Sunday, December 16, 2018

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

Facebook finds its user base had gone down in Europe the company reported as it announced its third-quarter earnings. This is the second quarter in a row that the company has lost users in Europe.

Reasons for the decline of users in Europe
Two reasons for the decline in Europe are the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal and the implementation of the new continent-wide privacy law, the GDPR.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal
Wikipedia describes the Cambridge Analytica scandal as follows: "The Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal was a major political scandal in early 2018 when it was revealed Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of people's Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political purposes. It has been described as a watershed moment in the public understanding of personal data and precipitated a massive fall in Facebook's stock price and calls for tighter regulation of tech companies' use of data." This serious breach of privacy no doubt caused some users to simply stop using Facebook.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
Wikipedia describes the GDPR: "The General Data Protection Regulation (EU) 2016/679 ("GDPR") is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA). It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA areas. The GDPR aims primarily to give control to individuals over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU.[1]" There can be huge fines for violating the GDPR.
You would think this regulation would bring in more users as it protects their privacy. However, it requires all users to inspect their privacy setting forcing users to acknowledge how much information they are allowing to be collected. This may have caused some users to simply stop being engaged with the likes of Facebook.
Facebook executives have said that they will follow Europe's lead on privacy regulation in the US. This could lead to future declines in the US,
The decline in Facebook users in Europe

In Europe the active number of Facebook users is 375 million whereas in the US it is just 242 million. Two million users have left Facebook on a monthly basis since the first quarter, and even more, 4 million, have abandoned it on a daily basis. The last quarter is the first in which the GDPR rules have been in force. In Quarter 1 to 3 the decline in Europe has been from 377 million to 375 million. The decline in daily active users has been from 282 million to 278 million. The decline in daily users in Europe from its peak to its recent low is about 1.4 percent. If this happened in the US it would mean the loss of about 3.4 million users.
In other areas Facebook usage is growing considerably
The anxiety about a decline in the US in Facebook users as well as Europe is a bit misguided it seems to me in that in the Asia Pacific region and the rest of the world the user base is growing substantially. The number of users in those areas is far larger than in the US and Europe. The markets in US and the EU may be more or less saturated and not likely to grow more in any event.
The Business Insider's own monthly active user's chart shows that in the last quarter the user base in the Asia-Pacific Region went from 894 million to 917 million over three times as many users as in the US and more than twice that of Europe. The rest of the world went from 723 million users to 736 million users. The total number of users went from 2,234 million users to 2,271 million users. So Facebook is actually still growing substantially world wide even though it has lost some users in Europe.
The Business Week article notes that Facebook usually reacts to user-growth numbers. In pre-market trading on Wednesday morning its stock price was up about 5 percent. The article suggests that declines from the GDPR were already priced in. Perhaps why the price went up is that the total number of users is up substantially in spite of the fact that Europe has lost users and growth is virtually flat in the US. Both areas are minor relative to the total user base of Facebook.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Trump claims Twitter is suppressing his follower count

Donald Trump is again claiming without evidence that Twitter is suppressing his follower count due to their political bias. Apparently he made the claim after watching a Fox Business report on Twitter earnings.

Trump's complaint
Trump tweeted: “Twitter has removed many people from my account and, more importantly, they have seemingly done something that makes it much harder to join — they have stifled growth to a point where it is obvious to all. A few weeks ago it was a Rocket Ship, now it is a Blimp! Total Bias?”
As mentioned Trump made the complaint after watching his favorite TV channel Fox News. As Matthew Gertz of Media Matters pointed out Fox Business discussed Twitter's earnings report which showed that Twitter lost 9 million accounts last quarter which followed a loss of one million the quarter before.Twitter explains these losses due to a mass deletion of automated and spam accounts. It has been overcounting for years and is now attempting to correct the matter.
Twitter is removing fake accounts and trying to stop malicious behavior
A Twitter spokesperson told The Verge that “our focus is on the health of the service, and that includes work to remove fake accounts to prevent malicious behavior. Many prominent accounts have seen follower counts drop, but the result is higher confidence that the followers they have are real, engaged people.”
Twitter is harder to join
Since June Twitter has asked new users to confirm either an email address or a phone number. According to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey this is a measure to reduce spam accounts. This is not that much of a burden for most people. This happened months ago along with the purging of many accounts.
Trump's followers' count is actually growing
Given the huge purging of accounts it would not be surprising if Trump's followers numbers were declining. Many prominent persons have found their follower numbers declining due to the purge. A decline in itself would not show bias. However in Trump's case Washington Post journalist Brian Fung checked and found that far from losing many people Trump's followers had increased over the course of this month.
Trump is wrong about Twitter changing from a rocket ship to a blimp
The earnings report on Fox is actually quite positive. Far from becoming a blimp now and a rocket ship before, this is the first year that Twitter has turned a profit. A recent Digital Journal article notes: "Twitter reported Thursday stronger-than-expected profits and revenues in the third quarter, igniting a strong rally in shares of the key social network. The San Francisco group delivered a $789 million profit, including one-time gains, compared to a net loss of $21 million in the previous year, as revenues grew 29 percent to $758 million." So in spite of losing so many accounts the firm is doing fine and much better than last year.
There are signs that Twitter filters show bias
Trump has before accused Twitter and other sites of mass-deleting real conservatives user's accounts as well as suppressing his follower count. There have been complaints about Twitter and other sites such as Facebook as filtering out conservative accounts. However, it seems that the bias is towards any strong anti-establishment view left or right. As discussed in a recent Digital Journal article some of those chosen to help filter out fake news such as the Atlantic Council are hardly neutral. As the appended video shows not just Twitter but Facebook also has been accused of bias in filtering out news posts. So behind the bravado boasting and downright lying, Trump's complaints do have a germ of truth, although he provides no evidence of personally being censored by Twitter or Facebook. In fact Twitter is one of Trump's favorite means of communication.

