Social Networks

My Cow Game Extracted Your Facebook Data ( 33

Ian Bogost, writing for The Atlantic: Already in 2010, it felt like a malicious attention market where people treated friends as latent resources to be optimized. Compulsion rather than choice devoured people's time. Apps like FarmVille sold relief for the artificial inconveniences they themselves had imposed. In response, I made a satirical social game called Cow Clicker. Players clicked a cute cow, which mooed and scored a "click." Six hours later, they could do so again. They could also invite friends' cows to their pasture, buy virtual cows with real money, compete for status, click to send a real cow to the developing world from Oxfam, outsource clicks to their toddlers with a mobile app, and much more. It became strangely popular, until eventually, I shut the whole thing down in a bovine rapture -- the "cowpocalypse." It's kind of a complicated story.

But one worth revisiting today, in the context of the scandal over Facebook's sanctioning of user-data exfiltration via its application platform. It's not just that abusing the Facebook platform for deliberately nefarious ends was easy to do (it was). But worse, in those days, it was hard to avoid extracting private data, for years even, without even trying. I did it with a silly cow game. Cow Clicker is not an impressive work of software. After all, it was a game whose sole activity was clicking on cows. I wrote the principal code in three days, much of it hunched on a friend's couch in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I had no idea anyone would play it, although over 180,000 people did, eventually. And yet, if you played Cow Clicker, even just once, I got enough of your personal data that, for years, I could have assembled a reasonably sophisticated profile of your interests and behavior. I might still be able to; all the data is still there, stored on my private server, where Cow Clicker is still running, allowing players to keep clicking where a cow once stood, before my caprice raptured them into the digital void.


'What's Facebook?', Elon Musk Asks, As He Deletes SpaceX and Tesla Facebook Pages 148

It is unlikely that Facebook will see a significant drop in its mammoth userbase following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But on Friday, the #DeleteFacebook campaign, which is seeing an increasingly growing number of people call it quits on the world's largest social network, found its biggest backer: Elon Musk. Responding to WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton's "#DeleteFacebook" tweet, Musk asked "What's Facebook?" That was the beginning of a tweetstorm, which saw journalists asking Musk why his companies -- SpaceX and Tesla -- maintained their Facebook pages. Shouldn't Musk, they asked, delete them? Musk agreed. As of this writing, the official Facebook pages of SpaceX and Tesla, both of which had more than two million followers, are nowhere to be found. The Facebook page of SolarCity is gone too, if you were wondering.

The move comes months after Musk said Zuckerberg's understanding of AI was limited.

More Evidence Ties Alleged DNC Hacker Guccifer 2.0 To Russian Intelligence ( 150

An anonymous reader shares a report: It may be a while since you've heard the handle "Guccifer 2.0," the hacker who took responsibility for the infamous DNC hack of 2016. Reports from the intelligence community at the time, as well as common sense, pegged Guccifer 2.0 not as the Romanian activist he claimed to be, but a Russian operative. Evidence has been scarce, but one slip-up may have given the game away. An anonymous source close to the U.S. government investigation of the hacker told the Daily Beast that on one single occasion, Guccifer 2.0 failed to log into the usual VPN that disguised their traffic. As a result, they left one honest IP trace at an unnamed social media site.

That IP address, "identified Guccifer 2.0 as a particular GRU officer working out of the agency's headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow," the Daily Beast reported. (The GRU is one of the Russia's security and intelligence organs.) Previous work by security researchers had suggested this, but it's the first I've heard of evidence this direct. Assuming it's genuine, it's a sobering reminder of how fragile anonymity is on the internet -- one click and the whole thing comes crashing down.


Man Starts 'Gunbook' Social Media Site After His Gun-Loving Friends Were Kicked Off Facebook ( 411

CaptainDork shares a report from BuzzFeed: A British gun enthusiast whose friends were banned from Facebook for posting pictures of firearms has started his own version of the site for gun lovers. Called Gunbook, it was set up by David Scott, a 57-year-old shooting instructor who lives in Kilsyth, 20 miles from Dunblane. It went live three weeks ago and he says it already has more than 1,000 members, around 60 of whom are from the U.S. Scott admitted that part of the attraction of the site for members was that they could post about their love of deadly weapons without being judged by family and friends. "Quite a lot want to talk about guns and shooting and target shooting and their families can see and often people comment. Gunbook is the place where people can talk about guns without their families seeing because a lot of people have got anti-shooting and anti-hunting friends on these sites."

