By On March 21, 2018

Ex-aide: Mukhriz a liar, Cambridge Analytica advised him personally for GE13


  • Increase Text
  • Decrease Text
  • Reset Text
  • Print Article

Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir Mukhriz denied using Cambridge Analytica’s serviced help for the 2013 general election to win Kedah. â€Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir Mukhriz denied using Cambridge Analytica’s serviced help for the 2013 general election to win Kedah. â€" Picture by Azneal IshakKUALA LUMPUR, March 21 ― SCL Group Southeast Asia chief Azrin Zizal today accused his former boss Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir of lying about not using the services of Cambridge Analytica (CA) in the 2013 general election.

Azrin said that he was ready to provide evidence to rebut the former Kedah mentri besar’s claim that he was only employed by the latter until 2013.

“Mukhriz says I was only his media officer until 2013 and that I was no longer with him when he became Chief Minister of Kedah. But this is absolutely false.

“I worked for Mukhriz personally and provided communications and strategy advice for him until 2015, including during the 2013 general election, and afterwards when he became Chief Minister. I will provide proof if he continues to falsify the truth,'' he said.

This comes after Mukhriz denied using the Britain-based data analytics firm’s services for the 2013 general election to win Kedah.

“Perhaps ― while Mukhriz continues to deny my work for him and deny the benefits he gained from the advice I provided to him from Cambridge Analytica/SCL Group for Kedah during the 2013 general election ― he will also deny Kedah winning an extra six parliament seats, winning over the State and him becoming Chief Minister?” Azrin said.

Azrin also said that Cambridge Analytica was not employed by Barisan Nasional (BN), but claimed the firm had provided 2013 election advice to Mukhriz “personally”.

Mukhriz has admitted that Azrin was his former press officer when he served as international trade and industry deputy minister from 2009 to 2013.

Mukhriz also said Azrin was no longer under his employment after he was made MB of Kedah.

Putrajaya and ruling coalition BN said in a statement yesterday they had never engaged CA’s services in 13th general election.

Instead, the Prime Minister’s Office stated that a representative from CA’s parent company SCL Group earlier confirmed that it had directly provided its advice to Mukhriz.

Source: Google News


By On March 21, 2018

Facebook and British political consultancy sued in data storm

Skip to main content

Thank you for reading The Straits Times.

Your account has timed out, login for full access to premium stories.

Login"; document.querySelector('body').innerHTML += noteHTML; document.querySelector('.timeoutmsg-area .close-button').addEventListener('click', function() { document.querySelector('.timeoutmsg-area').classList.add('hidden'); }); } } function timeoutNote() { var oneMin = 60000; var timeDur = 45; var timeoutDuration = timeDur * oneMin; setTimeout(timeoutEvt ,timeoutDuration); } Facebook and British political consultancy sued in data storm Published1 hour ago

NEW YORK/LONDON (REUTERS) - A US resident has sued Facebook and a British-based political consultancy for obtaining data from millions of the social media site's users without their permission, while an academic at the centre of the storm accused both firms of scapegoating him.

The complaint filed at the US District Court in San Jose, California, marked the first of what may be many lawsuits seeking damages over Facebook's ability to protect user data, and exploitation of the information by the Cambridge Analytica consultancy to help President Donald Trump's election campaign.

Facebook has been rocked this week by a whistleblower who said Cambridge Analytica, which Trump hired for the 2016 campaign, improperly accessed information on Facebook users to buil d detailed profiles on American voters.

This revelation has knocked nearly US$50 billion (S$65 billion) off Facebook's stock market value in two days and hit the shares of Twitter and Snap over fears that a failure by big tech firms to protect personal data could deter advertisers and users and invite tougher regulation.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder and chief executive, who has been quiet on the controversy, is to address the revelations later on Wednesday, a source at the company told Reuters.

The proposed class-action complaint was filed late on Tuesday (March 20) by Lauren Price, a Maryland resident.