Previously published in Digital Journal on October 28

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Facebook bans more accounts said to be linked to Iranian influence campaign

After identifying more suspicious behavior linked to an ongoing Iranian influence campaign the company removed a combined 82 pages, groups and accounts that were pretending to be US and sometimes British citizens and organizations.

Some of the accounts had large numbers of followers
Facebook claims it removed 30 pages, 33 Facebook accounts, and three groups on Facebook. It found 16 new accounts on Instagram. About one million people followed at least one page. Approximately 25,000 people joined one of the groups. On Instagram about 28,000 people followed at least one of the accounts. Obviously, Facebook is taking down some pages and closing some accounts that people find quite interesting even though they do not pass the Facebook test of being authentic.
New bans are a continuation of a campaign begun in August
Back in August, Facebook saw evidence of an Iranian campaign designed to sow division and amplify tensions in the US. Google found that the operation was spreading to You Tube. Nathaniel Gleicher Facebook head of cybersecurity policy said: “Despite attempts to hide their true identities, a manual review of these accounts linked their activity to Iran. We also identified some overlap with the Iranian accounts and Pages we removed in August. However, it’s still early days and while we have found no ties to the Iranian government, we can’t say for sure who is responsible.” Note that there have been no actual ties found to the Iranian government.
In August, Facebook deleted over 600 accounts that it associated with Russia or Iran. It was alerted to the Iranian network by FireEye: "In July, FireEye tipped Facebook off to the existence of a network of pages known as Liberty Front Press. The network included 70 accounts, three Facebook groups, and 76 Instagram accounts, which had 155,000 Facebook followers and 48,000 Instagram followers. The network had undisclosed links to Iranian state media, Facebook said, and spent more than $6,000 between 2015 and today. The network also hosted three events." Facebook owns Instagram.
Most interventions are not aimed at supporting specific candidates
As with Russian interventions in the 2016 elections most posts are aimed at stoking tensions over high priority concerns such as immigration and race relations. Many of the examples shown by Facebook profess anti-Trump sentiment or they comment on recent controversies such as on the hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. There does not seem to be an attempt to spread propaganda unilaterally but to inflame current disagreements. Of course they may do this by providing information or points of view that the US establishment does not like but is well appreciated by followers of the accounts.
Facebook sets up a war room to identify and counter suspicious behavior
The war room in its Menlo Park headquarters in California is fighting misinformation on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Katie Harbath, global politics and government outreach director said in an interview: “This is going to be a constant arms race. This is our new normal. Bad actors are going to get more sophisticated in what they’re doing, and we’re going to have to get more sophisticated in trying to catch them.”
Some of those involved in the Facebook filtering of fake news are hardly neutral
In a recent Digital Journal article that discusses the war room and its function it was noted: "Among those helping Facebook to filter the news is the Atlantic Council. Rania Khalek an independent journalist said in a tweet: “This is alarming. The Atlantic Council — which is funded by gulf monarchies, western governments, NATO, oil and weapons companies, etc. — will now assist Facebook in suppressing what they decide is disinformation." In Facebook's statement which announced the partnership it said that the company will use the Atlantic Council's Digital Research Unit Monitoring Missions during elections and other highly sensitive moments.
The Gray Zone of Max Blumenthal notes that the account of Sayed Mousavi an Iranian student and independent journalist was suspended from Twitter. Mousavi pointed out that Twitter’s second-largest shareholder is the billionaire Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal and that Facebook works with the Israeli government in that it censors Palestinian media based upon its requests. You do not see Facebook suspending Israeli accounts, trolls, or removing bots. He said that what is happening is just the tip of the iceberg compared to what we will see in the future. He also said of the Facebook suspensions mentioned earlier: "These suspensions were based on a questionable, thinly sourced report by the American cybersecurity firm FireEye, which is led by former US military officers."
US allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey continue to run their own troll propaganda campaigns without being shut down. Only some Saudi Arabian trolls have been suspended because they spread false news about the Khashoggi murder. They actually just report what Saudi officials say spreading the official line. This being in opposition to official US government narratives that gets you suspended.
In December 2017, journalist Glenn Greenwald warned: " “Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments.” Since then, the repression has only grown."

