‘Utterly horrifying’: ex-Facebook insider says covert data harvesting was routine

It has been painful watching, because I know they could have prevented it

From The Guardian
Hundreds of millions of Facebook users are likely to have had their private information harvested by companies that exploited the same terms as the firm that collected data and passed it on to Cambridge Analytica, according to a new whistleblower.

Sandy Parakilas, the platform operations manager at Facebook responsible for policing data breaches by third-party software developers between 2011 and 2012, told the Guardian he warned senior executives at the company that its lax approach to data protection risked a major breach.

“My concerns were that all of the data that left Facebook servers to developers could not be monitored by Facebook, so we had no idea what developers were doing with the data,” he said.

Parakilas said Facebook had terms of service and settings that “people didn’t read or understand” and the company did not use its enforcement mechanisms, including audits of external developers, to ensure data was not being misused.

Parakilas, whose job was to investigate data breaches by developers similar to the one later suspected of Global Science Research, which harvested tens of millions of Facebook profiles and provided the data to Cambridge Analytica, said the slew of recent disclosures had left him disappointed with his superiors for not heeding his warnings.

“It has been painful watching,” he said, “because I know that they could have prevented it.”

Asked what kind of control Facebook had over the data given to outside developers, he replied: “Zero. Absolutely none. Once the data left Facebook servers there was not any control, and there was no insight into what was going on.”

Parakilas said he “always assumed there was something of a black market” for Facebook data that had been passed to external developers. However, he said that when he told other executives the company should proactively “audit developers directly and see what’s going on with the data” he was discouraged from the approach.

He said one Facebook executive advised him against looking too deeply at how the data was being used, warning him: “Do you really want to see what you’ll find?” Parakilas said he interpreted the comment to mean that “Facebook was in a stronger legal position if it didn’t know about the abuse that was happening”.

He added: “They felt that it was better not to know. I found that utterly shocking and horrifying.”

Parakilas first went public with his concerns about privacy at Facebook four months ago, but his direct experience policing Facebook data given to third parties throws new light on revelations over how such data was obtained by Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on the information supplied by Parakilas, but directed the Guardian to a November 2017 blogpost in which the company defended its data sharing practices, which it said had “significantly improved” over the last five years.

“While it’s fair to criticise how we enforced our developer policies more than five years ago, it’s untrue to suggest we didn’t or don’t care about privacy,” that statement said. “The facts tell a different story.”

‘A majority of Facebook users’

Parakilas, 38, who now works as a product manager for Uber, is particularly critical of Facebook’s previous policy of allowing developers to access the personal data of friends of people who used apps on the platform, without the knowledge or express consent of those friends.

That feature, called friends permission, was a boon to outside software developers who, from 2007 onwards, were given permission by Facebook to build quizzes and games – like the widely popular FarmVille – that were hosted on the platform.

The apps proliferated on Facebook in the years leading up to the company’s 2012 initial public offering, an era when most users were still accessing the platform via laptops and computers rather than smartphones.

Facebook took a 30% cut of payments made through apps, but in return enabled their creators to have access to Facebook user data.

Parakilas does not know how many companies sought friends permission data before such access was terminated around mid-2014. However, he said he believes tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands of developers may have done so.

Parakilas estimates that “a majority of Facebook users” could have had their data harvested by app developers without their knowledge. The company now has stricter protocols around the degree of access third parties have to data.

Parakilas said that when he worked at Facebook it failed to take full advantage of its enforcement mechanisms, such as a clause that enables the social media giant to audit external developers who misuse its data.

Legal action against rogue developers or moves to ban them from Facebook were “extremely rare”, he said, adding: “In the time I was there, I didn’t see them conduct a single audit of a developer’s systems.”

Facebook announced on Monday that it had hired a digital forensics firm to conduct an audit of Cambridge Analytica. The decision comes more than two years after Facebook was made aware of the reported data breach.

During the time he was at Facebook, Parakilas said the company was keen to encourage more developers to build apps for its platform and “one of the main ways to get developers interested in building apps was through offering them access to this data”. Shortly after arriving at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters he was told that any decision to ban an app required the personal approval of the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, although the policy was later relaxed to make it easier to deal with rogue developers.