Many of the profile pictures on the site show people standing in striking poses with guns -- or are simply a picture of their arsenal. And just like any other social media platform, much of the content that has quickly populated the Facebook clone ends up being videos and memes. In contrast, his site is loosely controlled and encourages a community around gun ownership. It has two admins but reassures users in a Q&A on the site that "they will generally just leave you all to get on with things." It adds later that "they will never interfere [in a group] unless a post gets reported and even then only racist and really dodgy ones will get looked at if reported. Please do NOT upload porn videos to our servers though ;0."

Social Networks

Instagram Will Show More Recent Posts Due To Algorithm Backlash ( 28

Instagram announced today that it will show more new posts and stop suddenly bumping you to the top of the feed while you're scrolling. "With these changes, your feed will feel more fresh, and you won't miss the moments you care about," Instagram writes. TechCrunch reports: Instagram switched from a reverse chronological feed to a relevancy-sorted feed in June 2016, leading to lots of grumbling from hardcore users. While it made sure you wouldn't miss the most popular posts from your close friends, showing days-old posts made Instagram feel stale. And for certain types of professional content creators and merchants, cutting their less likable posts out of the feed -- like their calls to buy their products or follow their other social accounts -- was detrimental to their business. Instagram and Facebook moved to hide these posts over time because they can feel spammy.
Social Networks

Reddit Bans Subreddits Related To Selling Guns, Drugs, Sex, and More ( 250

New submitter cornholed writes: Yesterday, Reddit updated their Content Policy forbidding transactions for certain goods and services. From the formal announcement on Reddit: "As of today, users may not use Reddit to solicit or facilitate any transaction or gift involving certain goods and services, including: firearms, ammunition, or explosives; drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, or any controlled substances (except advertisements placed in accordance with our advertising policy); paid services involving physical sexual contact; stolen goods; personal information; falsified official documents or currency." Bloomberg has an interesting write-up on how Reddit is wading into the gun control debate. See this post on Reddit for a full-list of all subreddits banned. "Reddit has been something of a Wild West for users building communities by curating and commenting on content in subreddits," reports Bloomberg. "Sometimes, as in the case with gun sales, marketplaces emerge in the course of conversations within specific communities. With Reddit's increased popularity -- the site is the sixth-most-visited in the world -- has come introspection and stricter content guidelines. The company recognizes its responsibility for having provided a platform for hate groups to flourish and, more recently, the possibility that Russian propaganda on the site may have played a role in influencing the 2016 presidential election."

Facebook Gave Data About 57 Billion Friendships To Academic ( 113

Before Facebook suspended Aleksandr Kogan from its platform for the data harvesting "scam" at the centre of the unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media company enjoyed a close enough relationship with the researcher that it provided him with an anonymised, aggregate dataset of 57bn Facebook friendships. From a report: Facebook provided the dataset of "every friendship formed in 2011 in every country in the world at the national aggregate level" to Kogan's University of Cambridge laboratory for a study on international friendships published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2015. Two Facebook employees were named as co-authors of the study, alongside researchers from Cambridge, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. Kogan was publishing under the name Aleksandr Spectre at the time. A University of Cambridge press release on the study's publication noted that the paper was "the first output of ongoing research collaborations between Spectre's lab in Cambridge and Facebook." Facebook did not respond to queries about whether any other collaborations occurred. "The sheer volume of the 57bn friend pairs implies a pre-existing relationship," said Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. "It's not common for Facebook to share that kind of data. It suggests a trusted partnership between Aleksandr Kogan/Spectre and Facebook."

Mozilla Pulls Advertising from Facebook ( 81

An anonymous reader shares a report: Mozilla is not happy with Facebook. Not happy at all. Having already started a petition to try to force the social network to do more about user privacy, the company has now decided to withdraw its advertising from the platform. The organization is voting with its money following the misuse of user data by Cambridge Analytica, as it tries to force Facebook into taking privacy more seriously. Mozilla says that it is not happy to financially support a platform that does not do enough to protect user privacy. But the company is not severing ties completely. It says that advertising is being "paused" and that if the right steps are taken by Facebook "we'll consider returning."