Previously published in Digital Journal

Exemptions to Digital Millennium Copyright Act help the right to repair movement

In a huge win for hackers, tinkerers, and the right to repair movement, the US copyright office has made several major changes to legal exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

The legal exemptions make it now much easier for owners of devices to hack, modify, and repair them.
Wikipedia describes DMCA:
 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act:The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a 1998 United States copyright law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM). It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself. In addition, the DMCA heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet.[1][2] Passed on October 12, 1998, by a unanimous vote in the United States Senate and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 28, 1998, the DMCA amended Title 17 of the United States Code to extend the reach of copyright, while limiting the liability of the providers of online services for copyright infringement by their users.
Section 1201 of DMCA makes it unlawful to circumvent technological measures used to prevent unauthorized access to copyrighted works. This includes software that has been ubiquitous and essential in all the devices we use be they phones, cars or even tractors. While you may own the devices you only have a licence to use the software that enables them to function. Device manufactures have long used this section to prevent owners from repairing their own devices or modifying them if it involves breaking software locks. To do so companies argue is illegal and a violation of the DMCA.
However, every three years citizens can petition to allow exemptions to section 1201. The office then rules what kinds of repairs and software tools are and are not allowed under the law. The latest ruling goes into effect on October 28th and offers broad new protections for repairing devices.
Kyle Wiens of ifixit lists the main changes:You can now jailbreak Alexa-powered hardware, and other similar gadgets—they call these ‘Voice assistant devices.’You can unlock new phones, not just used ones. This is important for recyclers that get unopened consumer returns.We got a general exemption for repair of smartphones, home appliances, or home systems. This means that it’s finally legal to root and fix the Revolv smart home hubs that Google bricked when they shut down the servers. Or pretty much any other home device. Repair of motorized land vehicles (including tractors) by modifying the software is now legal. Importantly, this includes access to telematic diagnostic data—which was a major point of contention.It’s now legal for third-parties to perform repair on behalf of the owner. This is hugely important for the American economy, where repair jobs represent 3% of overall employment.Lastly, it’s legal for other third parties to do these kinds of repairs on your behalf — so even if you can’t code your way into fixing a bricked smart home, it’s not illegal to pay someone who can to do it for you.
The self repairers and hackers did not win on every issue. Game console repairs are still not allowed. You cannot repair a busted CD drive on your Xbox or PS4 on your own since for security reasons these parts are locked via software to the specific console.
The ruling also applies only to specific categories so owners of vehicles such as boats or planes still are bound by the law. The ruling also does not allow trafficking in the software tools designed to circumvent software locks even in the name of repair. You can develop those tools yourself or people can pay you to do the repairs for them, but the tools cannot be distributed or sold to others.
The John Deere case
The John Deer situation is discussed in detail in the appended video. John Deere's restrictions prevent software repairs being done except by authorized repairmen. At harvest time when a machine breaks down this creates a tremendous expense for farmers. The machinery may need to shipped long distances at huge expenses or farmers need to spend precious time waiting for an authorized repairmen to come and make repairs. As discussed in a Digital Journal article some time ago farmers are resorting to local repair people who use illegal hacking tools to access and repair the software. The new legislation still does not allow that but it may be difficult to enforce.
Companies had been forcing those who buy their products to get them repaired only by them often garnering huge profits since it gives them in effect a monopoly over repairs. Of course it is not only tractors but a myriad of products that use proprietary software that is only licensed to owners. At least the new legislation allows a huge number of exceptions that will be of great benefit to owners of devices containing such software.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Friday, December 7, 2018

Tether Company destroys 500 million of its Tether cryptocoins

(October 24) Just before 1 PM eastern time on Wednesday, Tether, the company that issues the dollar-linked coin tether(USDT) announced on Twitter that it had destroyed 500 million of the cryptocoins.

Masses of tethers have been redeemed for US dollars

The coins were held previously in an account known as the Tether Treasury. During the past few weeks there has been a huge influx of USDT into the Treasury, especially when the coin lost parity with the US dollar last week as questions arose about the access of Tether to banking services. Usually the value of the coin is stable almost at the same value as the US dollar.
The coin started to slip below par on Oct. 14 and by Oct, 23, a total of 680 million USDT were transferred to the company-controlled Treasury wallet. All of the transfers emanated from an address controlled by Bitfinex, a large cryptocurrency exchange that overlaps with Tether both in terms of ownership and also management.
Bitfinex may be spending Bitcoins to buy tethers

The balance of Bitcoins in Bitfinex's cold wallet has dropped by about 100,000 coins since early September. This has led some to speculate that Bitfinex is trying to take tethers off the market. This may be to drive the price back up to parity with the dollar or even to exit the stable coin business, as there are several competitors now.
Supply of tethers is dropping rapidly
In just a week and a half the supply of tethers in circulation has dropped by around a quarter to about $2 billion. Now many of those taken out of circulation have actually been destroyed by the Tether company.
Statement by Bitfinex

Bitfinex's director of communications, Kasper Rasmussen said that the destruction of the coins had nothing to do with defending dollar parity. He says both Bitfinex and the Tether company guarantee redemptions at par. His explanation of the action is that when the number of tethers required for Bitfinex or Tether to operate is exceeded by the number in circulation then tokens are redeemed. He also denied that Tether was intentionally scaling back the supply as the action does.
He said that most of the tokens destroyed came from Bitfinex's wallet since the exchange is one of Tether's main customers. The company said that it still had about 466 million tethers in the Treasury for future issuances.
Tethers are said to be redeemable in US dollars directly with the company