"Every Facebook user has an interest in this lawsuit, and the enforcement of their privacy rights," John Yanchunis, a lawyer for Price, told Reuters on Wednesday. The complaint seeks unspecified damages, including possible punitive damages.

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica did not immediately respond on Wednesday to req uests for comment.

A former Facebook manager who was responsible for policing the network's data handling procedures in 2011-2012 said he had warned senior executives about the issue.

The manager, Sandy Parakilas, said he had told them that Facebook's failure to police how outside software developers used its data put the company at risk of major data breaches."There was very little detection or enforcement," he told a British parliamentary committee via videolink.


The academic who provided the data, psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, told the BBC that Cambridge Analytica had greatly exaggerated its role in Trump's victory.

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have both blamed Kogan, who gathered the data by running a survey app on Facebook. Kogan combines the roles of an academic at Cambridge University and a web entrepreneur based in San Francisco.

US political campaigns collect large amounts of data, hoping to target swing voters sympathetic to their message. Cambridge Analytica stood out for the scale of claims in its marketing materials to "collect up to 5,000 data points on over 220 million Americans" in all its activities.

It uses techniques based on personality traits and then applies analytic tools to pinpoint supporters.

However, Kogan said the services provided by the consultancy had been greatly exaggerated.

"I think what Cambridge Analytica has tried to sell is magic, and they've made claims that this is incredibly accurate and it tells you everything there is to tell about you. But I think the reality is it's not that," he said.

Arron Banks, who campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum, also questioned the value of psychologically-based data.

Banks told Reuters that Cambridge Analytica had unsuccessfully pitched for work with his campaign group.

"I think they are nothing more than a company that places Facebook ads and shrouds in a sort of mystery," he said.

Kogan's application, "thisisyourdigitallife," offered a personality prediction and billed itself on Facebook as "a research app used by psychologists".

Kogan said he had gathered the data in 2014. He was then approached by Cambridge Analytica who provided the legal advice around its use, he added.

Facebook says Kogan then violated its policies by passing the data to Cambridge Analytica for commercial use, saying on Friday he "lied to us". Cambridge Analytica said it destroyed the data once it realised the information did not adhere to data protection rules.

"My view is that I'm being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica," said Kogan. "We were assured by Cambridge Analytica that everything was perfectly legal and within the limits of the terms of service."

Cambridge Analytica has denied various allegations made about its business practices in recent media reports.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she backed an investigation into the consultancy, while the German government also expressed its concern.

In Europe the tax affairs of tech giants have become a hot political issue. On Wednesday the European Commission proposed rules to make digital companies pay their fair share of tax, with Facebook and its peers set to foot much of the bill.


Alexander Nix, the head of Cambridge Analytica, said in a secretly recorded video broadcast on Tuesday that his company had played a decisive role in Trump's election victory. He was suspended by the company shortly before the video was shown on Britain's Channel 4 News.

Around 270,000 people downloaded the app, Facebook said. The app scored the results of each quiz and gathered up data from test-takers' Facebook accounts. However, it also pulled down the data of their Facebook friends, vastly increasing the size of the sample.

Kogan put the number of app users as closer to 200,000.

The researcher said, in total, he passed the data of around 30 million American Facebook users to SCL, a government and military contractor that is the parent of Cambridge Analytica. Media reports have put the total number of Facebook profiles collected at around 50 million users.

US and European lawmakers have demanded an explanation of how Cambridge Analytica gained access to user data in 2014 and why Facebook failed to inform its users.

Facebook said it had been told by the Federal Trade Commission, the leading US consumer regulator, that it would receive a letter this week with questions about the data acquired by Cambridge Analytica. It said it had no indication of a formal investigation.

Related Stories:


Branded Content

Sponsored Content


Preparing students for the green business revolution


How universities transform lives


Here’s how to keep fit without breaking a sweat


Save better and smarter online

We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs.

