March 20, 2018

Crisis: Facebook + Surveillance + Privacies + Manipulation, Buybacks, CLOUD


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from March 20, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, March 20, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a
crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last five years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

Section 2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from March 20, 2018
1. Facebook’s Surveillance Machine 
2. Facebook Leaves Its Users’ Privacy Vulnerable
3. Facebook 'Likes' Could Profile Voters for Manipulation
4. The Buyback Boondoggle Is Beggaring America
5. Digital Privacy Groups Issue Urgent Warning Over CLOUD Act
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Facebook’s Surveillance Machine

This article is by Zeynep Tufekci on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

In 2014, Cambridge Analytica, a voter-profiling company that would later provide services for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, reached out with a request on Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk” platform, an online marketplace where people around the world contract with others to perform various tasks. Cambridge Analytica was looking for people who were American Facebook users. It offered to pay them to download and use a personality quiz app on Facebook called thisisyourdigitallife.

About 270,000 people installed the app in return for $1 to $2 per download. The app “scraped” information from their Facebook profiles as well as detailed information from their friends’ profiles. Facebook then provided all this data to the makers of the app, who in turn turned it over to Cambridge Analytica.

A few hundred thousand people may not seem like a lot, but because Facebook users have a few hundred friends each on average, the number of people whose data was harvested reached about 50 million.
Yes indeed - and I say that each and every of these 50 million "dumb fucks - they trust me" (in Mark Zuckerberg's own words) has been deceived in horrible ways.

Here is more, with one of Facebook's many professional liars Paul Grewal:
This weekend, after this was all exposed by The New York Times and The Observer of London, Facebook hastily made a public announcement that it was suspending Cambridge Analytica (well over a year after the election) and vehemently denied that this was a “data breach.” Paul Grewal, a vice president and deputy general counsel at Facebook, wrote that “the claim that this is a data breach is completely false.” He contended that Facebook users “knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.” He also said that “everyone involved gave their consent.”
I say Grewal is a professional liar for Facebook because (i) it was a “data breach” if no less than 270,000 members have been deceived into not knowing that they had the privacies of their 50 million "friends" scraped up by Cambridge Analytica; because (ii) I doubt any of the 50 million whose privacies were plundered did really know this was happening to them - and see below; and also because it seems to me (iii) no one gave their consent for things Cambridge Analytica did.

Also, since I am a psychologist, let me ask Paul Grewal this: Are you perhaps a sadist? I leave this open for the moment and turn to more about Facebook:

Facebook makes money, in other words, by profiling us and then selling our attention to advertisers, political actors and others. These are Facebook’s true customers, whom it works hard to please.

Precisely. And as "advertisers, political actors and others" are the real clients of Facebook, the members of Facebook function as dumb slaves whose privacies can be endlessly inter- connected by Facebook's AI, all to make as much money as possible out of them, for the owner of Facebook, that is.

Here is more of what the glib criminals - in my opinion - of Facebook do:

Facebook doesn’t just record every click and “like” on the site. It also collects browsing histories. It also purchases “external” data like financial information about users (though European nations have some regulations that block some of this). Facebook recently announced its intent to merge “offline” data — things you do in the physical world, such as making purchases in a brick-and-mortar store — with its vast online databases.

Facebook even creates “shadow profiles” of nonusers. That is, even if you are not on Facebook, the company may well have compiled a profile of you, inferred from data provided by your friends or from other data. This is an involuntary dossier from which you cannot opt out in the United States.

I hated Facebook ever since I know of it (and see this piece from 2011) and also before I knew that they make enormous profits by deceiving the naive, the ignorant and the stupid into "sharing" their private information with Facebook.

And while I do not know that Facebook has a shadow profile of me, in case I do know I will get extremely offensive about Mark Zuckerberg, who is one of the worst human beings I know that ever existed. (I suppress the rest.)

Despite Facebook’s claims to the contrary, everyone involved in the Cambridge Analytica data-siphoning incident did not give his or her “consent” — at least not in any meaningful sense of the word.

