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Facebook’s global lobbying against data privacy laws

Facebook has targeted politicians around the world – including the former UK chancellor, George Osborne – promising investments and incentives while seeking to pressure them into lobbying on Facebook’s behalf against data privacy legislation, an explosive new leak of internal Facebook documents has revealed.

The documents, which have been seen by the Observer and Computer Weekly, reveal a secretive global lobbying operation targeting hundreds of legislators and regulators in an attempt to procure influence across the world, including in the UK, US, Canada, India, Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia and all 28 states of the EU. The documents include details of how Facebook:

– Lobbied politicians across Europe in a strategic operation to head off “overly restrictive” GDPR legislation. They include extraordinary claims that the Irish prime minister said his country could exercise significant influence as president of the EU, promoting Facebook’s interests even though technically it was supposed to remain neutral.

– Used chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s feminist memoir Lean In to “bond” with female European commissioners it viewed as hostile.

– Threatened to withhold investment from countries unless they supported or passed Facebook-friendly laws.

The documents appear to emanate from a court case against Facebook by the app developer Six4Three in California, and reveal that Sandberg considered European data protection legislation a “critical” threat to the company. A memo written after the Davos economic summit in 2013 quotes Sandberg describing the “uphill battle” the company faced in Europe on the “data and privacy front” and its “critical” efforts to head off “overly prescriptive new laws”.

Most revealingly, it includes details of the company’s “great relationship” with Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister at the time, one of a number of people it describes as “friends of Facebook”. Ireland plays a key role in regulating technology companies in Europe because its data protection commissioner acts for all 28 member states. The memo has inflamed data protection advocates, who have long complained about the company’s “cosy” relationship with the Irish government.

Facebook admits 18% of Research spyware users were teens, not <5%

Facebook has changed its story after initially trying to downplay how it targeted teens with its Research program that a TechCrunch investigation revealed was paying them gift cards to monitor all their mobile app usage and browser traffic. “Less than 5 percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch and many other news outlets in a damage control effort 7 hours after we published our report on January 29th. At the time, Facebook claimed that it had removed its Research app from iOS. The next morning we learned that wasn’t true, as Apple had already forcibly blocked the Facebook Research app for violating its Enterprise Certificate program that supposed to reserved for companies distributing internal apps to employees.

It turns out that wasn’t the only time Facebook deceived the public in its response regarding the Research VPN scandal. TechCrunch has obtained Facebook’s unpublished February 21st response to questions about the Research program in a letter from Senator Mark Warner, who wrote to CEO Mark Zuckerberg that “Facebook’s apparent lack of full transparency with users – particularly in the context of ‘research’ efforts – has been a source of frustration for me.”

In the response from Facebook’s VP of US public policy Kevin Martin, the company admits that (emphasis ours) “At the time we ended the Facebook Research App on Apple’s iOS platform, less than 5 percent of the people sharing data with us through this program were teens. Analysis shows that number is about 18 percent when you look at the complete lifetime of the program, and also add people who had become inactive and uninstalled the app.” So 18 percent of research testers were teens. It was only less than 5 percent when Facebook got caught. Given users age 13 to 35 were eligible for Facebook’s Research program, 13 to 18 year olds made of 22 percent of the age range. That means Facebook clearly wasn’t trying to minimize teen involvement, nor were they just a tiny fraction of users.

Facebook decided which users are interested in Nazis—and let advertisers target them directly

Facebook makes money by charging advertisers to reach just the right audience for their message–even when that audience is made up of people interested in the perpetrators of the Holocaust or explicitly neo-Nazi music. Despite promises of greater oversight following past advertising scandals, a Times review shows that Facebook has continued to allow advertisers to target hundreds of thousands of users the social media firm believes are curious about topics such as “Joseph Goebbels,” “Josef Mengele,” “Heinrich Himmler,” the neo-nazi punk band Skrewdriver and Benito Mussolini’s long-defunct National Fascist Party.

Experts say that this practice runs counter to the company’s stated principles and can help fuel radicalization online. “What you’re describing, where a clear hateful idea or narrative can be amplified to reach more people, is exactly what they said they don’t want to do and what they need to be held accountable for,” said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s center on extremism. After being contacted by The Times, Facebook said that it would remove many of the audience groupings from its ad platform.