Source: Google News

no image

By On March 21, 2018

Israel admits bombing a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 â€" and it's a warning to Iran

A still frame taken from video material released on March 21, 2018 shows a combination image of what the Israeli military describes is before and after an Israeli air strike on a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site near Deir al-Zor on Sept 6, 2007.

  • Israel admitted for the first time that it bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, and said it's a warning to Iran that it will not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
  • The Israeli military released previously classified cockpit footage, photographs and intelligence documents about its Sept. 6, 2007, air strike on the Al-Kubar facility near Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria.
  • Israel said the reactor was bei ng built with help from North Korea, and was months away from activation, but Reuters has not verified the material.

Israel for the first time admitted that it bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 and said on Wednesday the strike should be a warning to Iran that it would not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

The Israeli military released previously classified cockpit footage, photographs and intelligence documents about its Sept. 6, 2007, air strike on the Al-Kubar facility near Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria.

It said the reactor was being built with help from North Korea and the facility had been months away from activation. Reuters has been unable to immediately verify the Israeli material.

Israel's decision to go public comes after repeated calls in recent months by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the United States and international community to take tougher action on Iran, Syria's ally.

Israel& #039;s intelligence minister, Israel Katz, said on Twitter: "The (2007) operation and its success made clear that Israel will never allow nuclear weaponry to be in the hands of those who threaten its existence - Syria then, and Iran today."

The Israeli military described in detail events leading up to the night of Sept 5-6, 2007, in which, it said, eight warplanes, F-16s and F-15s, carried out the mission after taking off from the Ramon and Hatzerim air bases and flying to Deir al-Zor region, 450 km northwest of Damascus. Eighteen tonnes of munitions were dropped on the site, it said.

Top row: The site before the attack (L), yellow circles depicting bombs during the air strike on the site (R). Bottom row: An explosion during the air strike on the site (L), debris seen on the site after the attack (R).

In his 2010 memoir &q uot;Decision Points," former U.S. President George W. Bush disclosed that he discussed intelligence about the Syrian facility with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before it was destroyed but did not give him the green light for the raid.

James Jeffrey, Bush's deputy national security adviser, said on Wednesday the former U.S. president had been "absolutely supportive" of Israel.

"(He) made it clear that we were very happy that events had eliminated this threat and that if there were any threats to Israel that would emerge from this situation, the United States would stand with Israel, period," Jeffrey told Israel's Army Radio.

In 2008 the United States presented what it described as intelligence showing that North Korea had helped Syria with "covert nuclear activities." At the time Syria dismissed the accusations as part of a campaign to discredi t the Damascus government.

"The Syrian government regrets the campaign of lies and falsification by the U.S. administration against Syria, including allegations of nuclear activity," said a government statement issued on the Syrian state news agency.

Iran, which says its nuclear program has only peaceful aims, signed a 2015 deal under which it accepted curbs on its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. U.S. President Donald Trump and Netanyahu have both been critical of the deal.

An undated image released on March 21, 2018 by the Israeli military relates to an Israeli air strike on a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site near Deir al-Zor on Sept 6, 2007.


The Israeli military declassified internal "top secret& quot; intelligence reports, in Hebrew, some of them partly redacted.

One, dated March 30, 2007, said: "Syria has set up, within its territory, a nuclear reactor for the production of plutonium, through North Korea, which according to an (initial) worst-case assessment is liable to be activated in approximately another year. To our assessment [REDACTED] secretive and orderly [REDACTED] for achieving a nuclear weapon."

Israeli intelligence predicted that the suspected reactor "would turn operational by the end of 2007".

The mission to destroy the facility started at 10.30 p.m. on Sept. 5 and ended with the return of the warplanes at 2.30 a.m. the next day, the Israeli military said.

The event was first made public by Syria, which, as reported by Reuters at the time, said in the early hours of Sept. 6 that Syrian air defenses had repelled an incursion by Israeli warplanes.

