Building a Speed Bump for Tech Companies’ Maniacal Data Race | Best of ECT News

This story initially appeared on the E-Commerce Times as a two-part sequence on April 16, 2018, and May 15, 2018. It is dropped at you right this moment as a part of our Best of ECT News sequence.

Facebook has been in critically scorching water for its knowledge monetization mannequin virtually from the agency’s starting. The Cambridge Analytica, election meddling and pretend news scandals have turned up the warmth.

Facebook’s issues aren’t restricted to the general public and government backlash that spans a number of international locations; the agency faces doubtlessly devastating
authorized threats too. On the floor, it seems to be a clear-cut difficulty: Social media and different tech corporations have to be reined in.

Certainly, the EU thinks so, as is evidenced by its new General Data Protection Regulation. However, regardless of the horrendous damages wreaked to this point, the outlines of the social media drawback aren’t fairly clear, and neither is the repair.

When Data Is Your Chief Asset

Chief among the many most regarding worries ensuing from an extended line of current scandals are election-fixing, or a minimum of election meddling, in a number of democracies. Very few residents of these international locations would think about it factor for a overseas energy to make use of social media to sway elections.

Several international locations, together with the U.S., France and Germany, have decided that
Russia-backed election meddling is a unbroken risk, and that social media is on the coronary heart of its most popular ways.

One would suppose that the necessity to curb or finish makes an attempt to unduly manipulate election outcomes by a nation state or different exterior entity — resembling UK-based Cambridge Analytica — could be irrefutable. Certainly, Facebook sees the writing on the wall.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has introduced a number of measures to handle heightened anxiousness over its position. Facebook publicly apologized for the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal and promised it will notify customers in the event that they had been among the many 87 million folks whose knowledge was “improperly shared” with the agency.

Facebook additionally promised
to extend transparency and enhance vetting of its political promoting and news suppliers.

Is that sufficient?

What’s at Stake

“Facebook and other technology firms are thus far proposing to fix the problem via self-regulation only — by setting up rules that they themselves would promise to follow, rather than being held accountable by some sort of legislative authority that would involve users having some sort of legal recourse,” stated Jessica Baldwin-Philippi, assistant professor of communications and media research at
Fordham University.

“The problem with this is that, as we’ve seen, there is little accountability,” she informed the E-Commerce Times.

In reality, Facebook didn’t act on the problems of election meddling and pretend news till there was a large public outcry, despite the fact that it was conscious of the issues a lot earlier. The identical is true of the illicit knowledge sharing with third events resembling Cambridge Analytics.

Data monetization is Facebook’s business mannequin. Facebook and another tech companies exist solely to collect and promote everybody’s knowledge, exposing customers’ lives in more and more extra granular element.

Facebook works arduous to tug extra intimate particulars about your life than what you voluntarily publish on social media or release as exhaust whereas looking the Web. Among essentially the most troubling knowledge mining the company not too long ago has executed: its
Child Predator Survey; and a secret effort to
collect affected person knowledge from hospitals and different medical teams so as to add to what it is aware of about customers.

Indeed, Facebook seems to respect no boundaries in its search to personal an more and more massive hoard of non-public knowledge.

Usage Agreement “is 70 pages long,” famous Ronald Jones, a cybersecurity school member at
Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

The privateness and utilization settlement from the Facebook company
Masquerade specifies that it collects, mines and sells Facebook content material, resembling photographs of faces, he additionally identified.

“The Facebook agreements indemnify Facebook actions in selling/delivering/providing user related information to Cambridge Analytica, so their actions were legal. No US laws appear to be violated,” Jones informed the E-Commerce Times. “Are tougher regulations needed for social networking? What about the first amendment? Also, who decides what is or is not acceptable for the social networking space?”

Freedom of speech implies that it might be very troublesome to curb the speech spewed by hostile nation states, or to stem the tide of faux news proliferating on the community, he added — and he is not the one one who thinks so.

“What is harmful content? Harmful in what way? To whom? And why? And what is fake news?” requested Richard Santalesa, founding father of the
[email protected] Group.

“News has been faked, or slanted, since the first stylus was put to a clay tablet,” he informed the E-Commerce Times. “The Constitution and First Amendment don’t contain a right not to be offended, and there’s no such thing as a hate speech exemption to speech that’s otherwise protected by the First Amendment.”