Facebook’s broad reach and sophisticated advertising tools brought in a record $55 billion in ad revenue in 2018. Profit margins stayed above 40%, thanks to a high degree of automation, with algorithms sorting users into marketable subsets based on their behavior — then choosing which ads to show them. But the lack of human oversight has also brought the company controversy.

In 2017, Pro Publica found that the company sold ads based on any user-generated phrase, including “Jew hater” and “Hitler did nothing wrong.” Following the murder of 11 congregants at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, the Intercept found that Facebook gave advertisers the ability to target users interested in the anti-Semitic “white genocide conspiracy theory,” which the suspected killer cited as inspiration before the attacks.

Facebook Pays Teens To Install VPN That Spies On Them

Since 2016, Facebook has been paying users ages 13 to 35 up to $20 per month plus referral fees to sell their privacy by installing the iOS or Android “Facebook Research” app. Facebook even asked users to screenshot their Amazon order history page. The program is administered through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound and uTest to cloak Facebook’s involvement, and is referred to in some documentation as “Project Atlas” a fitting name for Facebook’s effort to map new trends and rivals around the globe.

We asked Guardian Mobile Firewall’s security expert Will Strafach to dig into the Facebook Research app, and he told us that “If Facebook makes full use of the level of access they are given by asking users to install the Certificate, they will have the ability to continuously collect the following types of data: private messages in social media apps, chats from in instant messaging apps — including photos/videos sent to others, emails, web searches, web browsing activity, and even ongoing location information by tapping into the feeds of any location tracking apps you may have installed.” It’s unclear exactly what data Facebook is concerned with, but it gets nearly limitless access to a user’s device once they install the app.

‘The goal is to automate us’: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism

The behaviour of the digital giants looks rather different from the roseate hallucinations of Wired magazine. What one sees instead is a colonising ruthlessness of which John D Rockefeller would have been proud. First of all there was the arrogant appropriation of users’ behavioural data – viewed as a free resource, there for the taking. Then the use of patented methods to extract or infer data even when users had explicitly denied permission, followed by the use of technologies that were opaque by design and fostered user ignorance.

And, of course, there is also the fact that the entire project was conducted in what was effectively lawless – or at any rate law-free – territory. Thus Google decided that it would digitise and store every book ever printed, regardless of copyright issues. Or that it would photograph every street and house on the planet without asking anyone’s permission. Facebook launched its infamous “beacons”, which reported a user’s online activities and published them to others’ news feeds without the knowledge of the user. And so on, in accordance with the disrupter’s mantra that “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission”.

The combination of state surveillance and its capitalist counterpart means that digital technology is separating the citizens in all societies into two groups: the watchers (invisible, unknown and unaccountable) and the watched. This has profound consequences for democracy because asymmetry of knowledge translates into asymmetries of power.

Most Facebook users don’t know that it records a list of their interests, new study finds

Seventy-four percent of Facebook users are unaware that Facebook records a list of their interests for ad-targeting purposes, according to a new study from the Pew Institute.

Participants in the study were first pointed to Facebook’s ad preferences page, which lists out a person’s interests. Nearly 60 percent of participants admitted that Facebook’s lists of interests were very or somewhat accurate to their actual interests, and 51 percent said they were uncomfortable with Facebook creating the list.

Facebook has weathered serious questions about its collection of personal information in recent years. CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress last year acknowledging privacy concerns and touching upon the company’s collection of personal information. While Zuckerberg said Facebook users have complete control over the information they upload and the information Facebook uses to actively target ads at its users, it’s clear from the Pew study that most people are not aware of Facebook’s collection tactics.

The Pew study also demonstrates that, while Facebook offers a number of transparency and data control tools, most users are not aware of where they should be looking. Even when the relevant information is located, there are often multiple steps to go through to delete assigned interests.

Several Popular Apps Share Data With Facebook Without User Consent

Some of the most popular apps for Android smartphones, including Skyscanner, TripAdvisor and MyFitnessPal, are transmitting data to Facebook without the consent of users in a potential breach of EU regulations.

In a study of 34 popular Android apps, the campaign group Privacy International found that at least 20 of them send certain data to Facebook the second that they are opened on a phone, before users can be asked for permission. Information sent instantly included the app’s name, the user’s unique ID with Google, and the number of times the app was opened and closed since being downloaded. Some, such as travel site Kayak, later sent detailed information about people’s flight searches to Facebook, including travel dates, whether the user had children and which flights and destinations they had searched for. European law on data-sharing changed in May with the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation and mobile apps are required to have the explicit consent of users before collecting their personal information.