Syria, a signatory of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has always denied that the site was a reactor or that Damascus engaged in nuclear cooperation with North Korea.

The Israeli military's announcement on Wednesday noted that the area in question, around Deir al-Zor, was captured by Islamic State after the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011.

This undated combination image released by the U.S. Government shows the North Korean reactor in Yongbyon and the nuclear reactor under construction in Syria.

Had there been an active reactor there, the Israeli military said, it would have had "severe strategic implications on the entire Middle East as well as Israel and Syria".

The Israeli release contains a black-and-white aerial photograph captioned "before the attack" and showing a box- like structure amid desert dunes with smaller outlying buildings.

A series of black-and-white videos, taken above the target, shows the structure in cross-hairs. A male voice is heard counting down three seconds, a cloud of black smoke rises from the structure as it explodes. Other footage appears to show the aftermath - a smoldering hole in the ground.

Wednesday's release came ahead of the publication of a memoir by Olmert containing passages about the 2007 strike.

Source: Google News


By On March 21, 2018

Austin Bombing Suspect Kills Himself; Police Say Threat May Not Be Over

Enlarge this image

Officials investigate the scene where suspect Mark Anthony Conditt died in an explosion early Wednesday. His red vehicle was trapped between two white vans in Round Rock, Texas. Eric Gay/AP hide caption

toggle caption Eric Gay/AP

Officials investigate the scene where suspect Mark Anthony Conditt died in an explosion early Wednesday. His red vehicle was trapped between two white vans in Round Rock, Texas.

Eric Gay/AP

Updated at 2:46 p.m. ET

A man whom police had identified as their top suspect in a string of deadly bombings in the Austin, Texas, area this month killed himself early Wednesday by triggering an explosion in his car as officers approached the vehicle to make an arrest, police said Wednesday.

Message from Mayor Gonzales concerning today's events in downtown Pflugerville:

â€" Pflugerville Police (@Pf_Police) March 21, 2018

Officials identified him as 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt, from Pflugerville, Texas, outside Austin.

Hours after he died, the situation remained fluid as Pflugerville's downtown was evacuated.

The Associated Press reports that police cleared the area after investigators had conducted a search of Conditt's home.

Pflugerville Mayor Victor Gonzales ask ed residents to remain vigilant. "What may seem suspicious to you could be an important detail to help in this investigation," Gonzales said in a video message.

Earlier Wednesday, police identified Conditt only as a 24-year-old white male. In a later statement, officials clarified that he was 23. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley waited for positive identification and notification of next of kin before making an official announcement.

The U.S. attorney in the Western District of Texas released a criminal complaint and arrest warrant filed Tuesday night accusing Conditt of receiving, possessing and transferring a destructive device. The documents were filed hours before officials say Conditt killed himself.

Identifying and locating Conditt was the result of "hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement officers" working together, U.S. Attorney John F. Bash said in a statement.

A photo o f Conditt that was posted five years ago on a Facebook profile that seems to belong to his mother, Danene, shows a smiling young man.

APD Chief Manley says they don’t yet have a motive for the #Austinbombings.

â€" Audrey McGlinchy (@AKMcGlinchy) March 21, 2018

"I officially graduated Mark from High School on Friday," she wrote of the home-schooled student.

Conditt died in the Round Rock community of Greater Austin, north of where the first bomb struck on March 2. Anthony House, 39, died in that explosion, setting off fear, warnings to the public and a police search for who was sending deadly packages.

"Beginning within the past 24-36 hours we began to get information of one person of interest that moved to a suspect," Manley told reporters, standing in the early morning darkness along I-35 north of Austin on Wednesday. He spoke near the spot where C onditt, believed to be responsible for two deaths and several injuries, had died hours earlier.

"Late last night and this morning we felt very comfortable that he was the suspect," Manley said. He said the man had been identified with the help of leads from "video sources, as well as by witnesses."

