February 20, 2019

Facebook and Twitter: Russia Targets US Social Media

January 22, 2019

Russia has initiative proceedings against Facebook and Twitter. The allegation is that social networks did not explain “how and when” Russian users’ personal data would be localized. CNBC reports that Facebook is in touch with the government agency bringing the legal action. CNBC states:

The new rules provide the Russian government with the ability to block websites that illegally process Russian citizens’ personal data. The communications regulator can also issue small fines to firms that fall foul of its data laws.

Facebook and Twitter may find that vacationing in Russia could become problematic. Does it seem as if American companies are in constant legal trouble in Europe? Both companies may have money, so why not go where the money is—by legal means, of course.

Perhaps Russia will offer a discount on the financial penalty if Facebook and Twitter place their servers in Moscow. Do you think someone in Mr. Putin’s IT unit will think of this idea?

I do.

Stephen E Arnold, January 22, 2019

Google Hangouts: Dead or Alive?

December 27, 2018

First came the announcement that Google Hangouts was on its way out. Then came data loss and an earlier than planned shut down.

But the Beyond Search goose is confused. Is Google Hangouts a winner or an “also participated” ribbon winner? Though we know it lags behind Zoom.us, a similar service, the IBTimes reports, “Google Has No Plans to Retire Messaging Platform Hangouts, Says G Suite Product Lead.” Reporter Rohit RVN writes:

“There were rumors on the internet last week that Google had decided to shut the Hangouts messaging platform in 2020. Many opined that the search engine giant, which failed to take on Facebook and Twitter with Google+ social media platform, has now given up on challenging more popular messenger applications WhatsApp and Telegram, among others. However, Scott Johnston, a product lead in G Suite at Google (Hangouts Meet & Chat, Google Voice), has rubbished the reports about the company planning to close Hangouts. Johnston took to Twitter and claimed that Google has no immediate or long-term plans to retire Hangouts.”

So, they say it’s more of a transition than a shuttering. Johnson also emphasized that the Google plans to help existing users of the “Classic” Hangouts make a smooth transition to its G Suite counterparts. The write-up goes on to mention that Google has recently begun beta testing Duplex, an AI feature, on Pixel phones in certain pilot cities. We’re told the tool can perform advanced functions, like making dinner reservations.

Useful for many. But the Beyond Search goslings are okay just pecking around the murky pond. Low tech, but the method works.

Cynthia Murrell, December 27, 2018

Quote to Note: Experts from UK Take a Look at US Social Media

December 17, 2018

I read “Silicon Valley’s ‘Belated and Uncoordinated’ Efforts at Dealing with Russian Fake News Revealed.” The report was created by experts in the UK and leaded to the Washington Post.

Here’s a quote which suggests the principal finding:

“Social media have gone from being the natural infrastructure for sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement to being a computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike,” the authors of the report wrote.

The idea is that technology is neutral until a person figures out how to use it as a weapon or to his or her advantage.

In the case of social media, the companies managed as if they were high school science clubs’ entries in a Science Fair, have created some interesting tools. A few of the tools are similar to the wizard who creates a death ray, uses it to cook a burger, and gives the gizmo away at a yard sale. A clever person picks it up and starts vaporizing the pets and the neighbors.

Remember that technology is neutral mantra. That’s something repeated by individuals who have not read The Technological Bluff by Jacques Ellul.

Does one want to access “all the world’s information”? Not me. Selectivity, editorial controls, policy controls, and informed decision making are helpful.

Anyone remember that Pandora’s box thing? In January 2019, Beyond Search is switching focus, and we are introducing a Web log to complement our video series “DarkCyber.”

Times, they are a-changin’.

Stephen E Arnold, December 17, 2018

India and Its Spicy View of WhatsApp

November 2, 2018

Spam is a pain for your inbox, feed, social network messages, and pretty much anything else you do online. One of the worse things about spam messages is when someone does not know how to identify spam from the real stuff. According to Reuters, the Indian government is getting fed up with spam, says the article, “WhatsApp To Clamp Down On ‘Sinister’ Messages In India: Ravi Shankar Prasad.”