The redemption is on the basis of parity and was described in the original white paper for the coin in 2016. The company claims that every tether is backed by a US dollar deposit. However, many skeptics doubt that the tether is full collateralized.
There is disagreement whether redemptions directly with the company take place. Rasmussen claims that customer can. However many others say that it is not possible. In any event it seems complicated. On Bitfinex itself there is no trading of the tether US dollar pair.
Kraken exchange
Kraken is one exchange that does trade the USDT to the US dollar. When the value of tether went below that of the US dollar tethers flooded into the exchange. Bittrex exchange also offers to two as a trading pair but has not seen the same influx.
Bitfinex publishes data for a non-existent trading market
If you go to the CoinMarketCap page on Bitfinex you will find that the second-highest volume during the past 24 hours almost $48 million dollars was the USDT/USD pair linking tether (USDT) with the US dollar (USD). However, there is no such pair on the Bitfinex exchange. A Bitfinex spokesperson pointed out that there was no such pair trading on the exchange and no such pair is listed on the site. The spokesperson said: " Customers can deposit and withdraw both dollars and tethers at Bitfinex, meaning that it is possible to transfer one for the other through the exchange, but this process is far slower and more involved than placing a trade on the exchange."
Carylynne Chan, CoinMarketCap's global head of marketing said the data they list comes from Bitfinex's own public application interface program (API) which feeds the data to outside applications. Chan said she is confused as anyone else about what the data represents:"With this endpoint, as with others on the site, we try to represent all the pairs that the exchange offers in their API," she told CoinDesk, adding, "we are continuing to follow up with our contacts at Bitfinex to have them clarify exactly what this endpoint represents, as you asked, but they have not responded to multiple direct requests from our team members."
However, following the publication of the article referenced, Rasmussen said that the USDT/USD pair tracked deposits and withdrawals from a specific wallet. He did not name the wallet but perhaps it is the Treasury wallet. There is a link to the wallet.
Previously published in Digital Journal

Monday, December 3, 2018

BMW partners with two firms to build a battery supply and recycle chain

German luxury car maker BMW is partnering with a new Swedish battery manufacturer plus a Belgian recycling company that will build a sustainable future battery supply chain.

The partnership
The two companies BMW will work with are Northvolt, and Umicore. Northvolt is building the largest battery factory in Europe for EVs in Sweden. Umicore is a Belgium-based materials processing company. It will develop battery reuse and recycling systems. The company will dismantle battery packs down to their cells and recycle the cell material into new cells which in turn will be built by Northvolt. Before being disassembled the packs could be used for grid or home storage of electricity until their useful life is spent according to a report in Automotive News Europe.
Advantages of the new system
Besides the systems being good for the environment, it has a couple of advantages for BMW. The system could bring down the price of batteries which have become more expensive since 2015. European automakers and also auto manufacturers in other parts of the world are being made responsible for ensuring that their installed batteries are properly disposed of when they no longer function. Reusing and recycling the materials from the batteries could also lower the disposal costs of companies.
The new agreement could also suggest that BMW will turn to Northvolt to supply batteries for its future EVs, rather than the Samsung batteries it uses now.
Northvolt's plans
The company intends to invest $4.6 billion in order to build a battery factory that will be a rival to Tesla's Gigafactory in the US. It should eventually produce up to 32 gigawatt-hours of batteries each year. Northvolt intends to begin producing as much as 8 gigawatt hours worth of batteries in 2020 and to have its plant fully operational by around 2025. However, BMW gave no timeline for developing it end-to-end recycling system.
BMW plans to add many new EVs to its lineup
Last month, BMW claimed it will add 25 different battery-electric and plug-in hybrids to the market by the year 2025. The figure was released at a company presentation and interview last year in early December.
BMW already offers the reasonably priced battery-electric i3 as shown in the appended photo and video. It has the plug-in hybrid i8 and also a half dozen of plug-in hybrids of its sedans and crossovers.
The present electric cars with the larger batteries produced last year are termed their fourth generation of EVs. The fifth generation will be reworked versions of two basic BMW architectures.
BMW says it expects that by 2025 fully a quarter of its sales to be plug-in electric vehicles.

CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, asks Bloomberg to retract report on Chinese spying on the company

In an interview with Buzzfeed News, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Apple Tim Cook asked Bloomberg to retract its news report alleging that Chinese spies had compromised company servers by implanting a malicious micro chip on them.