While the previous policy of giving developers access to Facebook users’ friends’ data was sanctioned in the small print in Facebook’s terms and conditions, and users could block such data sharing by changing their settings, Parakilas said he believed the policy was problematic.

“It was well understood in the company that that presented a risk,” he said. “Facebook was giving data of people who had not authorised the app themselves, and was relying on terms of service and settings that people didn’t read or understand.”

It was this feature that was exploited by Global Science Research, and the data provided to Cambridge Analytica in 2014. GSR was run by the Cambridge University psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, who built an app that was a personality test for Facebook users.

The test automatically downloaded the data of friends of people who took the quiz, ostensibly for academic purposes. Cambridge Analytica has denied knowing the data was obtained improperly, and Kogan maintains he did nothing illegal and had a “close working relationship” with Facebook.

While Kogan’s app only attracted around 270,000 users (most of whom were paid to take the quiz), the company was then able to exploit the friends permission feature to quickly amass data pertaining to more than 50 million Facebook users.

“Kogan’s app was one of the very last to have access to friend permissions,” Parakilas said, adding that many other similar apps had been harvesting similar quantities of data for years for commercial purposes. Academic research from 2010, based on an analysis of 1,800 Facebooks apps, concluded that around 11% of third-party developers requested data belonging to friends of users.

If those figures were extrapolated, tens of thousands of apps, if not more, were likely to have systematically culled “private and personally identifiable” data belonging to hundreds of millions of users, Parakilas said.

The ease with which it was possible for anyone with relatively basic coding skills to create apps and start trawling for data was a particular concern, he added.

Parakilas said he was unsure why Facebook stopped allowing developers to access friends data around mid-2014, roughly two years after he left the company. However, he said he believed one reason may have been that Facebook executives were becoming aware that some of the largest apps were acquiring enormous troves of valuable data.

He recalled conversations with executives who were nervous about the commercial value of data being passed to other companies.

“They were worried that the large app developers were building their own social graphs, meaning they could see all the connections between these people,” he said. “They were worried that they were going to build their own social networks.”

‘They treated it like a PR exercise’

Parakilas said he lobbied internally at Facebook for “a more rigorous approach” to enforcing data protection, but was offered little support. His warnings included a PowerPoint presentation he said he delivered to senior executives in mid-2012 “that included a map of the vulnerabilities for user data on Facebook’s platform”.

“I included the protective measures that we had tried to put in place, where we were exposed, and the kinds of bad actors who might do malicious things with the data,” he said. “On the list of bad actors I included foreign state actors and data brokers.”

Frustrated at the lack of action, Parakilas left Facebook in late 2012. “I didn’t feel that the company treated my concerns seriously. I didn’t speak out publicly for years out of self-interest, to be frank.”

That changed, Parakilas said, when he heard the congressional testimony given by Facebook lawyers to Senate and House investigators in late 2017 about Russia’s attempt to sway the presidential election. “They treated it like a PR exercise,” he said. “They seemed to be entirely focused on limiting their liability and exposure rather than helping the country address a national security issue.”

It was at that point that Parakilas decided to go public with his concerns, writing an opinion article in the New York Times that said Facebook could not be trusted to regulate itself. Since then, Parakilas has become an adviser to the Center for Humane Technology, which is run by Tristan Harris, a former Google employee turned whistleblower on the industry.

Contact the author: paul.lewis@theguardian.com

Difference Between Democrat vs Republican Sexual Predator

Ever wonder about the differences between Republicans and Democrats, and how they treat their sexual predators?  Consider the following between Democrat Party supporter Harvey Weinstein and Republican politician Donald Trump, and the price they have paid, from their supporters, for being a monster.

 

Strong Cross Between Victor Hugo Morales and Magdalena Ruiz Guinazu

Strong cross between Victor Hugo Morales and Magdalena Ruiz Guinazu

As part of a series of interviews with presidential candidates performed together at Radio Continental, Magdalena Ruiz Guinazu and Victor Hugo Morales had a strong cross over journalism.

