Facebook

Did A Billionaire Harvest Big Data From Facebook To 'Hijack' Democracy? (theguardian.com) 452

Long-time Slashdot readers walterbyrd and whoever57 both submitted the same article about the mysterious data analytics company Cambridge Analytica and its activities with SCL Group, a 25-year-old military psyops company in the U.K. later bought by "secretive hedge fund billionaire" Robert Mercer. One former employee calls it "this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump." Facebook was the source of the psychological insights that enabled Cambridge Analytica to target individuals. It was also the mechanism that enabled them to be delivered on a large scale. The company also (perfectly legally) bought consumer datasets -- on everything from magazine subscriptions to airline travel -- and uniquely it appended these with the psych data to voter files... Finding "persuadable" voters is key for any campaign and with its treasure trove of data, Cambridge Analytica could target people high in neuroticism, for example, with images of immigrants "swamping" the country. The key is finding emotional triggers for each individual voter. Cambridge Analytica worked on campaigns in several key states for a Republican political action committee. Its key objective, according to a memo the Observer has seen, was "voter disengagement" and "to persuade Democrat voters to stay at home"... In the U.S., the government is bound by strict laws about what data it can collect on individuals. But, for private companies anything goes.
A branch of this company reportedly also received half the campaign budgets of four pro-Brexit campaign groups, and there's some dark talk about "military-funded technology that has been harnessed by a global plutocracy...being used to sway elections in ways that people can't even see." The article notes the two firms have plied their services in Russia as well as Lithuania and the Ukraine, and suggests that "we are in the midst of a massive land grab for power by billionaires via our data. Data which is being silently amassed, harvested and stored."
EU

Le Pen Concedes Defeat To Macron In France's Post-Hack Election (reuters.com) 671

"France has voted for continuity," candidate Marine Le Pen said in the wake of her defeat in France's presidential election, conceding that Emmanuel Macron had a decisive lead. Reuters has ongoing coverage of Le Pen's concession phone call and reactions from world leaders. "France Rejects Far Right," read a headline at CNN, touting their own live updates and early results showing Macron with a 65.9% to 34.1% lead, "on course for a decisive win." Macron is schedule to speak at the Louvre museum (where the grounds were "briefly evacuated" this morning after discovery of a suspicious bag.) Quartz is calling 39-year-old Macron "the second Generation X president of a major world power" (after Canada's Justin Trudeau).

The election was closely watched after a 9-gigabyte trove of emails from Macron's campaign were leaked online. CNBC reports that "One of the most talked about emails makes reference to binge-watching Dr. Who and masturbating to the sound of running water. It sounds generally incoherent. It could be false, or maybe the person wrote it after a few too many." The New Yorker traces the leak to a right-leaning Canadian site, whose editor says he found the documents on 4chan. But Reuters is crediting WikiLeaks with providing "the largest boost of attention" to the leaked documents, according to an analysis pubished by the Digital Forensic Research Lab of the Atlantic Council, a D.C.-based think tank on international affairs. WikiLeaks tweeted about the leak 15 times, bragging to Reuters that "we were hours ahead of all other major outlets." On Friday WikiLeaks also disputed the Macron campaign's claim that the leak mixed real documents with fake ones. "We have not yet discovered fakes in #MacronLeaks & we are very skeptical that the Macron campaign is faster than us."

Saturday WikiLeaks noted that several of the Office files "have Cyrillic meta data. Unclear if by design, incompetence, or Slavic employee." And Saturday afternoon they added "name of employee for Russian govt security contractor Evrika appears 9 times in metadata for 'xls_cendric.rar' leak archive."

