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Facebook Downplayed Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal

In April 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of the US Congress that it learned in 2015 that Cambridge Analytica had bought data from an app developer on Facebook that people had shared it with

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FILE - Attendees walk past a Facebook logo during Facebook Inc's F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, United States. VOA

Facebook in 2015 was aware that UK-based political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica may have been gathering users’ personal data but downplayed the whole episode till a newspaper revealed the truth three months later, show new documents.

According to a report in CNET on Friday, internal emails by Facebook Deputy General Counsel Paul Grewal, made available by the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, revealed Facebook was concerned about the “sketchy” Cambridge Analytica in September 2015.

The email correspondence started in September 2015 and ran through February 2016.

The Guardian first reported that Cambridge Analytica was supporting Ted Cruz’s campaign using Facebook data through an online quiz. The political research firm later worked on US President Donald Trump’s campaign.

“We suspect many of these companies are doing similar types of scraping, the largest and most aggressive on the conservative side being Cambridge Analytica, a sketchy (to say the least) data modelling company that has penetrated our market deeply,” read an email dated September 22, 2015.

In a blog post late on Friday, Grewal said that they agree with the District of Columbia Attorney General to jointly make public a September 2015 document in which Facebook employees discuss public data scraping.

“We believe this document has the potential to confuse two different events surrounding our knowledge of Cambridge Analytica. There is no substantively new information in this document and the issues have been previously reported,” Grewal defended.

According to him, these are two distinct issues.

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FILE – In this April 30, 2019, file photo, Facebook stickers are laid out on a table at F8, Facebook’s developer conference in San Jose, Calif. The Boston-based renewable energy developer Longroad Energy announced in May that Facebook is building a… VOA

“One involved unconfirmed reports of scraping — accessing or collecting public data from our products using automated means — and the other involved policy violations by Aleksandr Kogan, an app developer who sold user data to Cambridge Analytica,” he elaborated.

Facebook said it was not aware that Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica until December 2015.

“That is a fact that we have testified to under oath, that we have described to our core regulators, and that we stand by today,” said Grewal.

In September 2015, a Facebook employee shared unsubstantiated rumours from a competitor of Cambridge Analytica, which claimed that the data analytics company was scraping public data.

An engineer looked into this concern and was not able to find evidence of data scraping.

According to Facebook, the first indication of Kogan’s involvement didn’t come until December 2015, three months later.

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“Cambridge Analytica was a clear lapse for us, which we have worked hard to address,” said Grewal.

Cambridge Analytica harvested data through an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that offered personality predictions.

The Netflix documentary “The Great Hack” reveals the sordid tale of UK-based and now defunct political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica and its role in swaying US voters in the 2016 presidential elections which brought Trump to power via illegally accessing data of 87 million Facebook users.

In April 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of the US Congress that it learned in 2015 that Cambridge Analytica had bought data from an app developer on Facebook that people had shared it with. (IANS)

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Facebook Offers Help To India On Fake News Traceability On WhatsApp

With India pressing for traceability of WhatsApp messages to check the spread of fake news, Nick Clegg, Facebook Vice President, Global Affairs and Communications, has offered alternative ways to help the country

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Over 300 million of the 550 million smartphone and broadband users in the country are low on literacy and digital literacy. Pixabay

With India pressing for traceability of WhatsApp messages to check the spread of fake news, Nick Clegg, Facebook Vice President, Global Affairs and Communications, has offered alternative ways to help the country, without any reference towards tracing the origin of the WhatsApp messages.

WhatsApp had categorically said in the past that the government’s demand to trace the origin of messages on its platform is not possible as it “undermines the privacy of the people”.

Clegg who was the UK’s former Deputy Prime Minister before joining Facebook, visited India last week and met several senior government officials, including IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, and offered to assist law enforcement agencies in all possible ways like Artificial Intelligence-driven data analytics and access to “meta-data”.

“Facebook cares deeply about the safety of people in India and Nick’s meetings this week provided opportunities to discuss our commitment to supporting privacy and security in every app we provide and how we can continue to work productively with the government of India towards these shared goals,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.

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When a message is sent from WhatsApp, the identity of the originator can also be revealed along with the message. Pixabay

Last December, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) proposed changes to Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000.

The proposed regulations require a company to “enable tracing out of originators of information on its platform as required by legally authorised government agencies”.

The end-to-end encryption feature in WhatsApp makes it difficult for law enforcement authorities to find out the culprit behind a misinformation campaign.

The mobile messaging platform with over 400 million users has already called the proposed changes “overbroad”.

“Attributing messages on WhatsApp would undermine the end-to-end encryption, and its private nature, leading to possibilities of being misused,” a company spokesperson had earlier said.

WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook has over 300 million users in India.

WhatsApp in February stressed that some of the proposed government regulations for social media companies operating in India are threatening the very existence of the app in its current form.

“Of the proposed regulations, the one which concerns us the most is the emphasis on traceability of messages,” Carl Woog, WhatsApp’s Head of Communications, had told IANS.

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The Facebook mobile app on an Android smartphone. Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, Facebook has filed a petition to transfer the case looking at enforcing traceability on WhatsApp to the Supreme Court. It is currently sub judice in the Madras High Court.

Tamil Nadu, however, is aiming to get Facebook’s transfer petition dismissed by the Supreme Court.

A professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Madras recently stressed that the issue can be easily resolved without diluting end-to-end encryption and affecting the privacy of users.

“If WhatsApp says it is not technically possible to show the originator of the message, I can show that it is possible,” said V. Kamakoti.

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When a message is sent from WhatsApp, the identity of the originator can also be revealed along with the message.

So the message and the identity of the creator can be seen only by the recipient.

“When that recipient forwards the message, his/her identity can be revealed to the next recipient,” he said, adding that as per the court ruling, those who forward a harmful message can also be held responsible in certain cases. (IANS)