Thus, regulating tech companies is a troublesome and maybe unforgivable factor to do within the minds of many American patriots. Yet the normal American declare that market forces will police unhealthy conduct does not maintain true both.

The Lowly Position of the User

Take, for instance, Facebook’s effort to collect affected person knowledge. The market had no information of that till investigative reporters uncovered it. Given that conventional news media retailers have been getting pounded as pretend news, and precise pretend news has been held up as reality by some others, how is the market to be taught of such misdeeds or know whether or not a response is required?

“What every person must understand is Facebook is not about people other than as its currency,” remarked Janice Taylor, CEO of

“You, me, our children are tokens — data points that reinforce the money printing machine,” she informed the E-Commerce Times.

“If we go away, Facebook loses its entire business,” Taylor continued. “Are Mark and Sheryl [Sandberg] really going to shut down the money printing machine? They may grease it, disguise it better, lie some more — but at the core root of Facebook/Instagram is [the desire] to print money for themselves and their shareholders.”

Even if Facebook has seen the sunshine and actually units out to self-regulate to an considerable diploma, there’s nothing to carry it on that course over time.

“EU-style rules about data privacy would be a fine step,” advised Fordham’s Baldwin-Philippi, “but again, Facebook could always change that policy in the future — as it has many times before. Relying on technology firms to regulate themselves strips users of recourse if and when something goes wrong.”

Actual legal guidelines spelling out knowledge possession may go a great distance in fixing this drawback for customers — however that may imply the top of Facebook and different social media corporations, since their business mannequin facilities on their possession of customers’ private data.

“In the U.S., the people do not own their personal information, while in the EU the people have undisputed ownership of the personal data,” defined Harrisburg University’s Jones.

While Americans presumably might be safer with protections in place, and so will democracy, many could not need that safety.

“People think that if I am not on Facebook I can’t build my business,” famous Mazu’s Taylor.

“What about my family memories? My calendar of events?” they may fear.

“We as people need to understand that Facebook was never about you or I or connecting people — it was about money and control,” Taylor emphasised. “Why do we think they care more about us now that they are getting caught? Does a drug dealer suddenly care about all the drug users once he is arrested? What if the drug dealer just makes better cocaine. Should we trust him then?”

‘Cyberwar’ Defined

Facebook has been scrambling to win again the general public’s belief because the Russia and Cambridge Analytica scandal. However, it is not clear what precisely hostile nation states have been as much as on social media. For instance, has Russia merely been making an opportunistic play on Facebook and capitalizing on customers’ gullibility? Or have we, the American public, been focused because the digital victims in a cyberwar?

There are casualties and victims of election meddling. For instance, the election of an anti-immigrant candidate in a battle zone may lead to refugees being turned away and left to die. A conflict hawk may spin up new wars or scale up present ones, leading to casualties in all affected international locations.

Conversely, meddling to get somebody elected who would raise commerce sanctions or in any other case favor the interfering nation may cut back the variety of folks adversely affected by shortages. All of that is to say that sure, elections have penalties. They have an effect on folks in the true world, and infrequently throughout the world.

That being the case, may Russia’s meddling with the U.S. presidential and different elections represent acts of conflict? Have we develop into pawns in a cyberwar, and even casualties of a kind?

“Russian meddling in U.S. elections is a serious problem, and their fake news on Facebook may be illegal if it is intended to sway elections,” stated W. Okay. Kellogg Associate Professor on the University of Michigan School of Information.

“However, I would hesitate to call it ‘cyberwar.’ If political messaging to influence another country’s population is cyberwar, then America’s ‘Voice of America’ radio programming overseas would be cyberwar,” he informed the E-Commerce Times.

It seems that the U.S. government agrees that cyberattacks and social media manipulations don’t in themselves represent a state of conflict. The
Department of Defense Law of War Manual defines the right labeling of assorted aggressions and delivers steering to the U.S. Armed Forces on such issues. This in depth tome addresses digital assaults with bodily impacts, resembling an assault on a dam or an influence grid, but it surely does not think about theft of non-public knowledge or defacing web sites as an act of conflict.

Others agree there have to be a bodily aspect with the cyberattack to qualify as cyberwar. Some argue that Russia’s assaults on voting machines might be that qualifying aspect.

“To fully understand the risk to voting, one needs to understand the full lifecycle or cyber key terrain of elections,” stated Laura Lee, EVP for fast prototyping at

“In the case of nation state election voting, key terrain includes the vendor who manufactures the system, the voting registration database and software system, the end-point voting machine, and the back-end infrastructure that tallies and hopefully audits the system.”