The original claim
In the original story the Bloomberg authors, Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley, quote Joe Grand, a hardware hacker and the founder of Grand Idea Studio Inc. as saying: “Having a well-done, nation-state-level hardware implant surface would be like witnessing a unicorn jumping over a rainbow. Hardware is just so far off the radar, it’s almost treated like black magic.” Yet this does not deter the Bloomberg authors from claiming this is what happened.
The authors claim:
But that’s just what U.S. investigators found: The chips had been inserted during the manufacturing process, two officials say, by operatives from a unit of the People’s Liberation Army. In Supermicro, China’s spies appear to have found a perfect conduit for what U.S. officials now describe as the most significant supply chain attack known to have been carried out against American companies.
One official says investigators found that it eventually affected almost 30 companies, including a major bank, government contractors, and the world’s most valuable company, Apple Inc. Apple was an important Supermicro customer and had planned to order more than 30,000 of its servers in two years for a new global network of data centers. Three senior insiders at Apple say that in the summer of 2015, it, too, found malicious chips on Supermicro motherboards. Apple severed ties with Supermicro the following year, for what it described as unrelated reasons
Apple denies the Bloomberg claim
Cook claimed: “This did not happen. There’s no truth to this " After the Bloomberg report was issued Apple released a statement that picked the story apart and denied each individual claim the statement said: “On this we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, ‘hardware manipulations’ or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server." Shortly after that the Apple vice president of information security wrote to the US Congress to directly deny the allegations.
Cook told Buzzfeed that he had been involved in the response from the beginning in correspondence with Bloomberg. He claimed that Apple made it clear to them that what they alleged did not happen and had answered all their questions. Cook also claimed that each time they brought the issue up the story changed and each time the company investigated they found nothing.
Other sources are critical of the reports as well
The report has also been criticized by US intelligence chiefs and cybersecurity experts. No malicious chips have been discovered. There has been no new evidence come to light and none of the many sources Bloomberg claims the report is based upon have acknowledged that they are part of the investigation. Indeed, one of the few named sources said in a podcast that the claims did not make sense.
A recent article in the Digital Journal notes that the The UK National Cyber Security Centre claimed it had no knowledge of the investigation. The article contains as well denials by others such as Amazon who were said to have been affected by the Chinese actions.
The original article claimed that 17 unnamed intelligence and company sources reported that Chinese spies had placed the computer chips inside equipment used by about 30 companies and numerous government agencies. Yet none of these agencies have identified themselves and no companies have claimed that they have found the chips.
However, Bloomberg stands by the story even though it has damaged the reputation of the Chinese suppliers as well as those of the giant US companies using the Chinese equipment. Perhaps Bloomberg is being used to spread fake news to further convince US companies not to use Chinese produced products. So far Bloomberg has avoided being sued.
On the appended video an expert claims a chip on a motherboard would be a very amateurish hack.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Monday, November 26, 2018

WhatsApp interferes with Facebook's attempts to root out fake news

There is a conference room inside of Facebook's headquarters that is devoted to fighting election interference. Casey Newton a reporter with the Verge visited what is called the war room and wrote a recent article about the visit.

Newton visits the Facebook war room
After an introductory briefing, Newton got to visit the actual room. The room MPK 20 is just one of many conference rooms in the headquarters in Menlo Park, Palo Alto as shown in the appended image. There were desks for 24 people and the room is ringed by seventeen screens. Each screen highlights a stream of information that Facebook is monitoring.
Employees watch for suspicious spikes in spam and hate speech. In some cases they use special software to do this. They are looking for activity such as voter suppression. For example there may be posts saying that an election has been delayed because of long lineups. The team recently uncovered a hoax claiming that the Brazilian election had been delayed a day because of protests. The offending posts were quickly removed.
Newton was unfortunate in that nothing dramatic happened while she was there.
Facebook's war room is fighting a war in the Brazil election
Newton notes that the room was festooned with both US and Brazilian flags. The war room is waging war against fake news not only in US elections but those in Brazil as well. Surely, this might be considered interfering in the Brazilian election. Even if this is done in the name of stopping fake news, it could be considered interfering in the Brazil election. If Bolsonaro wins then Facebook could very well find itself banned in Brazil because its actions meant that he probably had less votes than otherwise.
It seems that a report by Folha on the scheme to use WhatsApp for fake news was timed to coincide with the reporters visit as it appeared while they were there. Buzzfeed notes: "The report was released the same day that WhatsApp's new CEO, Chris Daniels, published a piece in Folha, writing, "We have a responsibility to amplify the good and mitigate the bad." Thursday morning, also, appears to have been the time when Facebook allowed access stories from American journalists such as CNN covering Facebook's new "election war room" to publish. The timing of the embargo — an agreement between news organizations to publish news provided by a source at the same time — the investigation by Folha, and Daniels' op-ed throw into question exactly how Facebook intends to monitor fake news and hyperpartisan misinformation, especially in a WhatsApp-dominated country like Brazil."
In other words the timing was intended to ensure that the stories would point out the failings of WhatsApp. Newton uses Buzzfeed to explain what happened.
How the scheme worked
Media firms that support the right-wing front runner Jair Bolsanaro used his supporter database along with third party databases of phone numbers. Some agencies even broke down data on the basis of income level and location. They then used a service called mass shooting to send thousands of messages.
The Folha investigation alleges that the firms bought contracts worth up to $3.2 million dollars. This is not only an abuse of WhatsApp, its illegal in Brazil where companies are banned from donating to political campaigns and are not allowed to access a candidate's database.
The scheme may not show up on any Facebook screen
The media companies' scheme is most insidious in that it is not evident that any of the many screens in the Facebook war room can capture the malign activity. The fake news is spread virally using a platform that almost no one can see inside.
How the damage might be limited
Several Brazilian researchers have suggested three ways the WhatsApp propaganda could be limited. The number of times a message can be forwarded could be reduced from 20 to 5. Facebook already does this in India. Secondly, Facebook could lower substantially the number of people that a person can send a single message to from the present very large 256. Finally, the company could limit the size of new groups in the hope that this could limit the formation of misinformation mobs. As to the last technique, surely this would be easy to avoid by just forming many clones of smaller groups and having them work in concert.
Newton concludes that it would be best to not allow an app to have both end-to-end encryption and viral sharing mechanics just one or the other. This would allow the mobs to be in plain sight. It would be interesting to see what WhatApp would have to say about Newton's complaints and suggestions.
Are those helping to filter fake news neutral?
One should always be suspicious when giant corporations decide to protect us from fake news and misinformation. Obviously political figures such as Donald Trump and many other politicians make announcements that are lies and they are dutifully reported by the mass media ad nauseam often without comment since to comment is not straight objective reporting. Now this is not regarded as fake news but it has the same effect especially if the politician is regarded as truthful by many of his or her followers. No one suggests banning those reports. People are left to determine themselves whether what important figures say is true or false. Other reports may show these are lies or claim they are but such reports do not ban the original statements.
Among those helping Facebook to filter the news is the Atlantic Council. Rania Khalek an independent journalist said in a tweet: “This is alarming. The Atlantic Council — which is funded by gulf monarchies, western governments, NATO, oil and weapons companies, etc. — will now assist Facebook in suppressing what they decide is disinformation." In Facebook's statement which announced the partnership it said that the company will use the Atlantic Council's Digital Research Unit Monitoring Missions during elections and other highly sensitive moments.
Adam Johnson, a contributor at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, said in response to Facebook's announcement: “Monopoly social media corporations teaming up with [the] pro-U.S. NatSec blob to determine truth was always the logical end of ‘fake news’ panic.”
While Facebook will naturally try to ensure that it does not place itself in a position where it breaks the laws of a country where it operates it would be wise not to hold itself otherwise responsible for filtering what appears on its platform. Leave it to the authorities to warn them when posts are against the law and to prosecute those who break the law as happened in Brazil. The companies using WhatsApp in Brazil broke the law and there is evidence for it. The way to stop them is to prosecute them not to complain about WhatsApp.
As the appended video shows Facebook even banned a video by well known Guardian columnist George Monbiot.
Published earlier in Digital Journal