Facebook apparently said it would develop tools to help the Indian government detect spam and other content with the purpose of sparking mass hysteria. India is not any different from other countries when it is whipped into a frenzy: people get angry, there is collateral damage, and people get hurt. WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels commiserated with India’s chief information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Prasad wants Facebook to design a way to track rabble rousing messages’ origins. The IT minister does not think it is rocket science to figure a message’s origins, seemingly not knowing what work is required in order to read the metadata and program the code.

WhatsApp’s biggest market is India with a 200 million strong market and where, quite astonishingly, people forward more content than any other country. The

“There are also concerns that supporters of political parties could use social media platforms such as WhatsApp to spread false messages in the run-up to India’s national elections in 2019.In July, WhatsApp said message forwards will be limited to five chats at a time, whether among individuals or groups, and said it will remove the quick forward button placed next to media messages.”

India appears to be fond of social interaction. One’s reputation, education, connections, and family status may make the difference between success and failure. Social networks are more complex than anything we experience in Kentucky. No surprise that WhatsApp will be put to interesting uses.

Whitney Grace, November 2, 2018

Reconstructing a Hack

November 2, 2018

Investigations into the 2016 US elections are still going to occur long after President Donald Trump is out of office. The question non-tech savvy people are asking, however, is how did the Russian hackers hack the election? OS News takes a look at the answer in, “How they Did It: GRU Hackers vs. US Elections.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller assembled a grand jury to investigate the hacking and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced an indictment against twelve of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff aka GRU. GRU is short for “Glavnoye razvedyvatel’noye upravleniye.” The twelve GRU members are charged with “active cyber operations with the intent of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.”

How was the indictment made?

“The allegations are backed up by data collected from service provider logs, Bitcoin transaction tracing, and additional forensics. The DOJ also relied on information collected by US (and likely foreign) intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Reading between the lines, the indictment reveals that the Mueller team and other US investigators likely gained access to things like Twitter direct messages and hosting company business records and logs, and they obtained or directly monitored email messages associated with the GRU (and possibly WikiLeaks). It also appears that the investigation ultimately had some level of access to internal activities of two GRU offices.”

Trump expressed doubt that Russia was involved in hacking the elections after he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit meeting. The US director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, however, concluded that Russia was involved. Trump is trusting Putin over his own people. Trump is also victim bashing and blaming the DNC and DCC for not being prepared for this sort of attack and ignoring advice from third parties who said this could happen.

More hacking? Probably.

Whitney Grace, November 2, 2018

Google Plus: A Moment of Contemplation and Reflection

October 24, 2018

If you miss Google Plus, you will want to read “Goodbye, Google+: A Eulogy for the Last Great Social Network.”

Here’s my favorite part of the write up:

Over its 20-year history, Google has succeeded wildly with products in a great many businesses: Search, Gmail, YouTube, Android and others. But it tends to fail with products that involve public social interaction. In fact, it’s earned a reputation as something of a social site serial killer. High-profile failures include Orkut, Buzz, and Wave. But even more obscure social properties also got “sunsetted” by Google: Spaces, Profiles, Wildfire, Jaiku, Schemer, Lively, Hello, Dodgeball, Aardvark, Friend Connect, Latitude, Talk, Helpouts and others.

Hell-pouts? Hmm.

Image result for crash and burn

The write up finds much to like in Google Plus. Obviously the author was in the minority because Facebook remained unphased by Google Plus. With lots of Xooglers working at Facebook, why worry? These sneaker wearers knew what “putting wood behind Google Plus” really meant I hypothesize.

The main point of the write up is that Google Plus was super in 2014. As each year tumbled by, the meh factor increased.

So, Google Plus? Meh, who cares.

Stephen E Arnold, October 24, 2018

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