Facebook under pressure over Soros smear tactics

Facebook is facing calls to conduct an external investigation into its own lobbying and PR activities by an aide to billionaire George Soros.

BuzzFeed reports that Michael Vachon, an advisor to the chairman at Soros Fund Management, made the call in a letter to friends and colleagues. The call follows an explosive investigation, published yesterday by the New York Times based on interviews with more than 50 sources on the company, which paints an ugly picture of how Facebook’s leadership team responded to growing pressure over election interference, in the wake of the Kremlin ads scandal of 2016, including by engaging an external firm to lobby aggressively on its behalf. The firm used smear tactics targeted at Soros, according to the NYT report, with the paper writing that: “A research document circulated by Definers [the PR firm engaged by Facebook] to reporters this summer, just a month after the House
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Judge orders Amazon to turn over Echo recordings in double murder case

A New Hampshire judge has ordered Amazon to turn over two days of Amazon Echo recordings in a double murder case.

Prosecutors believe that recordings from an Amazon Echo in a Farmington home where two women were murdered in January 2017 may yield further clues to their killer. Although police seized the Echo when they secured the crime scene, any recordings are stored on Amazon servers. The order granting the search warrant, obtained by TechCrunch, said that there is “probable cause to believe” that the Echo picked up “audio recordings capturing the attack” and “any events that preceded or succeeded the attack.” Amazon is also directed to turn over any “information identifying any cellular devices that were linked to the smart speaker during that time period,” the order said. Timothy Verrill, a resident of neighboring Dover, New Hampshire, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He pleaded not
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UK watchdog has eyes on Google-DeepMind’s health app hand-off

The shock news yesterday that Google is taking over a health app rolled out to UK hospitals over the past few years by its AI division, DeepMind, has caught the eye of the country’s data protection watchdog — which said today that it’s monitoring developments.

An ICO spokesperson told us: “An ICO investigation and an independent audit into the use of Google Deepmind’s Streams service by the Royal Free both highlighted the importance of clear and effective governance when NHS bodies use third parties to provide digital services, particularly to ensure the original purpose for processing personal data is respected.

“We expect all the measures set out in our undertaking, and in the audit, should remain in place even if the identity of the third party changes. We are continuing to monitor the situation.”

We’ve reached out to DeepMind and Google for a response. The project is already well
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Google gobbling DeepMind’s health app might be the trust shock we need

DeepMind’s health app being gobbled by parent Google is both unsurprising and deeply shocking.

First thoughts should not be allowed to gloss over what is really a gut punch. It’s unsurprising because the AI galaxy brains at DeepMind always looked like unlikely candidates for the quotidian, margins-focused business of selling and scaling software as a service. The app in question, a clinical task management and alerts app called Streams, does not involve any AI. The algorithm it uses was developed by the UK’s own National Health Service, a branch of which DeepMind partnered with to co-develop Streams. In a blog post announcing the hand-off yesterday, “scaling” was the precise word the DeepMind founders chose to explain passing their baby to Google . And if you want to scale apps Google does have the well oiled machinery to do it. At the same time Google has just hired Dr. David Feinberg,
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DeepMind hands off role as health app provider to parent Google

DeepMind’s recent foray into providing software as a service to U.K. hospitals has reached the end of its run.

The Google -owned AI division has just announced it will be stepping back from providing a clinical alerts and task management healthcare app to focus on research — handing off the team doing the day to day delivery of the Streams to its parent, Google. 

Announcing the move in a blog post entitled “Scaling Streams with Google,” DeepMind’s co-founders write: “Our vision is for Streams to now become an AI-powered assistant for nurses and doctors everywhere — combining the best algorithms with intuitive design, all backed

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Cloudflare rolls out its 1.1.1.1 privacy service to iOS, Android

Months after announcing its privacy-focused DNS service, Cloudflare is bringing 1.1.1.1 to mobile users.

Granted, nothing ever stopped anyone from using 1.1.1.1 on their phones or tablets already. But now the app, now available for iPhones, iPads and Android devices, aims to make it easier for anyone to use its free consumer DNS service. The app is a one-button push to switch on and off again. That’s it. Cloudflare rolled out 1.1.1.1 earlier this year on April Fools’ Day, no less, but privacy is no joke to the San Francisco-based networking giant. In using the service, you let Cloudflare handle all of your DNS information, like when an app on your phone tries to connect to the internet, or you type in the web address of any site. By funneling that DNS data through 1.1.1.1, it can
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Hackers stole income, immigration and tax data in Healthcare.gov breach, government confirms