As I said above, "I doubt any of the 50 million whose privacies were plundered did really know this was happening to them" and I completely agree with the NYT that it seems as if absolutely no one gave their consent with any idea of what that involved, nor with any idea that the privacies of all their "friends" would also be stolen by Cambridge Analytica.

Should we all just leave Facebook? That may sound attractive but it is not a viable solution. In many countries, Facebook and its products simply are the internet.

First, I am sorry, but it is utter bullshit that "[i]n many countries, Facebook and its products simply are the internet." You need an operating system, and each and every operating system these days comes with many free applications that are not involved with Facebook.

And second, this sounds very much like some German ca. 1935 saying "Well, we know that some learned men say this is a fascistic government, but we do not believe it: We are not learned persons and we love Germany!"

I think you ought to leave Facebook if you do not want that your personal data is abused.

And in fact Tufecki does give a good argument in the ending of the article:

A business model based on vast data surveillance and charging clients to opaquely target users based on this kind of extensive profiling will inevitably be misused. The real problem is that billions of dollars are being made at the expense of the health of our public sphere and our politics, and crucial decisions are being made unilaterally, and without recourse or accountability.

Quite so, and each of these reasons - it will be misused; billions of dollars are made "at the expense of the health of our public sphere and our politics"; and "crucial decisions are being made unilaterally, and without recourse or accountability" - should be sufficient for any intelligent person to get rid of Facebook as fast as they can.

2. Facebook Leaves Its Users’ Privacy Vulnerable

This article is by The Editorial Board on The New York Times. This is from near the beginning:
What is particularly disturbing about this case is that Facebook has not yet identified and alerted users whose profile information was vacuumed up by the app, most of whom had never used it but were friends with somebody else who had. Further, Facebook did not verify that Cambridge Analytica and Mr. Kogan deleted the data after the social media company told them to in 2015. The Times reported that Cambridge still had most or all of the data.
Yes indeed - and for more see above, below and yesterday. And there is this on the proud morality of Cambridge executives, who use bribes and prostitutes:
On Monday, Channel 4 News in Britain released hidden-camera tapes in which Cambridge executives said that their company used bribes and prostitutes to entrap politicians. The company denies engaging in corruption and extortion. Robert Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire who is a big supporter of Mr. Trump, owns a controlling stake in Cambridge, and Stephen Bannon, the former chief strategist for the president, is a former company board member.
Yes indeed - and this introduces another question, which I did not see treated in any way in the materials I read on the NYT (it may be, but if so, I did not see it).

Here is the question, with an assertion before it:

I never believed in "Russia-gate", and not because the things alledged to have happened there are beyond Putin or Russia (or indeed almost anybody else), but quite simply because (i) there never was delivered any evidence that Putin or Russia did these things, while also (ii) in so far as Russia did do something, the available evidence limits this to $115,000, which seems far too little to influence presidential elections in which considerably more tha a billion dollars were used in advertisements etc.

Then again, I do believe that a case where "
a big supporter of Mr. Trump", the billionaire Mercer, with a controlling interest in Cambridge Analytica, and with Steve Bannon (Trump's former chief strategist) a former board member of Cambridge Analytica, while Cambridge Analytica successfully stole the private data of no less than 50 million Americans, is a case by which Trump may have won the elections, given that 50 million Americans could have been sent all kinds of stuff based on their stolen private data.

I think this is rather credible but as I said, I have (so far) not seen any evidence that the NYT is more concerned about Cambridge Analytica + Facebook (and 50 million Americans) than it is about "Russia-gate" that is wholly unproven, accept perhaps for $115,000 spent on Facebook.

I am merely asking here, but will follow this up, for my question does seem well based.

Then there is this in the article:
Lawmakers and regulators also ought to investigate Facebook’s response. For starters, they need to take a close look at whether the company is in violation of a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission, which had accused it of deceiving users by telling them their information would be kept private and then allowing it to be shared and made public. They also need to force the company to quickly identify and alert the tens of millions of people whose information might have been disclosed to Cambridge.
Yes indeed (although my guess is that Facebook will deal with this by saying as little as possible about it).