Friday, November 23, 2018

About an hour after pot legalization Winnipeg police issue a ticket for consuming pot in a vehicle

(October 18)Yesterday at around one AM, just an hour after use of recreational marijuana was legalized in Canada, during a traffic stop, Winnipeg police issued a ticket for consuming marijuana in a vehicle.

 1 of 2 
You cant smoke pot in a car
Consuming cannnabis in a car is a specific offence under the Highway Traffic Act. Inspector Gord Spado said: "An hour into legality and something illegal." It is not clear if the offender was the person driving at the time. Consumption of alcohol in a vehicle is also illegal.
Spado said that the cannabis was likely not purchased legally. Although online sales started at 12:01 AM they weren't being delivered yet at 1 AM. However, no ticket was issued for that.
Spado said: "It doesn't look like anything was pursued as far as the illicit component of it goes. I think that's just the education piece of our members, knowing where to go with that. It's still new to us, too, right, so we're still learning."
Spado said it would be difficult to determine if marijuana has been purchased illegally. Another challenge will be ticketing people for consuming cannabis edibles in a vehicle. He notes that if someone has an edible in a car and we can prove it that is an offence. On some occasions Spado notes they can but in others they cannot. Right now the edibles are not legally on sale. When the edibles are legal it may be easier to prove consumption in a vehicle through the presence of packaging that may be visible.
There are hefty fines for offences
The fine for smoking pot in a car was $672 dollars. There is the same fine for consuming cannabis in or on an off-road vehicle. Other fines are even higher.
Supplying marijuana to someone under age 19 or growing non-medical pot in a residence in Manitoba carries a fine of $2,542.
Other fines of $672 are for smoking or vaping cannabis in a provincial parks or doing so in a public place.
There is a $237 fine for carrying marijuana in or on a vehicle including an off-road vehicle. However, there can be marijuana in the trunk of a car.
Where can you buy marijuana?
Where you can buy pot and who can sell it varies from province to province. Manitoba has a hybrid public/private model. The Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation will buy cannabis from licensed producers and deliver it, or arrange for delivery to approved privately operated marijuana stores. Details of the arrangements can be found here.
Many stores have yet to be opened.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Monday, November 19, 2018

Twitter releases huge archive of tweets by foreign trolls from Russian and Iranian accounts

Twitter has announced that it has published an archive of almost 10 million tweets from troll accounts today. This will provide a treasure trove of data.