Hackers siphoned off thousands of Healthcare.gov applications by breaking into the accounts of brokers and agents tasked with helping customers sign up for healthcare plans.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said in a post buried on its website that found that the hackers obtained “inappropriate access” to a number of broker and agent accounts, which “engaged in excessive searching” of the government’s healthcare marketplace systems. CMS didn’t say how the attackers gained access to the accounts, but said it shut off the affected accounts “immediately.” In a letter sent to affected customers this week (and buried on the Healthcare.gov website), CMS disclosed that sensitive personal data — including partial Social Security numbers, immigration status and some tax information — may have been taken. According to the letter, the data included:

Children are being “datafied” before we’ve understood the risks, report warns

A report by England’s children’s commissioner has raised concerns about how kids’ data is being collected and shared across the board, in both the private and public sectors.

In the report, entitled Who knows what about me?, Anne Longfield urges society to “stop and think” about what big data means for children’s lives. Big data practices could result in a data-disadvantaged generation whose life chances are shaped by their childhood data footprint, her report warns. The long term impacts of profiling minors when these children become adults is simply not known, she writes. “Children are being “datafied” – not just via social media, but in many aspects of their lives,” says Longfield. “For children growing up today, and the generations that follow them, the impact of profiling will be even greater – simply because there is more data available about them.” By the time a child is 13
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Facebook Portal isn’t listening to your calls, but may track data

When the initial buzz of Portal finally dies down, it’s the timing that will be remembered most. There’s never a great time for a company like Facebook to launch a product like Portal, but as far as optics go, the whole of 2018 probably should have been a write-off.

Our followup headline, “Facebook, are you kidding?” seems to sum up the fallout nicely. But the company soldiered on, intent to launch its in-house hardware product, and insofar as its intentions can be regarded as pure, there are certainly worse motives than the goal of connecting loved ones. That’s a promise video chat technology brings, and Facebook’s technology stack delivers it in a compelling way. Any praise the company might have received for the product’s execution, however, quickly took a backseat to another PR dustup. Here’s Recode with another fairly straightforward headline. “It turns out that Facebook could in fact
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Facebook starts shipping Portal, clarifies privacy/ad policy

Planning to get in early on the Portal phenomenon? Facebook announced today that it’s starting to ship the video chat device. The company’s first true piece of devoted hardware comes in two configurations: the Echo Show-like Portal and the larger Portal+ . Which run $199 and $349, respectively. There’s also a two-fer $298 bundle on the smaller unit.

The device raised some privacy red flags since it was announced early last month. The company attempted to nip some of the those issues in the bud ahead of launch — after all, 2018 hasn’t been a great year for Facebook privacy. The site also hasn’t done itself any favors by offering some murky comments around data tracking and ad targeting in subsequent weeks.

With all that in mind, Facebook is also marking the launch with a blog post further spelling out Portal’s privacy policy. Top level, the company promises not to

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Facebook is facing an EU data probe over fake ads

The UK’s privacy watchdog has asked Facebook’s lead EU regulator to look into ongoing data protection concerns about its ad platform — including how its platform is being used to target and spread fake adverts to try to manipulate voters.

Facebook’s international HQ is in Ireland so the regulator in play here is the Irish Data Protection Commission. The ICO noted the action in a 113-page report to parliament yesterday giving an update on its long-running investigation into the use of data analytics in political campaigns — writing:
We have referred our ongoing concerns about Facebook’s targeting functions and techniques that are used to monitor individuals’ browsing habits, interactions and behaviour across the internet and different devices to the to the IDPC. Under the GDPR, the IDPC is the lead authority for Facebook in the EU. We will work with both the Irish regulator and other national data protection authorities
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Where’s the accountability Facebook?

Facebook has yet again declined an invitation for its founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to answer international politicians’ questions about how disinformation spreads on his platform and undermines democratic processes.

But policymakers aren’t giving up — and have upped the ante by issuing a fresh invitation signed by representatives from another three national parliaments. So the call for global accountability is getting louder. Now representatives from a full five parliaments have signed up to an international grand committee calling for answers from Zuckerberg, with Argentina, Australia and Ireland joining the UK and Canada to try to pile political pressure on Facebook. The UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee has been asking for Facebook’s CEO to attend its multi-month enquiry for the best part of this year, without success…

In its

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Facebook must change and policymakers must act on data, warns UK watchdog

The UK’s data watchdog has warned that Facebook must overhaul its privacy-hostile business model or risk burning user trust for good.