BREAKING: Exclusive photos of Austin bombing 'Person of Interest' dropping off 2 packages at Austin @FedEx store. Believed to be wearing wig.
Recognize him? Contact: @FBI @Austin_Police
More info: @News4SA @cbsaustin

â€" Randy Beamer (@randybeamer) March 21, 2018

Conditt had been traced to a hotel parking lot in Round Rock after the vehicle he was known to be driving was located. Police and federal agents soon swarmed around the hotel â€" where they waited for tactical backup, in the form of armored vehicles that might help them take the suspected bomber into custody "as safely as possible," Manley told reporters.

"While we were waiting for those vehicles to get here, much time had passed, and the vehicle started to drive away," Manley said. "We began following the vehicle, again waiting to get the tactical vehicles here so we could make a stop."

That's when Conditt's vehicle stopped in a ditch on the side of the busy road.

"As members of the Austin Police Department SWAT team approached the vehicle, the suspect detonated a bomb inside the vehicle, knocking one of our SWAT officers back. And one of our SWAT officers fired at the suspect, as well. The suspect is deceased and has significant injuries from a blast that occurred from detonating a bomb inside his vehicle."

"This is the culmination of three very long weeks for our community," Manley said in reference to the first bomb on Marc h 2 and six others that followed.

Manley also warned that the public should remain vigilant and cautious, in case the bomber had been able to deploy any final explosive devices because, as he said, "we don't know where this subject has spent his last 24 hours."

Manley said Conditt's name had come up during the investigation and that "we became very interested in him over the past couple of days." Police are still not sure why the man would have become a serial bomber.

"That's the one thing we don't have right now, is a motive behind this. We do not understand what motivated him to do what he did."

Austin Mayor Steve Adler says he was contacted and kept updated as the events were unfolding.

"It's been an absolute relief" to have a potential end to the case, Adler said. "As these incidents have been occurring with increasing frequency, th e anxiety and fear in the community has been growing. So it was good to be closing in over the last day or so â€" and to have this resolution."

President Trump welcomed the news, saying in a tweet, "AUSTIN BOMBING SUSPECT IS DEAD. Great job by law enforcement and all concerned! "

President Trump comments on news this morning that a suspect in the #AustinBombings has been killed in a standoff with police.

â€" KUT Austin (@KUT) March 21, 2018

The confrontation early Wednesday came after police dealt with two more package bombs found on Tuesday at separate FedEx facilities near San Antonio and the one in Southwest Austin. They are the latest of six such devices this month that the FBI and other agencies say are connected.

An explosion that was reported at a Goodwill store in south Austin initially caused alarm that it may have been related, but a s member station KUT reports, "Austin Assistant Chief of Police Ely Reyes said the device was an 'artillery simulator' â€" an old military memento. He said it was not related to the serial bombings."

Citing an unnamed high-ranking law enforcement official, The Austin Statesman reports that police used security video from a FedEx store in Southwest Austin where a bomb had been shipped earlier to identify a suspect.

The newspaper says authorities used "store receipts showing suspicious transactions from the person and obtained a search warrant for his Google search history that showed him conducting searches they considered suspicious."

The suspect died roughly 24 hours after a nighttime blast on Tuesday, when a package detonated at a FedEx Ground facility in Schertz, Texas, northeast of San Antonio. One person was treated and released in that package bomb incident.

Enlarge this image

"The suspect is deceased and has significant injuries from a blast that occurred from detonating a bomb inside his vehicle," Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told journalists near the location where the suspected package bomber died in Round Rock, Texas, in suburban Austin on Wednesday. Scott Olson/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Scott Olson/Getty Images

"The suspect is deceased and has significant injuries from a blast that occurred from detonating a bomb inside his vehicle," Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told journalists nea r the location where the suspected package bomber died in Round Rock, Texas, in suburban Austin on Wednesday.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

"It was mailed from Austin, and it was mailed back to Austin" going through the FedEx center in Schertz, state Attorney General Ken Paxton told KXAN-TV news.

