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Facebook Blocks Accounts ‘Meddling’ in US Mid-term Elections

In August, the social network removed 600 Pages and accounts originating from Russia and Iran for engaging in "inauthentic behaviour"

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Facebook releases Messenger redesign on Android, iOS. Pixabay

Facebook has blocked 30 accounts on its platform and 85 accounts on Instagram that may be engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” from foreign entities into the US mid-term elections.

According to the social networking giant, US law enforcement contacted them about online activity that they recently discovered and which they believe may be linked to foreign entities.

“We immediately blocked these accounts and are now investigating them,” Facebook said in a blog post late Monday.

“Almost all the Facebook Pages associated with these accounts appear to be in the French or Russian languages, while the Instagram accounts seem to have mostly been in English — some were focused on celebrities, others political debate,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy at Facebook.

American voters were set to cast their ballots on Tuesday in mid-term elections that will determine control of the US Congress and indicate how the country feels about Donald Trump’s presidency.

“Typically, we would be further along with our analysis before announcing anything publicly.

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Facebook, social media. Pixabay

“But given that we are only one day away from important elections in the US, we wanted to let people know about the actions we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today,” Facebook said.

Facebook on October 26 removed 82 Pages, Groups and accounts for what it called “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” that originated in Iran and targeted people in the US and Britain.

The people behind these Pages and accounts represented themselves as US citizens, or in a few cases UK citizens — and they posted about politically charged topics such as race relations, opposition to the US President, and immigration on Facebook and Instagram.

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Facebook said about 1.02 million accounts followed at least one of these Pages, about 25,000 accounts joined at least one of these Groups, and more than 28,000 accounts followed at least one of these Instagram accounts.

In August, the social network removed 600 Pages and accounts originating from Russia and Iran for engaging in “inauthentic behaviour”. (IANS)

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Facebook, Google Performing an Assault on the Right to Privacy

In a statement given to The Verge, a Google spokesperson said the company is working to give people more control over their data

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The Facebook mobile app on an Android smartphone. Wikimedia Commons

Facebook and Google which offer services to billions of people without asking them to pay a financial fee are performing an assault on the right to privacy on an unprecedented scale, a stinging Amnesty International report said on Thursday, stressing that both companies need to change their business models which are threatening basic human rights.

The abuse of privacy that is core to Facebook and Google’s surveillance-based business model is starkly demonstrated by the companies’ long history of privacy scandals.

“Despite the companies’ assurances over their commitment to privacy, it is difficult not to see these numerous privacy infringements as part of the normal functioning of their business, rather than aberrations,” said the report that came out on Thursday.

Google and Facebook’s total revenues come almost entirely from advertising, at 84 percent and 98 percent respectively.

Their information is so attractive to advertisers that the two companies are often described as having a “duopoly” over the market in online advertising.

“But it isn’t ‘just ads’: the information in their data vaults – as well as the computational insights that Google and Facebook derive from that data,  is of intense interest to a host of actors, from companies who set insurance rates to law enforcement agencies,” said the NGO.

While Facebook agreed to pay a $5 billion fine to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over privacy violations in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the European Union’s antitrust regulators have fined Google 1.49 billion euros ($1.7 billion) for abusing its dominance in the online search market by blocking rivals.

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Huawei smartphones are seen in front of the displayed Google Play logo in this illustration picture, May 20, 2019. VOA

In fresh trouble for Google, 50 US Attorneys General probing its anti-trust market practices have decided to expand the investigation into the tech giant’s Android and Search businesses.

According to the Amnesty report, the surveillance-based business model of Google and Facebook has thrived from a largely hands-off approach to the regulation of the technology industry in key countries such as the US, the companies’ home state.

“But despite the real value of the services they provide, Google and Facebook’s platforms come at a systemic cost. The companies’ surveillance-based business model forces people to make a Faustian bargain, whereby they are only able to enjoy their human rights online by submitting to a system predicated on human rights abuse,” the report noted.

This isn’t the internet people signed up for. Citizens today are paying for the Facebook and Google services with their intimate personal data.

After collecting this data, Google and Facebook use it to analyze people, aggregate them into groups, and to make predictions about their interests, characteristics, and ultimately behavior – primarily so they can use these insights to generate advertising revenue.

“This surveillance machinery reaches well beyond the Google search bar or the Facebook platform itself. People are tracked across the web, through the apps on their phones, and in the physical world as well, as they go about their day-to-day affairs,” said the Amnesty report.

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An iPhone displays the app for Facebook in New Orleans, Aug. 11, 2019. VOA

In another example of infringing on users’ privacy, Google’s partnership with US healthcare organization Ascension over health data collection of millions of Americans through its “Project Nightingale” has also triggered a federal probe.

According to the NGO report, the companies’ use of algorithmic systems to create and infer detailed profiles on people interferes with “our ability to shape our own identities within a private sphere”.

“Advertisers were the original beneficiaries of these insights, but once created, the companies’ data vaults served as an irresistible temptation for governments as well.”

Ultimately, said the report, it is now evident that the era of self-regulation in the tech sector is coming to an end and further state-based regulation will be necessary.

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In its reply, Facebook disagreed with it’s business model being “surveillance-based.”

“It is important to note that no one is obliged to sign up for Facebook. Facebook’s business model is not, as your summary suggests, driven by the collection of data about people. Like many other online companies, Facebook is supported through the sale of advertising,” the social networking platform said in a letter which is part of the Amnesty report.

In a statement given to The Verge, a Google spokesperson said the company is working to give people more control over their data. (IANS)