As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants

Internal documents show that the social network gave Microsoft, Amazon, Spotify and others far greater access to people’s data than it has disclosed.

For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.

Facebook has been reeling from a series of privacy scandals, set off by revelations in March that a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, improperly used Facebook data to build tools that aided President Trump’s 2016 campaign. Acknowledging that it had breached users’ trust, Facebook insisted that it had instituted stricter privacy protections long ago. Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, assured lawmakers in April that people “have complete control” over everything they share on Facebook.

[Facebook’s strategy in times of crisis: delay, deny and deflect.]

Facebook began forming data partnerships when it was still a relatively young company. Mr. Zuckerberg was determined to weave Facebook’s services into other sites and platforms, believing it would stave off obsolescence and insulate Facebook from competition. Every corporate partner that integrated Facebook data into its online products helped drive the platform’s expansion, bringing in new users, spurring them to spend more time on Facebook and driving up advertising revenue. At the same time, Facebook got critical data back from its partners.

The partnerships were so important that decisions about forming them were vetted at high levels, sometimes by Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, Facebook officials said. While many of the partnerships were announced publicly, the details of the sharing arrangements typically were confidential.

Facebook also allowed Spotify, Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada to read, write and delete users’ private messages, and to see all participants on a thread — privileges that appeared to go beyond what the companies needed to integrate Facebook into their systems, the records show. Facebook acknowledged that it did not consider any of those three companies to be service providers. Spokespeople for Spotify and Netflix said those companies were unaware of the broad powers Facebook had granted them. A spokesman for Netflix said Wednesday that it had used the access only to enable customers to recommend TV shows and movies to their friends.

A Royal Bank of Canada spokesman disputed that the bank had had any such access. (Aspects of some sharing partnerships, including those with the Royal Bank of Canada and Bing, were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.)

Spotify, which could view messages of more than 70 million users a month, still offers the option to share music through Facebook Messenger. But Netflix and the Canadian bank no longer needed access to messages because they had deactivated features that incorporated it.

These were not the only companies that had special access longer than they needed it. Yahoo, The Times and others could still get Facebook users’ personal information in 2017.

Yahoo could view real-time feeds of friends’ posts for a feature that the company had ended in 2012. A Yahoo spokesman declined to discuss the partnership in detail but said the company did not use the information for advertising. The Times — one of nine media companies named in the documents — had access to users’ friend lists for an article-sharing application it had discontinued in 2011. A spokeswoman for the news organization said it was not obtaining any data.

Facebook’s internal records also revealed more about the extent of sharing deals with over 60 makers of smartphones, tablets and other devices, agreements first reported by The Times in June.

Facebook empowered Apple to hide from Facebook users all indicators that its devices were asking for data. Apple devices also had access to the contact numbers and calendar entries of people who had changed their account settings to disable all sharing, the records show.

Apple officials said they were not aware that Facebook had granted its devices any special access. They added that any shared data remained on the devices and was not available to anyone other than the users.

Facebook has Filed a Patent To Calculate Your Future Location

Facebook has filed several patent applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for technology that uses your location data to predict where you’re going and when you’re going to be offline.

A May 30, 2017, Facebook application titled “Offline Trajectories” describes a method to predict where you’ll go next based on your location data. The technology described in the patent would calculate a “transition probability based at least in part on previously logged location data associated with a plurality of users who were at the current location.” In other words, the technology could also use the data of other people you know, as well as that of strangers, to make predictions. If the company could predict when you are about to be in an offline area, Facebook content “may be prefetched so that the user may have access to content during the period where there is a lack of connectivity.”

Another Facebook patent application titled “Location Prediction Using Wireless Signals on Online Social Networks” describes how tracking the strength of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, and near-field communication (NFC) signals could be used to estimate your current location, in order to anticipate where you will go next. This “background signal” information is used as an alternative to GPS because, as the patent describes, it may provide “the advantage of more accurately or precisely determining a geographic location of a user.” The technology could learn the category of your current location (e.g., bar or gym), the time of your visit to the location, the hours that entity is open, and the popular hours of the entity.

Yet another Facebook patent application, “Predicting Locations and Movements of Users Based on Historical Locations for Users of an Online System,” further details how location data from multiple people would be used to glean location and movement trends and to model location chains. According to the patent application, these could be used for a “variety of applications,” including “advertising to users based on locations and for providing insights into the movements of users.” The technology could even differentiate movement trends among people who live in a city and who are just visiting a city.