Meanwhile, on the International Space Station, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet voted from space. Feel free to discuss the election's results in the comments.
EU

'Weaponized' Twitter Bots Spread Info From French Campaign Hack (recode.net) 255

"The French media and public have been warned not to spread details about a hacking attack on presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron," writes Slashdot reader schwit1, with the election commission threatening criminal charges. But meanwhile, "the leaked documents have since spread like wildfire across social media, particularly on Twitter," reports Recode. Nicole Perlroth, a cybersecurity reporter with the New York Times, pointed out that an overwhelming amount of the tweets shared about the Macron campaign hack appear to come from automated accounts, commonly referred to as bots. About 40% of the tweets using the hashtag #MacronGate, Perlroth noted, are actually coming from only 5% of accounts using the hashtag. One account tweeted 1,668 times in 24 hours, which is more than one tweet per minute with no sleep... Twitter appears not to have done anything to combat what is obviously a bot attack, despite the fact the social media company is well aware of the problem of bot accounts being used to falsely popularize political issues during high-profile campaigns to give the impression of a groundswell of grassroots support.
The Times reporter later tweeted "This could be @twitter's death knell. Algorithms exist to deal with this. Why aren't you using them?" And one Sunlight Foundation official called the discovery "statistics from the front lines of the disinformation wars," cc-ing both Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg. In other news, the BBC reports France's president has promised to "respond" to the hacking incident, giving no further details, but saying he was aware of the risks because they'd "happened elsewhere"."
Communications

FCC Considers Fining Stephen Colbert Over Controversial Trump Joke (rollingstone.com) 520

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said on Friday his agency will be looking into complaints made against Late Show host Stephen Colbert for what some labeled a homophobic joke about President Donald Trump. From a report: On Monday's Late Show, Colbert quipped that "the only thing [Trump's] mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin's c**k holster." The joke drew accusations of homophobia, a viral #FireColbert campaign and FCC complaints against Colbert. In an interview Friday, FCC chairman Ajit Pai told a Philadelphia radio station, "I have had a chance to see the clip now and so, as we get complaints -- and we've gotten a number of them -- we are going to take the facts that we find and we are going to apply the law as it's been set out by the Supreme Court and other courts and we'll take the appropriate action." Pai added, "Traditionally, the agency has to decide, if it does find a violation, what the appropriate remedy should be. A fine, of some sort, is typically what we do."
Security

Days Before Election: Macron Campaign Says It Is the Victim of Massive, Coordinated Hacking Campaign (cnbc.com) 233

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: A large trove of emails from the campaign of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was posted online late on Friday, a little more than a day before voters go to the polls to choose the country's next president in a run-off against far-right rival Marine Le Pen. Some nine gigabytes of data were posted by a user called EMLEAKS to Pastebin, a document-sharing site that allows anonymous posting. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for posting the data or whether the emails were genuine. In a statement, Macron's political movement En Marche! (Onwards!) confirmed that it had been hacked. "The En Marche! Movement has been the victim of a massive and co-ordinated hack this evening which has given rise to the diffusion on social media of various internal information," the statement said. In its statement on Friday, En Marche! said that the documents released online only showed the normal functioning of a presidential campaign, but that authentic documents had been mixed on social media with fake ones to sow "doubt and misinformation." "The seriousness of this event is certain and we shall not tolerate that the vital interests of democracy be put at risk," it added.
Government

Seattle Restored ISP Privacy Rules in the First Local Blow To Trump's Rollback (fastcompany.com) 145

An anonymous reader shares a report: A majority of Americans from both parties objected to a law passed by Congress and signed by President Trump in April that gives internet service providers the go-ahead to collect and sell users' browsing history without users' consent. This week, Seattle became the first municipality in the country to fight that rollback, in effect restoring ISP privacy rules for city residents under municipal code. The city's Cable Customer Bill of Rights, dating back to 1999, gives the city authority to set privacy standards over cable providers. In a new rule added on Wednesday on the urging of Mayor Ed Murray, cable internet providers must obtain opt-in consent from users before collecting their web-browsing history or other internet usage data, including details on a person's health and finances.
Government

Unmanned US Air Force Space Plane Lands After Secret, Two-Year Mission (reuters.com) 14

Irene Klotz, reporting for Reuters: The U.S. military's experimental X-37B space plane landed on Sunday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, completing a classified mission that lasted nearly two years, the Air Force said. The unmanned X-37B, which resembles a miniature space shuttle, touched down at 7:47 a.m. EDT (1147 GMT) on a runway formerly used for landings of the now-mothballed space shuttles, the Air Force said in an email. The Boeing-built space plane blasted off in May 2015 from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas 5 rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The X-37B, one of two in the Air Force fleet, conducted unspecified experiments for more than 700 days while in orbit. It was the fourth and lengthiest mission so far for the secretive program, managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.
Education