Mark Zuckerberg Apologizes For the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, Says He Isn't Opposed To Regulation ( 178

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Mark Zuckerberg apologized on Wednesday evening for his company's handling of the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal. "This was a major breach of trust and I'm really sorry this happened," he said in an interview on CNN. "Our responsibility now is to make sure this doesn't happen again." Zuckerberg's comments reflected the first time he apologized following an uproar over how Facebook allowed third-party developers to access user data. Earlier in the day, Zuckerberg wrote a Facebook post in which he said the company had made mistakes in its handling of the Cambridge Analytica data revelations. The company laid out a multipart plan designed to reduce the amount of data shared by users with outside developers, and said it would audit some developers who had access to large troves of data before earlier restrictions were implemented in 2014. Zuckerberg also told CNN that he is not totally opposed to regulation. "I'm not sure we shouldn't be regulated," he said. "There are things like ad transparency regulation that I would love to see."

Other highlights of Zuckerberg's interviews:
-He told multiple outlets that he would be willing to testify before Congress.
-He said the company would notify everyone whose data was improperly used.
-He told the New York Times that Facebook would double its security force this year, adding: "We'll have more than 20,000 people working on security and community operations by the end of the year, I think we have about 15,000 now."
-He told the Times that Facebook would investigate "thousands" of apps to determine whether they had abused their access to user data.

Regarding moderation, Zuckerberg told Recode: "[The] thing is like, 'Where's the line on hate speech?' I mean, who chose me to be the person that did that?" Zuckerberg said. "I guess I have to, because of where we are now, but I'd rather not."

Ask Slashdot: Were Developments In Technology More Exciting 30 Years Ago? 230

dryriver writes: We live in a time where mainstream media, websites, blogs, social media accounts, your barely computer literate next door neighbor and so forth frequently rave about the "innovation" that is happening everywhere. But as someone who experienced developments in technology back in the 1980s and 1990s, in computing in particular, I cannot shake the feeling that, somehow, the "deep nerds" who were innovating back then did it better and with more heartfelt passion than I can feel today. Of course, tech from 30 years ago seems a bit primitive compared to today -- computer gear is faster and sleeker nowadays. But it seems that the core techniques and core concepts used in much of what is called "innovation" today were invented for the first time one-after-the-other back then, and going back as far as the 1950s maybe. I get the impression that much of what makes billions in profits today and wows everyone is mere improvements on what was actually invented and trail blazed for the first time, 2, 3, 4, 5 or more decades ago. Is there much genuine "inventing" and "innovating" going on today, or are tech companies essentially repackaging the R&D and knowhow that was brought into the world decades ago by long-forgotten deep nerds into sleeker, sexier 21st century tech gadgets? Is Alexa, Siri, the Xbox, Oculus Rift or iPhone truly what could be considered "amazing technology," or should we have bigger and badder tech and innovation in the year 2018?

Mark Zuckerberg Addresses the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, Says Facebook 'Made Mistakes' in Protecting Data ( 125

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday commented on the massive, deepening data harvesting scandal his company has been embroiled in since last Friday. From a report: "We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can't then we don't deserve to serve you. I've been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said. The scandal -- involving the illicit collection of data from 50 million Facebook users, and its later use by Trump campaign analytics vendor Cambridge Analytica -- has helped chop off nearly $50 billion in value from Facebook's market cap since last Friday, led to calls from US lawmakers for Zuckerberg testify before congress, and raised eyebrows at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which is now probing the company. Speaking of things Facebook plans to do to ensure that this mess doesn't repeat itself, Zuckerberg added, "First, we will investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform to dramatically reduce data access in 2014, and we will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity. We will ban any developer from our platform that does not agree to a thorough audit. And if we find developers that misused personally identifiable information, we will ban them and tell everyone affected by those apps. That includes people whose data Kogan misused here as well.

"Second, we will restrict developers' data access even further to prevent other kinds of abuse. For example, we will remove developers' access to your data if you haven't used their app in 3 months. We will reduce the data you give an app when you sign in -- to only your name, profile photo, and email address. We'll require developers to not only get approval but also sign a contract in order to ask anyone for access to their posts or other private data. And we'll have more changes to share in the next few days."

There is no explicit apology in Zuckerberg's comment today.

Mozilla Launches a Petition Asking Facebook To Do More For User Privacy ( 52

An anonymous reader shares a report: After it was revealed that the personal data of 50 million Facebook users was shared without consent, Mozilla is calling on the social network to ensure that user privacy is protected by default, particularly when it comes to apps.