Here is the last bit I quote from this article:

In the longer term, Congress clearly needs to strengthen privacy laws to give people more control over private information and prevent businesses and political campaigns from harvesting personal data under false pretenses.
Facebook says it takes this case seriously. But it is clear that lawmakers cannot rely on the company to police itself.

Well... yes and no: I think Congress needs to do something, but I don't think the right way ("in the longer term") is "to strengthen privacy laws", and namely not for the simple reasons that fewer than 1% of computer users are decent programmers, and fewer than 5% of computer users know much about the law.

What I think should be done is to make it impossible for rich people and government paid spies to see any of the private information of persons, namely by making it a law that all private information that people do not want others to see should be safely encrypted (and specific- ally: at least all e-mails, all browsing that people do, and all financial information and all health information on line should all be encrypted).

Also, since this can be done now, it should be done now. (Unfortunately, I also think this also will be quite improbable, were it only for the reason that most of one's elected representatives, especially in the USA, will be bought by the rich to do what they want, which is the opposite of what I say.)

3. Facebook 'Likes' Could Profile Voters for Manipulation

This article is by Barbara Ortutay and Anick Jesdanun on Truthdig and originally on The Associated Press. It starts as follows:
Facebook likes can tell a lot about a person. Maybe even enough to fuel a voter-manipulation effort like the one a Trump-affiliated data-mining firm stands accused of — and which Facebook may have enabled.

The social network is now under fire after The New York Times and The Guardian newspaper reported that former Trump campaign consultant Cambridge Analytica used data, including user likes, inappropriately obtained from roughly 50 million Facebook users to try to influence elections.

Facebook’s stock plunged 7 percent Monday in its worst one-day decline since 2014.
Yes indeed - and incidentally: This is the first article I have read about Facebook + Cambridge Analytica that makes the suggestion that it was not through Russia-gate that Trump won the elections, but through Cambridge Analytica (and see above).

Here is some more:

Researchers in a 2013 study found that Facebook likes on hobbies, interests and other attributes can predict personal attributes such as sexual orientation and political affiliation. Computers analyze such data to look for patterns that might not be obvious, such as a link between a preference for curly fries and higher intelligence.

Chris Wylie, a Cambridge co-founder who left in 2014, said the firm used such techniques to learn about individuals and create an information cocoon to change their perceptions. In doing so, he said, the firm “took fake news to the next level.”

“This is based on an idea called ‘informational dominance,’ which is the idea that if you can capture every channel of information around a person and then inject content around them, you can change their perception of what’s actually happening,” Wylie said Monday on NBC’s “Today.”
Yes indeed.

Cambridge was backed by the conservative billionaire Richard Mercer, and at one point employed Stephen Bannon — later President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman and White House adviser — as a vice president. The Trump campaign paid Cambridge roughly $6 million, according to federal election records, although officials have more recently played down that work.

And once again: It seems quite unlikely to me that Trump won the presidential elections through Russian manipulations, but it seems quite likely that Trump may have won the presidential elections through the help of Cambridge Analytica (that is also mostly owned by the conservative billionaire Richard Mercer, and that had Trump's chief strategist Steven Bannon on its board).

That seems a much more likely explanation than "Russia-gate".

4. The Buyback Boondoggle Is Beggaring America

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:

Trump and Republicans branded their huge corporate tax cut as a way to make American corporations more profitable so they’d invest in more and better jobs. 

But they’re buying back their stock instead. Now that the new corporate tax cut is pumping up profits, buybacks are on track to hit a record $800 billion this year. 

For years, corporations have spent most of their profits on buying back their own shares of stock, instead of increasing the wages of their employees, whose hard work creates these profits. 

Stock buybacks should be illegal, as they were before 1983.