However, assaults on voting machines could not qualify as bodily assaults both.

“A cyberwar is determined when a nation-state carries out an offensive and aggressive attack on another nation; however, it is typically used to ensure that traditional weapons are more successful by taking out any defensive or intelligence capabilities,” defined Joseph Carson, chief safety scientist at

“Cyber typically is used to weaken the target before carrying out other attacks,” he informed the E-Commerce Times.

“We are currently in a cyberoffensive, and cyberweapons are being used; however, we are not quite yet in a full all out cyberwar,” Carson stated.

“Cyber is typically only one element of war,” he identified. When cyberweapons are “combined with traditional weapons, then we can confidently say yes — we are in a cyberwar.”

Assigning Responsibility

Like most types of nation-state sponsored aggressions, pinning the act to the fitting perpetrator is difficult — and if you cannot reply the whodunit query, it is arduous to pinpoint a trigger.

“Misdirection is often used in cyberattacks to create conflict or wrong conclusions, so the victim of the cybercrime is continuously looking in the wrong direction and wasting resources chasing after another victim,” Carson defined.

“Attribution is actually one of the most difficult parts of cyberattacks. Without concrete and transparent evidence, we can only go on trust that the government has conducted effective digital forensics, and without doubt attribute those cyberattacks back to Russian government,” he added.

Given the well-documented distrust between the Trump administration and the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), it’s unclear whether or not the administration would settle for or act upon such digital forensics. Certainly, it has been loath to take action so far.

However, the IC is unlikely to base attribution on digital forensics alone. It has different strategies of deducing who is behind what motion. Thus, its attributions are more likely to be extra sure than these of a personal sector safety analysis agency that doesn’t profit from government assets.

Unfortunately, the IC does not prefer to reveal its strategies in courtroom as a part of discovery, which is why it’s uncommon for formal felony prices to be leveled towards nation-state sponsored culprits. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s current
indictments of 13 Russians is one exception that proves the rule, however it isn’t the one exception. From time to time, the U.S. government has listed nation-sponsored cyberattackers on the
FBI’s Most Wanted List.

In different phrases, nation-state sponsored cyberattacks and social media manipulations have been handled as crimes relatively than as acts of conflict.

“Russia’s delivery of fake news is opportunistic. It applies Russian genius for propaganda to Western democracies’ open, data-enhanced Internet delivery channels,” stated the University of Michigan’s Toyama.

Protecting Elections

Several international locations have attributed current election meddling to Russia, and have recognized social media as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s greatest propaganda instruments.

“Technology’s primary impact is to amplify underlying human forces. Facebook amplified the effect of Russian meddling, whose underlying causes are political,” stated Toyama.

“There would be no Russian fake news scandal unless Russia were willing to fund the creation, dissemination, and targeted advertising of fake news abroad,” he stated.

While a number of international locations have agreed that social media was on the crux of current Russian assaults on elections, their methods for coping with it have differed. The European Union has launched voter education schemes and adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to assist defend elections there. However, the U.S. has made no comparable effort, and it has no nationwide knowledge privateness protections in any respect.

Facebook had been working to appease the American public within the hope of avoiding stiff rules. It not too long ago
suspended tons of of apps in its effort to stop one other Cambridge Analytica person knowledge abuse scheme.

However, these steps seem to have had little impact on restoring person belief.

Trust in Facebook has dropped by 66 p.c because the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the downward development has continued, a current Ponemon Institute survey found.

It seems that the U.S. could have to observe the EU’s lead on voter training and rules if elections are to be shielded from malevolent overseas influences.

“Regulations at least as strict as those that apply to broadcast media with respect to elections should apply to the Internet and social media,” argued Toyama. “To begin with, there must be ‘know your customer’ rules for Internet advertising platforms — it’s not enough to accept ads from anyone with the money to pay for them.”

Pam Baker has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2007. Her important areas of focus are know-how, business and finance. She has written tons of of articles for main publications together with InformationWeek, Institutional Investor journal, and TechGoal. She has authored a number of analytical research on know-how, in addition to eight books, the newest of which is Data Divination: Big Data Strategies. She additionally wrote and produced an award-winning documentary on paper-making. She is a member of the National Press Club, Society of Professional Journalists and the Internet Press Guild. Email Pam.

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