Archives October 10, 2019

Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower: US Heading In ‘Same Direction As China’ With Online Privacy

“The United States is walking in the same direction as China, we’re just allowing private companies to monetize left, right and center,” Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie told CNBC on Wednesday. “Just because it’s not the state doesn’t mean that there isn’t harmful impacts that could come if you have one or two large companies monitoring or tracking everything you do,” he said. CNBC reports:

Wylie, whose memoir came out this week, has become outspoken about the influence of social media companies due to the large amounts of data they collect. In March 2018, he exposed the Cambridge Analytica scandal that brought down his former employer and resulted in the Federal Trade Commission fining Facebook, 15 months later, $5 billion for mishandling. While Cambridge Analytica has since shut down, Wylie said the tactics it used could be deployed elsewhere, and that is why data privacy regulation needs to be dramatically enhanced.

“Even if the company has dissolved, the capabilities of the company haven’t,” he said. “My real concern is what happens if China becomes the next Cambridge Analytica, what happens if North Korea becomes the next Cambridge Analytica?” Wylie also said he believes that social media companies should, at a minimum, face regulation similar to water utilities or electrical companies — “certain industries that have become so important because of their vital importance to business and people’s lives and the nature of their scale.” In those cases, “we put in place rules that put consumers first,” he added. “You can still make a profit. You can still make money. But you have to consider the rights and safety of people.”

Twitter Took Phone Numbers for Security and Used Them for Advertising

When some users provided Twitter with their phone number to make their account more secure, the company used this information for advertising purposes, the company said today.

This isn’t the first time that a large social network has taken information explicitly meant for the purposes of security, and then quietly or accidentally use it for something else entirely. Facebook did something similar with phone numbers provided by users for two-factor authentication, the company confirmed last year. “We recently discovered that when you provided an email address or phone number for safety or security purposes (for example, two-factor authentication) this data may have inadvertently been used for advertising purposes, specifically in our Tailored Audiences and Partner Audiences advertising system,” Twitter’s announcement reads. In short, when an advertiser using Twitter uploaded their own marketing list of email addresses or phone numbers, Twitter may have matched the list to people on Twitter “based on the email or phone number the Twitter account holder provided for safety and security purposes,” the post adds.

FBI’s Use of Surveillance Database Violated Americans’ Privacy Rights: Court

Some of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s electronic surveillance activities violated the constitutional privacy rights of Americans swept up in a controversial foreign intelligence program (Warning: source paywalled; alternative source), a secretive surveillance court has ruled. The ruling deals a rare rebuke to U.S. spying activities that have generally withstood legal challenge or review. The intelligence community disclosed Tuesday that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last year found that the FBI’s pursuit of data about Americans ensnared in a warrantless internet-surveillance program intended to target foreign suspects may have violated the law authorizing the program, as well as the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

The court concluded that the FBI had been improperly searching a database of raw intelligence for information on Americans — raising concerns about oversight of the program, which as a spy program operates in near total secrecy. The court ruling identifies tens of thousands of improper searches of raw intelligence databases by the bureau in 2017 and 2018 that it deemed improper in part because they involved data related to tens of thousands of emails or telephone numbers — in one case, suggesting that the FBI was using the intelligence information to vet its personnel and cooperating sources. Federal law requires that the database only be searched by the FBI as part of seeking evidence of a crime or for foreign intelligence information. In other cases, the court ruling reveals improper use of the database by individuals. In one case, an FBI contractor ran a query of an intelligence database — searching information on himself, other FBI personnel and his relatives, the court revealed.