The package had been addressed to an Austin resident, Paxton said.

A second, unexploded package was found hours later on Tuesday, at another FedEx facility. It had apparently been shipped by the same person.

In a statement late Tuesday, the Austin Police Department, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said:

"[At] approximately 6:19 a.m., APD received a call regarding a suspicious package at 4117 McKinney Falls Parkway in Austin. APD, along with the FBI and the ATF, responded. It was determined the package contained an explosive device and was disrupted by law enforcement. No injuries were reported."

Officials believed the package that exploded may have come from an address on Brodie Lane that houses a FedEx Office printing and shipping office, part of the large Sunset Valley Shopping Center, southwest of downtown Austin, the Sunset Valley Police Department said.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Austin who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told The Associated Press that investigators had been poring through surveillance videos. "They've got a couple of videos that could possibly be the person but they're not sure at this point," McCaul said.

"There is an army of law enforcement folks that are here," Adler told NPR's David Greene about the effort to end the bombing threat. "Hundreds of federal agents, multiple federal agencies, hundreds of agents working on this outside of Austin and Texas."

The investigation into the Schertz blast was slowed by the need to ensure the FedEx facility was safe, FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge James Smith said at a midmorning update. Many of those same concerns played into the delay in approaching the suspect Tuesday night.

A blast along a sidewalk on Sunday had been triggered by a tripwire â€" indicating that the culprit was likely more sophisticated than investigators had first realized.

One day later, police said they believed the bombings were all connected and said they believed they were dealing with a "serial bomber."

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said the conclusion comes from "some of the specific components of these devices."

"We are sending all of the evidence to the ATF lab in Quantico, and they are conducting all of the post-blast analysis of the evidence that we have recovered," Manley said.

The bombing scare has set Aust in on edge for weeks now. Adler also said that he realized something through visiting communities during the ordeal:

"We don't know the neighbors around us as well as we should. And my hope is that one of the legacies of this moment is that we all walk across the street â€" or down the street or across the hall â€" and get to know the people around us in ways we don't now."

This is a breaking news story. As often happens in situations like these, some information reported early may turn out to be inaccurate. We'll move quickly to correct the record and we'll only point to the best information we have at the time.

Source: Google News


By On March 21, 2018

After Days of Silence, Mark Zuckerberg to Publicly Address Facebook's User-Data Uproar

  1. After Days of Silence, Mark Zuckerberg to Publicly Address Facebook's User-Data Uproar Wall Street Journal
  2. What the Public Needs (and Doesn't) From Facebook Now Bloomberg
  3. The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal is the textbook case of why we need new privacy protections Business Insider
  4. Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach The Guardian
  5. Cambridge Analytica dismissed as overpriced and of little value to Republicans Fox News
  6. Full coverage
Source: Google News


By On March 21, 2018

Why have we given up our privacy to Facebook and other sites so willingly?

Cambridge Analytica Why have we given up our privacy to Facebook and other sites so willingly?

Cambridge Analytica’s ransacking of millions of Facebook users’ data has triggered a backlash against the social network â€" and highlighted how much personal information we share without thinking of the consequences

Is it time to stop sharing your data?
Is it time to stop sharing your data? Photograph: Guardian Design Team

Facebook is on the ropes. A week of revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s use of data gleaned from the social network has left the world demanding answers. The company can†™t seem to decide: is it outraged that it was taken advantage of by an unscrupulous actor, or relieved that this is just normal use of tools that it made widely available for almost five years? Should Mark Zuckerberg come out front and centre leading the response, or should he hide in a cupboard until it all blows over?