Facebook Privacy Social Networks Internal Emails Show Facebook Weighing the Privacy Risks of Quietly Collecting Call and Text Records From Its Android Users—Then Going Ahead Anyway

Earlier this year, many Android users were shocked to discover that Facebook had been collecting a record of their call and SMS history, as revealed by the company’s data download tool. Now, internal emails released by the UK Parliament show how the decision was made internally.

According to the emails, developers knew the data was sensitive, but they still pushed to collect it as a way of expanding Facebook’s reach. The emails show Facebook’s growth team looking to call log data as a way to improve Facebook’s algorithms as well as to locate new contacts through the “People You May Know” feature. Notably, the project manager recognized it as “a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective,” but that risk seems to have been overwhelmed by the potential user growth.

Initially, the feature was intended to require users to opt in, typically through an in-app pop-up dialog box. But as developers looked for ways to get users signed up, it became clear that Android’s data permissions could be manipulated to automatically enroll users if the new feature was deployed in a certain way.

Facebook Filed A Patent To Predict Your Household’s Demographics Based On Family Photos

Facebook has submitted a patent application for technology that would predict who your family and other household members are, based on images and captions posted to Facebook, as well as your device information, like shared IP addresses. The application, titled “Predicting household demographics based on image data,” was originally filed May 10, 2017, and made public today.

The system Facebook proposes in its patent application would use facial recognition and learning models trained to understand text to help Facebook better understand whom you live with and interact with most. The technology described in the patent looks for clues in your profile pictures on Facebook and Instagram, as well as photos of you that you or your friends post.

It would note the people identified in a photo, and how frequently the people are included in your pictures. Then, it would assess information from comments on the photos, captions, or tags (#family, #mom, #kids) — anything that indicates whether someone is a husband, daughter, cousin, etc. — to predict what your family/household actually looks like. According to the patent application, Facebook’s prediction models would also analyze “messaging history, past tagging history, [and] web browsing history” to see if multiple people share IP addresses (a unique identifier for every internet network).

Facebook Allowed Advertisers to Target Users Interested in “White Genocide”—Even in Wake of Pittsburgh Massacre

Apparently fueled by anti-Semitism and the bogus narrative that outside forces are scheming to exterminate the white race, Robert Bowers murdered 11 Jewish congregants as they gathered inside their Pittsburgh synagogue, federal prosecutors allege. But despite long-running international efforts to debunk the idea of a “white genocide,” Facebook was still selling advertisers the ability to market to those with an interest in that myth just days after the bloodshed.

A simple search of Facebook pages also makes plain that there are tens of thousands of users with a very earnest interest in “white genocide,” shown through the long list of groups with names like “Stop White South African Genocide,” “White Genocide Watch,” and “The last days of the white man.” Images with captions like “Don’t Be A Race Traitor” and “STOP WHITE GENOCIDE IN SOUTH AFRICA” are freely shared in such groups, providing a natural target for anyone who might want to pay to promote deliberately divisive and incendiary hate-based content.

Only 22% of Americans Now Trust Facebook’s Handling of Personal Info

Facebook is the least trustworthy of all major tech companies when it comes to safeguarding user data, according to a new national poll conducted for Fortune, highlighting the major challenges the company faces following a series of recent privacy blunders. Only 22% of Americans said that they trust Facebook with their personal information, far less than Amazon (49%), Google (41%), Microsoft (40%), and Apple (39%).

In question after question, respondents ranked the company last in terms of leadership, ethics, trust, and image… Public mistrust extended to Zuckerberg, Facebook’s public face during its privacy crisis and who once said that Facebook has “a responsibility to protect your information, If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.” The company subsequently fell victim to a hack but continued operating as usual, including debuting a video-conferencing device intended to be used in people’s living rooms or kitchens and that further extends Facebook’s reach into more areas outside of personal computers and smartphones. Only 59% of respondents said they were “at least somewhat confident” in Zuckerberg’s leadership in the ethical use of data and privacy information, ranking him last among four other tech CEOS…

As for Facebook, the social networking giant may have a difficult time regaining public trust because of its repeated problems. Consumers are more likely to forgive a company if they believe a problem was an aberration rather than a systemic failure by its leadership, Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema said.

The article concludes that “For now, the public isn’t in a forgiving mood when it comes to Facebook and Zuckerberg.”