Trump Administration Rolls Back Obama-Era Nutrition Standards For School Lunches (arstechnica.com) 788

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Just a week into his position, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Monday a rollback of nutrition standards for school meals, previously championed by former First Lady Michelle Obama as part of a larger initiative to improve the health of America's children. Under Perdue's new rollback, schools across the country can now delay a requirement to reduce sodium levels, can serve kids fewer whole grains, and can provide one percent flavored milk in addition to flavored skim, unflavored skim, and unflavored one percent. In a news release that declared the move would "make school meals great again," Perdue said: "This announcement is the result of years of feedback from students, schools, and food service experts about the challenges they are facing in meeting the final regulations for school meals. If kids aren't eating the food, and it's ending up in the trash, they aren't getting any nutrition -- thus undermining the intent of the program." Specifically, under Obama-era nutrition rules, schools were supposed to decrease sodium from meals in three phases. For instance, 2012 school lunches had average sodium levels between roughly 1,400mg to 1,600mg, with elementary school lunches on the lower end. Federal dietary guidelines, which schools must follow, recommend kids get 1,900mg to 2,300mg or less of sodium per day (depending on age). Currently, schools have dropped down to "Target 1," which is a range of about 1,200mg to 1,400mg or less. Schools were supposed to get that down to about 900mg to 1,000mg this year ("Target 2") and then to between 600mg and 700mg by 2022 ("Final Target"). The USDA will now waive the requirement to reach Target 2 until 2020. The USDA will also grant exemptions from the current requirement for schools to serve only whole-grain-rich foods.
Government

San Francisco Politician Jane Kim Is Exploring a Tax On Robots (businessinsider.com) 239

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: In San Francisco, where robots already run food deliveries for Yelp's Eat24 and make lattes at a mall coffee kiosk, one politician is working to ensure the city stays ahead of the curve. Supervisor Jane Kim is exploring a tax on robots as one solution to offset the economic devastation a robot-powered workforce might bring. Companies that use robots to perform tasks previously done by humans would pay the city. Those public funds might be used to help retrain workers who lose their jobs to robots or to finance a basic income initiative. Kim, one of 11 city supervisors in San Francisco, has been interviewing tech leaders, labor groups, and public policy experts in the hopes of creating a task force that will explore how a "robot tax" might be implemented. San Francisco would become the first city to create such a tax, after European lawmakers rejected a similar proposal in February. Kim learned the concept of a robot tax when Bill Gates called for one in an interview with Quartz. It struck a chord with the San Francisco politician, who represents some of the poorest and wealthiest residents across the Tenderloin, South of Market, Civic Center, Treasure Island, and several other neighborhoods. She hears of robots cropping up in hotels, hospitals, and even her local bar, and worries about how automation might deepen the income gap.
Republicans

Senate Republicans Introduce Anti-Net Neutrality Legislation (thehill.com) 224

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced a bill Monday to nullify the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules. "Few areas of our economy have been as dynamic and innovative as the internet," Lee said in a statement. "But now this engine of growth is threatened by the Federal Communications Commission's 2015 Open Internet Order, which would put federal bureaucrats in charge of engineering the Internet's infrastructure." Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) co-sponsored Lee's bill. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai introduced his own plan last week to curb significant portions of the 2015 net neutrality rules that Lee's bill aims to abolish. Pai's more specific tack is focused on moving the regulatory jurisdiction of broadband providers back to the Federal Trade Commission, instead of the FCC, which currently regulates them.
Businesses

Trump is Launching a New Tech Group To 'Transform and Modernize' the US Govt (recode.net) 192