Faced with its first true crisis, the company is paralysed with fear. And that paralysis is, remarkably quickly, leading people to reassess their relationship with the site as a whole. The teens got there first, really. Facebook usage among younger people has been declining for years, in the face of competition from upstart rivals such as Snapchat, internal disruption from Facebook-owned Instagram, and a general sense that Facebook is full of old people and parents. But the backlash isn’t a generational thing any more. We’re all losing control of our data, both online and off, and we’re starting to kick back.

Not only is the burgeoning #deleteface book movement picking up steam (although it will take a few weeks before hard numbers are available about how many have followed through on their words), but people are also beginning to look up, as if from a daydream, to ask: how exactly did we end up in this situation? Why did we give up our privacy so willingly? And how can we get it back?

The Guardian view on big tech: a new era needs new rules | Editorial Read more

The 50m profiles harvested from Facebook by a Cambridge Analytica partner under the guise of research are a huge data store, but they pale in comparison with the amount of information the company holds on its own users. At the same time that Facebook turned off the spigot that had been used to pump industrial quantities of data off its platform, the company opened up a second set of floodgates: the Facebook Audience Network, which allows third parties to track, profile and advertise to Facebook users wherever they find them on the internet.

Facebook isn’t really a social network. It’s barely even an advertising company. It’s a data analytics firm, which manages to use its position as the middleman for a vast proportion of all human communication to find out everything there is to know about its users.

Just as Cambridge Analytica claimed enormous powers of perception with a scant selection of personal information, Facebook also boasts to advertisers about how much it knows about its users â€" and how effective it can be at influencing their minds: it cites a games company that “made video adverts to match different gamer styles” for a “63% increase in purchase intent”; a clothes retailer that achieved “a dramatic increase in sales” with “richly personalised ads”; and a mobile network that scored “a major boost in awareness and purchase intent” by focusing on users with families. (Facebook used to have a similar page on which it showed off to politicians about how effective it was at s winging elections, but it quietly removed that in February.)

If you think you’re a passive user of Facebook, minimising the data you provide to the site or refraining from oversharing details of your life, you have probably underestimated the scope of its reach. Facebook doesn’t just learn from the pictures you post, and the comments you leave: the site learns from which posts you read and which you don’t; it learns from when you stop scrolling down your feed and how long it takes you to restart; it learns from your browsing on other websites that have nothing to do with Facebook itself; and it even learns from the messages you type out then delete before sending (the company published an academic paper on this “self-censorship” back in 2013).

Facebook boasts to advertisers about how much it knows about its users â€" and how it can influence their minds

This data life isn’t limited to Facebook. Google, famously, is in the same basic business, although the company is a bit more transparent about it (for a shock, try going to the “My Activity” and “Location History” pages to be vividly reminded that Google is tracking everything). And Amazon is building a modern surveillance panopticon, replete with an always-on microphone for your kitchen and a jaunty camera for your bedroom, purely to sell you more stuff.

Avoiding the big players doesn’t help much. Large data brokers such as Experian and Equifax exist to collate information about everyone, whether or not they’re online. The security services continue to build their own surveillance databases, with powers strengthened in the UK through the recent Investigatory Powers Act. Even going to church now comes with the potential for a dose of surveillance: the Church of England has authorised the roll-out of 14,000 contactless card readers, to let parishioners give without carrying cash. Is it time to say goodbye to the anonymity of the co llection plate, and hope you’re one of the more generous donors?

Richard Stallman has been warning of this state of affairs since before Zuckerberg even touched his first computer. The veteran computer scientist, creator of the GNU operating system and leader of the Free Software Movement, warns that “the only database that is not dangerous is the one that is never collected”.

“There is a limit on the level of surveillance that democracy can co-exist with, and we’re far above that,” he tells me on the phone from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We suffer more surveillance than the inhabitants of the Soviet Union, and we need to push it way down.

“Any database of personal data will be misused, if a misuse can be imagined by humans. It can be misused by the organisation that collects the data. In many cases, the purpose of collecting it is to misuse it, as in the case of Facebook, but also in the case of Amazon, Google to some e xtent, and thousands of smaller companies as well.