Facebook Could Use Data Collected From Its Portal In-Home Video Device To Target You With Ads

Facebook announced Portal last week, its take on the in-home, voice-activated speaker to rival competitors from Amazon, Google and Apple. Last Monday, we wrote: “No data collected through Portal — even call log data or app usage data, like the fact that you listened to Spotify — will be used to target users with ads on Facebook.” We wrote that because that’s what we were told by Facebook executives. But Facebook has since reached out to change its answer: Portal doesn’t have ads, but data about who you call and data about which apps you use on Portal can be used to target you with ads on other Facebook-owned properties.

“Portal voice calling is built on the Messenger infrastructure, so when you make a video call on Portal, we collect the same types of information (i.e. usage data such as length of calls, frequency of calls) that we collect on other Messenger-enabled devices. We may use this information to inform the ads we show you across our platforms. Other general usage data, such as aggregate usage of apps, etc., may also feed into the information that we use to serve ads,” a spokesperson said in an email to Recode. That isn’t very surprising, considering Facebook’s business model. The biggest benefit of Facebook owning a device in your home is that it provides the company with another data stream for its ad-targeting business.

Facebook Is Teeming With Fake Accounts Created By Undercover Cops

In the summer of 2015, as Memphis exploded with protests over the police killing of a 19-year-old man, activists began hearing on Facebook from someone called Bob Smith. The name was generic, and so was his profile picture: a Guy Fawkes mask, the symbol of anti-government dissent. Smith acted as if he supported the protesters, and, slowly, they let him into their online community. Over the next three years, dozens of them accepted his friend requests, allowing him to observe private discussions over marches, rallies and demonstrations.

But Smith was not real. He was the creation of a white detective in the Memphis Police Department’s Office of Homeland Security whose job was to keep tabs on local activists across the spectrum, from Black Lives Matter to Confederate sympathizers.

The detective, Tim Reynolds, outed himself in August under questioning by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, which sued the police department for allegedly violating a 1978 agreement that prohibited police from conducting surveillance of lawful protests. The revelation validated many activists’ distrust of local authorities. It also provided a rare look into the ways American law enforcement operates online, taking advantage of a loosely regulated social media landscape — and citizens’ casual relinquishing of their privacy — to expand monitoring of the public.

The proliferation of fake Facebook accounts and other means of social media monitoring ─ including the use of software to crunch data about people’s online activity ─ illustrates a policing “revolution” that has allowed authorities to not only track people but also map out their networks, said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice.

She is among many scholars who worry that expanded social media surveillance could make people less likely to engage in online activities protected by the First Amendment, from sharing their opinions to organizing protests of the government. But there are few laws governing this kind of monitoring. Few courts have taken up the issue. And most police departments don’t have policies on how officers can use social media for investigations, according to Levinson-Waldman’s research.

“It’s pretty open territory,” she said.

Instagram is testing the ability to share your precise location history with Facebook

Revealed just weeks after Instagram’s co-founders left the company, Instagram is currently testing a feature that would allow it to share your location data with Facebook, even when you’re not using the app.

Instagram is not the only service that Facebook has sought to share data between. Back in 2016 the company announced that it would be sharing user data between WhatsApp and Facebook in order to offer better friend suggestions. The practice was later halted in the European Union thanks to its GDPR legislation, although WhatsApp’s CEO and co-founder later left over data privacy concerns.

Facebook is also reportedly testing a map view to see friend’s locations, similar to what’s already offered by Snapchat. Instagram’s data sharing could provide additional data points to power this functionality, while providing Facebook with more data to better target its ads.

Facebook “bug” prevented users from deleting their accounts

Until just a few days ago, some Facebook users could not delete their accounts — the option to do so simply didn’t work. After VentureBeat reached out to Facebook regarding the issue, an engineer was able to squash the bug.

Two weeks ago, I got an email from a VentureBeat reader who couldn’t delete his Facebook account. He claimed there were others also having issues — no matter what they tried, they simply could not delete Facebook. I didn’t believe him at first. […] I did my due diligence. The least I could do was help him delete his account. Upon request, the reader was gracious enough to let me log into his Facebook account so I could see for myself. No matter what I tried, and regardless of which browser I used, the Facebook help page for deleting your account would not load when logged into his account.

The reporter contacted a Facebook spokesperson, who after looking into the matter concluded that a bug prevented some people with “a large number of posts” from deleting their accounts. Facebook says it has resolved the issue.