President Donald Trump announced on Monday he has signed an executive order creating a new technology council to "transfer and modernize" the U.S. government's IT systems. From a report: The gathering is part of a new effort, called the American Technology Council, commissioned by Trump in an executive order signed this morning. The effort seeks to bring leading government officials together with Silicon Valley's top minds in order to "transform and modernize" the aging federal bureaucracy "and how it uses and delivers information." Trump isn't the first sitting U.S. president to look to Silicon Valley in an attempt to bring government into the digital age. His predecessor, former President Barack Obama, similarly launched efforts like the U.S. Digital Service, which the administration billed at the time as a "startup at the White House" that sought to pair tech experts with federal agencies that needed help. Over 20 technology chief executives will attend meetings at the White House in early June to talk about improving government information technology, the report adds.
Government

EPA Website Removes Climate Science Site From Public View After Two Decades (washingtonpost.com) 167

Last week there were reports that the EPA climate change website was set to be taken down, though later the EPA denied that. On Friday evening, however, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its website would be "undergoing changes" to better represent the new direction the agency is taking, triggering the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information (paywalled; alternative source). From a report on The Washington Post: One of the websites that appeared to be gone had been cited to challenge statements made by the EPA's new administrator, Scott Pruitt. Another provided detailed information on the previous administration's Clean Power Plan, including fact sheets about greenhouse gas emissions on the state and local levels and how different demographic groups were affected by such emissions. The changes came less than 24 hours before thousands of protesters were set to march in Washington and around the country in support of political action to push back against the Trump administration's rollbacks of former president Barack Obama's climate policies.
Earth

Trump Order Helps Offshore Drilling, Stops Marine Sanctuary Expansion (arstechnica.com) 163

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In an executive order signed on Friday, President Trump directed his secretary of the interior to review current rules on offshore drilling and exploration. This review is likely to result in a relaxation of the strict protections the previous administration put on offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic and in the Arctic. According to the Washington Post, a review of the rules is likely to "make millions of acres of federal waters eligible for oil and gas leasing." At the same time, Trump's executive order directed the secretary of commerce to cease designating new marine sanctuaries or expanding any that already exist. According to USA Today, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is also "directed to review all designations and expansions of marine monuments or sanctuaries designated under the Antiquities Act within the last 10 years." The Post says this "includes Hawaii's Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which Obama quadrupled in size last year, and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts off Massachusetts." Although these reviews could take some time to complete, they put in motion a bid to favor extraction industries like oil and gas mining. "Today, we're unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying energy jobs," Trump reportedly told the Associated Press.
Government

NSA Halts Collection of Americans' Emails About Foreign Targets (nytimes.com) 48

The NSA is stopping one of the most disputed forms of its warrantless surveillance program (alternative source), one in which it collects Americans' emails and texts to and from people overseas and that mention a foreigner under surveillance, NYTimes reports on Friday citing officials familiar with the matter. From the report: National security officials have argued that such surveillance is lawful and helpful in identifying people who might have links to terrorism, espionage or otherwise are targeted for intelligence-gathering. The fact that the sender of such a message would know an email address or phone number associated with a surveillance target is grounds for suspicion, these officials argued. [...] The N.S.A. made the change to resolve problems it was having complying with special rules imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2011 to protect Americans' privacy. For technical reasons, the agency ended up collecting messages sent and received domestically as a byproduct of such surveillance, the officials said.
Facebook

Facebook Pledges To Crack Down on Government-led Misinformation Campaigns (theverge.com) 108

Facebook is pressing its enforcement against what it calls "information operations" -- bad actors who use the platform to spread fake news and false propaganda. From a report: The company, which published a report on the subject today, defines these operations as government-led campaigns -- or those from organized "non-state actors" -- to promote lies, sow confusion and chaos among opposing political groups, and destabilize movements in other countries. The goal of these operations, the report says, is to manipulate public opinion and serve geopolitical ends. The actions go beyond the posting of fake news stories. The 13-page report specifies that fake news can be motivated by a number of incentives, but that it becomes part of a larger information operation when its coupled with other tactics and end goals. Facebook says these include friend requests sent under false names to glean more information about the personal networks of spying targets and hacking targets, the boosting of false or misleading stories through mass "liking" campaigns, and the creation propaganda groups. The company defines these actions as "targeted data collection," "false amplification," and "content creation." Facebook plans to target these accounts by monitoring for suspicious activity, like bursts of automated actions on the site, to enact mass banning of accounts.
Government