Tweets originated from Russian and Iranian accounts
The tweets were sent between 2013 and 2018. Nine million were published by 3,800 different accounts associated with the Russian Internet Research Agency. The last million tweets were posted from accounts Twitter said were associated with Iran.
Note that the archives are only of material from Russia and Iran. What of all the trolls that are based in other countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia? Are there no significant trolls there to be suspended? Do they not attempt to influence US elections?
In the announcement Vijaya Gadde and another author say: "It is clear that information operations and coordinated inauthentic behavior will not cease. These types of tactics have been around for far longer than Twitter has existed — they will adapt and change as the geopolitical terrain evolves worldwide and as new technologies emerge. For our part, we are committed to understanding how bad-faith actors use our services. We will continue to proactively combat nefarious attempts to undermine the integrity of Twitter, while partnering with civil society, government, our industry peers, and researchers to improve our collective understanding of coordinated attempts to interfere in the public conversation. Our dedicated site integrity team, in partnership with a diverse range of committed organizations and personnel across the company, continue to invest heavily in this area. We are constantly seeking to improve our own ability to detect, understand, and neutralize these campaigns as quickly and robustly as technically possible."
However, the suspension of accounts and collecting of data seems selective. In some cases too there are doubts about the neutrality of those chosen to help weed out undesirable tweeters. The Atlantic Council is just one example.
Vijaya Gadde is the chief legal officer of Twitter and is well compensated for her work. claims: "As Chief Legal Officer and Secretary at TWITTER, INC., Vijaya Gadde made $908,060 in total compensation. Of this total $500,000 was received as a salary, $0 was received as a bonus, $0 was received in stock options, $406,560 was awarded as stock and $1,500 came from other types of compensation. This information is according to proxy statements filed for the 2017 fiscal year. "
The Atlantic Council
Facebook uses the Atlantic Council to help it sort out bad actors. Twitter had the Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Lab sort through the data before its official release. In a Medium post the organization pointed out several strategies that the Russian and Iranian accounts used as part of their operations. The post said that the most effective toll posts used exactly the techniques that drive genuine online activism and engagement. They targeted polarizing communities and large events in order to influence public discourse. Much of the material would not be blocked if it were not from Russian trolls. Trump no doubt makes similar tweets and often what could be considered actual hate speech tweets without any response from Twitter. You can probably say anything you want about Putin, Assad, or Kim Jong Un
The Atlantic Council is hardly a neutral arbiter on the issue of bad actors in social media. Rhania Khalek, an independent journalist, said of the Council working with Facebook: “This is alarming. The Atlantic Council — which is funded by gulf monarchies, western governments, NATO, oil and weapons companies, etc. — will now assist Facebook in suppressing what they decide is disinformation.”
The announcement on Verge quotes the Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Lab approvingly: "Identifying future foreign influence operations, and reducing their impact, will demand awareness and resilience from the activist communities targeted, not just the platforms and the open source community."
Twitter has become global censor
As far back as June last year an article appeared in the Business Insider titled "Twitter has gone from bastion of free speech to global censor". The article gives an example of one of the ways the censorship works: "On June 17th at around 10 am Doha time (07:00 GMT) the Twitter account of Al Jazeera's Arabic channel, a verified account with more than eleven million followers, was suspended due to an organised campaign. Engineers at Al Jazeera Arabic who were in communication with Twitter said there was a "storm attack" of mass reports of the account to Twitter, which forced the algorithm to temporarily suspend the account, but Twitter did not immediately respond to request for comment."
There is a partial listing of suspended accounts over the years at Wikipedia. Among those suspended were Jack Dorsey founder and CEO of Twitter in November 2017 due to an internal mistake. Jamal Khashoggi was suspended until he left Saudi Arabia, at the request of the kingdom.
Twitter will provide plenty of data to further the campaign to examine Russian attempts on social media to influence US elections but don't expect to have masses of data on Israel or the Saudi attempts to influence elections to say nothing of the myriad corporate lobbying groups who no doubt also use Twitter as a tool to advance their agendas.

Previously published in Digital Journal

New software called Journal is able to search your material for you

Journal is a machine-learning and natural language processing-powered platform that will enable you to make searches across all your web services and tools. It has been able to launch a beta community to test the platform.

Searching your information for you
A recent Techcrunch article notes: "In today’s world of Slack, email and a gazillion other web apps and services, it’s become increasingly hard to search for information. Did your boss Slack you or email you that information about your bonus? Or did they share it via a Google Doc? Who knows? Clearly not you, but Journal knows."
With all the information you are accumulating a search engine that can readily look for anything you are seeking within that mass of data will be a valuable tool.
Journal has millions in seed money
In a funding round led by Social Capital, Journal had received funding of $1.5 million. Journal has used the funding to launch a beta community of users as mentioned. It is also launching today its Mac app, a webb app and a Chrome extension. The Journal website describes what it can do.
What Journal does
The Journal website says in part: "What would be possible if our information — about people, projects, and ideas — was connected and easily accessible?...Journal integrates with the services where your information lives (like Slack, Gmail, Evernote, Pocket, and Dropbox) — so that you have one connected home for all your stuff. You can use the best services for messaging, documents, and more — and Journal will tie them all together so you stay in control."
Co-founder and CEO of Journal Samiur Rahman said his group wanted to help people use information effectively. With Journal people would be able to manage their knowledge and help individuals leverage all of that knowledge that they possess.
His team want to build a suite of tools that will act as a kind of second brain for people. The group has a long way to go he admitted but that was their vision
Social Capital the company
Wikipedia describes Social Capital as follows: "Social Capital, formerly known as Social+Capital Partnership, is a venture capital firm based in Palo Alto, California,USA. The firm specializes in technology startups, providing seed funding, venture capital and private equity.[1][2] The firm has "stood out strategically", according to Fortune, "with a focus, financial services and education...when those fields were...neglected by the VC community."[1]"
Social Capital was founded in 2011 by Chamath Palihapitiya, who had previously worked at Facebook who is featured on the appended video.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Riichard Branson of Virgin Galactic has suspended a partnership with KSA until Khashoggi case is cleared up

Richard Branson founder and chairman of the space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic has temporarily suspended a partnership with Saudi Arabia until the issue of missing Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi is cleared up.