After a conversation about the media close to the government, Ruiz Guinazu suggested that the name of Victor Hugo’s program on Channel 9, Down-line, reflecting the relationship of the journalist with the Casa Rosada.

-Magdalena Ruiz Guinazu: What do you call your program on Channel 9?

– Victor Hugo Morales:  Slope of line

– MRG:  Slope of line, of course …

– VHM: That I underline, not that I lower it to me …

– MRG: I think so … Anyone who sees your program on Channel 9 or listens to Radio Continental, you know … and you’re defending your right to defend your ideas, but do not come to say that the Government does not intervene … Let the audience questions …

– VHM: No way there will be questions you want here as I hold someone down line on my TV because Bajada line call. Did you think that I fall line, Magdalena?

– MRG: I think so.

– VHM: Who the government?

– MRG: I do not know who, but certainly the government. You defend him permanently. In addition you qualify here the general press and colleagues say they’re a bunch of crap.

– VHM: Never say a word, I would not say that for radio.

– MRG: Yes, and I apply it to me too.

– VHM I did not know … but when? Do you have a record of such an accusation?

– MRG: I do not usually use espionage others do, I have no recording, we were all in the studio here.

“From the nose”. Then Ricardo Alfonsín entered the discussion, when Morales said that “the opposition is led by the nostrils in the mainstream media.”

“Why is so aggressive, Victor Hugo? That is an attitude that is not democratic. I have many more media credentials to oppose the Government: the party, my father [former President Raul Alfonsin], my values. Why do I have to be led by the nose? “interrupted the candidate of the Union for Social Development (UDESA). “I take that word, is a way of signaling that they always mark what is spoken and what was discussed,” continued the driver.

By this he meant the beginning of the crossing, when focused on the complaint to the Secretary of Internal Trade, Guillermo Moreno, about his alleged violent incident against an official of the militant Pro “I want to know what we got when we got in the allegations of media companies have now a real mafia, as reported by a hidden camera we know these days, led by [the CEO of Grupo Clarin, Hector] Magnetto, mafia who feel threatened because newsprint is for them a very painful subject, and the man who is facing Newsprint Moreno “.

“What evidence do you have to say that what Newsprint is a mafia? That the decision of the Court, Victor Hugo. Why are you required to say something else when such rigorous testing as the government says something, you are not requires such rigorous testing? “questioned the candidate. “I have the moral conviction that it is a mafia,” said Victor Hugo, to which Alfonsin said: “I have many convictions, but I can from my convictions to say what happens to me. That’s what the Justice. I have many beliefs, many certainties, and many things that happen in the private sector and the media do not like but it is much more serious when these things are done by the State, the State must argue that these things do not happen ” .

Then, Alfonsin stressed the multiplication of media close to the government in recent times, backed by Ruiz Guinazu. “In a few countries, a government must have many means at its favor,” said presidential candidate and spoke of “media patronage” in the media inside, driven from government advertising.

Dicaprio, The First Who Owns a Fisker Karma | Fisker Karma Was Lauched


The first customer will take possession of model Fisker Karma is Leonardo DiCaprio. In addition, 3,000 clients have already ordered the car, and by early 2012, the company Fisker says it will honor all requests. Some say the waiting list is longer and other personalities such as Al Gore and Colin Powel.Currently, the Valmet factory in Finland produces five cars per week, but by November the rate will increase to 300 units produced per week

Henrik Fisker, the founder has more ambitious plans. After Karma will be retired, Fisker aims to create more new versions, including a shooting and a convertible station wagon, which will be sold in limited series. The shooting break will be launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show this fall.

If all goes as planned in early 2013 Fisker will expose to the public a smaller model designed to rival the BMW 3 series. Currently, its code name is,”Nina Project. Fisker Karma is a vehicle built with aluminum chassis and is equipped with two electric motors, and a propellant gas station, which occupies the central place the battery charging. Are available 260 hp, 2.0-liter engine produced by the turbo.