Facebook increases so-called “deletion” pending time from 14 days to 30

Facebook has increased the pending time to process a deletion request to 30 days, a 16-day increase over the previous 14.

Is there a reason to believe that Facebook’s also making this change because more people are deleting their accounts? The movement [sic] has certainly gotten a lot of attention in recent months, with WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton encouraging his nearly 43,000 Twitter followers in March to delete Facebook.

But Facebook’s last earnings report doesn’t give much indication that it is — the number of daily active users in the U.S. and Canada stayed flat, and even increased in Asia. The number of DAUs in Europe dropped by 4 million, but Facebook executives indicated that they believed that was mostly due to GDPR. Facebook followers will have to wait until the company’s next earnings report on October 30 to see if the dip in Europe DAUs is part of a continuing trend.

For those who want to delete Facebook and are willing to wait out 30 days, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do so.

Facebook Is Giving Advertisers Access To Your Shadow Contact Information

Kashmir Hill, reporting for Gizmodo:

Last week, I ran an ad on Facebook targeted at a computer science professor named Alan Mislove. Mislove studies how privacy works on social networks and had a theory that Facebook is letting advertisers reach users with contact information collected in surprising ways. I was helping him test the theory by targeting him in a way Facebook had previously told me wouldn’t work. I directed the ad to display to a Facebook account connected to the landline number for Alan Mislove’s office, a number Mislove has never provided to Facebook. He saw the ad within hours.

One of the many ways that ads get in front of your eyeballs on Facebook and Instagram is that the social networking giant lets an advertiser upload a list of phone numbers or email addresses it has on file; it will then put an ad in front of accounts associated with that contact information. A clothing retailer can put an ad for a dress in the Instagram feeds of women who have purchased from them before, a politician can place Facebook ads in front of anyone on his mailing list, or a casino can offer deals to the email addresses of people suspected of having a gambling addiction. Facebook calls this a “custom audience.” You might assume that you could go to your Facebook profile and look at your “contact and basic info” page to see what email addresses and phone numbers are associated with your account, and thus what advertisers can use to target you. But as is so often the case with this highly efficient data-miner posing as a way to keep in contact with your friends, it’s going about it in a less transparent and more invasive way.

… Giridhari Venkatadri, Piotr Sapiezynski, and Alan Mislove of Northeastern University, along with Elena Lucherini of Princeton University, did a series of tests that involved handing contact information over to Facebook for a group of test accounts in different ways and then seeing whether that information could be used by an advertiser. They came up with a novel way to detect whether that information became available to advertisers by looking at the stats provided by Facebook about the size of an audience after contact information is uploaded. They go into this in greater length and technical detail in their paper [PDF]. They found that when a user gives Facebook a phone number for two-factor authentication or in order to receive alerts about new log-ins to a user’s account, that phone number became targetable by an advertiser within a couple of weeks.

Officially, Facebook denies the existence of shadow profiles. In a hearing with the House Energy & Commerce Committee earlier this year, when New Mexico Representative Ben Lujan asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg if he was aware of the so-called practice of building “shadow profiles”, Zuckerberg denied knowledge of it.

India’s Biometric Database Is Creating A Perfect Surveillance State — And U.S. Tech Companies Are On Board

Big U.S. technology companies are involved in the construction of one of the most intrusive citizen surveillance programs in history. For the past nine years, India has been building the world’s biggest biometric database by collecting the fingerprints, iris scans and photos of nearly 1.3 billion people. For U.S. tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, the project, called Aadhaar (which means “proof” or “basis” in Hindi), could be a gold mine. The CEO of Microsoft has repeatedly praised the project, and local media have carried frequent reports on consultations between the Indian government and senior executives from companies like Apple and Google (in addition to South Korean-based Samsung) on how to make tech products Aadhaar-enabled. But when reporters of HuffPost and HuffPost India asked these companies in the past weeks to confirm they were integrating Aadhaar into their products, only one company — Google — gave a definitive response.

That’s because Aadhaar has become deeply controversial, and the subject of a major Supreme Court of India case that will decide the future of the program as early as this month. Launched nine years ago as a simple and revolutionary way to streamline access to welfare programs for India’s poor, the database has become Indians’ gateway to nearly any type of service — from food stamps to a passport or a cell phone connection. Practical errors in the system have caused millions of poor Indians to lose out on aid. And the exponential growth of the project has sparked concerns among security researchers and academics that India is the first step toward setting up a surveillance society to rival China.