 1 of 2 
Khashoggi went missing after visiting the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul back on October 2.
Branson's statement
In a recent blog post Branson wrote: "I had high hopes for the current government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and it is why I was delighted to accept two directorships in the tourism projects around the Red Sea. I felt that I could give practical development advice and also help protect the precious environment around the coastline and islands."
Branson also said that in the light of what has reportedly happened in Turkey with respect to the disappearance of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi many businesses' ability to do business with the Saudis would be changed if the reports turned out to be true. Branson has asked for more information from the Saudi authorities in relation to the Khashoggi disappearance.
Tension has increased between Branson and the Saudis
Due to the disappearance of Khashoggi an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime tensions between the Saudis and Brandon have been growing. Khashoggi has not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate some time ago. Turkey claims he was killed and dismembered and that they have audio and video tapes to prove it, although they have not released the evidence. For their part, the Saudis deny the accusations and claim that Khashoggi left the embassy not long after entering but there are no security photos showing this.
Until the issue of Khashoggi is cleared up Branson said that any discussions over the Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit investment would be suspended.
Virgin Group moving forward with space flight plans
In the meantime, the Virgin companies are still moving forward with their spaceflight plans. Virgin Galactic has been testing its space plane, the VSS Unity since late 2016, and Branson claims the vehicle will be able to reach space on an upcoming flight test in the next few weeks. In addition, Virgin Orbit hopes in the near future to perform its first captive carry flights of its rocket, LauncherOne, during which the rocket will ride under the wing of its carrier plane for the first time but will not be released on the test flight. If the test is successful then on the next test, Virgin Orbit will test launching the rocket, sending it into space.
This will all be quite costly and the Saudi funding would help out considerably but it remains to be seen if the issue can be cleared up satisfactorily if the evidence the Turks claim to have is confirmed.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner investigating Twitter over data privacy concern.

Irish privacy regulators are launching an investigation into precisely how much data Twitter collects from, its URL-shortening system.

Investigation taking place under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
An earlier Verge article describes the GDPR: "The General Data Protection Regulation is a rule passed by the European Union in 2016, setting new rules for how companies manage and share personal data. In theory, the GDPR only applies to EU citizens’ data, but the global nature of the internet means that nearly every online service is affected, and the regulation has already resulted in significant changes for US users as companies scramble to adapt." Complete information about the GDPR can be found here.
The investigation results from a request by Michael Veale a UK professor. The GDPR allows citizens to request any data that a specific company collects about them. When Veale made the request to Twitter concerning its link-shortening service, the company replied that the service collected no data about him. Veale was sceptical and asked the Irish Data Commissioner to investigate to see if the Twitter claim were true.
The Commissioner's letter to Veale
The letter from the office of the Irish Data Privacy Commissioner said: “The DPC has initiated a formal statutory inquiry in respect of your complaint. The inquiry will examine whether or not Twitter has discharged its obligations in connection with the subject matter of your complaint and determine whether or not any provisions of the GDPR or the [Data Protection] Act have been contravened by Twitter in this respect.”
Wikipedia describes link-shortening as follows:
"URL shortening is a technique on the World Wide Web in which a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) may be made substantially shorter and still direct to the required page. This is achieved by using a redirect which links to the web page that has a long URL. For example, the URL "" can be shortened to "",... Often the redirect domain name is shorter than the original one. A friendly URL may be desired for messaging technologies that limit the number of characters in a message (for example SMS), for reducing the amount of typing required if the reader is copying a URL from a print source, for making it easier for a person to remember, or for the intention of a permalink. In November 2009, the shortened links of the URL shortening service Bitly were accessed 2.1 billion times.[1]Other uses of URL shortening are to "beautify" a link, track clicks, or disguise the underlying address. Although disguising of the underlying address may be desired for legitimate business or personal reasons, it is open to abuse.[2] Some URL shortening service providers have found themselves on spam blacklists, because of the use of their redirect services by sites trying to bypass those very same blacklists. Some websites prevent short, redirected URLs from being posted."
Link-shortening has not only saved spaces within the limited space of a tweet, but it has also proved to be effective at fighting malware, and also gathering some rudimentary analytics. It is these analytics that can provide a privacy risk when used in private messages. Not only Twitter but Facebook also has faced lawsuits for collecting data on links shared in private messages even though no wrong doing was conclusively established in either case. Twitter has declined to comment on the investigation saying only that they wer

Previously published in Digital Journal

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

Facebook finds its user base had gone down in Europe the company reported as it announced its third-quarter earnings. This is the second qu...