FCC Announces Plan To Reverse Title II Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 202

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The Federal Communications Commission is cracking open the net neutrality debate again with a proposal to undo the 2015 rules that implemented net neutrality with Title II classification. FCC chairman Ajit Pai called the rules "heavy handed" and said their implementation was "all about politics." He argued that they hurt investment and said that small internet providers don't have "the means or the margins" to withstand the regulatory onslaught. "Earlier today I shared with my fellow commissioners a proposal to reverse the mistake of Title II and return to the light touch framework that served us so well during the Clinton administration, Bush administration, and first six years of the Obama administration," Pai said today. His proposal will do three things: first, it'll reclassify internet providers as Title I information services; second, it'll prevent the FCC from adapting any net neutrality rules to practices that internet providers haven't thought up yet; and third, it'll open questions about what to do with several key net neutrality rules -- like no blocking or throttling of apps and websites -- that were implemented in 2015. Pai will publish the full text of his proposal tomorrow, and it will be voted on by the FCC on May 18th.
Government

Energy Star Program For Homes And Appliances Is On Trump's Chopping Block (npr.org) 273

Appliance manufacturers and home builders are in Washington, D.C., today to celebrate a popular energy efficiency program, even as it's slated for elimination in President Trump's proposed budget. NPR adds: You probably know the program's little blue label with the star -- the Environmental Protection Agency says 90 percent of U.S. households do. [...] The 25-year-old Energy Star program appears to be targeted simply because it's run by the federal government. It's one of 50 EPA programs that would be axed under Trump's budget plan, which would shrink the agency's funding by more than 30 percent. Critics of Energy Star say the government should get involved in the marketplace only when absolutely necessary. But that argument doesn't hold sway for the program's legions of supporters, which span nonprofits, companies and trade groups.
Government

The EPA Won't Be Shutting Down Its Open Data Website After All (mashable.com) 43

An anonymous reader shares an article: Scientists and data experts are closely tracking the websites of federal agencies, noting changes to pages dealing with climate change and energy since President Donald Trump took office. On Monday, they noticed an alarming message posted to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) open data website, indicating it would shut down on Friday, April 28. [...] By Monday afternoon, visitors to Open Data received a different pop-up notification, which clarifies that data on the site will still be available come Friday.
Google

In The First Months of Trump Era, Facebook And Apple Spent More On Lobbying Than They Ever Have (buzzfeed.com) 54

An anonymous reader shares a report: According to federal lobbying disclosures filed Thursday, Facebook and Apple set their all-time record high for spending in a single quarter. Facebook spent $3.2 million lobbying the federal government in the first months of the Trump era. During the same period last year, Facebook spent $2.8 million (about 15% less). The company lobbied both chambers of Congress, the White House, and six federal agencies on issues including high-tech worker visas, network neutrality, internet privacy, encryption, and international taxation. Facebook was the 12th-highest spender out of any company and second-highest in tech. [...] Apple spent $1.4 million, which is just $50,000 more than during the final months of the Obama presidency, when it set its previous record, but the most it has ever spent in a single quarter. Apple lobbied on issues including government requests for data, the regulation of mobile health apps, and self-driving cars. Google, once again, outspent every other technology company. It was 10th overall, tallying $3.5 million.
Television

FCC Takes First Step Toward Allowing More Broadcast TV Mergers (theverge.com) 71

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: In a divided vote today, the Federal Communications Commission took steps that could lead to more consolidation among TV broadcasters, reducing the number of sources of local news. Today's changes revolve around the media ownership cap -- a limit on how many households a TV or radio broadcaster is allowed to reach. The rules are meant to promote diversity of media ownership, giving consumers access to different content and viewpoints. The cap currently prevents a company from reaching no more than 39 percent of U.S. households with broadcast TV. Large broadcasters hate the cap because it prevents them from getting even bigger. And since Trump took office and Ajit Pai was named chairman of the FCC, they've been lobbying to have it revised. The FCC's vote today starts to do that. First, it reinstates a rule known as the "UHF discount," which lets broadcasters have a bigger reach in areas where they use a certain type of technology. And second, it starts plans to revisit and raise the media ownership cap.

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