Ashley Boyd, Mozilla's vice president of advocacy, says that billions of Facebook users are unknowingly at risk of having their data passed on to third parties. He says: "If you play games, read news or take quizzes on Facebook, chances are you are doing those activities through third-party apps and not through Facebook itself. The default permissions that Facebook gives to those third parties currently include data from your education and work, current city and posts on your timeline."


WhatsApp Co-Founder Tells Everyone To Delete Facebook, Further Fueling the #DeleteFacebook Movement ( 305

"In 2014, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $16 billion, making its co-founders -- Jan Koum and Brian Acton -- very wealthy men," reports The Verge. "Koum continues to lead the company, but Acton quit earlier this year to start his own foundation." Today, Acton told his followers on Twitter to delete Facebook. From the report: "It is time," Acton wrote, adding the hashtag #deletefacebook. Acton, who is worth $6.5 billion, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did Facebook and WhatsApp. It was unclear whether Acton's feelings about Facebook extend to his own app. But last month, Acton invested $50 million into Signal, an independent alternative to WhatsApp. The tweet came after a bruising five-day period for Facebook that has seen regulators swarm and its stock price plunge following concerns over data privacy in the wake of revelations about Cambridge Analytica's misuse of user data. Acton isn't the only one taking to Twitter to announce their breakup with Facebook. The #DeleteFacebook movement is gaining steam following the New York Times' report about how the data of 50 million users had been unknowingly leaked and purchased to aid President Trump's successful 2016 bid for the presidency. For many users, the news "highlighted the danger of Facebook housing the personal information of billions of users," reports SFGate. "And even before the Cambridge Analytica news, Facebook has been grappling with its waning popularity in the U.S. The company lost 1 million domestic users last quarter -- its first quarterly drop in daily users."

Mark Zuckerberg AWOL From Facebook's Data Leak Damage Control Session ( 165

An anonymous reader writes: It's not just that he's silent in public. Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg declined to face his employees on Tuesday to explain the company's role in a widening international scandal over the 2016 election. Facebook employees on Tuesday got the opportunity for an internal briefing and question-and-answer session about Facebook's role with the Trump-aligned data firm Cambridge Analytica. It was the first the company held to brief and reassure employees after, ahead of damaging news reports, Facebook abruptly suspended Cambridge Analytica. But Zuckerberg himself wasn't there, The Daily Beast has learned. Instead, the session was conducted by a Facebook attorney, Paul Grewal, according to a source familiar with the meeting. That was the same approach the company used on Capitol Hill this past fall, when it sent its top attorney, Colin Stretch, to brief Congress about the prevalence of Russian propaganda, to include paid ads and inauthentic accounts, on its platform. Further reading: Where in the world is Mark Zuckerberg? Frustrated Facebook execs are asking.

FTC Probing Facebook For Use of Personal Data: Bloomberg ( 78

An anonymous reader shares a report: Facebook is under investigation by a U.S. privacy watchdog over the use of personal data of 50 million users by a data analytics firm to help elect President Donald Trump. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is probing whether Facebook violated terms of a 2011 consent decree of its handing of user data that was transferred to Cambridge Analytica without their knowledge, according to a person familiar with the matter. Under the 2011 settlement, Facebook agreed to get user consent for certain changes to privacy settings as part of a settlement of federal charges that it deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended. That complaint arose after the company changed some user settings without notifying its customers, according to an FTC statement at the time. If the FTC finds Facebook violated terms of the consent decree, it has the power to fine the company thousands of dollars a day per violation.

China Approves Giant Propaganda Machine To Improve Global Image ( 154

China has approved the creation of one of the world's largest propaganda machines as it looks to improve its global image, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing a person familiar with the matter. From the report: The new broadcaster will be called "Voice of China," the person said, mimicking the U.S. government-funded Voice of America that started up during World War II to advance American interests. Bloomberg News had previously reported the new entity would be created through merging China Central Television, China Radio International and China National Radio. The combined group was designed to strengthen the party's ability to shape public opinion and would serve as a key vehicle for China to project its image to the world.

