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Social Media Giant Facebook Under Lens for ‘Covering up’ Data Scandal

In the UK, the company was fined 500,000 pounds - the maximum fine the British data regulator can impose - over the Cambridge Analytica scandal

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A television photographer shoots the sign outside of Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. VOA

Federal prosecutors in the US are now probing whether top executives of Facebook, mired in data breaches, were aware of data harvesting by the British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

According to a report in The Guardian on Sunday, federal prosecutors’ investigation claims that the social media giant has “covered up” the extent of its relationship with Cambridge Analytica.

“The Observer has also learned of claims that a meeting was hosted at the office of Facebook board member and confidant of its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Christopher Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, in the summer of 2016 just as the data firm started working for the Trump campaign,” said the report.

Facebook has been denying for long that it was aware of data harvesting of nearly 87 million users by the British political consultancy firm, who were targeted with political bias via Facebook posts in the 2016 US Presidential election.

A Facebook spokesperson told The New York Times: “We are co-operating with investigators and take these probes seriously.”

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FILE – The Facebook app icon is shown on an iPhone in New York. VOA

In December 2018, Washington DC’s top prosecutor sued Facebook in a first significant move to punish the firm for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine filed the lawsuit that accused Facebook of allowing wholesale scraping of personal data on tens of millions of users.

Also Read- Apple Launches iPad Air, Mini with Keyboard Support for the First Time

Facebook is also being probed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice.

In the UK, the company was fined 500,000 pounds – the maximum fine the British data regulator can impose – over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. (IANS)

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Google, Facebook Secretly Tracking Your Porn-viewing Habits

“While the findings of this study are far from encouraging, we do believe regulatory intervention may have positive outcomes,” said the researchers

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The Google name is displayed outside the company's office in London, Britain. VOA

If you think watching pornographic material in the “incognito” mode will not let anyone know, you are mistaken. Google, Facebook and even Oracle cloud are secretly tracking the porn you watch even when you switch on the “incognito” mode on your laptop or smartphone.

A new joint study from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pennsylvania that investigated 22,484 sex websites using a tool called “webXray” revealed that 93 per cent of pages track and leak users’ data to third-party organisations.

“Tracking on these sites is highly concentrated by a handful of major companies,” said the researchers who identified 230 different companies and services tracking users in their sample.

Of non-pornography-specific services, Google tracks 74 per cent of sites, Oracle 24 per cent and Facebook 10 per cent.

Porn-specific trackers in the top 10 are exoClick (40 per cent), JuicyAds (11 per cent), and EroAdvertising (9 per cent).

“The majority of non-pornography companies in the top 10 are based in the US, while the majority of pornography-specific companies are based in Europe,” said the study.

The researchers – Elena Maris, Microsoft Research; Timothy Libert, Carnegie Mellon University; and Jennifer Henrichsen, University of Pennsylvania – said they successfully extracted privacy policies for 3,856 sites, 17 per cent of the total.

“The policies were written such that one might need a two-year college education to understand them. The content analysis indicated 44.97 per cent of them expose or suggest a specific gender/sexual identity or interest likely to be linked to the user,” said the study to be published in the journal New Media & Society.

The team created a hypothetical profile named “Jack” who decides to view porn on his laptop.

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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

Jack enables “incognito” mode in his browser, assuming his actions are now private. He pulls up a site and scrolls past a small link to a privacy policy. Assuming a site with a privacy policy will protect his personal information, Jack clicks on a video.

“What Jack does not know is that incognito mode only ensures his browsing history is not stored on his computer. The sites he visits, as well as any third-party trackers, may observe and record his online actions,” the researchers noted.

These third-parties may even infer Jack’s sexual interests from the URLs of the sites he accesses. They might also use what they have decided about these interests for marketing or building a consumer profile. They may even sell the data.

Jack has no idea these third-party data transfers are occurring as he browses videos.

“His assumption that porn websites will protect his information, along with the reassurance of the ‘incognito’ mode icon on his screen, provide Jack a fundamentally misleading sense of privacy as he consumes porn online,” wrote the researchers.

The above hypothetical scenario occurs frequently in reality and is indicative of the widespread data leakage and tracking that can occur on porn sites, they added.

Also Read: Instagram to Now Alert Violators Before Deleting Accounts

In 2017, Pornhub, one of the largest porn websites, received 28.5 billion visits, with users performing 50,000 searches per second on the site.

Statistics vary as to the amount of overall porn activity on the internet, but a 2017 report indicated porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined, and that “30 per cent of all the data transferred across the Internet is porn”, with site YouPorn using six times more bandwidth than Hulu.

“While the findings of this study are far from encouraging, we do believe regulatory intervention may have positive outcomes,” said the researchers. (IANS)