Quite so. Here is more:

Stock buybacks are artificial efforts to interfere in the so-called “free market” to prop up stock prices. Because they create an artificial demand, they force stock prices above their natural level. With fewer shares in circulation, each remaining share is worth more.     

Buybacks don’t create more or better jobs. Money spent on buybacks isn’t invested in new equipment, or research and development, or factories, or wages. It doesn’t build a company. Buybacks don’t grow the American economy.

So why are buybacks so popular with Corporate CEOs?

Because a bigger and bigger portion of CEO pay has been in stocks and stock options, rather than cash. So when share prices go up, executives reap a bonanza.
Precisely. And here is Reich's ending:

Buybacks were illegal until Ronald Reagan made them legal in 1982, just about the same time wages stopped rising for most Americans. Before then, a bigger percentage corporate profits went into increasing workers’ wages. 

But since corporations were already using their profits for stock buybacks, there is no reason to believe they’ll use their tax windfall on anything other than more stock buybacks.

Let’s not compound the error. Make stock buybacks illegal, as they were before 1982.

And again I quite agree, although I also have two remarks. The first is that this very probably will not work until the Democrats have the majority in the House, and the second is that it also may not work after it, because many of the Democrats voting behaviors can be and are being bought.

5. Digital Privacy Groups Issue Urgent Warning Over CLOUD Act

This article is by Jessica Corbett on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Civil libertarians and digital rights advocates are alarmed about an "insidious" and "dangerous" piece of federal legislation that the ACLU warns "threatens activists abroad, individuals here in the U.S., and would empower Attorney General Sessions in new disturbing ways."

The Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data or CLOUD Act (S. 2383 and H.R. 4943), as David Ruiz at Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explains, would establish a "new backdoor for cross-border data [that] mirrors another backdoor
under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, an invasive NSA surveillance authority for foreign intelligence gathering" recently reauthorized by Congress.

Yes indeed. This is the background, and here is more:

Ruiz outlines how the legislation would enable U.S. authorities to bypass Fourth Amendment rights to obtain Americans' data and use it against them:

The CLOUD Act allows the president to enter an executive agreement with a foreign nation known for human rights abuses. Using its CLOUD Act powers, police from that nation inevitably will collect Americans' communications. They can share the content of those communications with the U.S. government under the flawed "significant harm" test. The U.S. government can use that content against these Americans. A judge need not approve the data collection before it is carried out. At no point need probable cause be shown. At no point need a search warrant be obtained.

The EFF and ACLU are among two dozen groups that banded together earlier this month to pen a letter to Congress to express alarm that the bill "fails to protect the rights of Americans and individuals abroad, and would put too much authority in the hands of the executive branch with few mechanisms to prevent abuse."

I think this is in fact a fascistic or neofascistic plan (and in case you did not read my definitions, I linked them in - and I made them, because I do not know any better, while I so far - in a mere 22 years of reading internet - have not found any journalist who really seems to know what they are talking about when they talk about "fascism"), for it implies that (i) each and every American may be prosecuted for helping dissidents in - say - Russia or China, while (ii) none of them will know anything about the fact that their data have been used, until they get prosecuted.

In brief, this is a sick and degenerate law

"This controversial legislation would be a poison pill for the omnibus spending bill," declared Fight for the Future's deputy director, Evan Greer. "Decisions like this requires rigorous examination and public debate, now more than ever, and should not be made behind closed doors as part of back room Congressional deals."

The group also pointed out that big tech companies such as Apple, Facebook, and Google are among those lobbying lawmakers to include the CLOUD Act in the spending bill (..)
I agree with Greer, but should add that I certainly stopped believing in American democracy on the level of the Senate and Congress: It seems to me most members of either institution have been bought (by the rich).

And I add that I consider Apple, Facebook and Google three neofascistic firms.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
Although Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is among those opposing the bill in the Senate—including any attempt to tie it to this week's government spending bill—if the vote reauthorizing is any indication, several Democrats could join with the Republican majority to push it through.

Yes indeed, and as I said above. This is a recommended article.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

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