Facebook Security Chief Said To Leave After Clashes Over Disinformation ( 45

Facebook's chief information security officer, Alex Stamos, will leave the company after internal disagreements over how the social network should deal with its role in spreading disinformation. The New York Times reports (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): Mr. Stamos had been a strong advocate inside the company for investigating and disclosing Russian activity on Facebook, often to the consternation of other top executives, including Sheryl Sandberg, the social network's chief operating officer, according to the current and former employees, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters. After his day-to-day responsibilities were reassigned to others in December, Mr. Stamos said he would leave the company. He was persuaded to stay through August to oversee the transition of his duties because executives thought his departure would look bad, the current and former employees said. He has been overseeing the transfer of his security team to Facebook's product and infrastructure divisions. His group, which once had 120 people, now has three, the current and former employees said. Mr. Stamos would be the first high-ranking employee to leave Facebook since controversy erupted over disinformation on its site. His departure is a sign of heightened leadership tensions at the company.

Facebook Hires Firm To Conduct Forensic Audit of Cambridge Analytica Data ( 136

After it was revealed that political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, harvested personal data from more than 50 million Facebook users, the social media company has been scrutinized for not better protecting its users. Today, CBS News reports that Facebook has recently hired Stroz Friedberg, a digital forensics firm, to conduct an audit of Cambridge Analytica. According to a press release issued by Facebook on Monday, Cambridge Analytica has agreed to "comply and afford the firm complete access to their servers and systems." From the report: The social network said it asked Christopher Wylie and University of Cambridge professor Aleksandr Kogan to submit to an audit. Facebook says Kogan has verbally agreed to participate, but Wylie has declined. Wylie is a former employee of Cambridge Analytica who described the company's use of illicit data in interviews late last week. Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie were banned from Facebook on Friday. Cambridge Analytica did not immediately confirm that it had agreed to comply with the audit. The firm has denied the allegations that it improperly collected and used the data. A spokeswoman for Stroz Friedberg declined to comment on the firm's involvement with an audit.

"We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims," Facebook officials said in a statement. "We remain committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people's information. We also want to be clear that today when developers create apps that ask for certain information from people, we conduct a robust review to identify potential policy violations and to assess whether the app has a legitimate use for the data. We actually reject a significant number of apps through this process. This is part of a comprehensive internal and external review that we are conducting to determine the accuracy of the claims that the Facebook data in question still exists. If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook's policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made."


Hackers Are So Fed Up With Twitter Bots They're Hunting Them Down Themselves ( 45

An anonymous reader writes: Even if Twitter hasn't invested much in anti-bot software, some of its most technically proficient users have. They're writing and refining code that can use Twitter's public application programming interface, or API, as well as Google and other online interfaces, to ferret out fake accounts and bad actors. The effort, at least among the researchers I spoke with, has begun with hunting bots designed to promote pornographic material -- a type of fake account that is particularly easy to spot -- but the plan is to eventually broaden the hunt to other types of bots. The bot-hunting programming and research has been a strictly volunteer, part-time endeavor, but the efforts have collectively identified tens of thousands of fake accounts, underlining just how much low-hanging fruit remains for Twitter to prune.

Among the part-time bot-hunters is French security researcher and freelance Android developer Baptiste Robert, who in February of this year noticed that Twitter accounts with profile photos of scantily clad women were liking his tweets or following him on Twitter. Aside from the sexually suggestive images, the bots had similarities. Not only did these Twitter accounts typically include profile photos of adult actresses, but they also had similar bios, followed similar accounts, liked more tweets than they retweeted, had fewer than 1,000 followers, and directed readers to click the link in their bios.

The Internet

Say Goodbye To the Information Age: It's All About Reputation Now ( 193

An anonymous reader shares an essay on Aeon magazine by Gloria Origgi, an Italian philosopher and a tenured senior researcher at CNRS : We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the 'information age', we are moving towards the 'reputation age', in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today. It is the gatekeeper to knowledge, and the keys to the gate are held by others. The way in which the authority of knowledge is now constructed makes us reliant on what are the inevitably biased judgments of other people, most of whom we do not know.

[...] The paradigm shift from the age of information to the age of reputation must be taken into account when we try to defend ourselves from 'fake news' and other misinformation and disinformation techniques that are proliferating through contemporary societies. What a mature citizen of the digital age should be competent at is not spotting and confirming the veracity of the news. Rather, she should be competent at reconstructing the reputational path of the piece of information in question, evaluating the intentions of those who circulated it, and figuring out the agendas of those authorities that leant it credibility.

Slashdot Top Deals