Comments she made today have also raised questions over the legality of so-called lookalike audiences to target political ads at users of its platform. Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham was giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee in the UK parliament this morning. She’s just published her latest report to parliament, on the ICO’s (still ongoing) investigation into the murky world of data use and misuse in political campaigns. Since May 2017 the watchdog has been pulling on myriad threads attached to the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data misuse scandal — to, in the regulator’s words, “follow the data” across an entire ecosystem of players; from social media firms to data brokers to political parties, and indeed beyond to other still unknown actors with an interest in also
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How to See Which Facebook Advertisers Have Your Info

If you use Facebook (or even if you don’t) you probably know that advertisers have some information about you. Targeted ads are Facebook’s special juice, and scroll down your timeline will likely prove that the ads you’re seeing are anything but random. What you may not realize; however, is that you can also see… Read more...

Campaign tool supplied to UK’s governing party by Trump-Pence app dev quietly taken out of service

An app that the UK’s governing party launched last year — for Conservative Party activists to gamify, ‘socialize’ and co-ordinate their campaigning activity — has been quietly pulled from app stores.

Its vanishing was flagged to us earlier today, by Twitter user Sarah Parks, who noticed that, when loaded, the Campaigner app now displays a message informing users the supplier is “no longer supporting clients based in Europe”. “So we’re taking this opportunity to refresh our campaigning app,” it adds. “We will be back with a new and improved app early next year – well in time for the local elections.” (Bad luck, then, should there end up being another very snap, Brexit-induced UK General Election in the meanwhile, as some have suggested may yet come to pass. But I digress… ) The supplier of the Conservative Campaigner app is — or was — a US-based add developer
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Zuckerberg gets joint summons from UK and Canadian parliaments

Two separate parliamentary committees, in the UK and Canada, have issued an unprecedented international joint summons for Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before them.

The committees are investigating the impact of online disinformation on democratic processes and want Zuckerberg to answer questions related to the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook user data misuse scandal, which both have been probing this year. More broadly, they are also seeking greater detail about Facebook’s digital policies and information governance practices — not least, in light of fresh data breaches — as they continue to investigate the democratic impacts and economic incentives related to the spread of online disinformation via social media platforms. In a letter sent to the Facebook founder today, the chairs of the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee and the Canadian Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (SCAIPE), Damian Collins and Bob Zimmer respectively, write that they
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Facial recognition startup Kairos founder continues to fight attempted takeover

There’s some turmoil brewing over at Miami-based facial recognition startup Kairos . Late last month, New World Angels President and Kairos board chairperson Steve O’Hara sent a letter to Kairos founder Brian Brackeen notifying him of his termination from the role of chief executive officer. The termination letter cited willful misconduct as the cause for Brackeen’s termination. Specifically, O’Hara said Brackeen misled shareholders and potential investors, misappropriated corporate funds, did not report to the board of directors and created a divisive atmosphere.

Kairos is trying to tackle the society-wide problem of discrimination in artificial intelligence. While that’s not the company’s explicit mission — it’s to provide authentication tools to businesses — algorithmic bias has long been a topic the company, especially Brackeen, has addressed. Brackeen’s purported termination was followed by a lawsuit, on behalf of Kairos, against Brackeen, alleging theft, a breach of fiduciary duties — among other things. Brackeen,
👊🏾
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Big tech must not reframe digital ethics in its image

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s visage loomed large over the European parliament this week, both literally and figuratively, as global privacy regulators gathered in Brussels to interrogate the human impacts of technologies that derive their power and persuasiveness from our data.

The eponymous social network has been at the center of a privacy storm this year. And every fresh Facebook content concern — be it about discrimination or hate speech or cultural insensitivity — adds to a damaging flood. The overarching discussion topic at the privacy and data protection confab, both in the public sessions and behind closed doors, was ethics: How to ensure engineers, technologists and companies operate with a sense of civic duty and build products that serve the good of humanity. So, in other words, how to ensure people’s information is used ethically — not just in compliance with the law. Fundamental rights are increasingly seen by European regulators
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Facebook takes down more disinformation activity linked to Iran

Facebook has removed 82 pages, groups and accounts for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that originated out of Iran.

The social networking giant discovered the “inauthentic behavior” late last week, according to a blog post by the company’s cybersecurity policy chief Nathaniel Gleicher. He said the operation relied on posing as U.S. and U.K. citizens, and “posted about politically charged topics such as race relations, opposition to the President, and immigration.” The company said that although its investigation is in its early stages, it traced the activity back to Iran but does not yet know who is responsible. Facebook said that a little over one million accounts followed at least one of the pages run by the Iranian actors. The takedown also included 16 accounts on Instagram. The company shared its findings with the FBI prior to the takedowns, Gleicher added on a call. It’s the latest batch of account
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