We do not know if Leonardo DiCaprio him more interested in technical data or design of this machine, but we know that girl in the photos is not included in standard package.

What Does Labour Have to Lose From a Left Turn?

by James Kelly

Why the British Labour Party abandoned its traditional socialist policies, and the lessons that can be applied to the party’s current predicament.

When the British Labour Party abandoned much of its socialist ideology in the 1990s, it did so for one reason – the pursuit of popularity, and by extension the pursuit of power. It had been in opposition for almost two decades, lost four general elections in a row, and the question that was being posed more and more volubly was “what”s the point of having the most wonderful policies in the world if you never have the power to put them into practice?’ The moment that came to symbolise this dilemma more than any other was the 1983 election, when Labour was led by its most left-wing leader since pre-war times, Michael Foot, and had a manifesto that made radical party activists purr with pleasure. The party went on to suffer its most crushing defeat since the 1930s, and came perilously close to slipping into third place in the popular vote. Perhaps not unreasonably, the lesson drawn by the “modernisers” in the party – including the young Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – was that Labour’s electoral woes were directly correlated to the party’s ideological distance from the centre of gravity in the country as a whole.

“June 9th, 1983, never again!” was the new leader Neil Kinnock’s battle-cry as he embarked on the slow and painful process of moving Labour onto the centre-ground of politics where it was felt it could achieve electability. The most dramatic indication of the sacrifices the party was prepared to make came when Kinnock himself shifted on one of his most passionately-held personal beliefs, and agreed to support the retention of the UK’s nuclear weapons. In an interview days before the 1992 general election, he even suggested that as Prime Minister he might be prepared in some circumstances to launch a nuclear attack – an extraordinary position for a man who had devoted much of his political life to the cause of unilateral disarmament.

But Labour still lost the 1992 election, its fourth defeat in succession. Did this give the true believers in the “1983 maxim” some pause for thought? Quite the reverse. The fact that the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority had been slashed to 21 was cited as proof that Labour’s ideological repositioning had gained some traction with the electorate. The fact that the Conservatives remained in power simply proved that the process hadn’t gone far enough yet. So “New Labour” was born, and in Tony Blair the party suddenly had a leader who was probably further to the right than many “conservative” political leaders in continental Europe. Yet so hungry were the party faithful for power, and so completely had they bought into the modernizers’ analysis of what was required to achieve that goal, they accepted every move Blair made as being necessary. It was sometimes mischievously suggested that if Blair had wanted to reintroduce capital punishment, the party rank-and-file would have let it through on the nod.

And in 1997, the Labour party did not merely return to power, but recorded the most comprehensive victory by any side in a British general election since the 1930s. Some pointed out there was considerable evidence that if John Smith, Blair’s immediate predecessor as Labour leader, had not died in office, he would still have been able to lead the party back to power from a more traditional centre-left position. But not by anything like the same margin, the modernisers retorted. It did indeed seem to be the final, irrefutable proof that Labour’s level of support went up in direct proportion to how far it had moved to the right.

But fast forward to the present day. Gordon Brown has persisted with the Blairite strategy of tacking to the right, and yet the latest opinion polls show Labour at its lowest level of support since records began, and thus by definition lower than at the party’s 1983 nadir. Gordon Brown is a less popular leader than Michael Foot. New Labour was founded on the principle that if you are shedding votes, you must ruthlessly shed your current ideology to win those votes back. As it is the more traditional Labour voters who have been deserting the party in droves – witness the Scottish parliament election last year – the obvious conclusion to draw is that the party must shift back to the left to regain some degree of support.

The objection to this analysis might be that Labour cannot hope to win the next election with its traditional supporters alone – it needs the entire New Labour coalition of 1997. Unfortunately, the hard truth is that this coalition is long gone, and the next election is almost certainly already lost. To adapt the question that was asked in the long years of opposition to fit present-day circumstances – “if you”re going to lose anyway, what’s the point of having power for the next two years if you’re not going to use it to achieve the things your party is supposed to believe in?’