“It can also be misused by rogue employees of the company and it can also be stolen by some third party and misused. There’d be no danger of data breaches if a database doesn’t exist. And, finally, it can be taken by the state and misused.”

Stallman has little sympathy for those who choose to use such services. “They’re foolish,” he says, when I ask him why he thinks data harvesting is tacitly accepted by so many people. “They’re accustomed to a certain kind of convenience ... they choose to ignore that it might be dangerous.”

I’m less certain that there’s a choice being made at all, though. Yes, people may regularly be accepting terms and conditions that require them to give up their data, but that doesn’t mean they read them. I should know: I have. A few years ago, I decided to read, in full, the small print for every single product or service I used. I read almost 150,000 words of le galese â€" three-quarters of Moby Dick â€" in less than a week, from the 21,000 words required to turn off the alarm on my iPhone on a Monday morning to the 4,000 words required to browse BuzzFeed in my lunch break.

The experience was gruesome. Legal documents are not written to be read by humans, and certainly not to be read back-to-back in a harrowing marathon of End-User Licence Agreements. But I did learn one thing, which is that the modern notion of consent upon which the entire data edifice is built has the shakiest of foundations.

Lukasz Olejnik, an independent security and privacy researcher, agrees: “Years ago, people and organisations used to shift the blame on the users, even in public. This blaming is unfortunate, because expecting users to be subject-matter experts and versed in the obscure technical aspects is misguided.

“Blaming users is an oversimplification, as most do not understand the true implications when data are shared â€" they cannot . You can’t expect people to fully appreciate the amount of information extracted from aggregated datasets. That said, you can’t expect users to know what is really happening with their data if it’s not clearly communicated in an informed consent prompt, which should in some cases include also the consequences of hitting ‘I agree’.”

He adds that at many organisations, privacy was not being taken seriously, “except when there was a need to include the phrase ‘We take the privacy of our users very seriously’ following a data breach”.

The modern notion of consent upon which the entire data edifice is built has the shakiest of foundations

It doesn’t have to be like this. Doctors are required to demonstrate not just consent, but informed consent, from patients: the latter have to understand what they are agreeing to, or the agreement is moot. After years of mis-selling scandals, the same principle is slowly making it s way to the financial industry. Logging in to check an ISA, you may be confronted with a 12-point questionnaire designed to check you understand the risks and are happy for the investment to continue.

Yet online, the biggest companies in the world base their businesses around users hitting “I agree” on a dialogue box on a website once, a decade ago, and then never being told what their agreement entails, nor being offered any way to retract their consent and take back control of the information they gave up.

Change is coming. In the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation â€" GDPR â€" overhauls a continent’s worth of rules around a clear principle that the only person who can ever own an individual’s data is that individual. Olejnik describes the law as a “good starter”, but notes that even it will still need to be “reviewed and updated on a regular basis”.

Stallman wants to go one step further. “I recommend a law prohibiting any system tha t collects data,” he says, “no matter who runs it, whether it’s a company, some non-profit organisation, or a public agency, whatever, that they are not allowed to collect data unless they can justify it as absolutely necessary for the function to be done.”

It would be a huge step, and one that is unlikely to come without a radical change in how the public views mass data collection. But he has hope, and rejects the label of a Cassandra, doomed with accurate predictions that will always be ignored.

“I don’t know the future, because the future depends on you, so I’m going to try my damn best,” he says. “I’m a pessimist by nature. But just because things look dim, is no reason to give up. And that’s what I’ve been saying for many, many years.”

  • Cambridge Analytica
  • Facebook
  • Social networking
  • features
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share via Email
  • Share on LinkedIn
  • Share on Pinterest
  • Share on Google+
  • Share on WhatsApp
  • Share on Messenger
  • Reuse this content
Source: Google News